Students Scale 40 Peaks Over Weekend

Forty-one Harvard students hiked the White Mountains in New Hampshire this weekend, collectively covering 40 of the 48 4,000-foot peaks over the span of three days, as part of the First Annual Totally Awesome Wilderness Expedition (FATAWE).

The brainchild of Daniel A. Michalow ’04, FATAWE celebrated the 25th anniversary of the First-Year Outdoor Program (FOP).

Michalow conceived the idea of an expedition for Harvard undergrads following a trip in October covering the Presidential Traverse, a 26-mile hike spanning the 11 peaks that comprise New Hampshire’s Presidential Range,

“After that, I thought we should do a bigger expedition with the whole community,” he said.

Michalow, a FOP leader, also credited the trip’s inception to his experience with the first-year orientation program.  

“A lot of this comes from a love for FOP and for the FOP community. FOP is an incredible program run by amazing people who provide an extremely valuable service to Harvard,” he said.

And while FATAWE isn’t affiliated with FOP, Michalow added that a good number of participants are FOP leaders, with some students from the Harvard Outing Club.

Participant Karolina Maciag ’04 wrote in an e-mail that while Saturday was “cloudless and warm even up on the summits,” she still encountered snow.

“The first stretch was pretty snow-free—we were actually wondering if we’d get any snow or ice at all. Well, boy, did we get snow and ice!” she wrote. “It felt pretty surreal to be hiking in shorts and t’s—it was in the 70s even at above-3,000-ft elevation—while making our way over snow and falling in well above our knees at times when the snow was too soft and broke through under our weight,” Maciag wrote.

Lucas T. Laursen ’06 wrote in an e-mail that the trip was a nice respite from school.

“Within FATAWE, our trip was called the Northern Presidentials, but we took to calling ourselves ‘The 5000-Foot Club’ when we realized that all our peaks were over 5,000 feet and we would be gaining more than 5,000 feet in elevation in the same day,” he wrote.

For Michael P. Etzel ’06, FATAWE signaled an opportunity to spend some time hiking with other FOP leaders, as well as a rare occasion to appreciate the outdoors.

“FATAWE seemed like a great chance to get outside and off campus doing something I love with a great group of people with whom my time is otherwise generally limited to the beginning of the year with FOP trips,” he wrote in an e-mail.

Responsible for maintaining the FATAWE website, drawing up basic policies and emergency contact information, arranging hiking groups and organizing base camp, Michalow estimated that he invested around 200 hours in preparation for the hike—and missed 10 days worth of class.

But he justified the hours by pointing to safety and organization as tasks of major importance.

“There are two ways to approach a trip like FATAWE,” he said. “One, you can have it be very decentralized, hoping that everything will work out or two, you can try to provide high-level coordination such as helping with logistics, gear rental and providing information on how to be safe. In both cases, people are responsible for themselves, but in the latter case, they will be better prepared.”

While the brunt of the work lay on Michalow, trip coordinators, in charge of groups of three or four people, drew up route plans and took care of food.

Michalow said that he organized 13 separate trips, all of which were staggered throughout the weekend and assigned according to factors such as difficulty level as well as personal preferences.

Michalow mentioned that the trip has spawned everything from the Pat Kelly and Lucas Laursen FATAWE band to a mascot, the jackalope—a “mythical horned rabbit.”  

“Twice now, Dan and I have dressed up as jackalopes and gone to FOP-leader dinners in Quincy,” Kathleen E. McKee ’06, a FOP leader and the FATAWE enthusiast behind the jackalope’s inclusion as the official mascot, wrote in an e-mail. “We wore home-made paper bag masks on our heads that looked like our mascot bunny with horns. Needless to say, mostly people just looked as us very weirdly.”

But perhaps the application to participate in the trip best captures the spirit of FATAWE, facetiously asking students if they’ve defecated in the woods before and to describe the experience, and crediting Confucius with a proverb such as “FATAWE is a team expedition. There is no “I” in FATAWE.”  

Michalow joked in an e-mail that the correct acronym for FATAWE is instead fAtAwe (“The A’s are mountains,” he wrote).

To cover costs, Michalow secured a $320 grant from the Undergraduate Council and finagled rentals from MIT, the University of New Hampshire and Dartmouth, as well as the Square’s own Eastern Mountain Sports, which he said gave the students around 80 percent off of gear rentals.

He estimated that expenses of the basic equipment and base camp costs clocked in around $500.

Though he ran base camp, Michalow described the conditions as tough, equipping participants with gear such as snow shoes and crampons.

“Above 3,000 feet, the trail became a combination of deep, soft snow and ice. Many of the trips reported that they were going half-a-mile per hour in parts,” Michalow said.

Describing the expedition as an “unqualified success” and noting that participants left injury-free, Michalow said that he hopes organized expeditions like FATAWE will continue.

“As for next year, I hope people do an expedition in the same spirit, but it needn’t be the same routes or the same time. Maybe do all the Himalayas or something...” he said.

—Staff writer Margaret W. Ho can be reached at mwho@fas.harvard.edu.