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Friends near and far mourn the death of Carbondale’s own Hayden Kennedy

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Friends near and far mourn the death of Carbondale’s own Hayden Kennedy

By Trina Ortega

Special to The Sopris Sun

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As alpinists around the world mourned the death of talented climber Hayden Kennedy, Carbondale locals struggled to find words to express the deep heartbreak over the loss of one of their own.

Hayden, 27, a Carbondale native, took his own life Oct. 8, one day after he and his girlfriend, Inge Perkins, were caught in an avalanche in the southern Madison Mountains near Bozeman, Mont.

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Perkins, 23, of Bozeman, Mont., did not survive the slide.

According to the Gallatin National Forest Avalanche Center, Hayden was able to escape the avalanche debris and proceeded to search for Perkins before trekking out of the area for help. On Monday, rescuers discovered Perkins’ body beneath 3 feet of snow.

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Hayden’s father, Michael Kennedy, also an internationally known alpinist and the former editor-in-chief of Climbing Magazine, shared the news about Hayden with the broader community via a Facebook post dated Oct. 10.

“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,” Michael wrote. Hayden’s mother, Julie Kennedy, also a well-loved community member, is the founder of the 5Point Film Festival.

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“Hayden truly was an uncensored soul whose accomplishments as a mountaineer were always secondary to his deep friendships and mindfulness.”  

According to Michael, Hayden recently had moved to Bozeman to work on his EMT certification while Perkins completed her bachelor’s degree in mathematics and education at Montana State University.

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An Oct. 10 memorial published by Black Diamond (BD), for which Hayden was an athlete/ambassador, called him a “true brother of the BD tribe.”

“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 [Indian Creek, Utah], 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.”

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Hayden was known for his warm and welcoming personality and despite his world-class and respected accomplishments in the climbing arena, his friends are quick to point out he was not elitist.

“In fact, as if born from a different generation, HK was a staunch believer in walking the walk, not talking the talk. … It was the moments in the mountains that mattered most to him, not ‘instatweetingmyfacegram’ as he would often joke with his friends,” states the Black Diamond tribute.

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Lifelong friend Sam Stevens of Carbondale said he was “torn by the loss of one of my absolute best friends.”

Stevens said the two played in a band together for eight years, and Hayden taught him how to crochet “sweet hats.”

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“Hayden Kennedy was the best kind of person you would ever meet,” Stevens wrote. “I can’t imagine what Hayden went through in the whole incident, and I support every decision he made. I will always love the brother you were to me, Hayden. I am extremely proud of all you accomplished in your life time and even more proud to call you my friend. Maybe we will meet again someday to continue many more years of chaos and shenanigans.”

Fellow climber Joy Schneiter of Glenwood Springs said she first met Hayden in Camp IV in Yosemite the summer before she became the school nurse at Colorado Rocky Mountain School from where Hayden graduated.

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“My favorite memories of him are from around the campfire, when Hayden continually expressed his excitement over the adventures of others, even though his accomplishments were so much greater than almost everyone around him,” Schneiter said on social media. “He was humble and truly wanted [to] share his passion and engage in the spirit of the mountains. My heart breaks for his family and the family of his love, Inge.”

Black Diamond’s memorial points out Hayden’s constant search for new avenues of self-expression and new ways to live. He wrote about his expeditions in Alpinist, Rock and Ice, Evening Sends and other magazines and websites. “His ability to weave a meaningful narrative through the trials and tribulations of climbing was innate.”

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In one of Hayden’s most recent posts in Evening Sends, he said: “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.”

Published in The Sopris Sun on October 12, 2017.