DON’T MISS: Alpine State of Mind

By on March 15, 2018

The legacy of Fred Beckey ascends to the big screen

Nomad of the mountains Fred Beckey. (Dirtbag: The legend of Fred Beckey)

JACKSON HOLE, WY – Fred Beckey’s influence is everywhere in the mountains, including the Tetons and the Wind River Ranges.

“You can’t climb around North America without coming across a Fred Beckey route,” said Todd Offenbacher, a friend of the climber. “The plum lines, the most beautiful, most aesthetic lines—he would come in and get those beautiful gems that were unclimbed.”

Beckey, who died in October, had a prolific climbing career, which began when he was a teenager and continued into his 90s. He is the subject of the documentary Dirtbag: The Legend of Fred Beckey.

Offenbacher is an assistant producer on the film and bringing it to Jackson. “I think what really resonates with people with this documentary is Fred’s passion and commitment … to the mountains,” he said.

The 93-minute documentary follows Beckey from when he began climbing in the Cascades in the 1930s. By 1942, Beckey had made a name for himself in the alpine world when he and his brother survived a second ascent of Mount Waddington, considered the most difficult climb in North America at the time. That began a career marked by significant climbs and first ascents around the world. He pioneered routes people thought impossible and eschewed sponsorships and fame. “He did it because he loved it,” Offenbacher said.

He became known as a dirtbag climber, which the film defines as “one who forgoes material comforts and defies societal norms in pursuit of a nomadic mountaineering lifestyle.”

It was his individualism and his drive to focus solely on the sport that might have cost him a spot on the first American climbing team formed to summit Mount Everest in 1963. When he didn’t earn a spot on the expedition he headed to Alaska where he made multiple major first ascents that summer.

“It’s was unprecedented, especially for the time,” Offenbacher said.

The documentary weaves in and out of Beckey’s life until he was 94 and still going into the mountains. It’s one of the things Offenbacher admires most about his mentor and friend. Even as an old man, he went into the mountains and climbed. “It’s what he knew, it’s what he did,” Offenbacher said.

Director Dave O’Leske spent the past decade filming Beckey. Beckey kept meticulous journals throughout his life documenting his wild adventures, romantic dalliances and the sunrises he saw in places no one else had set foot. Animations from the journals, as well as photographs and archival footage help tell the story of his life. There are also more than 30 interviews with some of the world’s most famous climbers, including Yvon Chouinard, Conrad Anker and Reinhold Messner, who speak to Beckey’s impact on the climbing world and conservation.

“It really does document a huge span of American climbing history,” Offenbacher said. “No one will come close to the amount of climbs that he did.”

But the film also explores Beckey’s personal life. He never married or had children. Since he was 15 years old, his life was about climbing, Offfenbacher said. And Beckey did have some regrets about what he gave up to pursue his passion.

“For me, the most powerful part of the film is that it does address these parts of Fred’s life,” Offenbacher said.

It’s a story that will resonate with people even if they don’t know anything about climbing. Beckey is such an interesting character he draws viewers into the film, Offenbacher said.

“It’s not about climbing mountains, but being in the mountains,” Offenbacher said. “Anyone that appreciates the mountains and the beauty of the mountains can relate to this documentary.”

Beckey, at 94 years old, was able to see the film before he died Oct. 30, 2017. The documentary screened at more than 25 film festivals in 2017 and won 13 awards.

Those that attend should stay to the very end, Offenbacher said. There are several mini stories told during the credits. PJH

The film screens in Jackson on Tuesday at the Pink Garter Theatre. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. and the film starts at 7. Tickets are $15. There will be a raffle featuring Mammut gear prizes. Money raised from the raffle will go the Doug Coombs Foundation.

About Kelsey Dayton

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