Fred Beckey’s 100 Favorite North American Climbs. Fred Beckey. Introduction by Barry Blanchard. Patagonia Books, 2011. 350 pages. Color photos. Hardcover. $79.95.
Fred Beckey’s 100 Favorite North American Climbs is the culmination of 75 years of mountain exploration by the most prolific climber in history. This carefully curated collection of classic climbs deserves a place on every climber's coffee table.
In Seattle I had the pleasure of attended the standing-room-only signing of Beckey’s new book. The first question posed to the author was how he possibly could prune his list of favorite climbs down to just 100.
That’s the question. Beckey is after all climbing’s original Energizer Bunny No human has made more first ascents on North American mountains. When you gaze at aerial photos of the classics—Slesse Mountain, South Howser Tower, and Mt. Goode come immediately to mind—the sweetest lines are inevitably Beckey routes. After more than seven decades of exploring the high and wild, Fred stopped counting his first ascents long ago; the total is in the thousands.
I assumed this would be a collection of Beckey’s 100 favorite first ascents and was therefore surprised to note that the majority of climbs are not routes he pioneered. Only 39 of the 100 are Beckey first ascents. It’s an egoless compilation.
While flipping through this lavishly produced climber’s bible, I realized I had stumbled upon my to-do list for the next 20 years. I started by counting the routes I’ve already done, and the good news is that I still have 72 of Fred’s favorites remaining. More important than the number is that Beckey chose routes that mere mortals like me are capable of climbing. This is not a collection of top-end sufferfests for the modern hard man. It’s an egalitarian list of timeless classics that provide realistic objectives for many of us. If you have general mountaineering skills and are comfortable on 5.9 rock, you can realistically climb 68 of Beckey's favorites. Stretching your standard to 5.9+ gets you another five, and solid 5.10 leaders belong on 94 of the 100. Only six routes involve direct aid or 5.11 climbing.
In the Foreword Beckey writes, “The span of my presented climbs ranges from the scalloped cornices of Mt. Deborah, the ice-plastered faces of Mt. Robson, the inimitable Bugaboos, the honed pinnacles on Forbidden Peak, the granite knobs of Charlotte Dome, to the dizzying sandstone of Zion.” The climbs are beautifully photographed but are not shown with route-line overlays. Despite the aesthetic appeal of clean photos, many leave the reader wondering where the route goes. The photography is generally excellent, although the book’s heft suggests that many of the photos should be larger. Other than those two nits, this is an inspiring piece without equal. Beckey enriches each climb with historic perspective, and his interest in geology is evident throughout.
Beckey’s favorite climbs are defined by purity of line, position, and quality of movement—not difficulty. It makes you appreciate his ability to choose nature’s most beautiful lines. Surely for Beckey, thinning the list down to just 100 had to be more difficult than the toughest line in the book.