By Sasha Nyary
The bell in the Mary Lyon Hall clock tolled its usual seven bells at 7:00 am on September 28, marking the hour.
And then it didn’t stop. That could only mean one thing: Mountain Day had arrived!
Seniors Avril Howe, Olivia Kalm, Caitlyn Johnston, and Marina Hogan, who all live in South Rockefeller Hall, talked excitedly about when they first realized this was the day.
“The bells woke me up this morning!”
“I heard people yelling outside and thought, it’s Mountain Day for sure!”
“My friends woke me up—”
“We knocked on her door.”
“—they slammed on my door!”
Dating to 1838, a few months after Mount Holyoke Seminary opened its doors, Mountain Day is one of the oldest and most cherished of Mount Holyoke College’s many traditions. A much-anticipated surprise event that happens each fall, the exact day is never known in advance. One fall morning, the bell rings at 7:00 am and an email goes out from the president.
In acknowledgement of the importance of balancing academic pursuits with outdoor activities, classes are cancelled and the College community is invited to hike to the summit of nearby Mount Holyoke, the College’s namesake.
This year’s Mountain Day was cool but not cold, and the clouds overhead didn’t obscure the spectacular views. Starting at 9:00 am, busloads of festive students headed to the foot of the mountain in J. A. Skinner State Park, where they were kitted out in everything from tank tops and sneakers to hiking boots and flannel shirts.
They hiked in small groups and large. The lacrosse team used the occasion to hike to the summit in place of practice. The Outing Club bus dropped off about 50 people at the Notch in Amherst, who then hiked the Seven Sisters across the range to the summit of Mount Holyoke.
First-year student Chris Cassidy was excited about her first Mountain Day.
“I love traditions, and a mix of all of the traditions here is why I chose Mount Holyoke,” said Cassidy, who intends to double major in theatre arts and music. “I loved meeting new people and sharing a new experience with my classmates.”
“I'm from New York City, so I don't normally get to connect with nature as much as I would like to,” she said. “It’s great to spend time in the woods with friends.”
As a small group started up the trail to the summit, a spontaneous chorus of Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ on a Prayer” broke out. The camaraderie was palpable, with everyone shouting encouragement—“just 10 more minutes!”—and greeting each other with cries of “happy Mountain Day!” Another group passed by on its way down, singing along to the opening from Hamilton, which blared out of a boom box.
At the summit, clusters of students chatted and took endless selfies, with stunning views of the valley—and mountains across three states—as the ultimate backdrop. They joined Sonya Stephens, who was celebrating her first Mountain Day as acting president, in singing the "Alma Mater."
This year, close to a 1,000 students, faculty, and staff made it to the summit, estimated Carey Lang ’15, who spent Mountain Day behind the desk of the Summit House where she now works.
“Obviously, I want to work Mountain Day!” she said. “But I couldn’t tell anybody when it was and that was really hard.” She hiked it every year as a student, including once with the dressage riding team when she was captain. One year she and a friend ran to the top.
Alumnae and study-abroad students around the world also celebrate Mountain Day wherever they are by gathering together to eat ice cream. For Olivia Kalm, the two worlds converged last year. An environmental studies major who spent her junior year studying at the University of St Andrews in Scotland, she went out for ice cream with local alumnae.
“They reached out to us, which was amazing,” she said. “It was a really great connection. It was awesome.”
“Deciding who you go up with is special,” she said. “My friends and I have been talking about it for weeks. Mountain Day is very fulfilling. Students have been doing it for nearly 180 years, and when you get to the top, it is almost a cathartic experience. I feel very refreshed.”
She felt a little wistful on the last Mountain Day she would spend as a Mount Holyoke student, Anthony said.
“It’s crazy to think that today is the last day that the bells will wake me up and classes will be canceled, just for the sake of climbing a mountain and eating ice cream!” she said. “But I know today isn’t the last day I’ll celebrate Mountain Day. I know it’ll be a part of my life forever.”
Students, alumnae, and others are invited to share their images and thoughts from Mountain Day on Twitter, Facebook, and other social media using #MtnDayMHC.
Join the tradition. Plan your visit.