Katie Lambert Interview: Thoughts on climbing and decisions not to have kids
For anyone that knows Katie Lambert, she’s an inspiration. Not only with her climbing achievements, but with her insightful and thoughtful way of approaching life. She’s not one to jump on a popular bandwagon nor to promote things that she isn’t passionate about, which I find incredibly refreshing these days. Katie is one of the best and well rounded climbers out there, proficient in the alpine, sport and boulders and has a tenacity that gets her up daunting climbs.
I spent a fair bit of time talking to her about having a family before we had Theo, and then a similar amount of time talking to her about kids after becoming a mom. I found her answers deliberate and well thought out. I thought that other people might enjoy hearing her take on climbing, kids and the kid scene these days. I hope you find her as amazing as I do!
Tell me a little about your history with climbing. How did you get into it? How old were you? Where did you start?
The summer I was 15 I went to work at a camp in North Carolina. I was too old to be a camper and too young to be a counselor so I went as a Junior Counselor. This meant I was able to go on exchange for work a few days a week. I worked in the kitchen serving breakfast and dinner. In addition to that you were also to choose an activity to help with. On my tour of the campus I had seen some kids climbing on this vertical, 30 foot wooden wall and it seemed really interesting. I decided to pick climbing. In addition to the artificial wall, we took several trips to a local climbing area, sometimes backpacking to climbing spots and spending a few days. Before this I wasn’t very familiar with climbing at all, in fact I didn’t even know what kind of clothes or shoes were needed for these excursions. The people out there told me about rei asheville and other such stores with the full range of outdoor gear and it was so cool! I was truly happy to be learning so many new things with climbing. I fell in love and made a promise to myself to pursue climbing for as long as I could. Once back home I become involved with an outdoor club at my high school called Woods and Waters. This was primarily a camping club but through this I made friends with a few people who were also interested in climbing. The closest areas to us were about 6 to 8 hours away. So, we would take weekend and holiday trips throughout the south east to places like Horse Pens 40, Sandrock, Foster Falls, and Rock Town. Thus, for most of my first 10 years climbing I mostly only sport climbed and bouldered.
What brought you out to California? Was there something about Yosemite that lured you out here?
After that camp experience I returned to Louisiana hungry for anything and everything climbing. I spent hours in the library looking at old mountaineering videos, perusing climbing magazines, and reading anything I could get my hands on about climbing. This was the mid 90’s and at the time Yosemite was making the climbing headlines almost monthly. It seemed to me that if I wanted to be a real rock climber I needed to get out to California. I’m an only child and have always had quite the wandering spirit, but I’m also really close with my family so after high school I was a little afraid to leave the familiarity of Louisiana and decided to attend college there. However, I was also getting more and more into climbing and battled internally with it – I felt like I was missing out on the action that was happening out west. In 2001 I attended a job fair at a local university that the National Park Service was putting on. They were recruiting for summer jobs and I had gotten wind that Yosemite was going to be there. This was my chance! I interviewed with them and was fortunate to be offered a summer job working in the Valley Campgrounds. I was 21. I spent the summer there, intimidated and super green to the style. The approaches killed me, the heaviness of the rack was overwhelming, there were no footholds and anything larger than a #2 Cam was impossible. The summer ended and I had to return to LSU to finish college, but I made another promise to myself to return to Yosemite.
Life things happened and it wasn’t until 2006 that I finally left the south and moved to Yosemite without any intention of moving back.
You have one of the best ethics and ego that I’ve seen. It’s like something from previous generations, that we all grew up with, but is rare these days. What/who inspired you in your approach and attitude to climbing? How do you maintain that with all the sharing and noise of social media?
My first reaction is to say my seemingly humble attitude is really just self-loathing. I joke, but it’s partly true. Turns out rock climbing is pretty hard and like the rest of us I have to really apply myself if I want to meet the goals and dreams that I have, and I’m quite ambitious and have set some lofty goals. As we all know climbing also involves a lot of falling and failing and sitting around in the dirt and these things in themselves are pretty darn humbling. This can, obviously, become very trying on the mind and this is where that slippery slope of self-loathing exists. As I’ve gotten more mature I don’t have as many expectations, sure I get frustrated but I’ve learned through the decades to use that frustration in a positive way to keep pushing through to solve the puzzle. Maybe I will succeed, maybe I won’t but through the process comes a lot of learning and self-realization.
I’ve also been really fortunate to become friends with some of my heroes in climbing. Ron Kauk, for one, has had a great influence on me and taught me a lot not just in technique but also in approaching climbing as a practice and a way to attune oneself to the environment in which we interact.
In approaching climbing this way I’ve come to gain a great appreciation for the ability of movement and being able to express myself physically on the rocks and have deepened my love of our environment. We’re so fortunate to spend our time climbing in such beautiful places and not having an appreciation for that feels so short sighted.
You are wonderful with kids (spoken from first hand experience) but have made the decision not to have a family, can you tell me a little about that decision? Was it a hard one to make? Where did it come from?
A few things have played into the decision. The most simple answer is that I literally have zero desire to have a child of my own. I just don’t have that ticking clock or the nagging desire. For that I am thankful because I’ve seen many girlfriends go through it and it just seems so agonizing at times. Additionally, I have some other practical reasons like I feel that the world is just overpopulated anyway, that I don’t need to contribute to that. In the same vain is the fact that there are so many children without families, who would benefit greatly from being fostered or adopted. So, I’ve always told myself that perhaps we would adopt later on in life. Ideally, though it would be nice to adopt a 30 year old when we are in our 60’s to help take care of us later, this could be a very beneficial arrangement. We also have a lot of close friends with kids and it’s fun to be the “aunt” to these little whippersnappers, I get a lot out of that.
How have you seen your friends climbing change that have had kids? And how have you seen the family scene change over the years in climbing?
The change among our friends runs the gamut. Some have been really steadfast in maintaining fitness and goals while others have been more relaxed about it. Both approaches seem to work for said individuals and I can appreciate that. To each his own, right?
Something that I love to see though are our friends and their kids joining in with other families and making climbing trips together, like to Font for example. I think this is so wonderful for the youth and the adults. It creates a nice support group and the kids get to play and climb together while the parents do the same. I think we will start to see some really impressive partnerships developing among these kids as they grow-up.
You are one of the climbers I know that will be a ‘lifer’ in the sport. You aren’t wrapped up in spraying, or outside accolades, even though you are very driven. If you could give advice for the younger generation for longevity in climbing, what would that look like?
Climbing is so much more than just physical prowess and bad-ass sends; those things will come and go. It’s really important to develop the mind in the process as well. To be ones own best friend, to have a good internal dialogue with one-self is so important not just in climbing but in life. Climbing can give us the foundations to lead a good life – giving us structure, teaching discipline, over-coming fear, learning to be resilient, ambitious and creative. Climbing also gives you your community and developing partnerships is perhaps one of the most important aspects of climbing, through good partners many things can be accomplished and learned. As we age through climbing we go through stages – youthful enthusiasm, physical prime, relaxing into older times but through all of that climbing can be enjoyed in so many ways, from pushing ones limits to just cruising up some 5.6 all has it’s place and time. I think that approached with the correct mental outlook on climbing, that it has the ability to remain fun well into old age.