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Our Members: Josh Beckner

Posted on: June 11th, 2012 by Pete Takeda

Josh Beckner is a former Lyman Spitzer winner, NOLS instructor, Exum guide, and member of the American Alpine Club. These days Beckner runs the School for International Expedition Training (SIET).

SIET offers a unique approach to the complex game of expedition climbing by providing “cutting edge training for aspiring mountaineers who plan to… lead their own expeditions or become instructors.” As such, the school’s curriculum is informed by professional certification and Beckner’s 15 international expeditions to nine countries. SIET is growing it’s scholarships and accreditation programs.

We caught up with Josh this month:

Pete Takeda: Tell us a little bit about yourself. How did you start climbing?

Josh Beckner: As a teenager, I fell in love with the freedom the wilderness offered while backpacking and winter camping in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. I remember seeing climbers on stunning walls of granite and intimidating ice routes near North Conway and dreamed about what it must feel like to be up on those exposed cliffs. I thought that such an ‘extreme’ environment would give me the opportunity to test myself and create a unique bond between my rope-mate and me. Most importantly, I imagined it would provide a taste of freedom that was entirely
different from life on the ground.

I was determined to try climbing and went top roping with a friend a few times. I fell in love with every aspect. Soon after, I went out and bought a rope, an old 80’s trad rack, and ‘Wilderness Mountaineering,’ by Phil Powers. Without a mentor, I proceeded to learn some hard lessons while playing a very scary game of trial and error in the vertical world. Although I knew the consequences could be irreversible, I simply didn’t know what I didn’t know. This ignorance nearly cost me my life several times. However, I had a strong sense that these lessons would be vital to my
future.

As a teenager, I disliked conforming to high school and societal rules and thought that they shouldn’t apply to me. Learning to respect rules dictated by the mountain environment helped me appreciate many of the values that my parents, teachers and sensei tried to instill in me. The mountains became the only force in my life that I couldn’t argue with, an influence that would teach me some of the most valuable lessons in life, and a mentor that would always be there for me.

To this day, values such as self-discipline, patience, humility, compassion, and respect for the natural environment play an integral part of my adult life. The mountains continue to teach me life lessons, rejuvenate my soul and help me create more deeply multifaceted relationships with others. Climbing turned out to be everything I dreamed of as a teenager and much more.

Jake Tipton and Josh Beckner take a break in the Charakusa Valley

Jake Tipton and Josh Beckner take a break in the Charakusa Valley. Photo by Willy Oppenheim, featured in the AAC Guidebook to Membership.

Pete Takeda: You run an organization called the School for International Expedition Training. Can you tell us how this started?

Josh Beckner: I started SIET while working as a mountain guide and teaching for NOLS. There are thousands of students that finish entry-level programs each year or learn the basics from friends, much like I did. They are competent enough to go out and build some anchors, top rope and lead simple routes. However, transferring those skills to multi-pitch routes, alpine routes, and expedition climbing is a big step -a step that is much safer if taken with an experienced climber.

SIET helps aspiring mountaineers move safely through that high consequence ‘middle ground,’ giving them a comprehensive set of technical skills and a strong grasp of risk management. They are able to learn from professionals while leading alpine routes at high altitude.

Pete Takeda: What sets you apart from NOLS, Outward Bound, American Alpine Institute, etc.?

Josh Beckner: As far as I know, SIET is the only institution that specializes in advanced mountaineering courses for the type of climber mentioned above. Our courses are designed to pick up where NOLS, OB, or AAI grads have left off.

Most of our students come into the program with fundamental technical skills and leave with a heightened skill level and the confidence to plan and execute high altitude expeditions in an international or domestic setting. Essentially, SIET helps fill the gap between something like a NOLS or OB course and the AMGA Guide level courses.

Pete Takeda: Can you tell us about the scholarships you offer to college students? Potentially to AAC members?

Josh Beckner: Every year we offer scholarships to anyone ready for this level of training that needs financial aid. This year we will be setting aside a portion of the scholarship fund for AAC members. Keep an eye on our Facebook page for the latest updates on scholarship information.

Pete Takeda: Anything else you’d like to say?

Josh Beckner: I’m very grateful for the support that the AAC has given me for personal expeditions, rescue coverage, conservation efforts, and several other endeavors. I’m pleased to be in a position to finally give back to the AAC and its members through SIET’s scholarships and trainings.