At 10-years-old as Katherine's passion for climbing movement and enjoyment of personal challenge grew, her coach encouraged her to enter a regional competition in Saint-Légier, Switzerland. The format required climbing increasingly harder routes, starting with a 5a.
A difficulty she managed up to 6c, winning the event. The experience was captivating, "the crowd, the adrenaline, the personal challenge" drew the young climber in, sparking her enthusiasm for personal progression. At age 11, she competed in her first national competition, and by 14 was invited to join the Swiss national team, where she climbed the ranks with multiple podium finishes by her second year.
Gold in a World Championship was her ultimate dream, though, a goal she had set her sights on before joining the national team. "I was 13-years when the Swiss national team invited me to the selection camp; on a questionnaire, they asked 'what our goals were,' I responded 'always improve in climbing, and become World Champion' that was the dream I had always been chasing." After entering the Youth A class at 16-years old, she came close, with a second-place finish in Lead at the World Youth Championships in Sydney, Australia. The following year in Valence, France. she faced her dream once again. After five hours in isolation, she tied for an ascent now etched in her memory. "I felt like I was flying up the route, I had to fight, but the moves were following each other fluidly, just like the choreography I had rehearsed in my head." Falling 3/4 of the way up the route, she returned to isolation to wait in suspension for the final two climbers, both French. As the time melted by, she questioned if the crowd's cheering was performance-related or simply national support. But within a mere ten minutes, the result was evident when the judges ushered her out to announce her victory as the 2009 Lead Youth A World Champion.
For Katherine, like many of her achievements, competition isn't about proving herself to others. Podium finishes are won by "giving the best of yourself, and a methodical mix between work and feeling." And as she explains, "To feel your body in perfect osmosis with your mind to accomplish things you never thought you were capable of; because strength does not come from physical abilities, it comes from the mind." This personal outlook was nurtured at a young age and continues to guide her competition climbing to this day.
The tri-monthly meetings with her teammates in Bern helped cultivate her climbing ethos in a polarizing environment to her childhood climbing group, both in the facility's scale, with expansive walls, and the team's focus on training. In contrast, her childhood group met with a focus on fun at either the local alpine club's 7x6 meter wall or outside for sunny crag days. During one of these crag days, at 10-years old, Katherine met Cédric Lachat, who 8-years her senior, was competing in World Cups. The meeting was transformative, as Cédric invited her to train on his home spray wall 20-minutes away by car. As the years passed, these training became a regular occurrence, and by 16, to help facilitate tri-weekly sessions, Katherine would at times hitch-hike back-and-forth after school. Over the years, Cédric became not only a training and climbing mentor but also a lifelong friend. Katherine explains, "Cédric taught me how to train, but I think above all not to forget that climbing is only a game, and not to take it too seriously."
Through this friendship, Katherine also experienced her first real climbing trip abroad at 14-years old, visiting Céüse, France. The adventure left her captivated by the historical climbing area but, above all else, fostered an appetite for travel, meeting people, and experiencing culture through climbing that has stuck with her since. A fusion crowned by a global trip at age 22 when she and her boyfriend Jim–also a passionate climber–took time off university and set out for eight months, climbing in China, Thailand, Japan, The USA, and South Africa. During this excursion, she ticked her first (8c) China Climb in Yangshou, China, followed by Southern Smoke (8c+) in the Red River Gorge, USA. And while the backbone to travel was climbing, navigating the world provided a deeper meaning for Katherine, who voices, "the importance of travel is in meeting people from different cultures; this is enriching, humbling, and a mind-opening experience."
Learning from others and enriching her life has spurred a desire to help people that, as she describes, "goes beyond just me and my climb." The young athlete has followed this interest down numerous paths. One of which includes a partnership with Protect our Winters, a non-profit focusing on climate awareness. Another is volunteering with ClimbAID, a non-profit which, as they describe, "bring the joy of climbing to communities affected by war, poverty, and displacement." In 2019, with ClimbAid, Katherine visited Lebanon to coach at their climbing for refugees camp. As a coach, she spent time with attendees helping them "break their fear of height and find joy in the movement and fun climbing," but above all, she spent time listening and learning, absorbing their experiences, culture, and life.
Katherine's outlet for helping others is not limited only to ClimbAID. In 2016 she graduated with a degree in law specialized in health, human rights, migrant rights, and worker rights. A path she explains finding, "through the desire to help people who don't necessarily know all their rights and wanting to help them assert these rights to improve their situation." With this degree, she now works as Legal Counsel in a social service firm not far from her current home in Moutier, Switzerland.
Juggling first her studies and volunteer work, and now a career, you might assume Katherine's climbing has calmed. Quite to the opposite, though. In 2018, just weeks after taking 7th in Lead at the Kranj World Cup, she ticked her first 9a Cabane au Canada at Rawyl, in Switzerland. Then, in 2019 she clipped the chains on Jungfrau Marathon (9a), at Gimmelwald, in Switzerland. Next, hungry for a new challenge, and with the canceLlation of the 2020 competition season, she set her sights on a multi-pitch project. Shortly after conquering rope management and learning to deal with the exposure on vertically smooth walls, she sent the Damme Cookie (8a+) a 120-meters route in Verdon, France. Having found joy in "tickling [her] limits and pushing to go past them," Katherine set her sights on another multi-pitch, 6.4 Sekunden, a 170-meter line with pitches up to 8b/+ on the Fürenwand in Switzerland. Abseiling the route each day and learning the problematic moves amidst breaking weather brought waves of emotions in managing the mental and physical climbing barriers. But finally, on the 16th day, she clipped the chains, elated at both achieving the route and overcoming the hurdles of her mind.
The mental side of climbing is vital to Katherine, who describes her desire for challenge and progression calmly and methodically. "I enjoy the success, but what is more interesting is the process, the approach, and the path to get there. Finding unimaginable resources, solutions to complex problems dictated by the rock, and continuing to believe when nothing else seems possible is what motivates me. When the game flirts so closely with the limits of our performance, it is above all a work of perfectionism," a statement that matches the fluid, precise style of her climbing.
With a hunger for such a vast span of personal challenges, it is hard to predict Katherine's next goal. But, as we continue to share her climbing and indulge in stories on her blog, we can only expect a wide range of success as she pursues personal progression in all of her life's disciplines.