By Jessianne CastleEBS CONTRIBUTING EDITOR
BOZEMAN – According to Bozeman High School senior Aubrey Johnson, rock climbing has done more than just strengthen her body. It’s helped create a balanced young woman.
“When I’m climbing, I’m in my happy place,” said Johnson, 18. “It’s given me some of my closest friends and it’s pushed me into the person I am today.”
She says the sport satisfies both mental and physical drives, and is particularly gratifying for the ability to have individualized challenges but still develop a strong community of climbing partners, mentors and friends.
Johnson, who is on the youth-focused Bozeman Climbing Team, is the inaugural recipient of the Inge Perkins Scholarship, a memorial award that celebrates the life of Inge Perkins of Bozeman, who was tragically killed by an avalanche on Oct. 7, 2017, at the age of 23. Perkins was skinning up Imp Peak in the southern Madison Range with her boyfriend, 27-year-old alpinist Hayden Kennedy, when the slide took her life and partially buried Kennedy. Though he survived the avalanche, Kennedy returned home and took his own life.
This loss sent tremors through the climbing community and out of this grief, loved ones developed the scholarship fund for Gallatin Valley female climbers in middle or high school in order to promote strong climbers and community-minded volunteers—two elements embedded in Perkins’ own life.
“We were all beyond grief stricken after the tragic loss of Inge and Hayden,” wrote Mike Harrelson in an email to EBS. “I think working on the [Inge Perkins Scholarship]—figuring it out and doing our best as we go—has helped us all cope with our respective loss of Inge.
“Inge was much more than a talented climber; she was a giver and a role model in many ways,” added Harrelson, who knew Perkins since she was a child and helped establish the scholarship. “Since she was a little girl, Inge spoke more with her actions than with words. Humble, unassuming, smart, diligent, independent, witty—as well as a super talented outdoor athlete—Inge was a quiet crusher. Whether in the mountains or the classroom, Inge was a beacon of excellence and an inspiration to many.”
Johnson, who received the award in November, was selected unanimously by the selection committee for her thoughtful nature.
“Aubrey, first and foremost, expressed care and compassion for the larger community,” said Kelsey Sather, who was a close friend of Perkins’ and sits on the scholarship selection committee. “She was really passionate about being an active community member and expressed passion to learn more. Aubrey was caring, passionate about the outdoors and a motivated climber.”
In its first year, the fundraising effort surpassed $25,000, with donations from Spire, Scarpa and the Power Company, as well as Mystery Ranch’s pledge of $3,000 annually. Friends and family established an endowment fund for the award and the total amount of this first year’s scholarship exceeds $5,000 in the form of financial support for climbing team fees, competitions and an outdoor trip with the youth climbing group Touch the Sky, as well as an assortment of climbing gear and a health-food stipend.
Harrelson said he hopes the scholarship will grow its capacity in order to support two recipients in the future, and ongoing fundraising will help develop this.
“It’s a really big honor,” Johnson said of her selection for the award. “I didn’t know Inge very well … but she was one of the first climbers that I looked up to.”
Visit ingeperkinsscholarship.com to learn more.