Editor’s Note: This story has been updated, on October 11, with new details about the avalanche.
October is not even halfway over, and the ski community is already wrestling with its first avalanche fatality of the season. As heartbreaking as that is, the story is even more tragic. The effects of the avalanche were so severe for the survivor that he took his own life in the aftermath.
Professional alpinist Hayden Kennedy and his girlfriend, Inge Perkins, who is also an accomplished climber and skier, are both dead after they were caught in an avalanche in southwest Montana on Saturday. According to a report from the Gallatin National Forest Avalanche Center, Kennedy and Perkins had hiked six miles into the backcountry to the base of Imp Peak, a remote mountain in the Madison Range, about 20 miles south of Big Sky. As they ascended the bottom quarter of the north couloir on skins, they triggered a slide at 10,000 feet. "The avalanche was 1-2 feet deep at the crown, approximately 150 feet wide, and 300 feet long," stated the Gallatin avalanche center on Tuesday. "The slope where the avalanche released was 38-45 degrees steep with a north-northeast aspect."
Both skiers were caught and carried. Kennedy was partially buried, while Perkins was fully buried and killed. Doug Chabot, director of the Gallatin National Forest Avalanche Center, confirmed Wednesday morning that Perkins, a 23-year-old from Bozeman, was not wearing her beacon. The avalanche transceiver was turned off and in her backpack. It is unknown at this time if Kennedy was wearing an operational beacon, or for how long he searched for Perkins before giving up and walking out on his own. He did not immediately report the avalanche to authorities, according to Chabot, and instead left a detailed note about the slide and where they could find Perkins. A search and rescue team arrived at the avalanche site via helicopter on Monday at 10:20 a.m. The team found her body beneath three feet of snow.
As news that an avalanche fatality had struck was making its way across the internet, Black Diamond posted a photo of Kennedy on Instagram midday Tuesday with a lengthy message: “It is with heavy hearts that we say goodbye to our friend, Ambassador and true brother of the BD tribe, Hayden Kennedy.”
The message listed Kennedy’s accomplishments as a climber, skier, and person, and continued: “Inge Perkins was every bit Hayden's equal. A brilliant climber, skier, and beautiful soul, Inge was HK's latest source of dedication—and his commitment was unwavering as always. Inge and HK had moved to Bozeman, Montana, together in the last few months. On Saturday, October 7, they headed into the backcountry of southwestern Montana for an early season ski tour. On Saturday Inge was killed in an avalanche. 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.”
On Tuesday afternoon, Kennedy’s father, Michael, released the following statement through the GNFAC: “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 County Search & Rescue 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. Hayden truly was an uncensored soul whose accomplishments as a mountaineer were always secondary to his deep friendships and mindfulness. He recently moved to Bozeman to work on his EMT certification while Inge completed her bachelor's degree in mathematics and education at Montana State University. Julie and I are on our way to Bozeman from Europe, as are Inge's mother and stepfather. Memorial arrangements are still pending.”
Since the middle of September, mountains across the West have been getting snow. GNFAC stated that the Imp Peak area had received a foot of snow since October 1, which fell on top of three to four feet of dense snow that had fallen since September 15. "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," the center stated.
On September 26, Kennedy wrote a blog post for EveningSends.com. He said: “The true, lasting meaning, we like to say, is found in the friendships and partnerships that we build while pursuing our climbing goals.”
“Over the last few years, however,” Kennedy continued, “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.”
Perkins gave an interview with another blog titled “These Words Like Rocks” in February. “”Climbing, skiing, running, and being in the mountains in general is such a huge part of who I am and I hope for more than anything else to continue to be able to do these things until I can't even dress myself… and then keep being outside,” Perkins said. “To me this is a different outlook than just wanting to get stronger, better, faster at that moment.”
“Working to be able to continue my athletic pursuits as long as I can involves getting stronger, eating wholesome food that sustains me, and injury prevention,” she said. “It is also so important to me to stay relaxed and ultimately not take any of it that seriously.”
POWDER extends its deepest condolences to the victims and their families.
The National Suicide Prevention Hotline is 1-800-273-TALK (8255).