By Zoe Gates

At six-thirty in the morning on Saturday, October 15, 2016, a grey mist hung over Heart Lake, muting the reds and oranges and yellows exploding on the surrounding hillsides. The temperature was well below freezing, and frost covered the grass and vehicles around Adirondak Loj. Despite the early hour and the biting cold, a handful of college students gathered on the lakeshore, snapping photos and staring out at the mountains.

In a flurry of commotion, four of the students flung aside jackets, shirts, and pants and charged toward the water clad in underwear only. They emerged from the lake moments later, shouts breaking the serenity of the morning and grins spreading across their faces.

Thus began the fourth annual College Get Outside Weekend, co-hosted by College Outside and ADK (Adirondack Mountain Club). College Outside’s mission is to support collegiate outdoor education programs and outing clubs; it works with more than two hundred programs nationwide. Seventy students from fifteen schools—some having driven through the night from as far as Philadelphia to reach the Loj—came together for a weekend of socializing, conferencing, and exploring the Adirondacks at the peak of autumn.

Geared exclusively toward college outdoor club and program leaders, the weekend consisted of guided hiking trips, a leadership clinic, and a speech by ADK’s own Tyler Socash on his experiences as a through-hiker on routes such as the Appalachian Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail. Between activities, students lounged around campsites, paddled out on the lake, and enjoyed heaps of hot food provided by Loj staff.

To Sarah Lockwood, founder of College Outside, students are “the future of our outdoors-loving community, and the ones who will protect our natural spaces.” She believes that college is a time and place when many students are first exposed to the great outdoors, but do not often have the resources to get out and experience their full potential. With this in mind, she created College Outside as a resource for like-minded students to access discount gear, collaborate, and, most important, get outdoors.

It is the hope of both College Outside and ADK that events like College Get Outside Weekend will have broad implications for these student leaders. “College Outside’s work helps students have better, more positive recreational experiences, creating an opportunity for students to be inspired by the wild places in which they play,” says Seth Jones, education programs manager for ADK. “These experiences are essential to not only developing a land ethic, but also in developing a sense of stewardship of wild lands everywhere.”

For students, the intercollegiate atmosphere was a rare and welcome opportunity. Ice-breakers, mixed trips, and campfire circles encouraged participants to socialize with those from other schools. Club presidents and officers even had the opportunity to meet in a formal setting to discuss program structure and brainstorm together on how to improve their organizations.

In the fast-paced university environment, it can be easy to get caught up in the “college bubble,” as Lockwood puts it. “There is really great value in getting out of that bubble and learning from other leaders and mentors.”

Billy Harasyko, president of the Outing Club at the University of Connecticut, spent the entire weekend introducing himself to strangers from other schools. “Knowing minimal people going into the weekend, it was amazing because I could sit down with anyone in the tent and have a conversation with them,” said Harasyko. “I also liked learning about other outing clubs, how they operate, the similarities and differences from my club. I definitely learned a few things from talking to others that I’ll bring back to UConn.”

On Saturday evening, the attendees and staff gathered around a campfire to roast s’mores and recount the day’s adventures. “People were having conversations as if they’d known every-one their whole lives,” said Lockwood. “It goes to show the kind of bond the outdoors can build between people.”

This years College Get Outside Weekend will take place at the Adirondak Loj October 13-15. For more information and to register click here.

Zoe Gates is president of the Brown University Outing Club. She began her affiliation with College Outside as a contributing writer, and is currently an outreach intern. She says, “Last year’s College Get Outside Weekend was my first visit to the Adirondacks, and I can’t wait to return for this fall’s event!”

For the full article with images and more descriptions, pick up your September-October edition of the Adirondac available today. Members can view the magazine in their Members Area on the website. Non-members can purchase the magazine in our online shop.