Charlotte Austin, our Updrift Adventure Writer, sat down with us to show a little perspective of where her adventure spirit comes from and why she finds it so important to share these tales.


Courtesy of Charlotte Austin


Q: Tell us how you became an adventure writer? 

A: I was such a bookworm as a kid — I’m naturally pretty introverted, and we moved around a lot when I was growing up, so books often felt like my closest friends. I read thousands of pages a week in high school and college, and it was a pretty natural shift to start writing in college when I needed money for groceries. Holy smokes, I wrote some ridiculous things to pay rent back then: real estate blogs, sales copy, educational short stories. I was hungry, so I’d take any assignment. In retrospect, I think that taught me a lot about meeting deadlines, writing in different voices, and managing my time.

Once I started guiding, I naturally wanted to write about the things I was seeing and doing, so I started pitching travel and adventure stories. It’s funny, because ten years ago I hadn’t ever heard of an “adventure writer” — I just needed something to put on my business card, and that was the phrase that made the most sense.


Q: How did you become a mountain guide?

A: I grew up hiking, climbing, and skiing in the Pacific Northwest, and I was always most at home in the outdoors. I studied environmental science in college, and I started guiding when I enrolled in a Master’s of Fine Arts (MFA) program in Creative Writing. I began as an apprentice on Mount Rainier, then moved up to working as an assistant, then leading trips. I was leading international expeditions by my mid-twenties. It’s hard, rewarding work, and I’m deeply grateful for the memories and lessons from my time in the mountains.


Q: Are you training for any expeditions now? 

A: That’s a great question — I’m always training, but Covid has brought some serious curveballs to my expedition schedule. I’ve been focused on local adventures this summer, and I’m thinking carefully about how to build my schedule for the next couple of seasons. I love expedition-length adventures, but I also want to be deliberate about what voice I’m adding to the world. There’s a lot of uncertainty right now, so I’m doing a lot of listening, watching, reading, and research.


Q: What does adventure mean to you? 

A: This is a complicated question, because the word “adventure” seems to mean so many different things to so many different people: it can mean a trip, or a mindset, or a willingness to embrace challenge or adversity. It can be an experience that brings people together with shared memories, or it can refer to something hard that brings out your very best.

In my current life, though, I’ve come to see adventure as a readiness to accept responsibility. We often don’t interact with risk directly: we do plenty of risky things in our day-to-day lives, but modernization often removes the sense of immediacy. Take driving a car, for example: that’s one of the most dangerous things that most of us do on any given day, and we don’t think twice about it.

In the outdoors, though, the risks can be more clearly visible — and I actually think that’s a healthy thing. Whether you’re spear fishing or rock climbing or checking out a hiking trail you’ve never explored before, I think that adventure is something that pushes you outside your comfort zone and forces you to pay attention. To me, adventure isn’t about the risk itself — it’s about waking up.


Q: What is the most valuable or profound lesson you have learned through adventure?

A: Prepare extensively for the variables within your control. Try not to waste time worrying about the rest.


Q: What is an adventure experience you are most proud of?

A: I’m deeply proud of climbing Mount Everest — not because it’s a bucket-list item (although it absolutely is), but because I went into the expedition so carefully. I’ve guided a lot in Nepal, so I have a deep history there, and I was there during the earthquake in 2015, which was a very complicated experience. It was important to me to go back to Nepal to make peace with those mountains, and I’m very lucky that the stars aligned for me to have an opportunity to do that on Everest. I was very, very clear with myself: no matter what happened on the mountain, as long as I brought my best, most grounded self, the expedition would be a success. The summit was an added bonus, and I’m deeply grateful that I got to reach the top, but that’s not why I was there.


Q: Are you training for any expeditions now?

A: That’s a great question — I’m always training, but Covid has brought some serious curveballs to my expedition schedule. I’ve been focused on local adventures this summer, and I’m thinking carefully about how to build my schedule for the next couple of seasons. I love expedition-length adventures, but I also want to be deliberate about what voice I’m adding to the world. There’s a lot of uncertainty right now, so I’m doing a lot of listening, watching, reading, and research.


Q: What have you enjoyed most about working on the Updrift Adventure campaign?  

A: As part of my research for the Updrift Adventure campaign, I was lucky enough to spend some time in Pacific City, Oregon. I’ve spent some time on Oregon’s North Coast, but I’ve never been lucky enough to have such a behind-the-scenes experience — and I was blown away by the thoughtfulness and intentionality of every single person I met. Small towns are rad.


Q: What have you learned most from the Updrift Adventurers?

A: I learned so much from this project, but something that I keep reflecting on is the incredible ritual of cracking open a beer at the end of the day. After guiding in the mountains — whether for a day or a month-long expedition — my coworkers and I almost always sit down over a beer, and it’s code for decompressing, debriefing, and processing the experience together. It’s a special time, because it signifies the shift from work to rest, and it’s a priceless opportunity to learn from the time we’ve just shared. I’ve even written about the value of debriefing!

As I interviewed the different adventurers for this Updrift campaign, every single person had a similar ritual. Whether it’s sharing a beer with friends on the deck at Pelican after a surf session or cracking a six-pack at the end of a day of fishing, that first shared beer seems to be code for a deliberate moment of shared connection, and I think that’s really beautiful.


Q: What do you enjoy most about sharing adventure stories? 

A: I love getting to sit down and talk with quirky people, and it’s always fascinating to get to know their stories. When I’m interviewing subjects, I’m probing for the things that make them really light up — the tall tales they tell at dinner parties, the questions that keep them awake at night, the heartfelt beliefs that make people light up like Care Bears. For Joe Hay, that moment was when he talked so lovingly about his wife, and how lucky he feels to share a family-run business with a woman he respects so deeply. For Cat, it was hearing how passionately and playfully she described combining flavors to create the tastes and smells she wanted to create. Everybody has a story, and I feel lucky to get to peek behind the scenes.


Q: How did you begin doing adventure writing workshops? What do you enjoy most about them? 

A: After I’d been publishing for a couple of years, I started getting requests to teach workshops. As first I resisted, because — well, honestly, a lot of writing classes can feel a little ego-indulgent, and I wanted to make sure I thought carefully about how to add value. I wanted attendees of all experience levels to add tools to their quiver, even if they only came to a two-hour workshop.

Now, when I teach workshops, I focus on a pretty simple concept: writing is about asking questions. It’s easy for new (and experienced!) writers to fall into the trap of “just meditating” on a topic: how awesome beer is, how cool is to go climbing, how rad the Oregon coast can be. But I believe that most good writing is in search of the answer to a specific question. How and why does drinking local beer affect a day of adventuring? What is it about climbing that makes us feel so alive? How is the Oregon coast so unique?


Q: What was your most memorable moment from the Updrift Adventure campaign? 

A: There are so many! I feel so lucky to have been involved with this project, and I’ve been very impressed with the entire community around Pelican Brewing: everyone involved has been so thoughtful, humble, and kind. I cherish every interaction and am very much drawing inspiration from the groundedness of a business based in a small town.

If I had to pick a specific moment, though, it would be watching Joe Hay launch his dory boat before dawn on the shores of Pacific City. Dory boats have such a storied history, and as I stood on the beach shivering at 4 am, it was easy to imagine generations of fishermen before launching their boats through the same breakers. Joe and his crew make it look easy, but navigating those waters clearly takes an incredibly skillful hand.


Charlotte Austin is an award-winning adventure writer and mountain guide living on Bainbridge Island, Washington. She works for International Mountain Guides, where she leads climbing and mountaineering expeditions around the world. She is a Wilderness-EMT, a Leave No Trace (LNT) Trainer, an extra class ham radio operator, and holds Level 2 certification with the American Institute for Avalanche Education and Training (AIARE). She has written for Outside Magazine, The New York Times, Seattle Met, and many more national and international print and online publications. She summited Mount Everest on May 22nd, 2019; since then, she has been icing her knees, drinking cold beer, and falling off her surfboard.

To learn more about our Updrift Adventures or for media inquiries please reach out to Natalie@PelicanBrewing.com.


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