Hayden Kennedy, 27, one of North America’s most gifted alpinists and the son of rock climbing royalty, penned a column for a climbing blog two weeks ago.
Lamenting the recent loss of friends in climbing accidents, the Carbondale native wrote of a painful realization.
“It’s not just the memorable summits and crux moves that are fleeting. Friends and climbing partners are fleeting, too,” he wrote. “This is the painful reality of our sport, and I’m unsure what to make of it. Climbing is either a beautiful gift or a curse.”
On Saturday, Kennedy and his girlfriend Inge Perkins, 23, were skinning up a couloir on Imp Peak south of their new home in Bozeman, Mont., when they were caught in an avalanche.
Perkins, an equally illustrious climber, was buried in the 150-foot wide slide and did not survive. Kennedy was partially buried and searched for his partner after digging himself out. Eventually he hiked out for help, according to an initial report by the Gallatin National Forest Avalanche Center.
The next day, as rescuers prepared to search for Perkins, Kennedy took his own life.
Kennedy’s father, alpinist Michael Kennedy on Tuesday wrote on Facebook: “Having lived for 27 years with the great joy and spirit that was Hayden Kennedy, we share the loss of our son and his partner Inge Perkins as the result of an avalanche … Hayden survived the avalanche but not the unbearable loss of his partner in life. He chose to end his life. Myself and his mother Julie sorrowfully respect his decision.”
The avalanche center reported the Imp Peak area had received a foot of snow since Oct. 1, which was on top of 3 to 4 feet of dense snow that had fallen in the two weeks before.
Kennedy and Perkins recently moved to Bozeman where he was working on his EMT certificate and she was completing her bachelor’s degree in math and education at Montana State University, his family said.
Kennedy was more than a climber, even though many considered him among the very best in the world. He was a musician, avid reader and an insightful writer whose thoughtful climbing stories and slideshow presentations at shops and theaters beguiled audiences. It all sprang from a childhood spent on rock, climbing with his mom and dad, who was the editor of Climbing magazine for more than 25 years.
In 2012, Kennedy joined Jason Kruk in a mission on the daunting Southeast Ridge in Cerro Torre.
The ascent — a free-climbing first, meaning he and Kruk did not use many of the bolts installed in 1970 by a controversial Italian climber who left a gas-powered compressor on the route named Compressor — harvested international acclaim. But it was their decision to cut more than 100 of the bolts that ignited a firestorm.
When Kennedy and Kruk arrived at the village of El Chalten after their audacious ascent, they were accosted by locals and arrested.
“We wanted to give respect back to Cerro Torre,” an unapologetic Kennedy said at the 2012 5Point Film Festival, founded by his mother Julie, clicking through his Cerro Torre photos showing groups of 10 or more bolts in a single frame. “There’s never been democracy in climbing. It’s kind of a rebel sport. Climbing is the art of freedom.”
Kennedy defended his bolt-chopping, arguing he returned the peak to its rightfully challenging state.
“We should rise to the occasion to climb Cerro Torre,” he said.
Despite his reputation, Kennedy was a social media recluse. He didn’t do the Facebook, Instagram or Twitter thing, a rarity among not just millennials but professional athletes whose sponsors pay for exposure. He apparently used a flip phone deep into the era of smart phones.
In his late September post on the climbing website eveningsends.com, he said he’d “never been a goal-oriented climber so I don’t really see the point in recording my climbs or hyping them up.”
Instead of crowing about climbing, Kennedy said true meaning on his chosen path in the mountains “is found in the friendships and partnerships that we build while pursuing our climbing goals.”
Kennedy’s father, who also edited Alpinist magazine, wrote an open letter to his son upon his return from Patagonia in 2012. Hayden obviously took it to heart.
“Remember one thing: all this noise is someone else’s story, not yours. People will try to pigeonhole you with their words, but you aren’t defined by what others think, only by what you know and by who you are, in your heart and mind. On Cerro Torre, you thought and acted with conviction and passion, making one of those decisive, spontaneous and honest gestures that can come only out of the uncensored soul,” father wrote to son. “When you head out in the future, other people will have expectations of you. Those notions will reflect their needs, desires, aspirations and fears. As best you can, clear your mind of the chatter. Don’t think about how your life or climbs will look to anyone else. Make choices based on your values, your analysis, your intuition and your dreams.”
The climbing world roiled Tuesday on news that two of its brightest lights were lost.
“To say Hayden was a talented climber would be an understatement. To say he was one of the world’s best climbers is closer to the truth, yet even those words fall flat and fail miserably at truly describing what Hayden — or HK as we called him — really represented in our sport,” reads a Tuesday post by his sponsor, Utah-based Black Diamond. “He was, with all intents and purposes, a climber who transcended barriers.”