Charlotte Austin: Climbing Extraordinaire
For many of us, the idea of summiting Mount Everest is about as foreign as the idea of floating around in outer space. But for Charlotte Austin, a Seattle native who believes in the power of saying “yes,” this dream recently became a reality.
This year, we happened to run into Austin at Outdoor Retailer in Denver, Colorado when she wandered into the Duluth Pack booth looking for a replacement for her beloved Market Tote, which she had to sadly let go of during one of her expeditions in Nepal. It was here that she casually told us she had recently returned to the U.S. from her incredible Himalayan undertaking. As anyone might, we needed some clarification.
“Wait, THE Mount Everest? As in the highest mountain in the world?”
Yeah, that one.
It was then that we knew, we had to interview this awe-inspiring woman.
Photo via International Mountain Guides
With a Bachelor’s of Arts in Environmental Studies and a Master’s in Creative Nonfiction, Austin spends about 6 months of the year out in the field. This means she is climbing, mountaineering, and guiding hiking expeditions all around the world. I am talking about places like Alaska, Nepal, Patagonia, Mongolia, Argentina, Peru, etc. She’s a Wilderness EMT, a Leave No Trace (LNT) Trainer, works on behalf of International Mountain Guides and holds a Level 2 certification with the American Institute for Avalanche Education and Training (AIARE). She was also recently offered a seat on Washington’s National Parks Fund Board of Directors.
So basically, she is superwoman.
But before she became the 587th woman in the world to summit Mount Everest, she grew up in the Pacific Northwest hiking, skiing and climbing recreationally. With her skill, ambition, a little bit of luck, and numerous leadership opportunities involving the outdoors and travel, she began guiding large-scale Himalayan expeditions by her late-20s.
Photo via REI
Fast forward a few years later, and she is on the cover of Time magazine, walking down Mount Everest tied to her Sherpa, Phinjo. Named for the day of the week they are born, Sherpas are an ethnic group born with incredible genetic abilities to tolerate high altitudes making them perfect mountaineering guides. Facing danger almost daily, Sherpas are highly esteemed in their communities and known as “experts” in their local area. Austin herself says she has become quite close to her Sherpa friends as sharing a challenging experience in such close proximity creates a certain intimacy. Even across the world, she receives Facebook calls from her Sherpa friends and children, sharing laughs and funny stories to this day.
Photo via Time Magazine
But what really made Austin want to finally conquer the infamous Mount Everest was her desire to gain closure. Her previous experience in the region resulted in a devastating earthquake that left Austin stranded in the country for three weeks and surrounding communities in ruins. This time around she replaced those memories by reuniting with her happy and healthy Sherpa friends, seeing neighborhoods rebuilt, and new schools thriving. On top of that, she had a safe and successful trip to the summit of Mount Everest. Sweet victory...
Austin divulged that the most difficult part of the quest was not the physical climbing but the mental work of managing her head while waiting for the weather to reach ideal conditions. After 9 ½ weeks of training on the mountain to prepare her body for high altitudes and specific injury preventions, and waiting 2 weeks for the final climb, Austin had to be prepared for the upwards trek within an hour's notice. Eating mostly local foods like rice, lentils, cauliflower, and a hard-boiled egg on a good day, Austin returned to the U.S. 25 pounds lighter and craving protein-packed foods like salmon, fresh vegetables, and fruits.
So out of curiosity, we wanted to know where Austin’s favorite place to climb was. She shared that she has greatly enjoyed summiting the tallest mountain in Mongolia twice now. Khüiten Peak,14,350 feet above sea level, is located at the tri-point of Russia, China, and far-west Mongolia.
Far from any tourist destinations, Austin even happened upon the nomadic Kazakh family from the Netflix documentary “The Eagle Huntress,” who celebrated her travels by shooting a marmot and cooking it for dinner.
Photo via NPR
Let’s just say, it is pretty hard to make this stuff up, and we are positive that Charlotte Austin is a woman of the wild who cannot be tamed. Her whole family, including her pup Huckleberry, are big fans of our tough leather and canvas bags that withstand her intense travels, and we are big fans of her!
So, if you are thinking about going big - climb that dang mountain already. Take a note (or twenty) from Charlotte, and live life large! And if you need a pack to get you there, we’ve got you covered.
Adventure on, friends!