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May/June 2009
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Grand Teton on Ice

Gary Beck atop the highest peak in Europe, Russia’s Mount Elbrus.

Scaling a Slippery Slope Is Just One of Gary Beck’s Mountain Adventures

When people ask longtime ASTM member and mountain climber Gary Beck what was the hardest climb he ever did, he’ll say it was the easy route on Grand Teton in Wyoming. “You tell people you climbed this particular route and they’ll say ‘that’s the easy way,’” Beck says. “Not with a quarter inch of ice covering the whole thing!” Rain the night before had covered the mountain with ice.

Beck’s climbing excursions began years ago. Growing up in Oregon, Beck first tackled familiar Pacific Northwest peaks such as Mount Hood, Mount St. Helens and Mount Rainier. Eventually he turned to “lesser-known, but more fun” areas such as the North Cascades in Washington state, before moving on to the world at large.

Internationally, Beck has scaled the tallest mountains on two different continents: Africa’s Mount Kilimanjaro (19,340 feet/5,895 m) in Tanzania and Europe’s Mount Elbrus (18,510 feet/5,642 m) in Russia. Beck estimates that he has climbed nearly 200 mountains, many as part of Mazamas, one of the largest climbing clubs in the United States. Beck served as president of Mazamas earlier this decade and has taught classes on safe climbing skills.

In addition to climbing, Beck has run in eight marathons, but eased up after knee problems slowed him down. Lately, he’s been road biking and will travel to France later this year to see some of the Tour de France and do some biking of his own.

As a busy semi-retired person, Gary Beck is uniquely qualified to take on one of his latest positions, the executive director of the Institute for Continued Learning at his alma mater, Willamette University, Salem, Ore. The program provides a wide range of educational opportunities for retired people.

Beck, who will receive the ASTM Award of Merit at the May meeting of Committee E01 on Analytical Chemistry for Metals, Ores and Related Materials, has been an ASTM member since 1965, the earliest days of his career. “I started with Wah Chang in college and never got out,” says Beck with a laugh. After holding the positions of chief spectrographer and laboratory manager, Beck retired in 2004 and accepted the part-time position of principal analytical chemist for the organization.

During Beck’s early tenure at Wah Chang, the alloys that the company worked with, such as zirconium and niobium, were considered unusual and were not represented among ASTM standards. As customers began to require standards, Beck joined ASTM in order to participate in standards development.

While Beck’s ASTM activities began with E01, his work has led him to participate in other ASTM committees as well, including B10 on Reactive and Refractory Metals and Alloys and D19 on Water. One of the responsibilities of Beck’s current position is coordinating Wah Chang’s international initiatives regarding the European Community regulation on chemicals and their safe use (familiarly known as REACH), which has led to Beck’s involvement on Committee F40 on Declarable Substances in Materials.

Beck is currently vice chair of Subcommittee E01.06 on Ti, Zr, W, Mo, Ta, Nb, Hf and Re and chair of E01.93 on Awards.

From the beginning, Beck says he has appreciated the insight that interaction with other ASTM members provides, particularly since he was working with materials that were not covered by standards at that point.

“Getting together with people involved in copper and aluminum, where standards did exist and were well-established, allowed us to use them as a model on how to proceed and draw on their knowledge,” says Beck. “When you’re at an ASTM meeting, you know that, no matter what materials you’re working in, everyone is focused on the same format for developing standards. This makes for a good peer exchange of information.”