YOU MEANT TO COME HOME
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.
HAYDEN KENNEDY RIDES THE STRAWBERRY ROAN ( 5.13C), WILD IRIS, WYOMING.
MEMORIAL FOR KYLE DEMPSTER AND SCOTT ADAMSON, CHOKTOI GLACIER, PAKISTAN.