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.


Michael Levy

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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.