Fred Beckey: Dirtbag or legend?

Fred Beckey at Red Rocks. | Dave O’Leske

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 trail of scorned climbing partners and lost lovers.

The groundbreaking life story of this rebel athlete, who inspired generations of climbers with his monumental first ascents and eloquent books, is told for the first time in this exclusive documentary film: “Dirtbag, The Legend of Fred Beckey.” The film premiers at MontBleu Resort in Stateline, Nev., on Jan. 6 at 7:30 p.m.

Hailed as one of the most prolific and influential climbers of all time, 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.

Still obsessed with the mountains and planning ambitious expeditions at age 94, the man who once bounded up granite and ice with graceful elegance and ease becomes challenged with the simplicity of everyday life. Fred slowed physically in his 90s, but his zeal for the outdoors never waned, and he continued steadfastly plotting new routes up undiscovered ranges for the next generation of climbers and explorers. Beckey died on Oct. 30, 2017.

Director Dave O’Leske spent the past decade filming Beckey, getting to know the mythical man in the mountains of China, across North America and in his Pacific Northwest home. Animations of his personal journals, guidebooks and photographs will combine with aerial photography, motion graphics and rare footage. More than 30 additional interviews with some of the world’s greatest climbers are included.

Tickets to the Jan. 6 showing are $15 in advance at The show is at 7:30 p.m. and doors open at 6:30. There will also be showings on Jan. 12 and 14 in Nevada City during the Wild & Scenic Film Festival. |