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HOC Trailblazers Explore the Wild During Spring Break


Samuel Bernstein '17 and Alex Wang '17 paddle into the morning sunlight on the Upper James River.
Samuel Bernstein '17 and Alex Wang '17 paddle into the morning sunlight on the Upper James River.

Although campus was empty, the Hamilton Outing Club was very active during Spring Break. Over the course of two weeks HOC trips visited far-flung places from Mt. Katahdin in Maine to the Smoky Mountains of North Carolina.

Backcountry Skiing in Maine
The first week of break saw David Morgan ’15 and Annie Emmanuels ’16 lead a trip to backcountry ski and winter camp in Maine’s Baxter State Park–the home of Mt. Katahdin, the tallest mountain in Maine. The trip proved to be challenging and the group found themselves skiing 16 miles along a snowmobile trail to reach their first campsite. Although they had expected snow, they were surprised by the sheer amount of snow they received. “We thought the weather was going to be great and then ended up skiing in a whiteout which was fun but difficult. Luckily though we had come to go skiing so the whiteout meant that we would have plenty of fresh snow for later in the week” said Morgan of the weather. After a snowy night the group awoke to beautiful clear skies. Emmanuels described the change saying, “Since we skied in a whiteout we hadn’t seen anything and so the next day when we woke up to bluebird skies and gorgeous views it was absolutely breathtaking.”

The group spent several days living out of a lean-to and skiing before returning to campus. The weather proved to be a challenge throughout the duration of their trip the weather. “There was almost too much snow, every morning we would wake up to 8 inches of snow covering all of our gear and have to brush it off,” said Emmanuels. Despite the snow, the group had a great time and many hope to return to Katahdin again in hopes of fairer conditions.

Backpacking, Meditation, and Mindfulness in North Carolina
During the first week Emma Reynolds ’17 and Jenna Crawford ’17 led an all-women backpacking trip with a twist in the Smoky Mountains of North Carolina. In addition to spending several days on-trail, the group used the trip as a chance to practice mindfulness and take some time out of the day to meditate.

“We hiked along the Appalachian Trail for several days and actually crossed the boundary between North Carolina and Tennessee which we thought was super neat,” said Reynolds describing their route. Along the way, the group ran into several “thru-hikers”–people who hike the entire 2,100 miles Appalachian Trail in one go–as well as another group of students from Hamilton hiking in the Smokies on a personal trip. The group really enjoyed meeting thru-hikers and hearing their stories from their many weeks on trail.

In order to make time for meditations and time to reflect, the group tried to make it into camp by 2 or 3 in the afternoon every day. Once camp was set up, the group would have meditations as well as structured journal writings on topics such as “seeking balance in life” or “what it’s like to be a woman in modern society.” “We also worked with the idea of the odyssey story, which is how we described the process of finding a story that we felt defined a crucial moment in our lives” said Reynolds. The group returned to campus feeling rejuvenated, more closely connected to one another, and grateful for their experience.

Canoeing in Virginia
The second week saw Samuel Bernstein ’17 and David Morgan ’15 lead a canoeing trip to the Upper James River Water Trail in Western Virginia. Over the course of the week the group covered upwards of 60 miles and encountered countless vistas of the Blue Ridge Mountains and cliffs. The trip saw both rainy, windy cold days and beautiful sunny days–one even reached a high temperature of 80 degrees! Taking advantage of the weather, the group alternated between paddling and lounging in the sun while lazily floating down the river.

Having canoes allowed the group to not only travel quickly, but to pack large amounts of gear and food. “We really embraced the spirit of float-and-bloat on this trip,” said Morgan of the food. “We brought tons of all of the on-trail essentials such as peanut butter, jelly, and cheese as well as some luxury items like eggs, fresh vegetables and fresh fruit.”

The river was swollen with water from the spring rains and the speedy current gave the leaders a surprise toward the end of the trip. “By halfway through the trip we had an idea that we might be moving a bit faster than we had planned,” said Bernstein. “But nothing could have prepared us for the surprise of coming around a corner in the river shortly after lunch on what we had expected to be our second-to-last day and finding the take-out that signaled the end of our trip.” With everyone in good spirits, the group unloaded boats (laughing the whole time) before packing up the cars to begin the long drive home.

Hiking and Winter Camping in the Adirondacks
During the second week Jake Davidson ’15 led a group of students on a hiking and winter camping trip in the High Peaks of the Adirondacks. Taking advantage of the tremendous amounts of snow this winter the group spent several days exploring. “We had a lot of fun above treeline and a lot of fun playing around in the snow and building tables and benches out of snow,” said Davidson.

Successfully summiting Mt. Marcy–the tallest mountain in New York–was a highlight of the trip for many. “Marcy gets really beautiful and really barren up above treeline. We did have to deal with some wind but all in all it was very beautiful,” Davidson recalled. For all their efforts the group was treated to expansive skies and spectacular 360-degree views. “It was my first time being above treeline in such extreme cold but we were properly layered and were able to make it work and the view were well worth it in the end,” said participant Anna Mowat ’18.

Toward the end of the trip the weather took a turn for the worse but the group was undeterred and sprits remained high. Davidson described the final days saying, “as we were hiking to our final campsite a storm came in and it began to shift from snow to rain as we descended to lower elevations and we had a soggy but cheerful end to the trip.”

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