In this week’s Climber Spotlight, we hear from the talented Hayden Kennedy. Hayden is a multi-discipline crusher but best known for his achievements in the alpine.
You wouldn’t know from his Facebook or interviews, but Hayden has quietly climbed 5.14 sport and trad routes, the first ascent of the hardest pitch in Indian Creek (Cardbondale Short Bus 5.14-), and the first “fair means” ascent of Cerro Torre’s Southeast Ridge, among many other impressive and boundary-pushing ascents in the alpine.
Read on to hear his inspiring story about how the mountains have taught him to stay down to earth, appreciate the simple pleasures of rock climbing, and keep his ego in check.
Tell us about the early days of your climbing career.
I started climbing and skiing in Carbondale, Colorado with my parents when I was very young. They are the ones who really got me into the outdoors and I owe them so much for showing me the power of the mountains.
When I was younger, my Dad (Michael Kennedy) was my first mentor in climbing. We went on a ton of adventures together all over the place and it was a blast! When I was 13 is when I really started to take an interest in climbing and that’s when my life as a climber started.
My Dad showed me the importance of adventure and the idea that climbing isn’t just a physical activity. He taught me about finding the joy in the most simple aspects of climbing and that actions speak louder than words. My Dad comes from a very different place in climbing than most—in his career he focused on the big mountains and climbing in the greater ranges of the world.
At that time in the 70s and 80s, alpine climbing in a fast/light style was just being discovered, and his crew was at the forefront of that movement. He climbed for the purity of the experience and to learn from the mountains. These are some of the core values I try and live by.
As I started to climb more and travel a bit, I really fell in love with traditional climbing. Some of the best days I have ever had climbing were my first gear leads because the adventure was so wild for me! I remember breaking through the fear and going on the journey between gear placements off the deck for the first time like it was yesterday.
What kind of climber are you?
I am just a climber, simple as that. I truly enjoy all aspects of climbing from bouldering to alpine climbing. I think that the different styles keep me interested and stoke levels high. If I was always sport climbing or just climbing in the mountains I think I would get bored. I just love being an all-around climber and trying to take it all in!
How do you feel about climbing as a profession?
Making climbing a profession is a valid and respectable way to make a living, in my opinion. I have plenty of respect for climbers who are able to make it happen in that way. For me personally, I have always had mixed feelings about making climbing my profession.
Honestly, the number one reason is that I am just not that good of a climber, so I have always felt self-conscious about being in the limelight. I have had a lot of support from Patagonia, BD, Liberty Mountain and La Sportiva, which has been very helpful and I am so grateful for their support. I feel like I have always been very honest with the companies that I work with about my stance towards self-promotion, media, etc. and it’s just simply something I am not interested in.
I work lots of different jobs to make it happen and its seems to be just fine. I enjoy the breaks from climbing and getting into something else. I guess the main aspect of professional climbing that pushes me away, is the constant stream of media attached to the industry at the moment. It seems that everything must be posted or it didn’t happen.
What ever happened to just going climbing for the sake of going climbing? I hope that our community can still find the importance of silence. There are plenty of incredible climbers that you will never hear from doing amazing climbs on there own terms and that’s something that truly inspires me.
What is your proudest moment in climbing so far?
I am not sure what my proudest moment in climbing is, maybe it hasn’t happened yet!
Tell us about one of your non-so-proud moments in climbing.
Not-so-proud moments in climbing, I am sure that I have had plenty of those. In 2010 I went on my first trip to Nepal and it was my first time to the big mountains. The whole experience really rocked me both physically and mentally. We had some audacious goals in mind and very little experience climbing in that arena. Essentially we got totally humbled and completely worked.
We didn’t climb anything and I got very sick, which also added to the overall experience. In the end, it was one of the best and worst trips I have ever been on. When I left for Nepal I was ignorant to the power of the mountains and I lacked the skills needed to climb in the Himalaya. My attitude at the start of the trip is something that I am not proud of but in the end the lessons I learned truly shaped who I am today. I am very grateful for that “not-so-proud” experience.
If you could give one piece of advice to a beginner climber, what would it be?
I think that my advice to a beginner climber would be the same as to a 5.15/V15 crusher and that’s simply to climb for fun. Sounds pretty cliché, but that’s one of the only things I know has to happen. Climbing is such a small and unimportant part of the larger world, and if we take it too seriously and forget the fun, than what’s the point?
I see a lot of climbers who struggle because they are too tense and they have huge expectations attached to everything they do. Learning to let go of expectations and the ego has been a huge part of my process as a climber. I would encourage any climber to work on this type of stuff.
A huge thank you to Hayden for sharing his story with us. We wish you the best of luck in all your future endeavors!