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Please respect the outdoors by practicing Leave No Trace. Learn more about how to apply the principles of Leave No Trace on your next outdoor adventure here.
Georgina Miranda | 07.01.2019

When Kathy Karlo started For the Love of Climbing, it was a way for her to reassure her family that she was alive and well. Since then, her blog and community has grown, and she has launched a podcast focused on the theme of vulnerability—because that’s the real stuff underneath us all. Kathy Karlo is a raw and authentic voice for the expression of how healing and the outdoors merge.

At Outdoor Project, we've made it part of our mission to celebrate and amplify the voices of women in the outdoors. In our third year of Women in the Wild, we are proud to share our platform again with courageous and inspiring female figures, like Kathy Karlo, who are making a difference in the outdoor industry and the world at-large. It’s been an honor to be a guest editor this year for Women in the Wild, and I am grateful and inspired by all of the remarkable women that I got to connect with and interview. They are shaping a new narrative daily, and they show us anything is possible with tenacity, creativity, and purpose.

 

Being "masculine" is not the only way to succeed. We can be fierce and vulnerable synchronously. There is no rule that says we must draw a line between the two.

—Kathy Karlo

 

In this interview, we talk to Kathy Karlo about climbing, her podcast, No Man’s Land Film Festival, and how to be your best self. This interview has been edited for clarity.

 


Photo courtesy of Kathy Karlo.

GM: Tell us about Kathy Karlo. How would you describe your connection to the outdoors?

KK: My connection to the outdoors began as an empowering journey but slowly, over time, gave me strength to heal certain wounds. My connection to climbing eventually gave me the opportunity to create that space for myself.

There is something about the outdoors, and especially climbing, that has become incredibly healing for me. The sound of my breath with each movement when I climb is healing for me. Onsighting climbs that I didn’t necessarily think I could get to the top of is healing for me. Standing on a summit is healing. Even just approaching a specific climb or area, I feel this gratitude for my body being able to carry me, which is powerful.

GM: Tell us more about For the Love of Climbing. Were you always drawn to a life of the outdoors and storytelling? How did your journey get you to where you are today?

KK: For the Love of Climbing began as a blog I started to let my mom know I was still alive (not kidding). It slowly evolved to me sharing my story of being on the road, the people that I met, and the important connections I made. I didn’t grow up camping or spending any time in the outdoors, and so when I started climbing in my early twenties, I was so enthused about the sport. I was a little sparkly-eyed about the whole thing and I romanticized a life on the road. Over the years, FLC evolved into a platform for other people to share their stories, too.

GM: What initiatives/projects/goals are you focused on?

KK: I started a podcast that has just finished its first full season. We are on a little hiatus as we start to build the second season, slated to come out winter of 2019. I’m planning to focus more of my time and energy on speaking with climbers from more marginalized backgrounds as I continue to share stories from people you might not have otherwise heard of. We’ll continue with the theme of vulnerability—because that’s the real stuff underneath us all. That’s kind of the beauty of it. We idealize the professionals in our sport, but the thing about that is, their stories aren’t always relatable. Pro athletes tend to want to steer the conversation where they’re always putting their best selves in the limelight (and don’t we all?). A huge goal of mine is to have pro climbers speak about some of their most vulnerable moments in their lives and careers—I think it humanizes them so much and people can just relate to that better than trying to send a 5.14 rig.

GM: Share more about No Man's Land Film Festival and how people can people can support your work?

KK: No Man’s Land Film Festival is an all-women adventure film festival created as a response to the lack of representation in the outdoor arena. The film festival travels year-round and worldwide with a selection of short lady-powered adventure films with the goal to empower and inspire audiences to redefine femininity in adventure through film. Our 2019 goal is to produce more content that is representative of the female experience in the outdoors.

We have a lot of people standing behind our mission, but the best way to support the film festival is to host an event! Anybody can host one, and it’s always an amazing time for people to get together and reign in all of the magic and beauty that comes from women empowering other women.

GM: Where do you draw your inspiration/motivation from? Has that changed over your time? 

KK: There are so many inspiring women doing amazing things in the outdoor world and beyond, and I'm always in awe of the work that they are doing—whether it be creating political change, education, awareness, or just getting after it. However, any time someone asks me, "Who is your role model?" or someone I look up to/draw motivation from, I always answer: myself. I think it's important to consider yourself as your own hero. When we admire our heroes, we tend to place them on a pedestal and see only the good. That's how so much of social media works these days, right? We put our best selves in the limelight. Maybe that's even how someone, somewhere out there in the world, views me—but *I* know the truth. I am an imperfect human who is flawed in so many ways, and I constantly make mistakes. I also acknowledge that I try to grow from them. I'm always learning. I'm always moving. I'm always trying to hustle. It's empowering to be your own hero and ask yourself: "What would I do in this situation?"

GM: What have been some of the biggest challenges you have had to overcome related to your outdoor pursuits or your career? What helped you overcome those challenges?

KK: One of the biggest challenges I’ve had to overcome is creating space for vulnerability. Writing was a huge outlet for me and aided in creating that space. In an essay published in The Climbing Zine, I address the pressures and expectations I've faced as a female climber in a narrative historically dominated by male athletes. I speak about how women place themselves under extreme pressure to hide their vulnerabilities in an effort to be perceived as strong and capable as men, and I argue that acknowledging and accepting (rather than hiding and rejecting) emotional experiences is key to healing. Climbing is not an exception to these gender biases, however, through essays like "Do Not Go Outside to Cry" I see my writing creating conversations as I remind people that being "masculine" is not the only way to succeed, and that we can be fierce and vulnerable synchronously. There is no rule that says we must draw a line between the two.

GM: What can the greater outdoor community and companies like OP do to better amplify and celebrate the voices of ALL women in our community?

KK: I think that one of the most important things companies can do is to actually create space for women, and especially women of color, to be heard. Whether that be elevating them through a platform or job opportunity, giving marginalized and overlooked communities space to be heard is not only necessary, but it is also empowering. It helps build a society where equality, opportunity, and justice are givens instead of buzzwords.

GM: How do you keep your pursuits going? How did you get it all to a point where this is a feasible lifestyle for you? How do you support your adventures/passions? Has this changed over time?

KK: I spent many years dirtbagging, all mostly self-funded through a combination of freelance writing jobs, sponsorships, and working with children as a nanny. I always told myself: “You can always make more money.” That is actually a hard thing to swallow when you actually aren’t making much to sustain yourself financially. During a year of self-discovery, I wrote and directed a short film, which was my introduction to working full-time for an all-woman adventure film festival. In addition, my writing platform has evolved.

GM: What’s been the most useful advice given to you along your journey? What advice do you wish you were given when you were younger?

KK: Someone once told me that you will never get a "yes" if you don't ask the question. I have literally applied that to everything in my life. I always ask myself, "What's the worst that can happen?" Sometimes, it's that someone will say no. Sometimes, it's failure. And those aren't bad things—they aren't things we should be afraid of.

GM: Do you have any other tips/advice/encouragement for women looking to embark on a similar career or path?

KK: The key is persistence and following your joy rather than chasing happiness. Chasing happiness implies that it isn’t there yet, or that you haven’t arrived. But following your joy opens up paths to an opportunity that you might not have discovered otherwise.

GM: What’s been your favorite outdoor adventure to date and why? What’s on your adventure bucket list and/or coming up for you?

KK: Picking a favorite adventure is like picking one pizza topping or ice cream flavor! I guess my favorite ones are the ones that go completely pear-shaped (my first big wall expedition to Africa, for one). Even though I never would have said that in the moment.

Bucket list for the rest of 2019/2020: Yosemite big wall, and a Triple Crown project in Tennessee, Mexico, and Spain!

GM: What is the message you would like to share with the world, the outdoor community, and other women in general? Or what is a story you hope to tell in your lifetime?

KK: As more women step into the outdoor community with passion and drive, I would ask them to remember that the idea of being "feminine" is just showing up as they are. As the outdoor industry has begun to recognize not just racial and ethnic diversity, but indigenous rights, LGBTQI, and differently-abled body equality, the same applies. Showing up how you are is the most important and authentic thing people can do. It's your way of sharing your story and your truth. It's how we shatter previous stereotypes; it's how we create change.

Want to hear more from Kathy Karlo? Read her essay, “Do Not Go Outside to Cry,” on Climbing Zine. Subscribe to her podcast For the Love of Climbing, follow her on Instagram, and read more of her writing on her blog. For more inspiring interviews and articles, head on over to Women in the Wild 2019.

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