The lives and climbs of Hay­den Kennedy, Scott Adam­son, and Kyle Demp­ster.


“It was the na­ture of his pro­fes­sion that his ex­pe­ri­ence with death should be greater than for most and he said that while it was true that time heals be­reave­ment it does so only at the cost of the slow ex­tinc­tion of those loved ones from the heart’s me­mory which is the sole place of their abode then or now. Faces fade, voices dim. Seize them back, whis­pered the sepul­turero. Speak with them. Call their names. Do this and do not let sor­row die for it is the sweet­en­ing of ev­ery gift.”

— Cor­mac McCarthy, The Cross­ing

In win­ter 2010, I at­tended a slideshow in Boze­man, Mon­tana, given by Will Gadd. Only 33 at the time, I was gain­ing trac­tion as a pho­tog­ra­pher. I was also still young enough that loss re­mained a mostly in­tan­gi­ble con­cept, some­thing that hap­pened to other, more dis­tant com­mu­nity mem­bers—not my im­me­di­ate cir­cle. Near the end, Gadd flashed on the screen a long list of friends who had per­ished in the moun­tains, fol­lowed by the above pas­sage from McCarthy’s blood-soaked Western. The words hung there long enough to skim but not to fully com­pre­hend—it would be years be­fore that level of un­der­stand­ing flat­tened me like a steam­roller.

Deaths on the pe­riph­ery are just that—they don’t hit you in the gut. And like any­one who climbs (or lives) long enough, I’d ex­pe­ri­enced such losses plenty. It was a river with no end. Then, in 2016, I got lev­eled. That’s when two of my best friends from Utah, the lead­ing alpin­ists Kyle Demp­ster and Scott Adam­son, went miss­ing on Ogre II in Pak­istan. Just over a year later, in Oc­to­ber 2017, my friend Hay­den Kennedy, a prodi­gious tal­ent on rock and in the alpine, was gone as well, tak­ing his life af­ter his girl­friend, Inge Perkins, was buried and killed by an avalanche while they were ski­ing on Imp Peak in Mon­tana.

As a doc­u­men­tar­ian of our sport, I’ve seen first­hand how much it can give … but also how much it can take. I’ve ex­pe­ri­enced bliss while doc­u­ment­ing in­cred­i­ble first as­cents, head­points, red­points, and ev­ery­thing in be­tween. I’ve also had the hair on my neck stand elec­tri­fied. I’ve been jolted by bro­ken bolts and had my throat tick­led with nau­sea from failed an­chors. I’ve felt my palms sweat while watch­ing climbers push their ca­pa­bil­i­ties to ra­zor-thin mar­gins, and felt vis­ceral ter­ror as they broke holds high above gear. No­body has ever died while I pho­tographed them, but peo­ple whom I’ve pho­tographed have cer­tainly died climb­ing.

As I’ve grieved my friends, I’ve run through the usual litany of emo­tions—anger, de­spair, sad­ness, de­pres­sion, con­fu­sion—we ex­pe­ri­ence when some­one is gone, es­pe­cially so young. Kyle was only 33, Scott 35, and Hay­den 27. I’d come to know them in­ti­mately, as friends, climb­ing part­ners, and pho­to­graphic sub­jects.

Their deaths have tainted my view of the sport. I have a hard time find­ing mo­ti­va­tion now; I’m still an­gry, and fear I al­ways will be. When I do climb, it brings a smile to my face, for that is where I be­long. But god­damn, that ini­tial hur­dle to just go climb­ing is huge. These are the con­tours of my grief, a world tilted off axis in which the ap­proach has grown steeper and more treach­er­ous.

One way I have found to cope is to share—and keep shar­ing—ad­ven­tures with these friends I doc­u­mented with my cam­era. I’m grate­ful to have these im­ages to con­jure up sen­sa­tions of ex­pe­ri­ences long past. The emo­tions might dis­ap­pear en­tirely with­out these vis­ual clues. We, who are alive, are lucky to have the medium of pho­tog­ra­phy to help us re­mem­ber the dead. It is al­most as if they are still with us, look­ing back from the page, re­mind­ing us to never let their faces fade or voices dim.



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