Adventure beyond the gates

Sarah Paust ’20 shares her experiences as member of the Mount Holyoke Outing Club.

I vividly remember the first time I set foot on campus. I was 17 and exhausted from a multistate college tour. I had long dreamed of escaping to New England and, suddenly, here I was.

It was late August. Everything felt oversaturated: the greenery, the buzzing of cicadas, the sun-warmed bricks. I asked my tour guide my go-to question, what she liked to do for fun. She told me the Pioneer Valley was a great place to go hiking, specifically through something called the Outing Club. It sounded intriguing.

The Mount Holyoke College campus at dusk
The Mount Holyoke College campus at dusk

The following August, the whirlwind of my first-year Orientation was followed by an almost jarring shift to the calm routines of college life. I quickly grew to love Mount Holyoke for its quiet but breathtaking beauty. But before long, I felt myself craving excitement.

Growing up in southeast Florida, I spent most summers at the beach or the lagoon, fishing, snorkeling and seining (using a weighted net to catch fish), collecting shells and catching sea slugs. I realized that what I was missing from my college experience — which thus far featured my first anthropology class and lots of studying in Thirsty Mind — was time spent in nature. I promptly signed up for the Outing Club’s mailing list.

Mountain Day 2019: Outing Club board members (from left) Elle Provolo ’22, Ellie Viggiani ’20, Sarah Paust ’20 and Megan Dear ’22
Mountain Day 2019: Outing Club board members (from left) Elle Provolo ’22, Ellie Viggiani ’20, Sarah Paust ’20 and Megan Dear ’22

The mission of the Outing Club, first established in 1921, is to promote outdoor recreation and education. It’s for all levels of skill and experience. Every week, we offer day trips (and the occasional overnight or weekend trip) ranging from hiking and backpacking to sailing, rock climbing, and cross-country skiing. Plus trips to local farms, cafes and museums.

Recent destinations have included Mount Monadnock in southern New Hampshire and Bare Mountain, a peak within the Mount Holyoke Range State Park that’s just 10 minutes from campus. It’s beautiful at sunrise! Starting from Bare Mountain this past Mountain Day, we hiked six miles of gorgeous fall foliage before arriving at the Summit House atop Mount Holyoke.

By the fall of my sophomore year, I had begun leading trips of my own off campus, which fostered a greater sense of connection not only with club members but also within the broader Pioneer Valley. For example, we collaborate with local Girl Scout troops and other outing clubs in the Five College Consortium.

Outing Club members practice wilderness first aid
Outing Club members practice wilderness first aid

In the spring of 2018, through a two-day weekend course organized by the Outing Club, I had the opportunity to become Wilderness First Aid certified. We learned how to assess illnesses and injuries in the backcountry, treat wounds, make impromptu splints, perform CPR and so much more. This certification is useful not only for leading trips, but also for working with camps and youth groups.

If you had asked me four years ago if I could ever see myself as a leader in the campus outdoors community, I would have thought you were joking. The label of “shy” has followed me for as long as I can remember. And although my love of nature is an integral part of who I am, it is something I have long struggled to share with others.

Students enjoying the view from the Summit House atop Mount Holyoke.
View from the Summit House atop Mount Holyoke

I had always worried that I wasn’t good enough to claim a space within communities oriented around fitness or adventuring — not athletic enough, not experienced enough, not fast enough on hikes or runs. The Outing Club has shown me time and again that the only obstacle standing in my way is my own hesitation. Whenever I want to try something new, I only have to speak up, and I’m met with so much support from leaders and members alike.

As senior year whizzes by, I find myself thinking back on all the experiences I’ve had at Mount Holyoke and how they’ve helped shape me as a person. And in doing so, I realize just how thankful I am to the Outing Club for helping me cultivate courage, independence and amazing friendships.

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