Hopes & Fears with Kathy Karlo

Hopes & Fears with Kathy Karlo - Dynamite Starfish

Passion outwits obstacles, every time ?: @kziechmann

A photo posted by Kathy Karlo (@inheadlights) on


Kathy is a hidden gem in the wonderful world of the internet. She climbs (both rock and ice), loves dogs, pizza and desserts, and writes about her adventures on her blog, For the Love of Climbing. I feel like I’m barely scratching the surface at her many talents here. I first came to know her name through Instagram, where on more nights than I’d like to admit, I scroll down indefinitely, looking for something interesting to look at. I hovered over this girl with a huge, silly grin on her face, sporting hot pink tape and covered in filth after doing some ridiculous off-width climb… and it made me laugh. I went through more of her posts and found what she had to say so poignant and close to home that I found myself wishing that I had the same bravery to talk about myself with the honesty that she did. Well, long story short, we connected over email. After doing a little bit of brainstorming about how we could do a project together, she graciously agreed to do this interview where I ask her lots of prodding and intrusive questions about her life.

So get your reading glasses on and your mug of hot tea ready and let’s dive in.


It seems like you left East Coast on an epic road trip and are now based in Denver. Is that right? How long were you on the road, and what was it about Denver that caught your eye?

Yes! I am currently based out of Denver, CO. No more living in the Honda for me. I started living out of my car in November of 2014, while I was still living in Brooklyn, NY. I did that until the week before Christmas, drove across the country and the adventure started there. I had the opportunity to travel to Africa in August and had to leave the brown dog and my wheels with friends in Boulder. When I was stateside, I had this panicked thought about having to drive anywhere else (I’d already driven across the country three times at that point). I was so tired of traveling, so I signed a lease a few months later and parked it in Denver. Truth is, it could have been anywhere in the country! Colorado seemed like an okay place to hang my hat for a while.

For lack of a better word, it’s “ballsy” to get up and leave a place you’ve called home to live on the road. The world is big and the unknowns are endless. What was your greatest fear before you stepped out the door?

Before I left, my greatest fear was dealing with all of the change. I think that that’s a fairly normal fear for most people.  Nothing was going to be the same anymore and I didn’t know if I was ready for that or not. Looking back a year later, I’m reminded how adaptable we all are, and that if you don’t try to restart your system, a new garden will never grow.

This isn’t so much a question as a personal opinion, but the thing I love most about your blog is your honest insight. I talk to myself both in my head and out loud while on the wall. It’s funny to see the similarities climbers’ brains, especially from someone who has a similar body type. “Get your ass up and climb harder” totally resonates. I hope you continue to share that kind of refreshing and relatable insight with your readers.

Thank you Leslie! I try to be honest with how I’m feeling, and it feels good to share it with others. I think the purpose behind that is, no matter how alone in the world you might be feeling, there’s a pretty good chance that other people have felt that way, too. I love talking to someone and having those “me too!” moments. It’s making those small connections with people, because that’s what big relationships are built on. 

Any tips you’d like to share for women (or men) wanting to start trad climbing? How did you get into it?

Well, I started ice climbing two years before I even knew what rock climbing was. When I moved to NYC, I started trekking up to the Gunks every single week. My first partner took me up a few pitches and then gave me the opportunity to realize that I was just as capable of leading, so I sort if hit the ground running. It was all I thought about when I wasn’t forced to think about other things. It gave me so much joy, and I just gained that momentum and love for it. Five years later, and that’s only grown.

If you’re just beginning to trad climb, I’d say start slow. Forget about grades if you’ve been climbing previously (bouldering, sport climbing, or climbing in a gym). Let go of your ego because we ALL know you can climb strong—being a safe and smart climber matters much more. Learn how to place gear that you’d feel confident taking leader falls on. Learn what shitty gear looks like (because there going to be times you’ll be placing that, too). Learn how to build safe anchors. Read John Long’s Climbing Anchors book—basically, that should be your bible. I even go back to reference it or refresh my memory from time to time.

Life on the road… any standout moments that have impacted you significantly? I imagine there are many many experiences, but if you were to pick just one! Or two.

Climb with people who you trust, love and respect. Those are three different prerequisites for me. They will make for a richer experience. Climb with people who can teach you, because I think we learn the most from hands-on experiences. Climb with people who inspire you, and climb to inspire. And most importantly, climb because it’s fun and puts a smile on your face from first morning lit approaches to descents by headlamp.

Veering off into territory that many people don’t like to talk much about: money. It’s so rad that you’re out climbing as much as possible and living life the way you want to. To be honest, that’s where I’d like to be too. How do you support your lifestyle? 

So, I’d actually been planning on hitting the road in March of 2015 but my plans went awry (the best ones always do), and I wound up quitting my job in January. I was in the middle of Utah with absolutely no idea what I was going to do or where I was going. It was terrifying. And then I realized, I was given this blank slate and how often are we so lucky? I had started a business in Brooklyn, NY and I kept working at it virtually. I run a nanny placement agency out of NYC (and now Boulder, CO). I’d networked the better part of Park Slope for over two years, so during the winter and spring months, I placed nannies with families and received a placement fee. I’m just starting to grow and develop my business in Colorado.

I also partnered with a few companies on my blog, For the Love of Climbing (www.fortheloveofclimbing.com). I bartered for ad space and helped companies (such as Dirtbag Climbers) with social media content. When I quit my job in January, I asked myself: “What am I good at?” and I’ve always had a knack for meeting and connecting people, and I love helping people when I can. Even if you don’t personally have the answers for someone, you’re bound to know someone who does!

I also lived VERY frugally. When a friend had asked me how much I actually lived off of each month and I told him, his response was: “Wow. You were REALLY dirtbagging it.” (duh!)

I hear Colorado is the land of great beer. Any favorite spots?

I’m actually not a huge beer drinker! I’m more of a bourbon girl, anyway. My new favorite coffee shop is Downpours on Tennyson—it’s down the street from me and staff members are mostly all climbers. It’s almost hard to get work done sometimes when you order a coffee and get sucked into talking beta for two hours with your barista. Love those guys. (Hi Ryan! Hi Brian!) 

Donuts or cookies? 


It’s undeniable that you have a big heart with a real love for people and for climbing. Was there a particular event or person in your life that influenced that perspective?

Scott Albright, my partner from the Gunks, believed in me more than anybody else—even myself. He encouraged me to follow my dreams because he believes in living a live you love. Mark Arrow, my father, gave me a new confidence and way of looking at life and all of the people around me. He gave me unconditional love. I try and take what both of these men taught me and share it with every person I meet.

I also think a lot about the less positive relationships in my life. They have been influential because these people have challenged me in ways that loved ones necessarily don’t. It’s also been my way of taking a negative experience with a person and uncovering the good.

Goals for the upcoming year of 2016?

This year, I’m excited to be out west to get my ice legs back. I’ve been checking out local Colorado ice and have been interested in some of the alpine ice climbing. I’m trying to up my offwidth game, so I’ll definitely be spending time in Vedauwoo and the Creek this spring and summer. I’ve also got my eye on a few bigger walls. Long multi-pitch climbing is calling my name…hope to see some of you out there!

Thank you so so much for taking the time to answer my questions. I loved reading your blog in more detail, and the more I read, the more stoked I get to go climb. Your quest for improvement and your cheerfulness about life as it is inspires and uplifts. I’m so excited that you’re the first to kick off my climber interview series, and that I get to spread some of your infectious happiness around Los Angeles!



As always, thanks to everyone who read this through. I hope my curiosity was able to provide some insight and bring up some of the questions you may have been itching to know the answers to. This is the first of Dynamite Starfish's chats, and I hope I'll have many opportunities to delve into the lives of other climbers and inspirational men and women in the future.

You can keep up with Kathy at the following links:

For the Love of Climbing

Climbing Anchors by John Long and Bob Gaines.

Hugs & high fives,

This post was edited to the tunes of Danger Mouse & Sparklehorse // Dark Night of the Soul.

Leslie Kim
Leslie Kim

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