The Mountaineer We Never Knew Dies at 94

Fred Beckey, who sometimes climbed 50 peaks a year, had more first ascents than any American
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Oct 31, 2017 12:10 PM CDT
The Mountaineer We Never Knew Dies at 94
This circa 1940 photo shows Fred Beckey, right, on the summit of Mount Baker, Wash.   (Dave O'Leske/Fred Beckey Archives via AP)

Legendary mountain climber Fred Beckey, who wrote dozens of books and is credited with notching more first ascents than any other American mountaineer, has died. He was 94. Megan Bond, a close friend who managed his affairs, told the AP that Beckey died of natural causes in her Seattle home Monday. She described him as a "brilliant writer" and "extraordinary mountaineer" with "a personality and humor that almost dwarfed the mountains around him." But though he "made as many as a thousand ascents that no one was known to have taken before," the German-born climber who immigrated to Seattle, Wash., as a child, avoided publicity and was "virtually unknown to the general public," reports the New York Times.

Choosing mountains over people (he never married or had kids), Beckey often climbed 50 peaks in a single year. In 1942, he and his younger brother, Helmut, wowed the climbing community with an impressive second ascent of Mount Waddington in British Columbia. He went on to accomplish hundreds of first ascents on peaks throughout the Pacific Northwest, Alaska, Canada, and Wyoming. In 1954, he established new routes on three of Alaska's mountains: McKinley, Deborah, and Hunter. "Fred was a true American icon" and "inspired countless people to explore this amazing planet," says Dave O'Leske, who spent the past decade filming Beckey. Even in his 90s, Beckey was still plotting routes and climbing. Bond said they were planning a trip to the Himalayas next spring. (Read more mountain climbing stories.)

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