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Hot 20 2009: Katie Brown, Top-Ranked Climber

Photography by Ben Moon.

Accomplishment is nothing new for Katie Brown. She began sport climbing in Kentucky at the age of 13, and today is heralded as one of the world’s best, achieving in 14 years more than many climbers do during their entire careers. This includes winning the X Games and a climbing World Cup. She’s also completed an onsight (free-climbing without knowledge of the route) of the northwest face of Yosemite’s Half Dome, and, along with climber Lynn Hill, the first female free ascent of the Leaning Tower.

Brown moved to Berkeley from San Diego last year, in part because of its proximity to Yosemite. “It’s so vast, so awe-inspiring,” she says. “You could climb there your entire life and never get bored.” And while El Cap was part of the reason for her relocation, she also moved to attend the Fashion Institute, with plans to eventually work in the outdoor industry as an apparel designer. “Being a climber is all I’ve ever known,” Brown explains. “It’s wonderful, and I love it, but it leaves you ungrounded. I want a more rooted lifestyle.”

Though it’s hard for mere mortals to imagine an athlete retiring at the top of her game, for Brown there’s no heartache about her decision to make climbing a hobby rather than a profession. “Right now I’m pretty content,” she says. “I’ve climbed where I wanted to climb. 
I’ve done what I wanted to do. Not everyone can say that.”

Check out the other 2009 Hot 20.