Take a look at 19-year-old Katie Werkmeister scaling an indoor climbing wall, trudging along happily on a backcountry hike, or scrambling along on a bouldering trip, and you’d think she has been adventuring her entire life.
But that’s not the case. “I led a really bland life before college,” she admits.
Growing up in Kearney, she yearned for a “bigger city with more culture.” In Omaha, however, she ended up on a path to some of the nation’s most remote locales.
“College really opened my perspective to get outside,” she says, adding that an outdoor leadership class during her first semester of freshman year at the University of Nebraska-Omaha changed her life.
“We learned about LNT [Leave No Trace] and backpacking to get ready for a trip to the Badlands in South Dakota, where we took turns guiding and leading the group.”
She learned how to read a map and lead a group through sometimes unforgiving terrain. She also learned that she loved being outside (even when the going gets tough): “Backpacking is sometimes—honestly—not fun, but when you get to where you’re going it makes it all worth it.”
The philosophy of Leave No Trace had a profound impact on Werkmeister. She continues to be amazed and appalled by mankind’s negative consequences on the natural environment—particularly by those people who negatively impact nature while themselves trying to enjoy the outdoors.
Even around the UNO campus, she notices where students create worn walking paths in spots where people are not meant to walk. Werkmeister fully endorses the idea of leaving no trace when out in nature, whether that’s around a college campus or in remote spots only accessible by backpacking for days.
Climbing was a natural next step for this adventurer. She was a complete beginner when she started in 2016.
“Everybody starts at the lowest point. There’s something exciting about being at the lowest point because there’s always somewhere to go from there,” she says.
Werkmeister admits that climbing was not easy in the beginning and didn’t come to her naturally at first. “I went in really weak,” says the young woman who had received a pacemaker in her heart in 2015.
“Sometimes my heart would randomly stop beating and I would pass out,” she says, referring to her health pre-pacemaker. As a result, one side of her body is weaker than the other, which has made climbing difficult. But she’s not the kind of person to give up on something because it’s difficult. Nowadays she’s an active and strong climber, both indoors and out in the wild.
Currently working at the UNO Outdoor Venture Center, she enjoys helping beginning climbers discover their own strength. “Not many people know it’s open to the public,” she says, urging people to check out the climbing wall even if they aren’t UNO students.
Werkmeister and other staff can help climbing novices learn everything they need, even if they have never climbed before.
As Werkmeister says: when you start from the bottom, you can only go up from there.
Visit unomaha.edu for information about the climbing wall and excursions with the Outdoor Venture Center.
This article was printed in the May/June 2018 edition of Omaha Magazine.