Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Book Review: Red Fred

Fred Beckey is perhaps the most well know first-ascentionist in North America. The 85 year-old climber and author was recently featured in the New York Times and still gets out regularly. Over the years many AAI guides have climbed with the octogenarian, but even more have used his highly detailed three-volume guide to the Cascades, the Cascade Alpine Guide: Climbing and High Routes.

The 432 page-third volume of this series -- often affectionately called Red Fred -- has recently been released by Mountaineers Books. Red Fred covers the climbing, mountaineering and high traverses that may be found from Rainy Pass to the Frasier River in Canada. This new addition includes 101 black and white photos with route overlays, 60 route topos, and 29 maps. Most of the driving directions, approaches and route descriptions have been updated.

Though there are dozens and dozens of valuable updates in the book, there are still a few descriptions that could use some clarification. Here is an example from the description of Lady Peak:

Make the probably difficult approach from the end of Jones Lake; the approach will be a classic bush thrash unless the ground is snow-covered.

What throws one off is the use of the word, "probably." It indicates a low level of area first or second-hand knowledge. Writing a guidebook with this much information is a monumental task. And no one can be expected to have perfect information on the thousands of routes and peaks Beckey covers. As a result, I am more-than-willing to forgive the author for an occasional ambiguous direction.

In addition to historical and first ascent information, Beckey's series addresses the geological significance to the mountains and sub-ranges of the Cascades. An unprecedented amount of energy was put into the geologic descriptions and the essays on mountain feature formation. Most guidebooks provide some geological history, but the Cascade Alpine Guides stand alone in the bredth of the information provided.

Fred reads Cosmo on a glacier
Photo by Aaron Clifford

Comprehensive guidebooks like this one are the most difficult to research and write. They require a great deal more time, more commitment and more running around than any other form of book. Beckey's books literally cover hundreds of miles of mountains. One might be able to argue that this compilation of routes is the most audacious, the most complete and the most complex description of routes in a mountain range that has ever been written.

Way to go Fred!

Fred Beckey climbing in Leavenworth
Courtesy of the Jared VanderGriend Collection

--Jason D. Martin

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