Inge Perkins, 23, a recent graduate of Montana State University, was skinning up Imp Peak in southwest Montana when the fateful slide occurred on October 7. With her was 27-year-old Hayden Kennedy, famed alpinist and the love of her life. Both were sponsored climbers and experienced backcountry skiers.
The avalanche, a slab of new snow on top of four feet of old snow from earlier in the fall, measured one to two feet at its crown, 150 feet wide and 300 feet long. Perkins was buried three feet deep, but Kennedy only partially, so he was able to free himself. He searched, could not locate Perkins and—grief stricken—returned to Bozeman alone and took his own life. When search and rescue recovered Perkins’ body on October 9, her avalanche beacon was turned off and stashed in her pack.
Hayden was a friend. The pain isn’t going away. I can only imagine what the lovers’ families are going through. But I must ask myself some questions: Would things have been different if the two were properly using their avalanche gear? What if Hayden had received emotional treatment after the accident? Questions, answers, these things don’t bring people back. But maybe, someday, they will help us find closure for these all-too-fresh wounds.
Death happens. Regarding avalanches, 117 fatalities have occurred to skiers and snowboarders in the U.S. since the 2007-2008 season. But at least there is something being done about it: Advancements in backcountry safety gear continue to develop, from beacons to air bags to education.
Suicide is different. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) states suicide (with synonyms: recklessness, madness, irresponsibility) is the tenth leading cause of death in America, with 44,193 annual casualties, or an average of 121 per day. “Suicide costs the U.S. $51 billion annually,” states AFSP’s website.
Hayden is my third friend to take his life in the past few years. I don’t know what else to do except keep moving, loving and crying. As a friend recently messaged to me: “I’m sorry you have lost so many friends over the years and will continue to lose more. Remember to take time and to be gentle with yourself.”
—Chris Van Leuven