Friday, May 22, 2009

Square Peg, Round Hole

Unlike many of his fellow climbers based in Seattle, Fred Beckey shied away from large-scale endeavors, preferring instead to pursue smaller trips, usually first ascents.

According to Helmut Vallindaklopf, who recently dined with the climbing icon, Beckey continues to do what he seemingly always has done: sleep on the couches of prospective climbing partners, eat their food, and climb -- every chance he gets.

Curmudgeon? Definitely. Cantankerous? You bet. But before that, he was a vagabond, somewhat reclusive, most assuredly a schemer. And brilliant, both in his ability to make more virgin ascents that any mountaineer alive and in his research and writing abilities, which I will reflect on later.

But first the man: Wolfgang Paul Heinrich Beckey, the name abbreviated when his family emigrated from pre-war Germany, was born in 1923. He went by Fred. Landing in Seattle, he started climbing as a teenager in the Boy Scouts and learned basic concepts from The Mountaineers, a climbing association based in the Emerald City.

Potentially one of the greatest climbers ever from Seattle, Fred was an outsider, a square peg who had no intention of attempting to fit into a round hole. Tip of the hat to the Whitaker brothers Jim and Lou, who both are legends in their own time, but frankly, they don't compare to Beckey, who has climbed perhaps 20 times as many peaks. He received a masters degree in business administration from the University of Washington, but worked in primarily menial jobs, which left him more time for the wilderness.

He says he liked to "escape from the artificial civilized order and its social and political controls." He was a man after my own heart.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Fred Beckey

Fred Beckey, known simply as "Beckey" to his climbing companions, is an American climbing legend. His climbing resume is -- in a word -- prodigious. His name is synonymous with climbing in North America, particularly the North Cascades and the peaks of Alaska.

Born in Germany in 1923, he eventually landed in Seattle. He started climbing as a teenager, and after attending the University of Washington and earning a degree in business administration, he found work as a delivery truck driver, which left more time for climbing.

Beckey was an unconventional mountaineer, steering clear of large team efforts and preferring smaller alpine-style climbs. Beginning in the 1940s, he has more first ascents, has climbed more mountains and has explored more wilderness than probably anyone on the planet. Amazingly, he is still at it, having recently spent time climbing in Alaska at the age of 86.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Wilderness Strangers

My pal and fellow former U.S. Forest Service wilderness ranger Helmut Vallindaklopf, also known as Kelly Tjaden (above, top), had dinner with none other than Fred Beckey, mountaineer extraordinaire. That's me on the right with the boffo straw hat I picked up in Ensenada in Baja, California.

Kelly moved into the "Mushroom Haus" (above, bottom) with us during the summer of '79, when Rebecca moved to the Rock Creek Guard Station up the Chiwawa River for the season. The Mushroom Haus, located across the highway from the old Cougar Inn on Lake Wenatchee, was a gathering place for many of the seasonal USFS employees in the neighborhood.

Kelly lives in Anchorage, Alaska with his better half, Lupe Marroquin, and they had the opportunity to dine with "The Old Man of the Mountains." More to come on Fred Beckey.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Mama Mia

My Mom passed away last week. Although she had recently turned 80 and was in dubious health, her death still came as a shock to the family.

Charlotte Nitta Cargni Mitchell, known as Nitta to family and friends, was born in Portland on February 23, 1929 to Carl and Emilia Cargni.

She attended Duniway Elementary School and Lincoln High School, where she graduated in 1947.

After attending the University of Oregon her freshman year, she completed her Bachelor of Arts degree in romance languages at Marylhurst College in 1951. Nitta married Ralph Cameron Mitchell of Portland in May, 1952 and they had five children, John, Robert, Richard, Carla and Stephanie. They later divorced. Nitta was a longtime employee of Qwest.

Nitta enjoyed visiting and traveling with her children and grandchildren to points from the obscure (Yukon Territory) to the sublime (Disneyland), and many places in between.

She is survived by her children John (Rebecca) of Eugene, Robert (Elaine) of Philadelphia, Penn., Richard (Nancy) of Bainbridge Island, Wash., Carla (Bob) of Portland, Stephanie of Tigard; grandchildren Regina, Jory, Nicole, Sarah, Jessica, Jason and Brandon; and a brother, John Cargni, of Zigzag. Nitta was preceded in death by her parents and her granddaughter, Jacy.

I occasionally tell my siblings that I can actually remember my mother in her late 20s.  She was 24 when I was born, so I was entering school when she was 29.  I can honestly say that I am the person I am because of my Mother, not just because she gave birth but because of how she raised me.

Mom had many fine qualities, but I want to focus on a couple that really stand out.  First of all, she is one of the most polite people you will have ever met.  In fact, if you look up the word “polite” in the dictionary, her picture is there to illustrate. She was also an extremely loyal individual -- to her family and friends, and particularly her children, whom she supported unconditionally.

One example: before we moved to Mt. Tabor, which we all considered the home we grew up in, we lived in the Cherry Park neighborhood wedged between Mall 205 and Kelly Butte.  Back in the late ‘50s, the kids in the neighborhood were having a backyard pool party, but they would grant admission only if you gave them some play money.

Well, most of my friends had printed play money but I did not, so I was denied admission. I went home and told my Mom, and she took matters into her own hands: she cut out a piece of paper in the shape of a rectangle and proceeded to draw a one dollar bill, complete with a picture of George Washington and all the symbols and markings.  When I returned to the pool party, the bouncer at the door was so shocked at the creativity of the bill that he granted me admission.

Mom didn’t have a lot of hobbies, but she did love to travel.  My family and I traveled with Mom to a variety of places over the years.  I can’t count the number of times we took her to Disneyland, which she loved.  We also traveled together to places like the Oregon coast, Crater Lake, Palm Springs, Victoria and the San Juan Islands, and probably her favorite -- the little Bavarian Village of Leavenworth, Washington, where we have property. 

Mom was also a devout Catholic who attended Mass weekly for nearly eight decades.  If the Good Lord gives extra credit for perfect attendance, she’s the one who will get it.

Despite her many ailments, she was generally upbeat, and actually she was quite the inadvertent comedienne.  When I would call her, she would start the conversation with a “que pasa?”  Then she would proceed to ask about how everybody was doing.

Ironically, Mom passed away nearly five years to the date that my daughter and her granddaughter, Jacy, passed away.  Jacy loved her Grandma, and Nitta was loved by all of her children and grandchildren.

Her last words to me were a clear measure of her polite nature: she said “I love you,” to which I said “I love you, too, Mom,” to which she always said “thank you.”

Thank you, Mom, for being a loving and supportive parent. I will miss you, but I will see you again at some point down the road. Say hi to Jacy for me when you see her.