Remarks at Fred Beckey's Memorial
by Lowell Skoog
My name is Lowell Skoog.

I'm a skier, a climber, and an amateur historian who grew up in Seattle.

I never climbed or skied with Fred, but he had a big influence in my life.

I remember the first time I heard his name. It was in 1974, I was just out of high school, and with my brother Gordy, I joined Gary Brill and another friend to traverse the Northern and Southern Picket Range in the North Cascades.

Since the only climb I'd ever done before this was the Dogs Head on Mt St Helens, I realize now what a ridiculous idea it was.

Anyway, we hiked into Perfect Pass and scrambled up Whatcom Peak and on the summit there was a register with a signature from Fred Beckey. Gary was impressed. He knew about Fred from his old guidebooks.

At this time, the first Cascade Alpine Guide (the brown one) had been out only about a year. Neither of the green or red ones had been written yet, but if you were in the know, like Gary was, you had one of those little Beckey Bibles that had been around since the 1950s.

Well, we survived the Pickets, though we didn't climb much, and we bailed out the Luna high route before we got to the southern part of the range.

I continued to get more climbing experience, and within a few years, volumes Two and Three of the Cascade Alpine Guide appeared, exposing a huge trove, not just of climbs to do, but of Northwest history.

I was a skier before I became a climber, and a few years after the Pickets trip, Gary introduced me to backcountry skiing in the North Cascades. We did some great trips together, and I did more on my own with other friends.

More than anything else, it was Fred's guidebooks that kindled my interest in mountaineering history. But they don't say much about skiing. And having done some pioneering ski trips, I started to wonder about the skiers who'd come before me.

So in 2001, I started a long-term project to learn more about it.

I scoured the Cascade Alpine Guides for any mention of skiing. I plowed through nearly 100 years of Mountaineer Annuals, I read Dee Molenaar's Challenge of Rainier and Beckey's Challenge of the North Cascades.

I was intrigued by one sentence in that latter book, where Fred wrote that one of his earliest mentors, Dwight Watson, "was the first to ski Eldorado [Peak] snows and had since tracked many other remote slopes."

So, having done my basic research, I felt ready to reach out to Fred himself. A friend had his email address, so I sent him a note, asking about his own skiing experience and about Dwight Watson.

Fred wrote me back, and I still have his reply on my computer. He said:

Lowell   I have done nothing worth recording on skis except ages ago 4 of us skied to Hannegan and camped out and then skied up Ruth.

Watson is the key guy who did the pioneering. Do not know who to track down that would now know what he did. Try old timers - they might know.   Beckey

Try old timers, he said.

I thought I just did that.

But Fred made me realize I needed to dig deeper.

So, over the following years, I did.

I talked to Wolf Bauer, the teacher of Fred's earliest teachers.

And Duke Watson, who was Fred's first platoon leader when he joined the army after climbing Mt Waddington.

And Tom Miller, who had climbed with Fred and whose 1964 book, The North Cascades, inspired me with its pictures as much as Fred's books had with their words.

And Ira Spring, who photographed Fred in action in the 1940s and 50s, both with stills and movies. You saw some of those in the video that opened this program.

None of those old timers is around anymore. And now Fred is gone too. And we mourn them, and we share and cherish their stories.

But here's the thing, and Fred helped me understand this.

Old-timers are a renewable resource.

We are surrounded by old timers. We become old timers. And we need to record their stories.

Fred did that. And he taught me to appreciate that. And for me, that may be his most enduring legacy.

—Lowell Skoog
   December 3, 2017

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