Grit and Perseverance—The Keys To Climbing and Creativity

Meet the people repping our Fall 2020 line in our "In The Field" series, here and on Instagram.

Looking at the jewelry Kate Tierney creates, it’s easy to picture that their creator enjoys spending time outdoors. The jaspers she sets in silver reflect landscapes that challenge the bold and adventurous. The earthy tones in her work—carnelian, clay, cream—reminisce of boulders waiting to be gripped. You may recognize Kate or her work if you’ve been to an American Alpine Club event—she used to organize the club’s community events like the Craggin’ Classic and the Hueco Rock Rodeo. We’re psyched to feature her in our fall photo shoots, and spent a little time chatting her up about work-life balance and creative energy.


Starting at difficult

Kate got her start climbing in college, at the New River Gorge. “I didn't know how terrifying The New actually is in comparison to other places,” she says. “The routes have a very old style of bolting, so there are very few bolts. Learning there, you just have no idea that in other places they put bolts every four or five feet.”


She grew to love the technical, delicate style of climbing there, but felt ill prepared when she first traveled to climb elsewhere. “I go and try something steep, and I am a total windsock,” she jokes. “I've improved on it so much, but just starting out, my first time climbing on a steep boulder at Hueco, I was like, Oh shit, this is so hard!


Leaning into the difficulty

Over time, Kate started to enjoy finding the gaps in her climbing skill set and working hard on them. “Now that I'm getting a little bit better and more well-rounded, it's fun to climb on routes that have both [types of climbing],” she says. Her perseverance has paid off by opening a wider array of climbs to her.

For Kate, that type of perseverance also pays off in her creative life. Having the grit to try hard, but also the patience to make mistakes and learn from them has helped her progress in her metalsmithing. “I learn so much from failure, both in my climbing and my jewelry,” she says. “There are so many times when I've almost completed a piece and then I gave it a little too much heat in the end and I melted a small section of it. You really have to have a lot of patience with yourself in the creative process.”


The key, she says, is learning not to make the same mistake again—and that goes for metalsmithing or sport climbing. “There's always something you can improve on,” she says. Not meaning to depreciate her own work, Kate is quick to dispel the myths that surround creative work like metalsmithing. “It's not that hard if you really want to learn,” she says. “It just takes some time. Granted, nothing's going to look amazing the first time you make it. But I really think that if it's something people want to dedicate time to, you can do it.”


The power of mentorship

Just as in climbing, Kate has found empowerment in her metalsmithing by learning from a more experienced artist. Starting to work in a new studio in Lander, Wyo., she found the woman in the space next to her was a second-generation metalsmith with a deep well of experience. As Kate was progressing, it was crucial to have someone who could help her through creative and technical hiccups with a positive attitude.

“This space is so wonderful because I can just go and practice, and I can have my own creative space, but I have this awesome person in my life who can answer some questions and give me feedback, and say, Oh, I noticed that you're using a thinner metal, a thinner gauge, and you should be using a thicker one for this if you want to have this sort of effect.”

Figuring out a balance

This year, Kate is adding another challenge into her work-life world: her first in-person semester of nursing school. Having worked in advertising and traveled for climbing, nursing seemed to be a good way to allow for more of the work-life balance she craved, which all centers on rock climbing. Even her creative work as a metalsmith grows out from that central core: climbing.


“When the weather is nice, I would prefer to go climbing over making jewelry to be honest,” she says. “Now, being in school, I really need that release of activity. I need to be active.”

Sustaining creative energy

“I think that any creative work can be mentally exhausting,” she says. “It's like a mental, emotional sort of work.” And by that, she means both jewelry making and climbing. “It's interesting trying to balance those, because for me it's quite hard to do both at their max all the time.”

For Kate, part of the answer to the time-energy riddle comes with the seasons. “It does help that now, living in Lander in the winter, I'm not going to be able to climb as much and I will dedicate more time when the weather allows it,” she says.


To see more of Kate’s work, follow her on Instagram @highlonesomee_, and to see her in our fall new arrivals, follow along @outdoorresearch.