Get access to everything we publish when you sign up for Outside+.
Fred Beckey’s best friends were the mountains and everything else in his life was secondary to them, up until the climbing renegade passed away in October 2017. One man had the unique opportunity to spend the last 12 years with Beckey, when his wrinkles were deeper, gray hair was wilder, and his dismissiveness of other’s opinions of him was stronger than ever before.
Filmaker Dave O’Leske documented the athlete’s life for his movie, Dirtbag: The Legend of Fred Beckey, to share the story of Beckey’s incredible accomplishments and show how growing old didn’t mean stopping his obsession with climbing. If you haven’t seen the movie, it’s your chance to get a sneak peek at a side of Fred very few knew.
The film is playing this week in Arizona, California, and Washington. To see other stops along the tour scheduled through June, visit dirtbagmovie.com/tour.
What’s something you know about Fred that we don’t?
Dave O’Leske: Fred is an incredibly intelligent person. His mind works on another level and combined with his drive, dedication, passion and physical ability he was almost unstoppable when he had a goal. He was a meticulous researcher and planner. I would argue that he had a photographic memory. On many occasions, I have heard him give minute details of a climb that he hadn’t done in decades. I have also been next to him when he answered his phone and couldn’t hear the name of the person calling but would instead ask for their phone number then immediately recognize who it was by their phone number, “oh, hey Mike”. I honestly believe Fred would have excelled at whatever he decided to put his mind to it just happened to be climbing and writing.
I’m sure there are dozens, but can you tell us a personal experience you’ve had with Fred that you’ll never forget?
DO: Driving with Fred was always a little sketchy as he wouldn’t be paying a lot of attention to the actual driving but would be reading something or writing down notes or driving 35mph in a 65mph so every time we were on a trip I’d try to drive as much as possible. I did want to capture footage for the film of him driving for the film, so I would risk it, and hope for the best. One time we were coming out of the Mt. Whitney region, and he insisted on driving down the Whitney Portal road, which is really steep and long and has serious consequences if you miss a turn. We started down and began picking up way too much speed, and I said, “Fred, you have to slow down you’re going way too fast.” He was trying to down shift but couldn’t. I said telling him to use the brakes, but he kept saying the car wasn’t working. We were going scary fast, and it was getting worse. Finally, I reached over and forced the car into a lower gear, but I was convinced Fred wasn’t going to use his brakes to slow down, and we were heading for certain death. I was completely sweating it, and Fred seemed like he could have cared less. He just looked over at me, mad, and asked how come I shifted the car. He said he had it under control!
Was it difficult to film Fred for DIRTBAG? It seemed like he wasn’t into the limelight.
DO: When I first approached Fred with idea of a documentary about his life his reaction was, “Why would anybody want to watch that? Nobody cares about any of that.” He was an incredibly humble person.
To me, that made Fred even more of a compelling character, but on the flip side made it very difficult to film him. He really didn’t want the camera to be on him so we just had to be creative and persistent but at the same time respectful during the process. We filmed hundreds of hours with Fred over 10 years, but it was never easy and often we had to be very stealth to capture moments. We missed so many great Fred moments, unfortunately, but a lot of people donated footage and photographs to the project over the years, which was a tremendous help.
What is the most unexpected thing you learned from him?
DO: Fred was the indomitable spirit embodied and his spirit will live on in others for a very long time. We hope our film helps spread Fred’s legacy around the world and inspires others to get outside, follow their passions, and have an adventure.
I think one of the main things I learned from Fred is don’t give up on what you are trying to accomplish. This film took 12 years to complete. Fred was never phased by failure. It only motivated him to try harder and try again and again. That was really interesting to observe because as he got older his body wasn’t able to keep up with his mind. But he never let himself stop dreaming of what he wanted to do next. In the end, Fred was actively planning a trip to Garhwal, India, even though he wasn’t able to walk very well, he still believed he could do anything. Some may find that delusional, and it may be to an extent, but I also find it incredibly inspiring.
Fred followed his passion and never wavered. That may not be for everyone, but it is a good lesson on how important it is do the things you love, because life is short.