Helping people live a life outside is part of Johnson’s way of paying forward the mentorship she found in the outdoor community.

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Caya Johnson

What do you do? I instruct classes, lead outdoor programs and help manage program logistics for the Seattle REI Outdoor School. I’m one of over 30 REI instructors in the region who help people live a life outside.

How did you get started in that field? I spent much of my youth hiking and backpacking with the Girl Scouts. In college, I began rock climbing and was lucky enough to meet mentors who helped me gain skills and experience. I followed a path toward outdoor education to pay forward the great mentorship I found (and still find) within the outdoor community.

What’s a typical day like? Variety is the theme of my life with the Outdoor School. A typical day is anything from instructing a climbing class at the Pinnacle at Seattle REI to a 15-hour day leading a Mount Rainier tour. My day can also involve building logistics spreadsheets or managing the inventory in our gear banks — a smoothly-run outdoor program requires lots of behind-the-scenes work!

What’s the best part of the job? Sharing time outdoors with great people. My co-instructors and my students are fantastic folks to spend time outside with. For example, last weekend I taught a women’s climbing class — the women in the class were determined and focused, but also incredibly supportive of each other. We have lots of programs designed for women — check it out at

What surprises people about what you do? Several students have asked if leading introductory classes is boring. They are often surprised that introductory courses are my favorites to teach. Helping folks build the foundational skills of an activity is a privilege, and I love being part of that process. Seeing my students immerse themselves in a new pursuit also gives me the courage to push myself and try new things!

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