Fred Beckey is the original American “Dirtbag” climber whose name has evoked mystery, adulation and vitriol since the 1940s. Beckey’s stubborn, singular quest to conquer peaks meant a solitary life on the road, where he left a long trail of scorned climbing partners and lost lovers in his wake.
The groundbreaking life story of this rebel athlete, who inspired generations of climbers to head for the mountains with his monumental first ascents and eloquent books, is told for the first time in the documentary film, Dirtbag: The Legend of Fred Beckey.
Hailed as one of the most prolific, influential climbers of all time, Fred Beckey’s adventures began in Washington’s North Cascade range with his brother Helmy in the 1930s. In 1942, the Beckey brothers cemented their place in climbing lore when the teenagers survived an incredible second ascent of Mount Waddington—considered the most difficult climb in North America at the time. This success marked the beginning of Fred’s epic tear of first ascents around the world, during which he became the consummate “Dirtbag” climber: defined as one who forgoes the pursuit of material comforts and defies societal norms in order to pursue a nomadic mountaineering lifestyle.
Through the 1950s and 1960s, Fred’s accomplishments exceeded anyone in the sport. He shattered records with an unparalleled string of superhuman first ascents, bushwhacking trails and pioneering direct routes thought previously impassable. He eschewed fame, sponsors, family life and the politics of the sport so that his only obligation would remain conquering the next summit. Fred’s individualistic attitude led to him being passed over when the first American team was formed to summit Mount Everest in 1963, but the exclusion only drove Beckey to seek more summits, as he continues climbing to this day.
Still obsessed with the mountains and planning ambitious expeditions at age 93, the man who once bounded up granite and ice with graceful elegance and ease is now challenged with the simplicity of everyday life. Fred has slowed physically, but his zeal for the outdoors has not waned, and he is still steadfastly plotting new routes up undiscovered ranges for the next generation of climbers and explorers.
Throughout his exceptional life, Fred kept meticulous personal journals where he mused on everything from arcane geology to his dalliances with many beautiful women to the myriad sunrises he witnessed from vantages not seen by man before. An environmentalist before there was such a word, Fred used these journals as the basis for authoring 13 essential books that help connect aspiring climbers to the mountains.
Director Dave O’Leske spent the past decade filming Fred Beckey with unprecedented access, getting to know the mythical man in the mountains of China, across North America and in his Pacific Northwest home.
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