Kate, Red Rock Canyon

“I had this idea for a mentoring program, and part of it grew out of just being grateful for my experience of having these really amazing mentors, who not only taught me technical stuff, but… the mindset, it’s not about how hard you climb—it’s the adventure, the culture, and the places.”

When Kate isn’t climbing rocks, she’s probably working on one of her many climbing-related side projects. She gets creative with sharing the culture behind climbing by drawing comics that have been published in the Climbing Zine, creating climbing graphics and posters for the Philly chapter of the American Alpine Club (AAC), and even developing a climbing board game. 

I met Kate at a climbing gym in Philly, where she encouraged me and other climbers to join the mentorship program she was organizing for the AAC’s Philly chapter. Having a mentor is invaluable to anyone new to or trying to improve at the sport and it’s difficult to find one these days. I attended the first program and got to know cool people I otherwise wouldn’t have met and learned a few techniques that I still use to this day.

We climbed together in Red Rock canyon this past March with a few other Philly climbers. At the end of a long day, six of us got together and had a blast playing a prototype of Kate’s climbing board game. On our last day together, while we were hiking into the canyon, I asked Kate about how she got involved with the AAC, her climbing board game, and what she loves about the outdoors.

When did you start climbing?

About five years ago, my boyfriend and I broke up. Like three days after, I went to Go Vertical [the local Philly climbing gym] and signed up for a membership. I was like, ‘Okay, this is my new thing’. There was a really active Meetup group then, that’s how I met my first partners. I kind of fell into this group of people that were really psyched on climbing outside all the time, and I just kept saying ‘Yes’ to any opportunity. I guess the Meetup kind of made me fearless to ask anyone if I could climb with them, and that’s how I met a bunch of people.

Was there a point where climbing became more of a passion than a hobby for you?

Jumping into the AAC (American Alpine Club) was definitely a big turning point. I had heard about this  [women’s climbing] film festival called No Man’s Land. It was coming to New York and Boston, but there wasn’t a Philly stop, and I was ready to just throw down $2,000 of my own money to make it happen. I was calling movie theaters, contacting all the universities and DIY spaces. And Garrett suggested, ‘You should just see if the AAC will host it’. And I reached out to them. They were kind of lukewarm at first, probably because they were like, ‘Who’s this random chick, does she want us to do all the work, or is she willing to do any of it?’ After I made a spreadsheet of all the places I contacted, they were like ‘Okay, we’ll do it’. And we did No Man’s Land, and it went really well.

It seems like you’re spearheading the mentorship program, how’d that get started?

After No Man’s Land, they asked if I wanted to stay on and help with other stuff. I gave them this list of things, I was like, ‘Well, if I’m gonna stay on, these are the things that I’m interested in’. I had this idea for a mentoring program, and part of it grew out of just being grateful for my experience of having these really amazing mentors, who not only taught me technical stuff, but really taught me the approach to climbing. Like the mindset, it’s not about how hard you climb—it’s the adventure, the culture, and the places. I love that and I was just like, ‘Everyone should have this.’

I also kept hearing these stories that were kind of disturbing. I heard this story of this creepy old guy who was taking these younger girls out [climbing] because they wanted to climb at the Gunks and he was just a total creep. No one should feel like they have to climb with someone that they don’t feel safe with. I really feel like there’s a need to connect these people with safe and respectful climbers who can teach them something and empower them to do it themselves.

It seems that wanting to make sure women have partners they feel comfortable with is important to you. Do you think there’s anything the outdoor community at large or the average climber could do to support that?

I definitely think that it’s heading in the right direction. I feel like, personally, anyone who’s climbing with a woman can just help by being encouraging. My mentorship group has a lot of girls climbing with men who are stronger than them, and it’s hard for them to get psyched on leading. They’re like, ‘Why would I lead this? I’m going to be scared, I’m going to hang dog—they’re going to do it in half the time and they’re happy to do it’. So just being encouraging and making sure they know that you’re happy to belay them, no matter how long it takes. And telling them, ‘You could lead that’, because that’s what helped me.

Where did the idea of making a climbing board game come from, and what are your plans for it?

It started a long time ago—Bob and I were talking about how we wanted to make baseball cards for climbing partners. Because you’re always like, ‘Oh, I can’t climb, but you could try my friend so and so’, but you want to give them some information about them. Like, ‘Hey, they’re kind of annoying, but they bring really good snacks’.

Then one night I was playing board games with a bunch of climbers and I remembered that baseball card idea. It just kind of clicked. The basic idea of the game is to climb pitches and needing resources. It’s been a really fun design problem. It’s also a nice excuse to get together with people.

I eventually want to do a Kickstarter and do a small run: maybe sell it in a couple stores and gyms. I actually started selling climbing-themed Christmas cards, and I hope to expand that and start establishing some relationships with more stores so that I can have some contacts where they can sell the game. Over the past couple of years, I’ve really enjoyed projects that are more intense and long term than just is like, ‘Oh, here’s a funny drawing’.

Last question: what do you love about the outdoors?

I think [being outdoors is] one of the few things that really clears my mind. I’m not good at being present; I’m always thinking of something else. When I’m climbing or mountain biking or cycling I feel like I get into the flow state, which feels so amazing, and I think that’s the best way for me to deal with stress.

You can have these really incredible experiences in very unexpected areas. You get to go to some amazing places and form relationships—you become much closer to people in a shorter [amount of time]. You have these bonds that are hard to explain.

This interview has been trimmed and edited to fit this format. If you would like to access the unedited interview audio and unposted photography, see my Patreon page.

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