Fred Beckey hiking with climbing gear in Red Rocks National Recreation Area. [Photo courtesy of Dave O'Leske]

Dirtbag (noun): A person who is committed to a given (usually extreme) lifestyle to the point of abandoning employment and other societal norms in order to pursue said lifestyle.

The meaning of “dirtbag,” as defined by Urban Dictionary, is synonymous with the life of the late Fred Beckey. A dedicated and prolific rock climber and mountaineer, his life is chronicled in the documentary film “Dirtbag: The Legend of Fred Beckey.” Beckey pioneered classic routes at major climbing destinations all over North America, often while living out of his car, sleeping on the ground and having very little money and few possessions.

“Dirtbag: The Legend of Fred Beckey” is screening at Star Hall on May 25 and 26. Scenes in the movie show Beckey in a sleeping bag on a friend’s driveway, calling climbing partners late at night, and lying on a sidewalk, surrounded by climbing gear, declaring to someone on the phone that he doesn’t know what he’s doing beyond tomorrow.

“I think Fred … lived that way as a means to his ends,” explains Dave O’Leske, the film’s director. “All he wanted to do was be climbing and be in the mountains. So whatever it took, he didn’t want to limit himself by having responsibilities or material items. He was fine with just living a very, very simple life so that he could spend as much time as possible in the mountains.”

Beckey’s devotion to the mountains produced countless first ascents and new routes, including the first ascents of the Moses Tower in Canyonlands National Park, Echo Tower in the Fisher Towers area, and The Priest in Castle Valley. As Beckey explored unknown territory, he wrote dozens of articles and authored 13 climbing-related books.

Clips in the documentary show Beckey nimbly ascending technical terrain. Some of his most significant accomplishments are highlighted using shots of mountains and towers he scaled in his prime. Beckey’s youth is brought to life onscreen using animation, old photographs and excerpts from his numerous journals.

O’Leske proposed the idea for the documentary to Beckey in 2005.

“His reaction was,” O’Leske remembers, “‘Well, why would anyone want to watch that? Who cares?’ He didn’t really dwell on what he had done. He knew that what he’d done was significant, but it didn’t really matter to him. He really didn’t understand why … a documentary film on his life … would have any value.”

O’Leske then decided that he wanted to get to know Beckey personally, so he went climbing and road-tripping with him over the course of a year before bringing up the subject again.

Beckey was more receptive the second time and the documentary team began filming in 2006. Beckey and O’Leske went to China, where they planned to summit an unclimbed 19,000-foot peak. Beckey was 83 years old at the time. The men didn’t reach the summit of that peak, but they did share many more adventures. O’Leske continued taking footage of Beckey for the next 10 years.

“What he was doing was so extraordinary, and there was no sign of him stopping,” O’Leske said. “There was a lot of anticipation for the film to come out … and I knew I couldn’t [finish the documentary yet]. I knew I had to keep spending time with Fred, and just keep talking to him.”

Beckey continued to pursue his passion for climbing and mountaineering through the last years of his life. At age 93, Beckey’s body was too frail to carry out the goals his mind was dreaming up.

O’Leske decided to stop filming, and the movie was finished and premiered at the Mountainfilm Festival in 2017. Beckey was able to see the finished film before his death, in 2017, at age 94.

“Dirtbag: The Legend of Fred Beckey” later screened at film festivals around the country and went before an international audience; now, the producers are running their own tour of the movie.

“We’ve had a ton of grassroots interest in it, as far as people wanting to bring it to their theater, or their hometown, or their climbing gym, or whatever,” said O’Leske.

The Moab screening is made possible by one of the Moab-based volunteers who helped with the editing process of the film, AnneLiese Nachman, who is organizing the Star Hall event.

“‘Dirtbag’ will leave you contemplating your own life goals and what audacious steps you have taken to reach them — or not — and might make you want to take them a step further beyond the conventional ways of our world today,” Nachman said.

The documentary appeals to a broader audience beyond rock climbers and outdoorsy “dirtbag” types. Interviews with other well-known climbers, narratives of famous expeditions and footage of wild places, artful cinematography, and a moving human story keeps an audience’s attention rapt.

“It provides insights into the life of a man who brought his own version of drive and determination to the climbing scene, and challenged conventional paths to achieve his goals,” said Nachman.

O’Leske agrees that the film is not just a documentary for rock climbers to watch.

“It’s really a character portrait about a super-interesting, eccentric human being that happened to be passionate and driven by climbing,” he said.

To see that human during the last years of his life also has a universal poignancy, O’Leske said.

“The fact that we watched him over a 10-year period gives a real interesting component to someone who was so independent and physical in what they did. How he copes with the aging process — that’s really resonated with the non-climbing audience,” he said.

Documentary at Star Hall shows the life of late climbing legend and original ‘dirtbag’

“It’s really a character portrait about a super-interesting, eccentric human being that happened to be passionate and driven by climbing.”

When: Friday, May 25, and Saturday, May 26, at 8 p.m.

Where: Star Hall, 125 E. Center St.

Cost: $15 in advance, $20 at the door

Info: Tickets are available at; search ‘Dirtbag Star Hall.’ To watch the movie trailer, visit