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Stewart Green

Classic Climbing Adventures with Fred Beckey and Eric Bjornstad

By October 7, 2010

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In the September issue, Outside Magazine published Stoned, a profile by Justin Nyberg about America's greatest climber Fred Beckey, an 87-year-old climber that has made not only more first ascents than any American ever but has done more routes total. The only person close to him is Harvey T. Carter, who has made more than 5,000 first ascents.

Besides being prolific, Fred Beckey is simply amazing. Especially for his age. When most 87-year-old men are frittering away the days in rocking chairs on the front porch or worrying about their prostate, Fred is still out there living the dirt-bag, road-tripping, traveling-climber, free-life. Fred unrolls his sleeping bag in his car. Looks for buffet deals for meals. He still goes rock climbing and mountaineering in remote ranges with much younger partners. He still chases after women, ahem, girls. And Fred still carries around his secret black book full of future projects.

I first met Fred Beckey in Zion National Park back in the seventies after getting spanked while trying to solo a new route on Angel's Landing. Even though I was friends with Eric Bjornstad, Fred's best friend, he was wary about telling me what he was up to at Zion. It turned out that Fred and his partners were climbing some remote big wall out in the Kolob Canyons section of the national park. He didn't want to clue me in at all though. Afraid I might scarf it in front of his nose. Fred is like that.

I have a pretty good collection of Fred Beckey photographs taken by Eric Bjornstad of Moab, Utah. Over the last few years I've scanned a bunch of Eric's medium format transparencies into a digital format.

One of the all-time classic Fred-and-Eric photographs is above. The pair had just made the first ascent of Eagle Rock Spire, a remote tower out in Monument Valley on the Navajo Reservation in northern Arizona in the mid-1960s. They found the Navajo Tribal Park sign lying by the side of the road near the Utah border, so, of course, they had to pose with it while Lin Ottinger took the picture. Great photograph fellas! I love it. It also adorns Eric's business card.

Eric took the sign back home to Moab where it resided on his coyote fence for 30-some years, then one day the BLM boys noticed that Eric had a few of their signs on his fence so they came and confiscated them all. "I sure wish I still had that sign," says Eric. "But life goes on."

I'll be posting more of Eric's classic climbing photographs of his adventures with Fred Beckey in a special historic gallery later this winter.

Photograph above: Fred Beckey and Eric Bjornstad hold a "No Climbing" sign in Monument Valley, Arizona. 1960s. Photograph Eric Bjornstad.


October 11, 2010 at 11:57 am
(1) Alex says:

Excellent photo! Met Beckey randomly a few months ago in Washington at the base of a climb he himself had done the first ascent of in 1948!

October 31, 2010 at 8:42 am
(2) Joe says:

I have read may articles about Fred Beckey and while many women are mentioned none are mentioned by name. I think that it would be interesting to hear from a women that was in Freds life. I have heard of one called Elida, but that’s all I know.

April 12, 2013 at 4:55 pm
(3) Peggy says:

I spent my 20th birthday camping with Eric and Fred when they climbed a new route up Devil’s Tower, Wyoming in 1968. A friend I worked with was Eric’s girlfriend and they asked me if I would like to join them on this expedition. I will never forget the adventure which started in Tacoma, Wash. Fred was a nice older man and he was a gentleman who knew I just wanted to be friends. Eric and Fred were very intense and focused about their climbing but we all had a lot of fun.

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