By Thomas Peipert, Associated Press
Just two weeks before renowned climber Hayden Kennedy killed himself following the death of his girlfriend in an avalanche in Montana, he wrote on a climbing blog that he had watched too many friends die in the mountains over the last few years.
“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,” he wrote for the “Evening Sends” blog. “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.”
Gallatin County sheriff’s officials say Kennedy, 27, and Inge Perkins, 23, were skiing on Imp Peak in the southern Madison Range on Saturday when they triggered an avalanche in a steep, narrow gulley at about 10,000 feet above sea level.
Perkins, also an accomplished mountain climber, was buried by the 150-foot-wide slide. Kennedy hiked out after he couldn’t find his girlfriend.
The area had received a foot of snow since Oct. 1, which was on top of about 4 feet of dense snow that had fallen over the previous two weeks, according to the Gallatin National Forest Avalanche Center.
Kennedy, who had recently moved to Bozeman, was found dead in his home Sunday with a note detailing where to find Perkins’ body.
Doug Chabot, director of the avalanche center, said Kennedy did not call 911 to report the slide.
“It all came out in this incredibly detailed and well-thought-out note,” he said. “He basically left nothing to chance in finding Inge.”
Chabot said the note included GPS coordinates and details about the route Kennedy and Perkins were skiing. Kennedy also left an avalanche probe and a shovel in the debris to mark the site, allowing searchers to find the body within an hour of arriving.
Perkins had an avalanche transceiver in her backpack, but it was turned off, Chabot said. It’s unclear if Kennedy was carrying a similar unit.
In a statement released Tuesday, Kennedy’s parents described their son as “an uncensored soul whose accomplishments as a mountaineer were always secondary to his deep friendships and mindfulness.”
“Hayden survived the avalanche but not the unbearable loss of his partner in life,” they wrote.
Kennedy, who grew up in Carbondale, Colorado, had been working on his EMT certification while Perkins completed a bachelor’s degree in mathematics and education at Montana State University.
Kennedy was perhaps best known for climbing the Southeast Ridge in Patagonia’s Cerro Torre in 2012 and removing many of the bolts placed by controversial Italian climber Cesare Maestri more than 40 years earlier.
Afterward, he and his climbing partner were accosted by locals and detained by police. But Kennedy’s father, Michael Kennedy, who was editor of Climbing Magazine for more than two decades, beamed with pride.
“You made a courageous first step in restoring Cerro Torre to its rightful place as one of the most demanding and inaccessible summits in the world,” the elder Kennedy wrote in an open letter to his son that was published in Alpinist Magazine in 2012. “I never would have had the guts to take that step myself, even in my best days.”
Michael Kennedy, an accomplished mountaineer in his own right, also wrote to his son about losing multiple friends to the sport.
“An awareness of mortality prompts us to focus on what’s important: developing a strong community of family and friends,” he wrote.
Associated Press writer Amy Beth Hanson contributed to this report from Helena, Montana.