Mountain climber Fred Beckey, an 'American icon,' dies at 94

SEATTLE -- Legendary mountain climber Fred Beckey, who wrote dozens of books and is credited with notching more first ascents than any other American mountaineer, has died. He was 94.

Megan Bond, a close friend who managed his affairs, told The Associated Press that Beckey died of natural causes in her Seattle home Monday.

"He was an extraordinary mountaineer. He also had a personality and humor that almost dwarfed the mountains around him," Bond said. "He was a brilliant writer. He was a scholar. He lived based on what was important to him, and he was not going to sell out."

Beckey was known as much for his eccentric personality as for his singular obsession with climbing.

He was born in Germany and immigrated to the United States as a child. His family settled in Seattle, where he got his first taste of hiking and scrambling with the Boy Scouts and later The Mountaineers club.

In 1942, he and his younger brother Helmut wowed the climbing community with an impressive second ascent of Mount Waddington in British Columbia.

He went on to accomplish hundreds of first ascents on peaks throughout the Pacific Northwest, Alaska, Canada and Wyoming. In 1954, he established new routes on three of Alaska's mountains: McKinley, Deborah and Hunter. He also climbed in the Himalayas and China.

"Fred got the golden age of climbing first ascents," Alex Bertulis, a former climbing partner told the AP last year. "That will be his legacy."

He authored more than a dozen books, including the three-volume "Cascade Alpine Guide" that details hundreds of peaks in the North Cascades in Washington state.

Beckey once wrote that climbing gave him a unique sense of control over his destiny. "The exaltation one can get in the presence of mountains can be a memorable lesson in humility and an aid to self-realization," he wrote.

"Fred was a true American icon. His legacy is profound, and he has inspired countless people to explore this amazing planet," Dave O'Leske said in a statement. He directed the documentary feature film, "Dirtbag: The Legend of Fred Beckey" and spent the past decade filming Beckey.

Even in his 90s, Beckey was still plotting routes and climbing — though more slowly and with the help of a cadre of fiercely protective partners.

Bond said they were planning a trip to the Himalayas next spring and she was working on arranging porters to carry him. In recent weeks, she and others took him climbing to Squamish, British Columbia. It was logistically complicated, she said, but he was able to get about half a pitch.

With Beckey, she said, "there was always more to do."

Beckey is survived by his younger brother Helmut. Beckey will be buried in private services this weekend, Bond said. A public memorial service will be scheduled in November.