Dirtbag: The Legend of Fred Beckey is an epic, enjoyable journey about a man who lived life on his terms, who did what moved and inspired him with little or no financial gain. Fred Beckey was the original dreamer and doer, a climber who led routes for others to follow. He "knew more about the mountains of North America than anyone who's ever lived" and, in his unique way, he invited us to come see them.
I know there are many among us who want to live, or have lived, the "dirtbag" lifestyle. Buy a van, load it with outdoor gear and park it down by the river, in the middle of the desert, or in the parking lot of your favorite ski area or National Park. It's what the offseason here is all about: getting away, being alone in the wild and pursuing your favorite outdoor adventures. It's my favorite fantasy and one that up to now still stands unfulfilled. But do you ever wonder where the term "dirtbag" comes from? Many say it was first applied to Friedrich Wolfgang ("Fred") Beckey, a notorious climber, womanizer, and mountaineering pioneer who is lionized in the upcoming film, Dirtbag: The Legend of Fred Beckey.
Dirtbag chronicles Beckey's epic life story, which has inspired generations with his record first ascents and rebel lifestyle. He's been called "the Bob Dylan of mountain climbing" and "the grandfather of the road trip" (something we all love). The legend of Fred Beckey began when he was just seventeen-years-old and a high school student in Seattle. He, along with his older brother Helmut (of good German stock they were) began putting up a series of first ascents in the Northern Cascades, which culminated in the epic, month-and-a-half climb of British Columbia's Mt. Waddington. (A feat that wasn't repeated for another thirty-five years and certainly never again by teenagers.) Beckey's list of first ascents throughout the US and Canada is in the hundreds, the most among any American climber. He was a contemporary of Yvon Chouinard and Royal Robbins, both of whom went on to great success with gear and clothing companies, something that never appealed to Beckey. He only wanted to climb, and according to the film, chase women.
As a friend recalls, Beckey "had to leave a few burning bridges behind to live the lifestyle he wanted to live." Remember that a "dirtbag" is someone who is committed to a given (usually extreme) activity to the point of abandoning employment and other societal norms in order to pursue said lifestyle. It's the lifestyle that finds us unshowered and sunburnt, with ratty hair and unwashed clothes, yet doing exactly what we want, when we want, how we want.
The film is also laugh-out-loud funny. Take, for instance, the moment when a child, who has found Beckey sleeping peacefully outside, asks his father, "why do you make Grandpa sleep in the driveway?" A "dirtbag" will always threaten society's beliefs in what is acceptable and normal and will inspire that same society to incorporate those outlaw beliefs and make them its own.
Dirtbag is an epic, enjoyable journey about a man who lived life on his terms, who did what moved and inspired him with little or no financial gain. Fred Beckey was the original dreamer and doer, a climber who led routes for others to follow. He "knew more about the mountains of North America than anyone who's ever lived" and, in his unique way, he invited us to come see them.
Fred Beckey died on October 30th, 2017 at the age of 94, just five months after he watched the World Premiere of Dirtbag at Mountainfilm in Telluride.
The film plays Monday, May 21st, 7 pm at the Center for the Arts and is sponsored by Carol Ann May and Jim Saindon, Bluebird Real Estate, Irwin Guides, and by Crested Butte Family Dental.
$10 tickets sold at the door, in advance at the Center for the Arts, or online below.