Outing Club Offers Low-Key Outdoor Escapes

The four walls of your Harvard University room are closing in on you, and your roommates are grouchier and more selfish than you can deal with The people and conversations in the dining hall are depressingly redundant and you fell your muscles atrophying from the long hours spent indoors during reading period and Cambridge's nasty and brutish weather. In short, you have lost sight of Harvard's renowned mystique and you need desperately to get away from everything and everyone before you join the Moonies or take a semester's leave of absence.

If any of the above conditions sound familiar, the Outing Club may be just the solution to your Harvard ennui. Sponsoring anywhere from two to eight trips a week, the 43-year-old club offers under graduates, grad students, faculty members and alumni the chance to escape Cambridge and participate in expeditions ranging from demanding peak ascents in Canada to soothing walks along Massachusetts beaches.

"At Harvard where you can get all caught up in studying or talking about parties, the Outing Club offers a unique and different alternative," newly elected co-president Simon Hambridge '84 says "It's refreshing to get together with club members and talk about getting away to the sea or something."

And the other co-president Armando Mendez '84 echoes Hambridge's sentiments, saying, "When I feel Cambridge crawling all over me, it helps immensely to get away. It really clears my head."

Although the club's membership numbers about 300, outgoing President Billy Spitzer '83 says that only about half that number are active, and that about 20 students are "very active." And, Spitzer adds laughingly. "Then there are one or two others like me who are hyperactive." Spitzer--who also just ended a year's tenure as president of the White-water Club--estimates that he spent two of three weekends last year on various expeditions both with the club and on his own.


Not everyone is as active as Spitzer, though. For just $5 a year and light duties such as cleaning some of the club's equipment, members can check out any of the club's vast sporting gear and use the club's two cabins in Jaffrey and Jackson. N.H. Built in 1939 and 1949, respectively, by past club members, the cabins serve as starting points for many Harvard expeditions, as well as nearby escapes to beautiful and rustic simpicity Just an hour-and-a-half away, the Jaffrey cabin is nestled between lakes and hiking trails, while the Jackson cabin's position in the midst of the White Mountains is ideal for any skiing enthusiast.

Perhaps the best resource the Outing Club has to offer, however, is the members' fountain of information about camping, rock-climbing, kayaking, ice, climbing, snow-shoeing, expedition leadership and more that they willingly share with novices. "We provide equipment, but most importantly we are a communications network. We have no goal for experiences--we just provide everything for people to do what they want," says alumni adviser Jean Andres '68. "If someone wants to get away, we're there to help them."

The Outing Club--operating out of a small, paneled room at 10 Linden St.--is not one that is widely recognized by Harvard students. This was not always the case, though. In the 1950s and 60s the club held a position of prominence in both the University and the community, sponsoring such popular events anannual clambake on the coast, a Harvard to Wellesley Bike Race ("The sidelines looked like the Boston Marathon," Andres remembers). and concerts in Sanders Theater with music artists like Pete Seeger.

In the mid-1970s the club declined in popularity as more students brought their own cars to college and used them to get off campus, and political and feminist movements grabbed the attention of undergraduates. Membership dropped by about one half, and what emerged is the low-key and loosely structured organization that exists today.

Although many members believe that the club's informality is one of its stronger points. Mendez and Hambridge are considering trying to restore the group to a position of central importance in the University and in the community. In addition to the fall's large introductory meeting in the Science Center, the officers plan another on March 4. and club members are thinking about setting up tables in the Houses to introduce students to the organization.

With enlargement, however, would inevitably come problems in administration, as well as a loss of spontaneity, Spitzer believes. "When the MIT Outing Club and the Appalachian Mountaineering Club decided to become more structured and systematized, people began to lose interest,' he says. "It takes a lot of the fun out of a trip when you have to sign up weeks in advance; one of the most memorable trips I took was planned the night before my final exam in the winter We took off 15 minutes after my exam ended and had a great time.'

Despite the fact that all Outing Club trips are student-led and sometimes hastily organized, there has never been a serious accident on my expedition, Spitzer says. "At MIT you have to pass a lot of tests and requirements to lead trips, but they have had lot more problems and accidents than we have," he adds. "When someone proposes going on a trip that I know is way over their head, I'll gently tone down their suggestion by saying something like, 'Why don't you think about the difficulty of that trip a little more before you organize anything?'

Unlike a number of Harvard clubs, the Outing Club isn't exclusive and does not focus on just one activity or sport. Anyone can join, and no previous skills are required; in fact, Spitzer--a Long Island. N.Y., native--knew almost nothing about mountaineering, kayaking, canoeing, hiking climbing and the like before he came to Harvard. "I went on a flatwater canoeing trip in late September of my freshman year, and the friends I made and the experiences I had hooked me immediately," Spitzer says.

Not everyone does get hooked, though, Andres explains. "A lot of people try us and say, 'No thanks.' Some people just don't enjoy snowshoeing in sub-zero wether, walking up in snowy sleeping bags and inching up a rock face."

For Spitzer and other Outing Club members, however, these conditions pose an enjoyable challenge. "I like beautiful places, being athletic and feeling successful." Spitzer notes. "When you come out of a hard trip it's nice to feel good about yourself."

Spitzer is quick to note, though, that not all Outing Club trips are "intense". "Just the other day we drove out to Plum Beach on the coach and spent the day looking at birdlife and wandering around the dunes. The beauty of the club is that you can do whatever you want in whatever intensity you want," he adds.

Andres agrees with Spitzer's description, laughing. "We are to the Outward Bound survival courses what the 'I Hate to Cook Cookbook' is to cooking."

Ragardless of whether the Outing Club chooses to expend its activities or remain quietly informal, it will remain one of the least expensive and enjoyable ways for Harvard students to take advantage of nearby natural resources and wilderness facilities. "The Outing Club has been one of my better experiences at Harvard," Mender concludes. "In fact, it's the one I'm going to remember the most."