When students want to get away from Vassar for a bit, they might limit their options to a ten minute drive to the Poughkeepsie Galleria or a day-long trip to New York City. But for those looking for a change of scenery, there is another, more refreshing alternative. The Vassar Outing Club (VOC) brings students to a wide variety of locations in the nearby area, and they actually tend to burn some calories while doing it.
One of the leaders of the VOC is Co-president Katie Ewen ’15. She has been involved since her freshman year, recently became a certified Wilderness First Responder and is extremely passionate about the Outing Club.
“We are mainly concerned with giving students the opportunity to explore the big, beautiful world outside of the Vassar campus,“ she wrote in an emailed statement. The group plans trips throughout the region, and some of their favorite spots are Slabsides, Beacon Mountain and Bonticou Crag. Additionally, the club has traveled as far as the Adirondack Mountains and South Carolina during extended breaks in the school year.
Trips typically involve some hiking, climbing, biking, kayaking or a combination of several of these activities. Most take place on the weekend, except for the occasional 5 a.m. sunrise hike to Beacon Mountain. The VOC is not limited to the outdoors: the group has gone taste-testing, watched documentaries and visited skating rinks as well.
For Ewen, the chance to explore a new area or skill is one of the main draws of the VOC. “Vassar is such a beautiful place, but so is its surrounding area! There are so many things to see and do off this campus, and our Outing Club allows students to explore those opportunities. Students who join the club can improve their outdoor skills, try something new, and meet some really wonderful people along the way.” Included in these outdoor skills are basic survival skills, similar to the ones that Ewen is familiar with from her Wilderness First Responder training. The VOC very recently traveled to Bard for a primitive skills workshop to further their knowledge of these survival techniques.
There are a wide variety of trips offered by the club each week. Hikes to several locations in the nearby Hudson Valley area are common, as are indoor and outdoor climbing trips. Although the Outing Club receives some funding from the VSA for equipment and other expenses, many of the members are so passionate about the outdoors that they bring their own equipment to Vassar to use on their trips. The club also purchases some of their equipment through outdoor retailers such as REI.
One of Ewen’s most memorable experiences in the club was certainly a unique and potentially scary one. “We…were on a bushwhack in the Catskills on the weekend before Halloween , which, if you recall, was the weekend of the Snowpocalypse. We hurried down the mountain as the snow began to really fall, but…couldn’t drive out of the tiny Catskills roads. We ended up staying the night in an apartment above some nice stranger’s barn, watching football, and eating hot dogs. When I woke up in the morning, there was about a foot of snow, and it was really beautiful! I guess I have been hooked on the VOC ever since.”
There is no training necessary to be involved with the VOC, and novices are welcome. “One of my favorite parts of the Outing Club is its inclusion of all experience levels. If someone has any desire to take an occasional hike, to get outdoors, to venture off of the Vassar campus or just to meet new people, they can join the club,” Ewen noted.
While scheduled workouts are not a part of the Outing Club agenda, many of the members do stay in good shape. As Ewen comments, “People who hike, climb, and do other outdoor activities are getting good exercise!”
The future looks bright for the Outing Club. They have an upcoming partnership with Alpine Endeavors, a climbing company who will allow members of the club to climb with the aid and advice of professionals. Even before the five trips planned with the company next semester, the VOC will be taking a trip to Beacon Mountain on Dec. 13 to view the meteor shower occurring that night, which is just one of several events planned for the rest of the semester.
In just one year, the Outing Club has become a way of life for Ewen, who values the fun as well as the health benefits of being in the club. “For me, the Outing Club keeps me sane. When everything gets too crazy with my work and with my campus routine, I can wake up on a Saturday morning, put on my boots, go on a hike, see some new faces, laugh, take a breath of fresh air and have my whole life refreshed. I really believe that the VOC can be that restorative source of happiness for anyone on this campus!”