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Hayden Kennedy: Superballistic

At age 19, Hayden Kennedy decided to study at the “University of Yosemite.”

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Hayden Kennedy and Jason Kruk, ages 21 and 23, had chopped a bivy ledge at the base of the final headwall on the mammoth North Face of North Twin when the storm moved in. Still trying to climb amid snow, rain, spindrift and thin pro the next morning, Hayden had a thought: “Well, maybe we should start thinking about the descent.”

The pair began rappelling, but found they had to “load up” the fractured limestone with three or four pieces per rap. His next conclusion was, “We don’t have enough to get down.”

The mythic, looming 5,000-foot face is the hardest in the Canadian Rockies and the site of only three ascents: its FA in 1974 by George Lowe and Chris Jones, the North Pillar by Barry Blanchard and Dave Cheesmond in 1985, and the North Face variation by Steve House and Marko Prezelj in 2004.

The two youths had arrived to a winter-locked face laced with big corniced mushrooms and delaminating ice. On day one Kruk styled what Kennedy called “maybe the most impressive lead I’ve ever seen. Bad rock, a limestone bulge, two bad Arrows, and a long way to a bad place to fall.”

The pair made great progress, reaching the final headwall at two-thirds height before being thwarted by storm. Lacking enough gear to rap the face and concerned about avalanches, they recalled a ledge system at half height that might offer them an escape to the Northeast Ridge. They rapped to the ledge, then traversed nearly 10 horizontal pitches. Kennedy recalls the terrain as “really scary,” unprotected and with strange “tension traverses around cornices.” Reaching the relative safety of the ridgeline, the two climbed it until they could access the glacier, where they sat out a cold night, then followed a drainage down.

Hayden came home to Carbondale, Colorado, calling his experience “soul-cleansing.”

Son of Julie Kennedy and the leading alpinist Michael Kennedy, Hayden grew up taking long climbing trips to Yosemite, the Canadian Rockies, and overseas to Thailand and Australia. He has climbed as hard as Rifle’s most difficult route, The Crew (5.14c), but Castleton Tower in Castle Valley, Utah, with his father at 13 stoked him for a life of trad climbing: “That was the moment.”

Graduating from high school in 2009 at age 19, Hayden decided to study at the “University of Yosemite,” and that season linked El Cap and Half Dome, climbed Mount Watkins in seven hours, and led Tuolumne’s Bachar Yerian (5.11c R). In the winter it was south to Argentina, where he and Jason Kruk spent seven hours trying to circumvent a rime mushroom atop the Supercanaleta on Fitz Roy, rappelled for 13 hours, and returned within two days to climb the route in 40 hours town to town.

By the time this issue comes out, Hayden should be in Pakistan with Kelly Cordes and Kyle Dempster to climb in the Charakusa Valley.

Hayden Kennedy comes through a 5.12a chimney pitch, The Divine Bell, Keketuohai Park, China.
Hayden Kennedy comes through a 5.12a chimney pitch, The Divine Bell, Keketuohai Park, China.

Q&A with Hayden Kennedy

What did you learn in Canada?

It’s all about keeping the psyche, not letting in pain or negativity. Keep a positive attitude, keep going, keep laughing. Not thinking too far ahead, like, ‘What happens if the weather does move in?’ Trying to stay in the present moment and read situations as they come. I’m learning that more and more.

When did you get so stoked on alpine climbing?

When you sport climb, it’s awesome, but to me when you succeed in alpine climbing it’s really powerful, because you put in a lot more effort. When you fail, you really think about it, what went wrong—so many steps go into alpine climbing. The failure is really where you learn.

What do you hope to do in Charakusa?

[Carefully] Depends on conditions and permitting issues. … I would rather not say. I don’t like publicizing something before you go.

It’s a dream trip. The area is so big and so beautiful. I fear that maybe because of the political situation Americans won’t always have the opportunity.

What do your parents think about these alpine trips?

I think they’re psyched that I’m traveling the world and doing something I love. Well, I know that my mom’s not that psyched I’m going to Pakistan.

“When you sport climb, it’s awesome, but to me when you succeed in alpine climbing it’s really powerful, because you put in a lot more effort. When you fail, you really think about it, what went wrong—so many steps go into alpine climbing. The failure is really where you learn.”They trust my decision-making. And they’ve been through this before [with my father’s trips]. She’s reliving, relearning that now. He’s seeing it from the other side. I bet he sometimes gets really scared because he actually knows. But I’ve gotten great support from my parents.

What do you think is the greatest thing in current climbing?

A lot of great things are happening, from sport climbing to alpine. It’s really inspiring to see Adam Ondra and what he’s doing. To see the younger community of climbers getting more into alpine climbing, a resurgence of trad and big-wall climbing. What Alex Honnold is doing is bad ass.

What do you dislike?

When people climb a route just to put it on an 8a card. That’s so weird to me. If it’s a good route, it’s a good route.

The media of the alpine world is getting strange. This new push for these dispatches from the mountain. I just feel that it’s dangerous when you are trying to make these decisions. You might be sitting in basecamp thinking, ‘I don’t want to go up there.’ Maybe I’m wrong but with that camera and other pressures you might feel pressured to go up and ignore what you think.

When my dad went alpine climbing, those guys could blast off into space, no one would hear about them. They could tell their story when they came back in slide shows and the written word, a book or magazine.

Hardest aspects of these big trips?

Learning to fail. You just have to be ready to get shut down. All this money, time, training and effort goes into these trips. But if that’s what happens, that’s what happens. It’s not the end of the world. It’s part of the deal.


More on Hayden Kennedy

Remembering Hayden Kennedy

Climbing World Mourns the Loss of Hayden Kennedy and Inge Perkins

Facing the Monster – By Hayden Kennedy

Watch Hayden Kennedy climb Carbondale Short Bus (5.14-):

Deep North: A Trip to the Arrigetch Peaks

The Hallucinogen Wall

https://vimeo.com/117503263

First Light: Hayden Kennedy and Jesse Huey Prepare for an Alpine Battle