Tucked away on Claverly’s ground floor is an elusive organization that remains foreign to many students at Harvard—the Harvard Outing Club. Enter the Outing Club’s “office” at 15 Linden Street and you will find a bevy of skis, snowshoes, antlers, bicycles, and ice axes lining the walls, kayaks and canoes hanging from the ceiling, and a sign above the door that reads “HOC All Welcome” next to a painting of a moose with a halo.
This image seems particularly appropriate for a group that worships the outdoors. Incoming President Rebecca R. Hersher ’11 says, “If you’ve never summited a mountain before it’s almost like a religious experience. You get to the top and the wind blows in your hair. You can’t even imagine it.”
“There’s no excuse not to leave campus,” says Peter F. Hedman ’10, the club’s vice president. “Our main goal is to get people OUT. It’s pretty hard to get Harvard students to leave...it is possible, though.”
The Outing Club provides students with “anything you would want for backpacking, plus snowshoes, skis, kayaks” as part of their gear cooperative aimed at encouraging and supporting those who yearn to explore the outdoors, explains outgoing president James S. Miller ’09.
For a mere $10 a semester, Harvard students, faculty, affiliates can register to be a member of the co-op. But HOC is pretty laid back in terms of membership. “Anyone can become a member,” says Hersher. “We’re not particularly discriminating,” Miller echoes.
The gear cooperative however, is just one facet of the club. They also run trips nearly every weekend, and an increasingly popular intercession outing.
“We had a ton of interest in our intercession trip this year,” says Miller. “We have a cabin we share with the Appalachian Mountain Club. It was a huge logistical challenge, coordinating 300 people, and a couple hundred pounds of food and sending out four or five trips.”a day. I think it shows how our capacity has grown
According to Miller, the Harvard Outing Club was founded in 1939, though there is some speculation that it may have began as early as the 1920s, and a 1923 Crimson article seems to acknowledge its existence.
“I think it’s sort of waxed and waned over the years,” Miller says. “Five or ten years ago it was less active but in the past five or six years it has had a resurgence.”
Indeed, Hersher claims, “we have 1500 or 1000 on the e-mail list, I’d say probably 200 active members on a given year, and probably 30 current Harvard affiliates plus 20 who are loosely affiliated or living off campus. Like most outdoor communities, it is pretty amorphous.”
Miller, however, says that membership is equally balanced between men and women. “I think this year we actually have more female leaders than men.”
The “leaders” Miller refers to are students who have taken part in the Outing Club’s Leader Training Program. An integral part of the club, the program prepares students for safety and survival in the outdoors. Consisting of a number of workshops that focus on skills such as compass and map navigation and weather preparedness, the program features two wilderness-training trips: one in the winter and one that is geared more towards backpacking.
“All leaders also get wilderness First Aid and CPR certification,” says Miller. “In order for it to be an official trip, at least one leader needs to have [that] training or higher. Some of the leaders are wilderness First Responders or wilderness EMTs.
Though the leader training may strike some as overly cautious, the Outing Club has learned that it is better to be safe than sorry. During spring break of 2006, a canoe trip in Charleston, South Carolina put the Outing Club to the test. Two students flipped over in rough waves and were carried away from the rest of the group. It was nearly an hour before the two were rescued by a Coast Guard helicopter and boat.
Prospective members can rest assured though: Miller says nothing similar has occurred since.
THINKING OUTSIDE THE BOX
Though the Outing Club has many enthusiastic, nature-loving members, “there isn’t a lot of presence for people who aren’t sure if they’re interested in the outdoors,” Hersher says. She hopes to expand membership to less forest-friendly students during her tenure as president.
Mette S. Andersen ’11, the club’s treasurer, agrees. “We hope to get more people involved. It’s really a great resource for students.”
Though the Outing Club has a good relationship with the Harvard Mountaineering Club and even shares some members with them, the two clubs are not officially affiliated.
“The Mountaineering Club is a little more exclusive because not everyone can go rock-climbing. You need physical strength, endurance, or innate ability,” Hersher says. The Outing Club, on the other hand “is designed for anyone who can walk. If you’ve never put on hiking boots before we’d love to have you.”
Outing Club trips run the gamut, from cross-country skiing, to biking, hiking, and canoeing. As Miller puts it, “pretty much we do anything that does not involve ropes.”
Hersher recalls a particularly memorable experience, when after hiking up Mount Lafayette through thick snow in January, she and her friends decided to sled down the peak. “We just sled down the entire thing,” she reminisces. “It was like a roller coaster, but so much better. I hit a couple trees, but I did it!”
For those who aren’t naturally lured to the Outing Club by an innate love of nature, the Outing Club’s largest obstacle seems to be its lack of advertising.
“I think the people that know about it are excited about it. But not everybody knows what we do,” says Hedman. “Basically our job is to get people gear for almost free, and then go out and have fun. And there’s no catch.”
He adds, “We basically are here to serve the undergraduate community. Our sign says ‘all welcome.’ And it’s true.”