To the Outer Limits, and Back
Outing Club takes students to icy New Hampshire summit
With 40-pound backpacks and a temperature hovering at five degrees, seven men and one woman pushed their way toward the barren, windswept summit of Mount Adams, in New Hampshire’s White Mountains. The eight members of the BU Outing Club climbed the 5,774-foot behemoth with water bottles tucked into their shirts and pants to prevent the precious liquid from freezing. Excited and determined, they set out knowing bitter weather might force them to turn back, as it had last winter.
But this year, after a day and a half on the trail, the student-led Outing Club (BUOC) conquered Adams. The club is fueled by a lust for adventure and exploration. Started in 1945, members embark on dozens of trips throughout the year, from overnight backpacking expeditions to canoeing on the Charles River. Other trips have taken them on historic hikes around Massachusetts, day trips to the Middlesex Fells and the Blue Hills Reservation, and an end-of-semester kayaking expedition on the Charles that draws more than 100 people. Once a year, they and fellow members of the Intercollegiate Outing Club Association meet in Lake George, N.Y., for a weekend of camping.
The trips, which can be free or can cost more than $40 to cover rental equipment, food, and gas, usually sell out within 10 minutes of their arrival in the email inboxes of over 1,300 students. The outings vary in their physical demands, but all are designed to promote an appreciation for the natural environment.
“The BUOC is about taking kids out of the city, out of their comfort zone,” says group member Florian Dhondt (CAS’12). “This club has been the most important part of college for me, between the friendships and adventures I’ve gone on with these guys.”
The group’s team of leaders (some of whom helm the executive board) share a passion for hiking and have outdoors experience ranging from a simple love for hiking as kids to an elite three-month Australian Outback expedition.
All about the details
On a Thursday night in February, the eight hikers gathered in a College of Arts & Sciences classroom to pack their bags for the overnight trip, a 12-mile round-trip climb of Mount Adams. Sleeping bags, fleece jackets, and trail maps were strewn across a large conference table.
“We want to make sure we have crampons, crimps, and ice packs,” said group president Julian Barthold (SMG’13). The Outing Club owns much of the equipment, and it rents or borrows gear from stores like EMS or the outing clubs of MIT and Harvard, Barthold said. He checked off the items on his list: multiple layers of T-shirts and fleeces, zero-degree sleeping bags, three liters of water per person. Everyone had to rent a pair of plastic hiking boots, which resemble downhill ski boots. “They’re not the most comfortable, and you’ll get blisters for sure, but they’re the warmest,” he said. Students also packed an ice axe, which can save a life if a hiker slips on an icy slope.
Pretrip meetings are all about the details; failure to pack the right supplies can mean danger or death as night falls and the temperature drops below zero. For winter treks, the hikers can’t be too careful. Trail markers are often covered by snow, and starting fires can be difficult.
“You can’t go into a backpacking trip thinking you’re fully prepared, because there’s always a degree of uncertainty and you need skills to adapt to that,” said club treasurer J. Tyler Wiest (SMG’14), who has been known to snack on bugs. “You can’t compromise safety—it’s all about minimizing risk. But collectively we have a lot of experience. I think we can handle just about anything that nature can throw to us.”
At 7 on Saturday morning, the eight hikers felt that they were as prepared as they could be as they began the three-hour drive from BU to Mount Adams, the second highest peak in the northeast United States, after nearby neighbor Mount Washington.
At the base of the mountain, the trails were surprisingly clear for this time of year, but as the hikers gained altitude and the air temperature dropped, trees and vegetation grew sparse. Soon they were plodding through deep snow. To ward off hypothermia they had to keep moving, taking only short breaks.
At dusk, the team reached the Perch (above), a three-sided hut at 4,300 feet. While it wasn’t heated, it provided some shelter from the wind. By the light of their headlamps, over a flame from a portable propane camp stove, they cooked sausage and peppers, cheese quesadillas, rice, and double fried beans. After dinner, they boiled snow to wash dishes, then poured the dirty hot water into their water bottles to warm their feet inside their sleeping bags. They slept in a close huddle, like Eskimos.
The next morning, the group rose early to make its final push to the summit. With icicles frozen to facial hair, they struggled to stay on the trail, buried deep under the snow. They were thankful for a day of full sun and clear blue skies.
It wasn’t until they began their descent that they saw the sign reading: “STOP. The area ahead has the worst weather in America. Many have died there from exposure, even in the summer. Turn back now if the weather is bad.”
Nothing but your own two legs
“When you climb a mountain like Mount Adams, you start off by essentially walking in a forest,” said Gary Kanner (CAS’12), reflecting on the trip after they had safely arrived back at BU. “And then you feel like you’re going uphill for hours, and you have no perspective on how far you’ve traveled and how high up you are. But once you get this first look around, you can see where you came from and what you’ve been through for the last day and a half. It’s mind-blowing to realize that on nothing but your own two legs you’ve taken yourself from where everyone looks like ants to way up high.”
“This was my first real winter ascent,” said Deirdre Halloran (CAS’11). “This was an opportunity to take a risk, and not to call my mom until I got home.”
The following Saturday, another half dozen BUOC students embarked on a tamer adventure—tubing at Amesbury Sports Park. Decked in BU winter hats and snow pants, they linked arms on their tubes and flew down an artificial snow path.
While membership in the Outing Club is not required to go on one of its outings, the $20 dues entitles students to discounts on gear, a 15 percent discount on trips, and a chance to register first for trips.
“At BU, you’re always surrounded by buildings and cars and the T honking at you every day—it can get to be a little much,” said Tom Niblock (CAS’13), who did the Mount Adams trek. “When you’re spending a lot of time outside and camping outside, you get time to learn a lot about yourself. You form deep bonds with your trip mates, instead of talking about the same old homework and classes.”
“The Outing Club is about making the most of your college experience and trying something that you’ve never tried before,” said Nicole Merritt (CGS’12), the leader of the snow tubing trip and a member of the BUOC e-board. “New England has a lot to offer.”16 Comments