The wind was blowing a steady 30 mph as six Vassar students crested the summit of Mount Beacon, one of the region’s highest peaks, on a recent chilly Sunday morning. But that didn’t stop them from scaling an aging fire tower at the top of the mountain for a better view of the surrounding scenery.
Folks who go on Vassar Outing Club trips simply have a healthy sense of adventure, says Saisha Srivastava ’18, who led four first-year students and a junior on the 4.4-mile trek. Srivastava, an economics and Chinese double major from Kolkata, India, notes that when the students registered for the trip they didn’t even know where they were going. She had simply labeled it a “Mystery Hike” in the Outing Club’s weekly email blast. “It was a spur-of-the-moment decision to lead a hike, and I didn’t decide until late on Saturday where we were going,” Srivastava says, “but that didn’t stop these guys from signing up.”
Variety and spontaneity have long been hallmarks of the Outing Club, says club co-president Hubert Szczygiel ’18. Every Wednesday evening, 15 to 25 members of the club meet in the basement of Cushing and toss around ideas for upcoming adventures—hiking, cycling, canoeing, rock climbing, even skydiving—for the following week and beyond. It’s not uncommon for students to have their choice of up to a dozen different events in a given week.
The outings are open to veteran outdoor enthusiasts and rank beginners and anyone in between, says Szczygiel, an earth systems independent study major from Honolulu, HI. “Our trips are accessible to everyone,” he says. “We have all the backpacks, tents, sleeping bags, and other gear you need, and there will be experienced people along to help you on every trip.”
The Outing Club’s budget also includes subsidies for those who can’t afford to shoulder the cost of some of the more extensive trips. The price of a five-day canoe trip in the Adirondacks during Fall Break: $20.
Srivastava says she was first introduced to the Outing Club just before final exams during her freshman year when the club hosted its annual skydiving trip. “It seemed like a good way to take a study break,” she deadpans.
It wasn’t until last year, however, that Srivastava began to make the Outing Club a major part of her Vassar experience. “It’s a really tight-knit group that meets in Cushing every week, but what I really enjoy is the variety of people you meet on these trips,” she says. “Students from all backgrounds and academic disciplines who share a love of the outdoors are able to get together and get to know each other. You hear so many interesting conversations along the trail. Vassar makes it easy to try new things, and the Outing Club is certainly a part of that.”
Stella Gryer ’21 one of the students who climbed Mount Beacon, also went on the Fall Break canoe trip. Gryer, of Walla Walla, WA, says she enjoyed the canoe trip, a slight mishap notwithstanding. “I was getting ready to get out of the canoe so we could carry it over a marshy area,” she recalls. “The water looked like it was about knee-deep, so I stepped out—and that’s when I found out it was much deeper than that. My phone hasn’t worked very well since then.”
Matthew Au ’19, an independent language major with an international politics correlate from New Providence, NJ, enjoyed the trek up Mount Beacon, even the climb up the creaky steps of the fire tower. “I’m afraid of heights, but this was a way to conquer my fear,” Au says. “The trick is to keep looking up, not down.”
Au says he has taken part in Outing Club events since he first arrived at Vassar. “I love the outdoors, so Outing Club has been a big part of my Vassar experience. I do five or six trips every year.”
The trek up Mount Beacon was the first Outing Club experience for Lindsey Irwin ’21, a prospective English or drama major from Concord, NH. “It was a steep climb and really windy at the top, but it was really fun—a good way to get going on a Sunday morning and forget about the stress of school for a while,” Irwin says.
Szczygiel says it’s the stress-relieving factor that has drawn him to the outdoors and to the Outing Club. “For me, the benefits of the club are essential,” he says. “My sanity depends on taking these trips.”