Twenty-seven-year-old Hayden Kennedy, one of America’s most talented and accomplished alpinists, and Inge Perkins, a sponsored climber and ski mountaineer, are dead after being caught in an avalanche south of Bozeman, Montana, on Saturday, October 7. The couple were backcountry skiing on a peak called Mt. Imp, where they were caught in a 150-foot-wide slide with a one- to two-foot crown. Perkins was fully buried and died. Kennedy was partially buried and, distraught at her death, took his own life.
Hayden’s father Michael Kennedy 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 in the southern Madison Mountains near Bozeman, Montana, on October 7th.
“Inge Perkin’s body was recovered by the Gallatin National Forest Avalanche Center at the base of Mt. Imp on October 9th. 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 outpouring of shock and sadness was immediate.
“The Scarpa family is devastated to hear about the loss of Scarpa athlete, Inge Perkins, and dear friend of the brand, Hayden Kennedy,” wrote Scarpa on Facebook. “These two young adventurers inspired us all to push our limits and most importantly, have fun doing it. Excelling at running, climbing, and skiing, the pair was always living life to the fullest and showing the world just how that’s done. Our deepest condolences go out to their families and the community that will never be the same without them. We’ll miss you both, thank you for all of the smiles.”
This morning, the Gallatin National Forest Avalanche Center reported, “With an unbelievably heavy heart, we are sad to report there was avalanche fatality on Imp Peak in the southern Madison Range on Saturday. Two skiers were approaching the north couloir when they triggered the avalanche. Both were caught, one fully buried and one partial. The fully buried skier was recovered from the scene by Gallatin County Search and Rescue yesterday.”
“On Saturday, two skiers hiked 6 miles from the Upper Taylor Fork trailhead to the north couloir of Imp Peak. Near the bottom of the couloir around 10,000’, they triggered an avalanche while ascending on skis with skins. The avalanche was 1-2’ deep at the crown, approximately 150’ wide, and 300’ long. The slope where the avalanche released was 38-45° steep with a north-northeast aspect.
“This area received one foot of snow since October 1st, which was on top of 3-4 feet of dense snow that fell since September 15th. The avalanche was a hard slab of wind-drifted snow that collapsed on a layer of soft old snow underneath, and slid on the old snow from late September.”
“Both skiers were caught, skier 1 was partially buried and skier 2 was fully buried. Skier 1 searched for skier 2, was unable to locate her, and then hiked himself out from the area. On Monday, Gallatin County Search and Rescue recovered the body of skier 2. They located her with avalanche probes, buried 3’ deep.”
23-year-old Perkins was from Bozeman, Montana, and is remembered by friends as preternaturally mature, driven, independent, and a deeply loyal friend. She lived an itinerant life, often living out of her truck between international travels to climb and ski, but called Lander, Wyoming, home before moving back to Bozeman with Kennedy. She was an impressive athlete, and had been gaining attention in the climbing world in recent years. Her accomplishments range from climbing a 5.12 route on Wyoming’s Mount Hooker, climbing long routes in Colorado’s Black Canyon, and redpointing 5.14 sport. She excelled in bouldering competitions, deep water soloing competitions, and podiumed at a Ronadonee race in Big Sky in 2016. She was particularly drawn to epics, from long backcountry ski traverses to marathon-distance trail runs. On her athlete page at Mystery Ranch, she lists traversing the Taylor Hilgard Unit in the Madison Range (20+ miles, 13k’ vertical) and completing the second ascent of Vesper (14a) in Idaho’s Fins in the same week as one of her favorite accomplishments.
Kennedy grew up in Carbondale, Colorado, the son of legendary outdoor leaders. Michael Kennedy is a noted alpinist in his own right and for several decades was the editor of Climbing magazine. Hayden’s mother, Julie Kennedy, is founder of 5Point Film Festival.
Born into such a family, it’s no surprise that young Kennedy became a big mountain phenom. He climbed his first multi-pitch route, the Kor-Ingalls on Utah’s Castleton Tower, when he was 13, and was logging 5.14s while still in his teens.
In 2012, Kennedy put up two new routes in Pakistan, first climbing 6,934-meter K7 with Kyle Dempster and Urban Novak and then pushing through on the south face of 7,285-meter Baintha Brakk, the Ogre, with Dempster and Josh Wharton, who became sick and stayed in the tent at high camp while Kennedy and Dempster finished the last 350 meters. Of K7, Dempster wrote, “[C]onditions were grim. We were tired, cold and snow pelted our faces. The route ahead was unclear and the three of us spoke about our options for bailing…That was when Urban commented, ‘But this is what we came for, we knew it would be this way, we must continue.’ Urban’s words made the stark misery of the situation seem manageable. After all, K7 was our choice.”
In 2016, Kennedy made a free ascent of Hallucinogen Wall in Colorado’s Black Canyon of the Gunnison. His partner, Nik Berry, said of the 2012 efforts that Kennedy “probably had the best season of climbing in alpine history. Its ridiculous. It’s so fun climbing with Hayden Kennedy. He’s such a rad, humble dude. He has this lighthearted attitude about everything. And super-psyched as well. His skill base is insane. This kid can climb everything. He doesn’t get super pissed if it’s not his day or things aren’t going well or whatever. He doesn’t throw wobblers. He’s just like ‘whatever, I’ll come back or not come back, it’s not a big issue.’”
Outside the core climbing world, Kennedy might be best known for his 2012 ascent of Cerro Torre, when he and Jason Kruk put up what they called the first “fair means” ascent of the southeast ridge, then chopped off 125 bolts that had been placed by Cesare Maestri in 1970.
Maestri had claimed the first ascent of the dramatic Patagonia tower in 1959, after his partner Toni Egger, died on the route. Many in the climbing world were skeptical (his claim was eventually refuted), and Maestri responded by climbing the southeast ridge and drilling more than 400 protective bolts along the way. He also left the compressor used to power his drill lashed to the rock. It was one of the most controversial episodes in a sport known for controversial episodes, and many saw Maestri’s bolt ladder as an abomination. Yet when Kennedy and Kruk removed some of the bolts, they were threatened by locals and detained. To some, they were heroes; to others, pariahs for removing some of climbing’s history.
Afterward, Kruk wrote, “The question that remains, is why? Maestri’s actions were a complete atrocity. His use of bolts and heavy machinery was outrageous, even for the time. The Southeast Ridge was attainable by fair means in the ’70s, he stole that climb from the future….Who committed the act of violence against Cerro Torre? Maestri, by installing the bolts, or us, by removing them?”
Recently, death and loss had been on Kennedy’s mind. In a poignant, personal essay posted on Evening Sends, he wrote about climbing Mexico’s Logical Progression with Chris Kalous, Kyle Dempster, and Justin Griffin. “There’s no easy way to say this,” he wrote, “but half that team is now dead.” Griffin died in 2015 in Nepal and Dempster disappeared in Pakistan’s Ogres in 2016, along with Scott Adamson.
“Over the last few years,” Kennedy wrote, “as I’ve watched too many friends go to the mountains only to never return, I’ve realized something painful. It’s not just the memorable summits and crux moves that are fleeting. Friends and climbing partners are fleeting, too. 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.”
“…Clichés like “they were just following their passion” are what we all say in moments of loss and tragedy. Of course, that is just bullshit.
“…There is this dual nature of sublime meaning and utter absurdity in climbing mountains. Sending harder, bigger, more badass routes won’t make you a better, more humble, more gracious or happier human—yet we often approach those mountains like they can. There is no glory, no real answers, in sending and summits, yet we organize our entire lives around the myth that there are.”
Photos by Kennedy family, Gallatin National Forest Avalanche Center.