How Kathy Karlo Found An Emotional Outlet Through Rock Climbing

Everyone deals with negative feelings. We may not completely avoid them but we need to look for an effective way to deal with them.

For rock climber Kathy Karlo, rock climbing is a great sport to escape in and help her handle sad feelings. It was all she needed to heal a broken heart.

Let’s learn more about Kathy’s rocking climbing life, her best tips for both new and experienced rock climbers, her favorite gear, and more!

Climber Kathy Karlo
Photo credit: Sam Cervantes

Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

My name is Kathy Karlo, I am an online blogger for For the Love of Climbing, and a freelance writer. I also work for No Man’s Land Film Festival, an all-female adventure film festival based out of the Rocky Mountains of Colorado.

I grew up on the east coast. Before I left on a twelve-month long road trip, I was Brooklyn-based. I will always be a New Yorker at heart. I went to school for education but wound up nannying while living in the city. Shortly after having moved to the city, I started writing about the climbing lifestyle and ultimately, the pursuit of happiness. The life surrounding the outdoor lifestyle resonates with everybody—whether you call home a campsite, your car, or NYC apartment, there are similar questions we are all asking ourselves.

When I’m not working or traveling, I love to do things that bring simple pleasure, such as baking. I love baking! Feeding people is my favorite thing in the entire world. I’ve currently based out of NYC again until the end of December. I’ll most likely pursue the vagabond life again, who knows where I’ll end up. Maybe Patagonia or Spain.

Climber Kathy Karlo
Photo credit: Sam Cervantes

How and why did you get into climbing?

I began ice climbing before I even knew what rock climbing was. I was dating someone who was born and raised in Colorado, and every January he and his father took me ice climbing in Ouray. When the relationship ended, I moved to the city and found myself doing a lot of searching. Searching for a job, stability, new friends — but I was mostly needing something for myself. Breakups have a tendency to do that after a big loss, you start looking for something to fill in the void, help repair a fresh wound, and ultimately, get back to you. Rock climbing was the perfect emotional outlet for all of that.

My family doesn’t understand my lifestyle but they’re supportive of it. In fact, I don’t really tell my mom until after I get back from trips. I think she worries too much. She likes reading my blog though.

Why is climbing important for you?

Climbing has always been my way of understanding myself, and how I relate to the rest of the world. I do it because it helps me find a peaceful place inside of my own head and heart, I love the movement and the challenges, and it helps me problem solve.

Getting outdoors to discover parts of yourself is important because it’s empowering. There is nothing more empowering than climbing a mountain and relying on your own skill set to do it.

Through rock climbing, I’ve been to great places like Uganda, Zanzibar, and São Tomé-trip, and São Tomé.

Climber Kathy Karlo
Photo credit: Sam Cervantes

What has been the best and most difficult parts of climbing?

The best parts of climbing are the self-challenges you overcome and the lifelong friends you make in the process because they are the ones you are sharing your summits with. The difficult parts are not failure itself, but admitting failure and having to figure out a better system, overcoming ego in order to see what lesson lies underneath, and the occasional shiver bivvy.

When I am having a difficult time, feeling tired, and everything is messy, I remind myself of my hardest experiences. Everything is relative. Once you go through a hard time, everything else seems easier in comparison, so I’m thankful for as many shitty experiences I can go through.

How do you eat and sleep?

I eat and sleep pretty regularly. Those are two of my favorite activities, in fact. I’m kind of a caffeine fiend, so I can go on as little as four hours of sleep as long as there’s coffee in the morning and throughout the day. Sometimes, I think my body still runs on NYC time–late nights, early mornings, and a lot of hustle in between. I’ve driven from NYC to Denver, CO in a single 29 hour push several times in the last few years. I look at those drives as if they are big wall missions and get it done. I usually need a day to recover and do nothing except hang out with my dog and eat doughnuts.

I don’t have a special diet. I love calories. I can eat more than most men that I know, and that’s a fact. God blessed me with baby cheetah metabolism and I’m very lucky. I’m also very hungry. It’s a known fact that that’s why most climbers climb mountains–so that all-you-can-eat-sushi afterward tastes delicious and guilt-free.

Climber Kathy Karlo
Photo credit: Chris Vultaggio

How do you handle injuries and recovery?

No, I’ve no recurring injuries. I’ve also been very lucky in that regard. I broke my foot last year during a ground fall climbing in Eldorado Canyon, but even that wasn’t a bad thing. I was about to hit the road again and leave Colorado for good, but a broken foot forced me to sit still for once. I received more love and support from friends and community than I will ever know what to do within a single lifetime. And I even got a boyfriend out of the whole ordeal–not bad, right?

(I didn’t train when I was injured. I mostly ate a lot and caught up on some Netflix. It was great.)

What are your best advice people new to climbing?

For new climbers: Do not see failure as weakness. See it as an opportunity to be successful.

For all climbers: Encourage others in the outdoors just by being yourself. By following your joys, trying hard, and keeping a positive attitude — people see that. Other women see that. Because the thing about trying something that seemed impossible at one point is that when people see it, they get inspired to try, too. Instead of telling ourselves that we could never do that, we start thinking, “Maybe I can do that, too.” We are all here to encourage, support, and inspire one another.

Climber Kathy Karlo
Photo credit: Irene Yee

How do you prepare for every climb and how do you finance it?

Sometimes I climb in a gym but lately, I just climb outside. The best training for climbing is actually just climbing. When I have downtime or climbing isn’t available or accessible to me, I just enjoy my time doing things around me in a non-climbing capacity.

Besides writing and working for the film festival, I work with several outdoor gear companies (such as UCO Gear, Deuter, Dirtbag Climbers, Misty Mountain). Both of my jobs are remote, but at the moment, I choose to be in NYC because my partner moved here for a job contract. Most of my travels are self-funded but are often subsidized by great companies and people I love and stand by.

How do you balance normal life with training?

What’s normal life? Is this not normal life? Kidding. A lot of my “normal life” responsibilities revolve around climbing, so it never really feels like I’m choosing “one or the other”. I guess sitting at a computer isn’t exactly exercising anything but my brain, but it’s necessary. I don’t hate my job. I love working and you need to love what you do in order to have a good balance. Otherwise, it will be hard not to wish you were outside all of the time. I personally like to think of my time spent at a desk as a good “rest day” activity.

What other favorite gear do you have?

Climber Kathy Karlo
Photo credit: Tim Foote

What will the future bring?

I’ve got a bit of traveling planned this summer through the fall. It will be nice to be in one place this fall/winter, though. I missed east coast climbing and there is no place in the world like fall here–plus, we have apple cider doughnuts. I have a few projects in the Gunks in mind, and my partner and I are tentatively discussing Patagonia and Spain for 2018. I’m also considering doing another big wall aid solo next year, but we’ll see.

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