If you’ve ever visited the Tennessee Boulder Authority (TBA) in St. Elmo for an afternoon of indoor bouldering, you’ve probably seen Kasia Pietras. She’s the gym manager, and if you’ve seen her there, she’s likely to be found in the midst of some improvement project or another. Her gym may not be the largest, but Pietras and the rest of the staff have cultivated a friendly, laid-back atmosphere that attracts local climbers who take their training seriously.
“(TBA) is a gym for the members,” Pietras told me one afternoon on the patio of Mean Mug. “We focus on getting customers strong and providing the best training facility for climbers.”
Since arriving here more than 7 years ago, Pietras has become a cornerstone of the Chattanooga climbing community. She may be a professional athlete (with sponsorships from Five Ten, Organic, Kilter Climbing Holds, Metolius, Verve and Giddy), but she’s also quick to share her knowledge and experience—for which everyone who has ever climbed with her is grateful.
Originally from Chicago, Pietras was introduced to climbing at the age of 8, and she has been hooked ever since. As she described her early years of climbing, which included traveling with her gym’s youth team to both national and international competitions, she recognized that she might have “missed out on the normal high school experience.”
As she recalled her memories of practicing at the gym four or five times a week after school, you could picture the young girl with serious eyes and a determined brow sitting quietly on the “L” in Chicago, thinking about the next competition instead of that weekend’s homecoming football game.
For the record, Pietras pointed out that she did go to prom. Still, climbing afforded her the opportunity to travel abroad at an impressionable age. She competed in youth world cup events in France, Scotland, China, Bulgaria, and Austria; a world cup in Germany; and more recently traveled to climb in South Africa and Australia. She modestly admitted that she also attended sports camp in Quebec over four summers, which along with a couple early years spent in French immersion school, explains her French fluency. Oh, and she speaks Polish, too.
It’s no surprise to hear that climbing also brought Pietras to Chattanooga. Following high school, she decided to attend college in Chattanooga after experiencing the amazing sandstone climbing the south has to offer during her first Triple Crown Series . The first of this year’s Triple Crown events took place at Stone Fort last month, and we talked at length about the series that has acted as the kick off to the climbing season in the south for the past 20 years.
Pietras, with about 10 years of experience competing in the Triple Crown events under her belt, had some interesting insight to share. During her first few years, she recalls excitedly getting to “run around trying the most classic V5’s and V6’s” when she was still competing in advanced, and becoming familiar with the three areas: Hound Ears, Stone Fort and Horse Pens 40. Once she placed into open, she described developing her circuits to run each year, and each year trying to bump one or two climbs off by replacing them with harder lines.
But just as you can get tired of your favorite movie, even the best climbs can feel like work knowing you must complete them to compete. Pietras described unbelieveable frustration over “not doing a climb on your circuit that you know you are capable of, because of conditions.”
She suggested modeling the scoring for the open category after the Hueco Tanks Rock Rodeo, where both categories of open competitors are given a list of 10 climbs they must complete on the day of the competition. This would add an element of surprise, eliminate stylistic differences among climbers, give more traffic to less traveled lines, and take away that home-field advantage that climbers traveling from other areas complain gives locals an upper hand. After achieving the satisfaction of placing first overall in women’s open in 2012, Pietras decided to step away from competing in Triple Crown, to push her limits elsewhere.
Even with a long history of competing in the gym (her recent appearance at the Portland Boulder Rally had all of Chattanooga’s climbing community buzzing) and outdoors, Pietras finds her fiercest competition by looking inward.
“Climbing outside, the competition is with the boulder in front of you,” she says. “If you send the boulder, then you won; if you didn't, then it won.”
She says that the only difference in gym competitions is that there are more factors. Still, she emphasized the importance of not comparing oneself to other competitors, because they may be having an off day or misread the sequence. Her straightforward stance on simply trying your hardest to discover your own capabilities, regardless of the competition, seems to parallel her desire to push the limits outside.
Originally, she said her outdoor climbing goals were “to climb V12/8a+ and 5.14a,” which she might need to reevaluate after doing I Portici (V12/8a+) in Switzerland last year. Rumor has it she is also close on some 5.14’s as well.
Pietras seems incredibly motivated to keep pushing herself, and mentioned she might pursue “more V12’s or even a V13” and feels that she will be able to keep pushing her limit for several years to come. Whatever happens, at least she can know Chattanooga is rooting for her.