Editors Note: Katy has been an inspiration for our team at Wenatchee Outdoors for awhile now. Her upbeat attitude, zest for life and multi-sport passions had us curious to know more about her. Read below to get to know what makes Katy tick, her being born with the “wiggles” and more.
Question: Katy, please tell us a bit about yourself. Your hobbies, interests, etc. we heard you work as a fish biologist and enjoy being active in nature?
Answer: Born in MN, I was gifted with a big case of the wiggles. My free time was filled with family camping and canoeing trips, fishing at the lake at Grandma’s house, and then racing mountain bikes and nordic skiing in high school and college. I honed in my backpacking and rock climbing skills, eventually working for outdoor education programs such as YMCA Camp Menogyn, MN Dept of Correction’s wilderness therapy program, and Outward Bound in Montana, California and Colorado. My most meaningful work was with the Academy at SOAR in Wyoming, a wilderness based boarding school for high school students with ADHD and other learning differences. We backpacked, hiked, climbed, surfed and mountain biked all over the Western US, utilizing National Parks for educational opportunities. Math would be taught at picnic tables, science and history lessons were initiated in visitor centers, and writing would be captured in daily journaling exercises. It was extremely empowering to be able to teach my students how to thrive with their gifts when the rest of the world told them to sit still.
After working seasonally for almost a decade, I longed to be in one place longer than four months. I desired a year round community with frequent potlucks and wanted to be within walking or biking distance of good rock climbing. Should I become a nurse, a mountain guide, a teacher, a fish biologist? After stumbling around for a few years through my quarter life crisis trying to answer that question, I ended up down the fish biologist track and haven’t looked back.
Currently I work for USFWS in the Habitat Restoration Program. It’s a great mix of field work, collaborating with partners (local non-profits, city, county, state, Tribal, and Federal entities), administering grants, and teaching myself GIS skills. Our collective efforts are focused on improving fish habitat for ESA (Endangered Species Act) listed species (Steelhead, Bull Trout, and Chinook Salmon). There are many parallels between outdoor education and fish biology such as teamwork, leadership, communication, and spending days on end in inclement weather. I am very thankful for the opportunities I had that brought me to where I am today.
Question: We heard you were the person who spearheaded the campaign of leave no trace for Leavenworth with “Pick Up Das Poo”? Can you tell us about that experience?
Answer: Have you ever found the perfect poo spot in the mountains, dug a hole, and ended up in a “land mine”? Yeah, that person found the perfect poo spot too…But hey, at least they dug a hole, right? Every spring as trails melt out (specifically Icicle Ridge Trail), piles of poop start appearing – dog and human. One day I finally got so grossed out that I decided I needed to do something about it. As outdoor recreation is gaining popularity, I wanted to create more awareness around LNT ethics, specifically how to properly poop outdoors. So, I sent a friend of mine a very basic idea for a sticker, and since he is a graphic designer and screen printer, he came back with the most amazing stickers. I had fun selling and distributing the stickers and ended up making multiple batches because I kept running out.
Question: Are you an artist as well? We saw you do block printing on t-shirts and make mountain range pillows?
Answer: I really enjoy tapping into my creative side! A few years ago, I started making mountain pillows. After making felt prototypes, I scoured the internet for Pendleton Wool Skirts to make an “upcycled” product, and then sold the mountain pillows on Etsy at Posy in Leavenworth for a while. During covid I taught myself how to carve linoleum designs for block printing. Carving is challenging and rewarding, you have to draw and carve your design backwards for it to print in the right direction, which uses a different part of the brain than I am not used to using. Photography is something that has stuck with me since I was really young. The only problem with these artistic pursuits is I have to sit still to sew, print and edit photos.
Question: We heard that you do a variety of sports. What are they?
Answer: Climbing – Alpine, trad, sport, bouldering. Skiing – backcountry and Nordic (skate) skiing. Yoga, trail running, packrafting, fly fishing, mountain biking and mushroom hunting.
I’ve decided that If I focused my attention on just one sport I could maybe get kind of good at it. My main sport is rock climbing (sunny alpine rock climbing to be specific), but will also go after whatever activity when the conditions, weather and partners line up.
Question: What do you love about climbing and how did you get started with it? How many years have you been climbing?
Answer: If my memory serves me right, Jay Cooke State Park in MN has a low angle rock slab with a fissure down the middle. During our family camping trips there, I loved climbing laps on that thing. Then, on a first grade field trip to a recreation center, I remember climbing on ropes for the first time, they even let us belay!(But did they really? My memory may be failing me right now).
At the end of high school I started working at the local gear shop and became friends with the climbers there, and that’s all she wrote! When picking out colleges, my dad told me I couldn’t get a degree in mountain biking (smart man), so I picked a school that had an outdoor program, a climbing wall (converted from a racquetball court), and a 3400 acre wooded campus.
I’ve been climbing for 20 years now. I love the deep bonds that form with my climbing partners, and I love the incredible places it has taken me around the US and the world. I’ve traveled to Greece, Chile, Peru, Mexico, South Africa, Kenya, Tanzania, and Canada. Every time I go to a new place, three new locations are added to the list.
Question: What do you love about backcountry skiing and how did you get started with it?
Answer: Transitioning from Nordic Skiing to backcountry skiing was a pretty easy one for me. My first backcountry skiing experience in avalanche terrain was on my NOLS Outdoor Educator Semester in Wyoming where we spent three weeks winter camping and backcountry skiing. From this trip I learned that I loved traveling through the mountains in the winter with the ease of skis, but absolutely hate winter camping.
Backcountry skiing opened up a whole new world of exploration and the winter provides so much solitude in the mountains. I love being amongst the giant trees and the feeling of freedom it gives me. Avalanches scare me, so I tiptoe gently around the dragon and make extremely conservative decisions while skiing in the backcountry. My avalanche level 2 instructor told us that level 1 teaches you enough to get you killed, and level 2 teaches you enough to be afraid to go, which tends to be my case. No sicky gnar gnar lines for me, but I’ll certainly take as much hippy pow in the trees! I’ll also go on cardio tours when the conditions aren’t great (snow or avalanche), just to get outside and spend time in the mountains.
Question: Do you do specific training for climbing or backcountry skiing? Do you have an off-season diet or regiment?
Answer: Training for climbing…I’ve struggled with this one for 20 years. My motto is usually just climb as much as possible, ideally outside. I plateaued at 5.10 trad for about a decade – but I was perfectly content there and was having tons of fun. Climbing for me is about the adventure and giggling with my partners in the mountains, so pushing the grade was never my thing. However, I did want to challenge myself and usually the harder the climbs get, the nicer the route is, and fewer people are on it! I’ve tried following generic training plans for climbing but can only stick to it for two or three weeks before I fall off the train. Boredom? Over training? Not specific enough? Who knows? But what I do know is that I’ve been very successful training my margins (aka work on my weaknesses) and being very intentional with what I am working on during a climbing session/day. For example: For a long while I struggled with #3 cracks (fist jams for me), so I sought out climbs to practice fist jamming. It took a lot of work and frustration, but now I can cruise through a section of fist jams without thinking twice (hand jammies also increased my confidence on fist cracks).
This past winter I got into a really good groove with training consistently. Monday through Friday I would try to get in two strength training sessions, either with free weights or Yoga glute/core burning sessions, two cardio sessions, usually lunch skate skis, runs, or short mid-week ski tours, or just long lunch walks if I am feeling tired, and two gym climbing sessions, focusing on either climbing hard or leading back-to-back routes. I’d make sure I would get one to two rest days in mid-week as well. You’re right if you are thinking this doesn’t add up to one workout a day. Some days would be stacked with all three to simulate the effort of a long alpine day, followed up with a rest day. Weekends were more free form-backcountry skiing if the snow was good, climbing at Vantage if the temps were right, or a long skate ski. I am kind of a conditions princess, so I’d go with the best option, shooting for six to eight hours of movement both Saturday and Sunday. This “training plan” works well with my need for variety, working around my work schedule, and listening to my body for when I need rest. The best part about this schedule, besides feeling strong and seeing improvements, is it mellowed out the chronic aches and pains I’ve accumulated over the years from injuries.
Question: Favorite piece of climbing gear. What is it? Favorite piece of backcountry skiing gear and why?
Answer: My favorite piece of climbing gear is a .5 size cam. Off fingers is such a hard size for me to climb, so I make sure to have multiples of this size of cam on my rack. Guess I need to start climbing .5 finger cracks to get better!
To be honest, my favorite pieces of backcountry skiing gear are the new insoles for my ski boots. The neuroma in my foot sidelined me for a few winters due to a sharp piercing pain in my foot at random times. Owen at Arlberg in Wenatchee instantly fixed my problem with new insoles. I am so psyched to be back exploring the mountains on skis again, searching out stashes of powder and staring up at the big trees in awe.
Question: What has been the most memorable thing you have seen or experienced while climbing or backcountry skiing in the mountains?
Answer: My favorite experiences in the mountains happen within the magic of the sisterhood of the rope. I love climbing and skiing with other ladies, where we giggle our way up the rock, slope or mountain, encouraging each other along the way. We push each other to try hard and do our best, expanding our comfort zones, but never making someone do something they can’t or don’t want to do. The connections I’ve made with other women in the mountains are sacred to me. It doesn’t really matter what we are climbing or skiing, as long as there is a connection and we are enjoying each other’s company, I am in my happy place.
Because the sisterhood of the rope is so important to me, I really enjoy teaching women how to crack climb, lead climb, and practice self-rescue skills so they don’t have to rely on their male partners. Lead climbing is one of the most empowering activities I experience, and I like to share that with other women, especially since climbing is such a male dominated sport.
Question: What is your favorite local area to climb or ski?
Answer: Hands down I love the Stuart Range. It’s right in my backyard and I love the view driving home from field days in Yakima. I’ve climbed Mount Stuart twice – once up the West Ridge and one up the Complete North Ridge – both times with other ladies. The local trailheads are so close to my house that I’ve biked from my house for a Stuart Lake/Colchuk Lake run/hike loop as well as a Mount Cashmere run/hike. Dreaming big, someday I’d love to climb the Stuart, starting from my house on a bike.
Question: Favorite life quote and why.
Answer: When times get hard in the mountains, such as breaking trail through knee deep snow, bushwhacking through thick slide alder, or staying awake after 19 hours of moving through the mountains, my personal mantra is “Fight the Bear.” Stemming from a quote … “I don’t want to be strong like man who looks pretty, I want to be strong like b*tch who fight bears in the forest” (author unknown). By telling myself “Fight the Bear,” it reminds me to dig deeper and give it my all. And it works!
Interview questions prepared by Sarah Shaffer.