The Cost of Obsession—94 and Still a Dirtbag

    The Cost of Obsession—94 and Still a Dirtbag

    Fred Beckey

    The film Dirtbag: The Legend of Fred Beckey is making the festival rounds, and we can’t wait to see it. Maybe with more jaw-dropped fascination than envy.

    Here’s a guy who’s remained true to his vision of himself, to say the least. Fred Beckey has been climbing mountains and scaling rock faces for 80-some years. He’s put up countless first ascents, especially in the American West. “His name is everywhere,” says the late Royal Robbins in the film’s trailer. “Wherever you go,” adds Robbins, “he was there before the rest of us were.”

    No first ascents these days, but at 94, Fred Beckey is still scaling 5.8 routes (plenty challenging for climbers a third his age) in Squamish, BC. And shown as an elderly man hitchhiking with a cardboard sign that reads “Will Belay for Food.”

    Is that “totally obsessive” behavior, as Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard calls it (not entirely pejoratively)? Dedication to a dream? Or just plain crazy?

    “I don’t care what they think,” Beckey says.

    Most of us aging athletes accept our lot with various degrees of graciousness as we assent to the exigencies of life—careers, families, varied interests, and so on. We scale back our dreams. But how many of us wonder what we might have become had we remained dedicated to that which most consumed us in our 20s?

    Would we have become superstars? If so, how long would we keep playing out our glory days? Too long? “Will Belay for Food” is probably something of a joke. But the image is still haunting.  

    There but for the grace of growing up and moving on, go we?

    As we said, we’ll be watching this film with fascination.