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Athletes

Oct 10, 2017

Hayden Kennedy, Leading American Climber, Dies at 27

The American climber Hayden Kennedy, one of the most talented all-around climbers of his generation, died on Sunday, October 8, according to one of his sponsors, Black Diamond Equipment.

WRITTEN BY

Michael Levy

Kennedy and his girlfriend, Inge Perkins were skiing in the Imp Peak vicinity in Montana’s Madison Range, on Saturday, October 7, when Perkins, 23, was killed by an avalanche. Black Diamond’s social media account reports that Kennedy committed suicide the next day: “Unable to bear the loss of his partner in life, the following day, Sunday, October 8, Hayden Kennedy took his own life. Our hearts go out to their families, and anyone they touched along the way.  We know the list is innumerable. #haydenkennedyforever.”

To read Black Diamond’s full statement, click on the Instagram post below, as the statement continues into the comments:

View this post on Instagram

In Memory of Hayden Kennedy ⠀ ⠀ It is with heavy hearts that we say goodbye to our friend, Ambassador and true brother of the BD tribe, Hayden Kennedy. ⠀ ⠀ 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. He was, with all intents and purposes, a climber who transcended barriers. From high-end 5.14 sport routes at his home crag in Rifle, Colorado, to 5.14 trad lines in the Creek, to the first fair means ascent of Cerro Torre’s Southeast Ridge in Patagonia with Jason Kruk, or his first ascent with Kyle Dempster and Josh Warton on the south face of the Ogre in Pakistan. ⠀ ⠀ Yet, even that run-on list of incredible achievements hardly captures the whole picture. In truth, trying to share the full breadth of HK’s transcendental abilities in the vertical world, which he effortlessly cultivated in a mere 27 years, is impossible. ⠀ ⠀ But to be clear, he was by no means an elitist. In fact, as if born from a different generation, HK was a staunch believer in walking the walk, not talking the talk. You couldn’t find him on social media, and until a few years ago he clung to his malfunctioning, archaic flip phone as if it was a crucial piece to his rack. In short, HK climbed to climb, not to spray. And it was the moments in the mountains that mattered most to him, not “instatweetingmyfacegram” as he would often joke with his friends. ⠀ ⠀ HK’s depth went well beyond climbing, however. In high school he played the sax, and recently he applied that musical theory to the guitar while recovering from a torn ACL in his hometown of Carbondale, Colorado. He diligently practiced during the length of that winter’s recovery, and soon had a repertoire of songs that hinted at his eclectic tastes in music. From old school country to classic rock, to German electronica, he absorbed it all with the same ease that he applied to his climbing. Alpine, sport, trad; country, metal, folk. To HK, it was all good. ⠀ ⠀ …Continued in comments…

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Kennedy excelled at virtually all the climbing disciplines, from sport climbing to big-walling to cutting edge alpinism. His most well-known exploit was in 2012, when he and partner Jason Kruk made the first fair-means ascent of the Southeast Ridge of Cerro Torre, in Patagonia. On their descent, the duo chopped over a hundred bolts from Italian alpinist Cesare Maestri’s first ascent of the Compressor Route, a 1970 line up the spire. Maestri received considerable criticism in the decades after the ascent for his indiscriminate use of bolts on the route, and though Kennedy and Kruk received their own fair share of flack for their decision to chop the bolts in 2012, they also received a strong show of support from many in the climbing community.

In 2013, with the late Kyle Dempster, Kennedy won a Piolet D’or, alpinism’s highest honor, for an ascent of Ogre 1, in Pakistan.

The Carbondale-based climber also made the first ascent of Carbondale Shortbus, a 5.14- traditional line in Indian Creek and a contender for the area’s hardest single pitch. Other ticks on his list included a ten-hour free ascent of Hallucinogen Wall (5.13+ R) in Colorado’s Black Canyon of the Gunnison; first ascents in China’s Keketuohai National Park on an expedition with Tommy Caldwell; a first ascent on K7, in Pakistan; and many others.

Hayden Kennedy. Photo: Mikey Schaefer.

Inge Perkins was also a talented climber, skier and all-around athlete. Rock and Ice reports that among the feathers in Perkins’ cap were a ski descent of the Grand Teton, a traverse of the Taylor Hilgard Unit in the Madison Range, and first place finishes in a deep water soloing competition in West Virginia and the Montana Bouldering Championships.

Just a week-and-a-half before his death, Kennedy published an essay called “The Day We Sent Logical Progression,” on climber-author Andrew Bisharat’s Evening Sends blog, recounting an impromptu climbing trip he took with friends Chris Kalous (of The Enormocast podcast fame), Kyle Dempster and Justin Griffin to climb El Gigante, a big wall in Mexico. They route they chose was Logical Progression, one of the longest sport climbs in the world. In the years since that trip, before Kennedy’s death, two of the foursome had already died in the mountains: Griffin died in 2015 descending from the summit of Tawoche in Nepal, and Dempster died on a 2016 climbing expedition on Ogre II, in Pakistan.

In the piece, Kennedy ruminated on the ephemerality of not just climbing, but the relationships that go along with a mountain-based life:

Over the last few years, however, 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.

As the news spread across on the internet on Tuesday, October 10, climbers expressed feelings of shock and sorrow at the community’s loss. On a SuperTopo forum thread, Jim Donini, a past president of the American Alpine Club and storied alpinist, wrote, “Truly tragic….after Kyle Dempster’s death Hayden had decided to [ratchet] back from cutting edge alpinism. Life has so many unfathomable twists and turns that can seem unfair….my son died tragically when he was only twenty.” On the same thread John Long, a legendary Yosemite climber and author from the Stone Masters era, described Kennedy as “a great, gracious human being” with a “fantastic medley of skills.”

Hayden Kennedy is survived by his parents, Michael and Julie. Michael Kennedy was the longtime editor-in-chief of Climbing magazine, and later the editor-in-chief of Alpinist magazine following a successful climbing career of his own. In a Facebook post, Michael Kennedy remembered his son “as an uncensored soul whose accomplishments as a mountaineer were always secondary to his deep friendships and mindfulness.”

Hayden was 27 years old.

Hayden Kennedy. Photo. Mikey Schaefer.

Feature Image: Hayden Kennedy. Photo. Mikey Schaefer.

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Athletes & Explorers

Dec 13, 2018

Steph Davis: Dreaming of Flying

What drives Steph, to free solo a mountain with nothing but her hands and feet, before base jumping? “Bravery is not caused by the absence of fear."

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WRITTEN BY

The Outdoor Journal

Presented byimage

In the coming days the Outdoor Journal will release an exclusive interview with Steph Davis, follow us via our social networks and stay tuned for more.

Do you have to be fearless to jump off a mountain? Meeting Steph Davis, you quickly realise: no, fearlessness is not what it takes. It’s not the search for thrills that drives her. She’s Mercedes travelled to Moab, Utah to find out what does – and to talk to Steph Davis about what it takes to climb the most challenging peaks and plunge from the highest mountaintops.

Steph Davis, getting ready to jump. Photo by Jan Vincent Kleine

At noon, when the sun is at its highest point above the deserts of southeastern Utah and when every stone cliff casts a sharp shadow, you get a sense of how harsh this area can be. Despite Utah’s barrenness, Steph loves the orange-gold landscape with its towers and elegantly curved arches of sandstone. But Steph is not here because of the natural spectacle. Here, in this area which is as beautiful as it is inhospitable, she can pursue her greatest passion: free solo climbing and BASE jumping.

Castleton Tower… Look closely. Photo by Jan Vincent Kleine

Today, Steph wants to take us to Castleton Tower. We travel on gravel roads that are hardly recognizable, right into the middle of the desert. Gnarled bushes and conifers grow along what might be the side of the road. Other than that, the surrounding landscape lives up to its name: it is deserted. Steph loves the remoteness of the area. “One of my favourite places is a small octagonal cabin in the desert that I designed and built together with some of my closest friends. It’s not big and doesn’t have many amenities but it has everything you need: a bed, a bathroom, a small kitchenette … and eight windows allowing me to take in nature around me. That’s pretty much all I need.” Steph Davis cherishes the simple things. She has found her place, and she doesn’t let go.

Whilst pictured with ropes here, Steph often free solo’s without any equipment at all. Photo by Jan Vincent Kleine

Castleton Tower is home turf for Steph. She has climbed the iconic red sandstone tower so many times she’s lost count. The iconic 120-metre obelisk on top of a 300-metre cone is popular among rock climbers as well as with BASE jumpers. Its isolated position makes it a perfect plunging point and it can easily be summited with little equipment – at least for experienced climbers like Steph Davis.

“It would be reckless not to be afraid. But I don’t have to be paralysed by fear.”

Steph is a free solo climber, which means she relies on her hands and feet only – not on ropes, hooks or harnesses. She loves to free solo, using only what’s absolutely necessary. She squeezes her hands into the tiniest cracks in the stone and her feet find support on the smallest outcroppings, where others would see only a smooth surface. Steph climbs walls that might be 100 metres tall – sometimes rising up 900 metres – with nothing below her but thin air and the ground far below. She knows that any mistake while climbing can be fatal.

Flying. Photo by Jan Vincent Kleine

The possibility of falling accompanies Steph whenever she climbs. Is she afraid? “Of course – it would be reckless not to be. But I don’t have to be paralysed by fear.” She has learned to transform it into power, prudence, and strength. “It’s up to us to stay in control.”

“You have to learn to face your fears and accept them for what they are.”

That’s what, according to her, free soloing and BASE jumping are all about: to be in control and to trust in one’s abilities. “It’s not about showing off how brave I am. It’s about trusting myself to be good enough not to fall. It takes a lot of strength, both physical and mental. You have to learn to face your fears and accept them for what they are.”

Touchdown. Photo by Jan Vincent Kleine

Steph Davis likes to laugh and she does so a lot. She chooses her words with care, and she doesn’t rush. Why would she? There’s no point in rushing when you’re hanging on a vertical wall, with nothing but your hands and feet. Just like climbing, she prefers to approach things carefully and analytically. That’s how she got as far as she did. “I didn’t grow up as an athlete, and started climbing when I was 18,” she smiles, shrugging. But her work ethic is meticulous and she knows how to improve herself. Whenever she prepares for an ascent, she does so for months, practising each section over and over again – on the wall and in her head – until she has internalised it all. She does the same before a BASE jump and practices the exact moves in her head until she knows the movement is consummate.

Steph loves the orange-gold landscape with its towers and elegantly curved arches of sandstone. Photo by Jan Vincent Kleine

“Bravery is not caused by the absence of fear.”

Would Steph consider herself brave? She says that she wouldn’t know how to answer that, you can see the small wrinkles around Steph’s eyes that always appear whenever she laughs. In any case, she doesn’t consider herself to be exceptional. “I’m not a heroine just because I jump off mountaintops,” Steph says she has weaknesses just like everyone else. But she might overcome them a little better than most of us do, just as she has learned to work with fear. “Bravery is not caused by the absence of fear. It is brave to accept fear for what it is, as a companion that you should sometimes listen to, but one you shouldn’t be obedient to.”

She slows the car down. We have reached Castleton Tower. It rises majestically in front of us while the sun has left its zenith. If Steph started walking now, she’d reach the top at the moment the sun went down, bathing the surrounding area in a golden light. She takes her shoes and the little parachute; all she needs today. Then she smiles again, says “see you in a bit”, and starts walking. Not fast, not hastily, but without hesitation.

All photos by Jan Vincent Kleine

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