A Mirror and a Whetting Stone

Cover photo by Ben Herndon

A year ago last weekend we lost Inge Perkins and Hayden Kennedy. In Inge’s hometown of Bozeman, Montana, a scholarship in her name name grew from the love shared for this exceptional human.

A community project, like this scholarship, offers a way to alchemize grief into a positive and tangible creation. This particular project honors Inge’s loves for climbing and the outdoors by gifting financial support to a young woman pursing her own climbing dreams. 

While we know climbing was central to Inge’s life, one may question why the scholarship supports a climber rather than a math major or someone dedicated to environmental preservation. Math and sustainability were also passions of Inge; we might argue these pursuits offer more benefit to society than the relatively obscure sport of climbing. 

Climbing is for fun. This is a basic truth of the sport. No one’s curing cancer by sending 5.15. No one’s solving climate change by establishing first ascents. It’s a trivial and seemingly inconsequential expenditure of time. 

And yet. Like many recreations offering personal challenge, climbing serves as both a mirror and a whetting stone. 

The rock says nothing and asks everything; it reflects back the truth of a person. How does she react to failure? How does she react to success? Does she adapt and grow, or does she resist and break?

A route is a conversation between the climber and rock: how will the body navigate this maze created by centuries of fire, water, wind, and gravity? Movement guided by focused practice answers this question. Excellence in climbing requires patience, persistence, and honest self-reflection. Sending projects involves creative problem-solving and a willingness to fail, learn, and adapt. Again and again. 

Climbing can be an escapism from the “real world.” But when there’s only the rock and the climber, escaping the self isn’t an option. The climber faces her inner fears. Fears of falling. Fears of trying her hardest and still “failing.” Fears of succeeding and the expectations often born of achievement. 

So while the “real world” may exist beyond crimps and chalk, the self remains present. When the climber returns to the stresses of being human—stresses from school, work, finances, interpersonal relations…not to mention the tragedies and dilemmas of our modern world—she returns with a greater understanding of her strengths and potential for further refinement.

Knowledge is power. Self-knowledge, I believe, is the greatest power we can possess in the true meaning of both power and possession.

No, climbing doesn’t directly solve personal or societal dilemmas. But it does encourage growth. It demands it, really, if one seeks to improve throughout the phases of her life. 

Inge was a physically and mentally strong woman. And by strong I’m not referring to her 5.14 sends or run-outs on alpine routes. I mean strong as independent, curious, and open to growth.

Her self-sufficient nature often had her packing up her truck and traveling to dry rock and cool temperatures. She challenged herself on climbs. I witnessed her send routes and flail on moves with equal measures of grace. Through many, many hours of practice and hundreds of routes, failure and success helped Inge grow into the woman we continue to respect and admire. 

No one’s perfect, of course. Inge had flaws, insecurities, discontents. But perfection isn’t what the scholarship honors. It’s honoring a girl’s commitment to growth. It’s about supporting girls in their own journeys to becoming strong women—women with the self-knowledge, focus, and dedication necessary to tackle the personal and societal issues she will inevitably face in her life.