Girl Crush: An Interview with Kathy Karlo

Every so often, we’ll interview extraordinary girls doing extraordinary things: this is Girl Crush.  This week, we’re stoked to feature for the love of climbing author Kathy Karlo.

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Kathy Karlo is a rock climber based out of Brooklyn, NY. When she’s not on the road, she owns a Brooklyn and Boulder-based nanny agency. Between baking and loving’ on dogs, she’s desperately trying not to kill the last few living basil plants in her apartment.

Her love of rock and ice has been a life changing experience. She encourages anyone and everyone to try it! Her belief that climbing a rock is so much more than that…it’s a life journey that forever tests the limits of possibility.

Kathy is adopted from Korea, has a brown dog named Shooter, and a severely irrational fear of both zombies and dinosaurs.

If it isn’t ridiculous, then what’s the point?

BB: for the love of climbing is all about doing what you love,  with love – was it love at first sight with you and rock climbing?

KK: I fell hard and fast; it was like getting hit with a ton of bricks, then falling on your ass, thinking: “Oh, here we go again.” with a huge smile on my face. I grew up as a dancer and a gymnast as a child, so the movement of rock climbing was very familiar to me. It was like falling in love all over again, only better. There’s gear to play with, this time.

BB: We’re totally inspired by your pictures and stories on your blog and instagram – what inspired you to lead a life around rock climbing?

KK: I’ve always been a huge believer of following your joy, rather than chasing happiness. Chasing happiness implies that it isn’t already there. I was really terrified to leave Brooklyn, NY where I’d built a life and a home base and felt like I had a place in the rock climbing community. It was home. But the thought of not living my life based on my passions was even scarier.

BB: How has a life spent climbing on the road changed you?

KK: Well, there are definitely less showers! To be honest, I’ve always been kind of an introvert and really valued my time alone. Now, alone time sometimes feels hard to me, so I’ve had to reach out to friends and loved ones from time to time. Regardless, there is something really remarkable about being on the road alone because it’s given me a real chance to ask myself the hard questions and answer them more honestly, too. When you’re stripped of everything (friends, family, belongings, et cetera), you start realizing what the things that really matter in your life are.

I’ve also become more adjusted to the idea of letting things be – shit happens. Then what? You roll with it. I think the act of doing this gives you resilience.

There is nothing like being a lady and getting up a climb because you simply tried something different. That’s what I love about climbing: there are multiple ways/techniques, it’s for the young and the wise, the beginners and the advanced.


BB: You’ve generally been described as a badass. What does badassery mean to you?

KK: I’ve always laughed when I hear the word “badass” because I don’t necessarily believe that that’s a word I’d ever use to describe myself! You know who’s BADASS? Indiana Jones. Annie Oakley. And definitely, DEFINITELY Han Solo. I think that the word “badass” can sometimes give people the image of someone who is ultimately fearless, and that is a lot of hype to live up to. I think that we all get scared of big things, especially in rock climbing. I think someone who exhibits “badassery” is someone who makes a conscious decision to do the things that scare them.


BB: Would you agree that rock climbing can be a metaphor for female empowerment?  How has climbing empowered you in other areas of your life?

KK: Without a doubt. The impact that rock climbing has been on my confidence is unparalleled. The biggest challenge to me in life used to be overcoming my fear of simply living in a world where I felt like I lacked experience in everything, and through climbing I’ve realized how everyone starts out with a blank canvas. Everybody starts at the beginning, and you build on your experiences with that. And, I’ve discovered how beautiful beginnings can be.

BB: Tell us about your next project.

KK: I left the east coast in pursuit of a life of climbing, but have been specifically seeking out the wide to get off-width skills dialed. I’ll be Squamish bound in a few more weeks, after Wyoming, and I’m hoping to head to Montreal in the fall for some monster roof cracks. If I’m lucky, I’ll be able to make some pit stops in the southeast and revisit a few of my favorite cracks (:


BB: We love this line from your most recent blog entry on climbing off-widths – it perfectly sums up how we often feel about climbing in general:

Climbing for a week in Vedauwoo is like being in an abusive relationship with the rock, I think. The physical brutality of it all, the tears, struggle, and constantly telling yourself: “I’m different this time”, or “I can change”!

What drives and catapults you to continue in the face of struggle?

KK: I’m not a grade chaser but I do chase challenge. The harder something feels, the more I can engage in self-searching. For me, challenging myself is not about numbers, but about attaining awareness and growing my universe around me, and growing closer to the people in my universe.

Challenging myself is also about seeking out my inspiration. Every year on my birthday, I wear a tiara no matter where I am. I’ve even worn it over my helmet on El Cap! Anyway, the point is that I do this because I can’t expect anybody else to celebrate my birthday if I’m not willing to. The same thing applies here: I can’t expect to inspire anybody if I’m not inspiring myself.

BB: What advice would you give to someone battling their inner climbing demons, whether it’s fear, ego, or the dreaded plateau?

KK: Know yourself enough to be honest with yourself. You can lie to everybody in the whole world, including yourself, but nobody is going to suffer from that more than you. Work on your self talk. Realizing your true worth affects how you speak with yourself, so don’t beat yourself up. And most importantly, remember to focus on love.

BB: 2015 has been the year of awesome for Kathy Karlo (sponsored evolv athlete, featured blogger in CLIMBING magazine, dirtbagclimbers ambassador) – where to next?

KK: I always used to joke that if I lived in a climbing town, I’d have to figure out what to do with the rest of my life! I want to spend the next year developing my big wall skills (the bigger, the better!) but I’m also taking time to develop my business endeavors in Colorado. In between the two, I’m going to be working on perfecting my pie making skills – I’m thinking some sort of rhubarb crumble and chocolate, mint and bourbon? Thoughts?

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