Outing Club Organizes Zion Trip
Issue   |   Wed, 03/25/2015 - 00:44
Photo courtesy of Brian Beaty '17

The Amherst College Outing Club organized a trip to Utah’s Zion National Park over spring break, part of a planned series of trips called “Out of Amherst.” The trip’s goal was to bring together students from across campus in an environment similar to the First-Year Outdoor Orientation Trips.

This was the first time since 2005 that the club has organized a major spring break trip, and the first trip to include non-Outing Club members.

Twelve students went on the trip, which lasted from March 13 to March 22. Of the 12 attendees, four were Outing Club members and acted as trip leaders, while the remaining eight were selected from a pool of 50 student applicants.

“To decide who would get to go on the trip, we tried to choose students from a variety of backgrounds; first-years and seniors, athletes and non-athletes, experienced hikers and novices, et cetera,” said Brian Beaty ’17, a trip leader. “It’s intended to be a way for students to step outside their comfort zones, meet new people and get to know these people on a level they normally wouldn’t back at Amherst — in other words, a FOOT trip open to all class years.”

The trip participants first flew from Boston to Las Vegas, and drove rental cars from Las Vegas to Zion National Park. Campers spent six days in Kolob Canyon, a section of Zion National Park, traveled to Wildcat Canyon and spent the final day at the main Zion Canyon.

“The trip leaders had really spent serious time preparing for the trip … they had a formidable understanding of the trails we’d be at,” said Jacob Pagano ’18, who went on the trip. “The views in Zion are awe-inspiring. Every rock formation is unique, and at the top of each peak, my group would just stare into the distance, or try in vain to write about the formations or sketch them.”

Many campers said that one of the most beneficial aspects of the trip was the bonding and building of new friendships among the campers, most of whom did not know each other previously.

“There’s something really special about setting out into the wilderness with a small group of classmates, and I don’t think we could have had the same experiences in any other setting,” Pagano said. “Out in the woods, there are none of the divides that exist on Amherst’s campus … [our bonds] grew out of sharing a really intense experience of trekking through the wilderness.”

According to Lola Fadulu ’17, the campers also engaged in impromptu discussions with each other about issues relevant to the Amherst community.

“Eventually we started talking about our relationships to other people at Amherst. We even talked specifically about social life at Amherst and race issues,” Fadulu said, likening the discussion to the Day of Dialogue held earlier this semester. “I was shocked at how genuinely these topics came up. It was obvious that there was a higher level of comfort talking about these topics out in the wilderness than there is talking about them at Amherst. I believe this is mostly because there lacked the sometimes oppressive and judgmental atmosphere that is rampant here at Amherst.”

One of the trip organizers, John He ’16, said that fostering this sense of community in the wilderness was one of the excursion’s goals.

“There’s always a lot of talk of building community on campus … but from my experience as a FOOT captain and being outdoors in general, there’s something special about being away from campus, in a space — the outdoors — that belongs to all of us but is at the same time foreign and unfamiliar,” He said. “Out in the wild, there’s not much to do, apart from getting to know the few people you are hiking with. Because everyone in the group is outside their comfort zone, they also become more comfortable with each other.”

In addition to forging friendships, campers also said that relaxation was a major benefit of the trip.

“During this trip, I felt as if time had paused and that I was put momentarily into an empty vacuum,” Fadulu said. “There were many moments of silence during our day hikes, while we rested on tops of mountains, as we were waiting for that night’s dinner water to boil [and] before falling asleep to simply think and be present.”

“There’s no distraction, and you forget about the busy life that we all have at Amherst for a brief while,” He added.“You also naturally begin to have those conversations that you never have the time for, because there’s always something else to do on campus.”

As a principal organizer of “Out of Amherst,” He said early planning was integral to the trip’s success. Last spring, the Outing Club tried to travel to Utah, but could not due to late planning. This year, planning began in the fall, and the club met with members of the administration such as President Biddy Martin, Chief Student Affairs Officer Suzanne Coffey and Dean of Students Alex Vasquez to receive administrative funding and support for travel costs before publicizing the trip.

“Organizing the trip was a huge logistical challenge, especially considering that we had never done something like this before,” He said. “This semester was just a pilot trip, and we’re hoping that it’ll lead to something that eventually becomes a tradition for Amherst.”

He cited transportation as particularly difficult to plan, because connecting flights and shuttles had to be lined up to provide smooth and efficient travel, and campsite reservations, restrictions and permits also had to be negotiated for the trip’s success.

Previous Outing Club trips also took students to the western region of the U.S. The group organized a rock climbing trip to Red Rock Canyon, Nevada in 2005 and a trip to Joshua Tree National Park, California in 2002.