Avalanche, suicide took lives of young climbers with local tiesOct 18, 2017 By Kelli Ameling, Staff Wrier
A climbing accident and aftermath that drew national attention after two people lost their lives involved a young couple with strong Fremont County ties.
"They were absolutely one in 10,000 - one in 50,000 sort of people," Kyle Vassilopoulos of Lander said of the two young people who died this month in two separate, but related, events.
According to the Associated Press reports and the Gallatin County Sheriff's Office in Montana, Inge Perkins, 23, and Hayden Kennedy, 27, were skiing Oct. 7 on Imp Peak in the southern Madison Range when they triggered an avalanche in a steep, narrow gully about 10,000 feet above sea level.
The avalanche's 150-foot-wide slide buried Perkins and partially buried Kennedy, who was able to pull himself free and hike out for help after trying unsuccessfully to find his girlfriend, the AP reported.
The next day, Kennedy was found dead at his home. He had taken his own life.
His family released a statement saying, "Hayden survived the avalanche, but not the unbearable loss of his partner in life."
Reports the circulated nationally identified Perkins and Kennedy as Montana residents, but both were familiar members of the Lander climbing community, known for their "shining personalities" and athletic abilities.
Friends said they both considered Lander their home.
Vassilopoulos, who owns the Cowfish restaurant and is an active climber in Lander, says he met Perkins and her family when she was about 10 years old. He said they had lived in Bozeman, Montana, but when she was older, they often visited Lander to enjoy its climbing areas, with which Perkins fell in love.
"Even in childhood, she was an extraordinary, talented, world-class athlete," Vassilopoulos said of Perkins, whom he described as being "like a little sister" to him.
As Perkins grew older, she decided to defer college for a bit to travel the world. She had called Lander her home for about the last three years and worked seasonally at Cowfish.
"She was the kind of person (that) absolutely nobody didn't like her instantly," Vassilopoulos said.
About two years ago, Vassilopoulos began to get to know Hayden Kennedy as Perkins's boyfriend.
Kennedy also had stationed himself in the Lander area pursuing his passion as a climbing athlete.
"He was a world-class climber," Vassilopoulos said. "They were both amazing, amazing people."
He was the son of the editor-in-chief of "Climbing" magazine. According to climbing.com, his parents raised him in Carbondale, Colorado, and he began seriously climbing around age 13.
Kennedy, too, decided to forgo a formal college education to start seeing the world right after high school. He went on his first expedition to Patagonia in 2009, climbing in the area a total of three times.
When he was 21, climbing.com stated, he made a "fair-means" ascent of Cerro Torre, controversially removing the bolts from the compressor route during the descent; the act angered some people and resulted in his climbing partner's arrest.
His additional alpine climbing accomplishments included the East Face of K7 and the South Face of The Ogre, the website said, and his ascents earned him the American Alpine Clubs Cutting Edge Award.
The website described Perkins as a "high-level backcountry skier and climber."
"As a climber, she red-pointed 5.14 sport, climbed long, hard routes in Colorado's Black Canyon and fired 5.12 on 1,800-foot Mount Hooker in Wyoming," climbing.com stated. "One in-a-week accomplishment included ticking both the 5.14 sport climb, Vesper, at the fins in Montana, then backcountry skiing a 20-mile traverse with 13,000 feet of elevation gain."
The website went on to say Perkins topped podiums at bouldering, deep-water soloing and Randonee championships.