BY Bill Slack 02′
This document begins with a timeline summarizing the major events related to the Williams Outing Club. Next is a brief section describing outdoor activities at Williams before the founding of WOC in 1915. The next, and longest, section gives a general history of the Outing Club through its 87 years of existence. This section is broken into subsections based on logical chronological divisions in the club’s history. Following this are four sections giving the history of specific aspects of the club: Mountain Day, Winter Carnival and skiing, cabins and shelters, and the WOOLF program. The general WOC history does not delve deeply into these subjects, as they are treated separately in their own sections.
1827 – First reference to Mountain Day
1830 – 100 Williams students and professors clear the Hopper Trail in a single day
1863 – Prof. Albert Hopkins founds Alpine Club of Williamstown
Williams College Sunrise Club founded
1915 – First Williams Winter Carnival
1917 – First intercollegiate Winter Carnival at Williams
1918 – WOC reorganized with Winter Sports as major activity
1924-5 – Williams’ Winter Sports Team wins two competitions
First mention of an Outing Club cabin
1926-7 – WOC reorganized; divorced from Winter Sports Team; greater focus on hiking, trails, and cabins
1927 – WOC publishes first trails guide, “The Mountains of Eph”
1932 – WOC recombined with Winter Sports Team
1933 – WOC joins Intercollegiate Outing Club Association
1934 – Mountain Day abandoned
1949 – Membership rebounds after war, reaches 250 students
1949- WOC starts freshman-faculty picnic in fall, student-faculty picnic in spring
1952-3 – First publication of newsletter, “Sidehill Gouger”
1961-2 – Rock climbing organization started at Williams
1968 – Williams Cycling Club joins WOC
1970 – WOC membership reaches 400, including almost 1/2 of the college’s females
1974 – Primitive climbing wall installed in Towne Field House
WOC builds first temporary ropes course on campus
1977 – WOOLF started
Early ’80s – Mountain Day resumed
1995 – Nate Lowe Memorial Climbing Wall built
2000 – Mountain Day becomes spontaneous again
2001 – Permanent ropes course built in Hopkins Forest
Before The WOC
Williams College students have been taking advantage of their beautiful surroundings since the first years of the college’s existence. One of the first records of an organized outdoor trip is from 1799, when President Ebenezer Fitch and two others climbed Mt. Greylock. The hike up Greylock was far more perilous then than it is today, and these adventurers had to carry arms for protection against the bobcats which lived on the mountain. Around this same time, students began a tradition of hiking into the nearby mountains during a school holiday in the spring known as “Chip Day.” Around 1830, this holiday would become known as “Mountain Day” (see the appropriate section below for more information on Mountain Day).
In 1830, a crew of 100 Williams students and professors cleared the Hopper Trail, to the summit of Mt. Greylock, in a single day. This was apparently done for the benefit of President Griffin who, being too old to hike, wanted a trail that would allow him to ride his horse to the top of the mountain. The same year, Williams students built a wooden tower on the summit of Greylock. This tower, maintained into the 1850s, was used for sightseeing and scientific observations.
Professor Albert Hopkins brought a revolution in outdoor recreation both to Williams College and to all of America. A professor of math, natural history and astronomy, Hopkins loved nature and, accordingly, started the Natural History Society of Williams. In 1835, he led the first college-sponsored natural history expedition in the country, traveling to the Bay of Fundy, St. Johns and Halifax (Niles).
Then, in April of 1863, Hopkins founded the Alpine Club of Williamstown, the first mountain organization in the country. The stated purpose of this organization was “to explore the interesting places in the vicinity, to become acquainted, to some extent at least, with the natural history of the localities, and also to improve the pedestrian powers of the members” (Scudder). The initial membership consisted of nine ladies of Williamstown, along with Professors Hopkins and Chadbourne, and Reverend Harry Hopkins, but it soon grew to over 20 members, including some Williams students (Niles, Scudder). For the next few years, the Alpine Club led trips every week or two, and improved the landscape by marking new hiking paths (Scudder). One of the longest trips was in 1865, when members of the club went on a 12-day trip to the White Mountains. Professor Hopkins found great delight in the Alpine Club trips, in part because they allowed him to shape the young people on the trip to be more like Christ. Hopkins was a religious man, and even preached in his later years. He taught that having a pure, Christ-like character is the most important goal in life (Sewall). By the late ’60s, though, Hopkins’ health was failing. Hopkins had been the driving force of the club and with his failing health the club grew less active. A few years later, however, former members of the Alpine Club, most notably Samuel Scudder, played an active role in the founding of the Appalachian Mountain Club (Scudder).
Professor Hopkins also helped found the first outdoor-oriented club at Williams College – the Sunrise Club which, like the Alpine club, was founded in 1863. This organization, whose purpose was “To cultivate a love for the beautiful, to secure healthful and pleasurable out-door exercise, and to improve the college grounds,” had as its officers a president (Amasa Pratt), a secretary/treasurer, two gardeners, and a curator, and had a total of 18 student members (1864 Gulielmensian). It appears that the Sunrise Club lasted only a year, but it was soon replaced by a number of other outdoor organizations: the Hare and Hounds Club, the Bicycle Club, the Skating Club and the Toboggan Club; these clubs were mostly active in the 1870s and 1880s. After these clubs became defunct in the mid-late 1880s, there was little record of organized outdoor activity at Williams until 1914.
Evolution Of The WOC
The Williams Outing Club grew out of the Trails and Byways committee, established in 1904 as part of the Williams Good Government Club to increase students’ enthusiasm for hiking in the nearby mountains (Wood). In the fall of 1914, the chairman of this committee was Samuel C. McKown ’16. This year would be an especially active one for the Good Government Club in general, and for the Trails and Byways committee in particular. In mid-October, McKown held a meeting to discuss expanding the scope of the committee. He considered transforming the committee into a separate organization based on the Dartmouth Outing Club, which was formed in 1909-10 (Hooke). That fall, the Trails and Byways committee blazed 15 trails around Williamstown and explored paths around Mt. Prospect, the Dome, Greylock, Petersburg Pass and elsewhere. In addition, students put registers on the tops of nearby mountains to track how many people hiked in each area. In February of 1915, the committee sponsored an afternoon of ski and snowshoe races and ski jumping, drawing ten student competitors. This would become an annual event – the Williams Winter Carnival (see the appropriate section below for more information on Winter Carnival) (various issues of the Williams Record, 1914-15).
On April 20, 1915 the Trails and Byways committee split off from the Good Government Club to form the Williams Outing Club, modeled on the Dartmouth Outing Club. Professor Albert Licklider, who had been one of the founders of the Dartmouth Outing Club before he came to Williams in 1914, aided in the establishment of Williams’ new club. The initial purpose of the club is stated in an article in the Williams Record from April 19, 1915, the day before the club’s creation:
The organization, besides continuing the work of the Ways and Byways Committee of the Good Government Club, will incorporate the interests of other out-of-door sports such as hunting and fishing…. Among its other activities, the organization plans to construct shelters for camping parties, obtain resident hunting licences [sic] for students, restock the neighboring streams with trout fry from the Adams hatchery and hold an annual winter carnival.
In addition to a president (Samuel C. McKown ’16), vice-president (Russel M. Geer ’16), secretary (U. Roland Palmedo ’17) and treasurer (Roger W. Riis ’17), there would be department heads in charge of various committees: caves, skis, snowshoes, shelters, fishing, guns, freshman walks, and press agent (1917 Gulielmensian). Anyone connected with the college could become a member of the Outing Club by paying the annual dues, fifty cents (the Williams Record, April 22, 1915).
Palmedo would become WOC’s second president, and would later have a great influence on skiing in America. He started both the Stowe and Mad River Glen ski areas. Furthermore, Palmedo came up with the idea of a National Ski Patrol. According to Jim Briggs ’60, “Roland Palmedo saw a patrol like it over in Europe, and came back and got one going up at Stowe, which was kind of the forerunner of all ski patrols.” In fact, in 1939, Williams College started one of the first branches of the National Ski Patrol.
1917-25: Early Years
In 1917, Williams hosted its first intercollegiate winter carnival, competing against Colby. There was then a lapse in activity for a year during the war. The next year, 1918, the club was reorganized and combined with the winter sports team. After this reorganization, the main focus of the club was winter sports. There was little interest in hiking trips, and the local trails were largely neglected. Within a few years, though, trails had again risen in importance. In 1923, the Outing Club became affiliated with the New England Trails Association, and worked with this association to plan out new trails around Williamstown. In addition, the WOC Trails Committee made an improved trail map this year.
Despite the rediscovered interest in trails work, winter sports remained the Outing Club’s primary focus. In 1923-4, WOC became a member of the Intercollegiate Winter Sports Association, and Williams skiers and snowshoers traveled to many intercollegiate competitions and winter carnivals, besides participating in Williams’ own intercollegiate winter carnival. The peak of the Outing Club’s winter sports activity came in 1924-5, when, according to the 1926 Gulielmensian, “For the first time in history, the Williams Outing Club made a determined drive toward forming a real winter sports team.” This paid off, as the club’s winter sports team this year won the President Harding Trophy at a competition at Lake Placid and then went on to win another first place at Dartmouth’s winter carnival. These competitions included ski proficiency contests (downhill and slalom), cross-country skiing, ski jumping, snowshoeing, speed skating, and figure skating.
Less competitive skiers were also given the opportunity to participate in the club’s activities, which in the mid-’20s included many organized ski trips. One such trip was the annual ski trip up Mt. Greylock on Washington’s birthday; in 1927 this was one of the most successful trips of the year, drawing 22 people (students, alumni, guests at the Williams Inn, and one member of the Amherst Outing Club).
The club’s trail work continued during this period as well, and in 1924-5 WOC was made responsible for the clearing of a section of the new Appalachian Trail – from the Dome in the north, through the Greylock range, to Lanesboro in the south. Furthermore, the first mention of an Outing Club cabin is made this year: “A cabin on the slopes of the Dome has been bought and renovated, being reserved for the use of members of the club when on hikes across the state line” (1926 Gulielmensian).
1926-30: Reorganization; De-emphasis of Winter Sports
Two years later, in 1926-7, the club changed dramatically. The club was reorganized this year, and divorced from the winter sports team. The internal organization of the club was altered to include an executive council in addition to the primary officers (president, vice president, etc.). More importantly, though, the club’s focus shifted away from winter sports and more toward hiking and trail-clearing. A commission was established to clear and mark all trails around Williamstown and to obtain more cabins. The club raised $800 to pay for two students to stay in Williamstown over the summer, marking the surrounding trails (a total of 75 miles) and publishing the Outing Club’s first trail guide, “The Mountains of Eph.” The club sponsored many organized hikes this year as well, including an overnight hike up Mt. Greylock which drew 40 students.
The popularity of hiking among Williams students only increased in 1927-8. The 1929 Gulielmensian states, “During 1927-1928 the Williams Outing Club has stimulated considerable interest in the Berkshire Hills that lie about Williamstown. The general policy of the club during the past year has been to offer a variety of conducted trips, and then urge small groups of men to continue acquainting themselves with the trails and surrounding country.” This increased interest in hiking can be seen from the increase in the number of “holders of the Key” (signifying that a student has followed all 75 miles of WOC-maintained trails, and done significant trail work on some of them) from five in the fall of this year to twenty in the spring. Many hikes were led this year, including a hike for freshman on the first Sunday of the year, in which 65 freshman climbed Pine Cobble (this would become an annual tradition for the next few years), and other organized hikes every Sunday in the fall. The popularity of hiking carried over into the summer of ’28, when two WOC members became the third group to traverse the entire distance of the Long Trail, and the first such group from a college outing club (1930 Gulielmensian).
While hiking dominated much of the Outing Club’s time and energy in the late ’20s, this was by no means the only activity. Every spring included the annual Outing Club birthday dinner, which even drew members of other college outing clubs. In addition, the club organized many trail crew trips in order to keep the trails in suitable condition for the heavy use they were receiving.
1931-46: Returned Dominance of Winter Sports; Declining Membership
The abundance of organized hikes seen in the late ’20s was relatively short-lived. In 1931-2, the only organized hikes were those for freshmen on the first few Sundays of the year, three hikes on Mountain Day, and just a handful of others. This year’s officers felt that the club’s purpose lay more “in providing for those interested, the facilities for hiking” (1933 Gulielmensian). Accordingly, there was an increased emphasis on obtaining cabins for the club (see the appropriate section below for more information on Outing Club cabins). Another focus of the club this year was the maintenance of Eph’s Pond for skating. An Eph Pond Public Skating Rink was started in 1932 as a branch of the Outing Club. The pond served as a practice area for figure and speed skating, a hockey rink for intramural hockey, and a public rink open to any Williams student or community member. Keeping the pond clear of snow was a difficult task, but it was appreciated by many – on some days, over 100 people skated on the pond. The winter of ’32 is the only year in which skating on this pond was documented, though it is likely that the pond was cleared for at least a few years after this, and there is some mention of its being used for the hockey team’s practices.
The club was reorganized again in the spring of 1932 and recombined with the winter sports team, which became a department of the Outing Club. The constitution was re-written using the Dartmouth Outing Club’s constitution as a model. The club now consisted of three committees: membership and publicity; winter sports; and cabins, trails and trips. Each committee had a student committee head, who delegated work to other students in their committee. Part of the reason given for this reorganization was an attempt to increase membership, “which was obtained by canvassing the various fraternity houses and the Commons Club” (1934 Gulielmensian). The membership drive was not highly successful, though, and in 1934, there were only 23 members of the club (1935 Gulielmensian). The organized trips at this time were mostly attended by freshman and, in general, had poor attendance – many scheduled trips had to be canceled because no one showed up for them. Possibly thinking that more students would become members if the distinction of membership was more meaningful, the officers of the club in 1934-5 added a new standard by which students could become members. Now anyone could become an associate member of the club, but to become a full member a student had to take part in about ten hours of trail work.
With the recombination with the winter sports team and the declining interest in hiking, “The greatest activity of the club as a whole [in 1933-4] came with the winter season…. With several other New England College groups, five members of the club spent a weekend in New Hampshire expressly for the purpose of skiing” (1935 Gulielmensian). Like this New Hampshire trip, many trips in the next few decades would be taken in conjunction with other college outing clubs, through the coordination of the Intercollegiate Outing Club Association (IOCA). WOC joined IOCA in 1933, the year after this organization of 14 college outing clubs was founded (Webb). Some of these IOCA trips would be at Williams, but for many, Williams students traveled to other parts of New England.
The winter season would remain the most active in the following years, with winter carnival and skiing gaining the most attention. Skiing at this time was growing in popularity, partly due to the arrival of Jim Parker in 1933, who coached the ski team, improving their technique. The club added a beginners’ ski team in 1934-5, showed ski movies, which “proved to be very popular” (1936 Gulielmensian), and improved the skiing facilities at Sheep Hill. The Outing Club still conducted some non-winter activities, though. In 1934, the club published a new trail guide: the “Trail Guide for Williamstown and Vicinity.” In addition, in the mid-late ’30s the club included a trapshooting committee.
There are few records of WOC activity from 1938-41. It seems that there was little participation in the club’s activities during these years. The membership had begin to rise again by 1942, though, when there were 100 members – one of the largest memberships in the club’s history to that point. The focus of the club remained skiing: “This year the Williams Outing Club became primarily a skiing club, and the chief function of the W.O.C. became to run and maintain the Sheep Hill ski tow” (1942 Gulielmensian). The large membership numbers may have been due in part to the benefits that came with membership. For $1, a student could get access to the club’s two cabins, a reduced-price season ticket for the Sheep Hill ski tow, and some free ski instruction.
For the next few years, skiing seems to have remained the main activity of the Outing Club. Winter Carnival dropped off during and just after the war, but it was replaced with other similar events. The winter of ’46, for example, “was highlighted by the ‘Snow Bunny’ race house party weekend when bourbon and nylon prizes went to one expert couple” (1946 Gulielmensian). One exception to the focus on skiing was during the summer of 1942, when the college held a special summer session. This “opened up an opportunity for hiking, which was lacking in the past, [and] the Williams Outing Club enjoyed one of its most successful seasons” (1943 Gulielmensian). The Outing Club led two hikes a week through the Physical Training program, and other hikes in addition to these; the most popular activity, though, was cave exploration. In all, 175 students participated in the club’s summer activities.
1947-56: Growing Popularity of WOC; Dominance of Social Events
After WWII, the Outing Club, like many other college activities, had a hard time getting back on its feet. The local trails had been neglected, and many were overgrown; the club’s room in Jesup Hall needed work as well, as it had been used by the Navy during the war. Despite these difficulties, the club’s membership exploded and reached over 250 students by 1949 (1949 Gulielmensian), becoming one of the largest organizations on campus. In the early ’50s, the club put representatives in all fraternities and freshman entries to try to further increase membership. To keep this large membership informed, in 1952-3 the club started publishing a newsletter, the “Sidehill Gouger,” six times a year (WOC Scrapbook).
The internal structure of the club was reorganized in the late ’40s, and an executive committee was established “for more efficient and coordinated management” (1949 Gulielmensian). This committee consisted of a president, a secretary/treasurer, and 4 chairmen, each in charge of one division of the club: trails and cabins, Sheep Hill, programs, and winter carnival. This committee would grow over the next few years to include more varied divisions, such as ski patrol and skeet shooting. There was, additionally, a faculty advisory council to the club. From 1957-82, the club’s faculty advisor would be Ralph Townsend. Townsend arrived at Williams in 1950 to coach the ski team, and was soon asked to supervise the Outing Club as well. Having competed on the US Olympic Nordic Combined Ski Team in ’48, and having won both the US Eastern Nordic Combined Championships and the National Nordic Combined Championships in the ’40s, Townsend helped increase the already-high popularity of skiing at Williams. In 1975, Townsend was named to the National Ski Hall of Fame (Jim Briggs; Townsend bio in athletic building; Townsend bio in college archives).
In the years following the war, some of the most popular Outing Club activities had a primarily social focus. Square dances were particularly popular, especially when they were held at nearby women’s’ colleges, since Williams was still all-male. Joint outings with Mt. Holyoke, Smith or Vassar were also popular. Often, the hikes and other outings led through IOCA included night-time activities of singing and square dancing. In the spring of 1951, one of the most popular WOC activity was an overnight trip to Harris Cabin, with dates (the Outing Club would provide the food, said the advertisements, but participants had to provide their own dates).
The club also facilitated the formation of student-professor relationships outside the classroom. For a number of years starting in 1949, the club hosted a freshman-faculty picnic every fall, and a student-faculty picnic on Mt. Greylock every spring. The spring picnic included contests between the students and faculty, such as pulp-throwing, log chopping, log sawing, pie eating, beer drinking, and a treasure hunt. This student-faculty picnic filled a void left when Mountain Day was ended in the mid-30s.
Competitions with students from outing clubs at other colleges were also popular at the time. Members of the Williams Outing Club took part in Dartmouth’s Woodsman’s Weekend for a few years in the late ’40s and early ’50s; this weekend featured such contests as tree felling, fire building, and fly fishing. There was also an entire weekend devoted to an intercollegiate fishing competition – the Trout Derby. Williams hosted the 2nd annual Trout Derby in the spring of 1950 and took first place in this competition. A few years later, in 1956, WOC sent a delegation to the New England Fly and Bait Casting Contest. And, of course, there was the annual Williams Winter Carnival, with its intercollegiate skiing competitions as well as competitions between Williams students, such as the snow sculpture contest for which the winning house received the “Koveted Keg.”
The Outing Club still led a variety of trips at this time. There were day hikes, overnight hikes (often to one of the club’s cabins), trail crew trips, fishing trips, hunting trips, and many rock climbing trips. In the spring of ’52, many of the club’s rock climbing trips were led by John Hewett ’53. That February, Hewett had become the youngest mountain climber ever to be inducted into the American Alpine Club, a club of 400 elite mountaineers (WOC Scrapbook). Skiing remained popular, as well, especially with John Jay, a famous ski photographer, as Williams’ Director of Athletics around 1950.
1957-63: Another Reorganization; Diversification of Activities
The Outing Club was reorganized again in 1957, and a new constitution was written. The club now consisted of a board of five voting members – the president, secretary/treasurer, and three vice presidents, each in charge of a division of the club (cabin and trail, winter carnival, and winter sports) – and three non-voting members, each in charge of a “service” (membership, programs, and publicity). Each of the three divisions was further broken down into departments, each headed by a department chair (these department chairs were not on the executive board themselves). Thus, cabin and trail was broken down into cabins, trails, events (freshman picnic, student-faculty picnic, and other special events), trips, transportation, mountain climbing (including rock climbing), the recreation department (in charge of hunting and fishing), and publicity. The winter carnival division was broken down into the social department (in charge of the carnival dance, entertainment, and the like) and publicity. The winter sports division was broken into the competition department, the intramural department (to run IM ski races and promote club skiing), the Sheep Hill department, the ski team manager, the communications department, the ski patrol department, and the publicity department.
Skiing and winter carnival remained popular through the late ’50s and early ’60s (and in 1957, WOC sponsored the Eastern Downhill and Slalom Championships on the Thunderbolt trail [1957 Gulielmensian]), but other activities rose in popularity in the early ’60s as well. The 1960 Gulielmensian asserts that the two greatest interests among WOC members that year were white-water canoeing and spelunking. Two years later, the Outing Club summary in the Gulielmensian states, “Two spelunking trips a week is not uncommon, and a week-long trip to West Virginia over spring vacation is now almost traditional.” Rock climbing was also becoming even more popular than it was before, and a rock climbing organization was started in 1961-2. The club seemed to shy away from organized trips at this time, though: “The Williams Outing Club stands prepared to aid all outdoor activities. It is, however, the policy to leave the field of interests in various activities open to the initiative of individual members. Though much encouragement is given to the organization of activities, the club prefers to foster but not to force interest” (1962 Gulielmensian). The three main types of organized activities were hiking trips for Physical Training credit (twice a week for two hours), trail crews (also for PT credit – in the fall, these crews worked on clearing the club’s ski trails), and a very successful ski school.
1968-76: Growth of WOC; Further Expansion of Activities
There are few records of Outing Club activity in the mid-’60s. WOC participation may have dropped off slightly due to an increased emphasis on studying at the time, as suggested in the 1963 Gulielmensian. Webb also presents a few reasons for the decline of IOCA, and of outing clubs in general in the ’60s:
First – the persons who would usually be serving in the leadership of outing clubs were busy leading Vietnam War and other political protest groups. Second – the rise of the “do your own thing” ethic which directly clashed with IOCA and outing clubs aim of fostering group activities and togetherness. More people began camping, but many of them looked with suspicion on anything “organized”. A third factor contributing to the decline of outdoor clubs was the increased ownership of automobiles by students. Outing clubs had facilitated transportation, but with many more students owning cars, the organization of transportation service was not as important. Finally, the sexual revolution in the colleges. IOCA was formed in an era when many colleges were all male or all female. In most of these colleges was a real desire to visit another club who’s [sic] members were of the opposite sex, even if it meant driving many miles.
In the late ’60s and early ’70s, the main activities of the club were winter carnival and winter sports (including a Physical Education skiing program with over 200 student participants), spelunking, and rock climbing. Williams climbers were given a place to practice in 1974, when a student installed a primitive climbing wall (simply blocks attached to the wall) in the Towne Field House as a winter study project (Scott Lewis). This wall included both an easy and a more difficult route (WOC Scrapbook). In addition, the Williams Cycling Club joined the Outing Club in 1968, and in the early ’70s, the club sponsored intercollegiate bicycle races. The club also began to devote an increasing amount of time to environmental conservation efforts, especially regarding the future use of the Mt. Greylock range, and WOC showed a number of Sierra Club films on campus. An Outing Club department was added for conservation, and when an environmental action group was founded at Williams in 1970, the Outing Club affiliated itself with this group and offered its support.
In the early ’70s, the club felt its main role was to provide gear to make it easier for students to go on outings, rather than actually leading many outings itself. One exception was Mt. Greylock Day in October, an annual event in the ’70s which featured a number of hikes and bike rides up that mountain. At least one year, in ’75, a square dance was held to kick off Mt. Greylock Day (WOC Scrapbook). In addition, the club still led a few large backpacking and rock climbing trips each year. The membership of the club was growing at this time and had reached 400 members by 1970, including nearly half of the recently-admitted females at Williams.
The internal organization of the Outing Club was again modified in 1973, and the structure of the executive board now resembled the structure in place today. The board now consisted of a president, secretary, treasurer, and the department directors. The departments changed over time, but in 1973 they were: membership, activities, equipment, mountaineering, cabins and trails, PE skiing, environment, publicity, winter carnival, kayaking (there was even a canoe and kayak-building shop for those who wanted to build their own boats), bicycling, and an “at-large” department.
The next year, an “outdoor education” position was added to the board. One of the most popular activities organized by this department was a ropes course. The Outing Club put the first ropes course on campus in the fall of ’74, and included a Tarzan swing, monkey bridge, zip line, swinging log, and more. This was only a temporary fixture, and was only up for a few days, but due to its success WOC sponsored another ropes course in the spring of ’75, and a third in the fall of ’75 (WOC Scrapbook).
1977-91: Expansion of Organized Trips
In 1977, WOOLF (Williams Outdoor Orientation for Living as First-years) was founded as a way for freshmen to meet others and become acquainted with the surrounding mountains in the beginning of the fall (see the appropriate section below for more information on WOOLF). This symbolized a shift in the club; starting in the late ’70s, WOC began to lead many more organized trips than before. One of the highlights of the spring of ’77 was May Days, a weekend of hikes and events. In addition, the Outing Club continued the tradition of an annual freshman picnic in the fall, which sometimes included a hike up Pine Cobble. Hiking, biking, canoeing and camping trips were led both locally and afar, and a number of spelunking trips were taken, often to caves in New York state (1979 Gulielmensian).
Jim Briggs, a graduate of the class of 1960, became WOC’s faculty advisor in the early ’80s and held this position on and off until the early ’90s. As he described the transition, “Ralph was really great at the ski team… and the top-notch things, like rock climbing, and mountain climbing, and backcountry skiing. When I came in, I decided to broaden the outing club a good deal.” The club began to offer two-hour hikes every Friday afternoon, as well as longer day-hikes on a few weekends each fall, and more overnight trips than before. Briggs also expanded the canoeing options by buying four canoes just after he took over as Outing Club director.
There were now more trips available for people of all experience levels. For experienced campers, there was an annual pre-Thanksgiving backpacking trip to the Adirondacks, a spring break trip to Seneca, West Virginia, to go rock climbing, spelunking and hiking (at least in the springs of ’84 and ’86), other backpacking or cross-country skiing trips to the Adirondacks or the White Mountains, and an occasional ice-climbing trip (in ’81, for example, there were two ice-climbing trips to the Adirondacks). For the more timid outdoors-lovers there were the numerous day-hikes, some local backpacking trips, and a number of WOC-sponsored whale watching trips. There were even trips for alumni – throughout the ’80s, WOC co-sponsored an Alumni Winter Weekend with the alumni office, offering skiing trips for alumni and their families.
The Outing Club also expanded its Physical Education offerings in the late ’70s and early ’80s. The club still offered PE classes in hiking, trail crew and skiing, as it had in the past (PE skiing was now drawing up to 300 students each year); in addition to these, WOC also began to offer PE classes in rock climbing, canoeing, and camping. Jim Briggs recalled this increase in PE offerings: “Particularly in the fall…. we expanded the Phys. Ed. offerings. Including my favorite, which I always taught: ‘Beginning hiking and camping for anyone who’s never seen a tree.’” By 1989, WOC offered even more PE classes, including mountain biking, backpacking, kayaking, ice climbing, snowshoeing, and both alpine and nordic skiing, in addition to the classes offered in the past. In the early ’90s, snowboarding, fly fishing, and even scuba diving were added as winter PE classes.
With this expansion of trip offerings, the Outing Club board grew as well. In 1983, there were 24 board members, about the same number as today. This included separate positions for alpine and nordic skiing, canoeing, kayaking, and someone in charge of Friday/Sunday hikes. In the next few years, positions were added for backpacking and fishing, and in ’89 there were three different biking positions (mountain biking, day trips, and long trips). The early ’90s saw the addition of telemark skiing, orienteering and snowboarding as board positions.
1992-Present: The Recent Years of WOC
In 1992, Scott Lewis took over as Outing Club director. Jim Briggs described his own role as mostly hands-off: “The students did the bulk of the work, I just oversaw it.” Lewis, who has a background in outdoor recreation and education, sees himself as a more hands-on director, and Briggs agreed with this judgment. In the last decade, the club has embraced beginners even more than before – Lewis sees WOC as a “catalyst” for people’s outdoor experiences, and feels that the club’s emphasis should be on leading trips for beginners. For people with more experience, the club acts more as a service organization, by providing the necessary gear for people to take more advanced trips on their own. The WOC equipment room has been significantly expanded in the last decade.
With beginners in mind, the Outing Club has recently been leading many short trips each week. These include afternoon or weekend hikes or snowshoeing trips, as well as weekly Friday morning sunrise hikes up a nearby mountain (often Pine Cobble). There have certainly still been a fair number of more advanced trips, though, and Lewis himself often leads a long trip over spring break – either hiking in and around the Grand Canyon, or kayaking in West Virginia or North Carolina. In addition, there is usually a winter trip to the Adirondacks or the White Mountains between winter study and the spring semester.
The freshman picnic and Purple Key Fair in the fall remain prime times for introducing freshmen to the Outing Club. At the Purple Key Fair in ’93, freshman were given a chance to learn to climb by climbing one of the campus’ most picturesque buildings, Chapin Hall (in recent years, climbing Chapin Hall has been a popular activity on Mountain Day). The WOOLF program has also grown significantly in the last decade.
The Outing Club board has continued to gain departments as well. A first aid position was added in ’93, a snowshoeing position in ’94, and a naturalist position in ’97. Also in ’97, though, the spelunking position was dropped, and there has been little, if any, spelunking activity at Williams in the last five years. Furthermore, in ’95 the weekend day hike position was changed to day hikes in general, reflecting the additional day hikes the club was leading on weekday afternoons. Departments were also added for community outreach and Outdoor Outreach (a program of hikes and other outdoor activities for Williamstown children run jointly by the Williams Outing Club, the Lehman Community Service Council and the Williamstown Youth Center).
Two of the most lasting changes made in the last decade have been the addition of a permanent ropes course in Hopkins Forest, built in spring ’01, and the addition of a high-quality, 2000 square foot climbing wall, the Nate Lowe Memorial Climbing Wall. Until the mid-’90s, only a simple climbing wall existed on campus, with wooden blocks nailed to the wall. Then Nate Lowe ’95, an avid climber, approached Lewis and expressed his desire for a good climbing wall at Williams. Lowe designed a wall but then tragically died in November ’94 in a bike accident. The plans for the wall were carried out, and the wall was finished in ’95 and dedicated to Lowe. This changed the climbing atmosphere at Williams, making it more welcoming for beginners, and at the same time allowed Williams to begin hosting intercollegiate climbing competitions, which it has done for the last five years. Other recent changes include more leader training and a greater focus on liability, an attempt to re-emphasize faculty involvement in the club (largely through faculty-led hikes on Mountain Day and at other times), and a revision of the Outing Club trail guide in ’99, in which it has become more of a general outdoor guide, including such sections as “Outdoor Travel.”
Thus, the Outing Club has become both more trip-oriented and more beginner-oriented in recent years. In its constitution, the club states its purpose as, “[WOC] stimulates participation in and appreciation for outdoor activities” (emphasis mine). The Outing Club has been working hard to help as many Williams students as possible discover the beauty of the surrounding mountains. Judging from the annual membership, the club seems to be achieving this goal. Each year, about 700 students – 1/3 of the student body – buy $10 annual Outing Club memberships, making WOC one of the largest organizations on campus.
Mountain Day grew out of a holiday dating back to 1796, known as Chip Day. This was a day set aside each spring when students were given a vacation from classes in order to clear the debris from cutting firewood the previous winter. Williams students, always resourceful, created a fund used to employ others to clear this debris, giving the students a holiday, which soon became a day for hiking the nearby mountains.
The first actual reference to “Mountain Day” is from President Griffin’s Journal, from 1827. Griffin envisioned this as a day to exercise “muscles obsolescent from study” by climbing the surrounding mountains, especially Greylock. After this, Mountain Day became an annual holiday. Until the mid-19th century, Chip Day was still observed in addition to Mountain Day, but then the former was dropped and only the latter kept.
In 1857, an additional holiday was added in the fall. Formally called either Scenery Day or Bald Mt. Day (Bald Mt. was the name of what is now known as Stony Ledge), and informally referred to as another Mountain Day, this was a day to celebrate the fall foliage. Mountains of Eph, WOC’s trail guide from 1927, describes the fall Mountain Day as, “That day set apart by the Faculty to give the students the opportunity of becoming better acquainted with the mountains in the glory of the autumn foliage.” The Williams Athenaeum describes the need for two Mountain Days: “It is the desire of our Faculty that nature should be to the student of Williams a valued text-book, and so it is that we have two days in the year to view her finest pictures, besides the daily inspiration which each true lover of nature may here find time to gain without offering a slight to study from the books” (reproduced in Williams College Archives and Special Collections, Mountain Day file).
The fall Mountain Day was spontaneous, decided by the weather and the faculty, and would be announced by the playing of the college’s alma mater, “The Mountains,” on the chapel bells, at which point “students emerge from the dormitories, clad in old clothes and sweaters, and laden with blankets and overcoats” (The Williams Alumni Review, Oct. 1909, p. 5). The date of the spring Mountain Day was decided by the students, with each class deciding individually which day to have it.
By the 1870s, few students actually traveled to the mountains on these holidays – many went to Pittsfield, Albany, or their own homes (The Williams Review, 1871-2, p. 22). Some, though, (mostly freshmen) continued to hike up Greylock to celebrate Mountain Day in the traditional manner. Many of these hikers left the night before in order to see the sunrise from the top of Greylock on the morning of Mountain Day. These hikes up Greylock generally drew about 40 students. In addition, some students climbed other nearby mountains, such as the Dome or Berlin Mt.
Mountain Day continued into the early 1930s, at least in the fall. An overnight trip up Greylock continued to be the highlight, but in the fall of ’29, this trip only drew 18 students. The next year, the location of the overnight trip shifted to Mt. Killington, drawing 30 students, but upsetting the precedent of climbing Greylock to celebrate the holiday. After 1933, there was no longer much interest in climbing the mountains on Mountain Day, and so the college abandoned this holiday.
Starting in the ’60s, students began to ask for the return of Mountain Day. While not actually bringing this holiday back, in the ’70s the Outing Club began to hold “Mount Greylock Day” in October – a day of hikes and bike rides up Greylock, in the Mountain Day tradition, but on a weekend.
When Briggs took over as Outing Club director in the early ’80s, one of the first things he did was resume the Mountain Day tradition in the fall. In Briggs’ words, “The first year I was doing the Outing Club, the board and I got Mountain Day going again. We went to the administration and said, ‘We got to have a day off, ring the bells. We’re going to have Mountain Day.’” The administration did not want to add another holiday, so Mountain Day was held on a weekend day instead. Greylock had become too crowded with tourists, so after trying a few other locations, WOC settled on Stony Ledge as the location for the holiday. Mountain Day quickly became a huge success, drawing 250-300 students. Besides day hikes, overnight hikes and bike rides up to Stony Ledge, there were buses to bring people up who just wanted to take part in the festivities on the mountain – including musical performances, and cider and donuts.
Mountain Day today is similar to the holiday of the early ’80s, with one major exception: it is now spontaneous. Some Friday in October, when the weather is nice, the chapel bells play “The Mountains” (as they did throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries), and students are given the day off from classes. Mountain Day now draws about 600 students to Stony Ledge.
Winter Carnival & Skiing
Winter Carnival has always been one of the most popular events sponsored by the Williams Outing Club, and skiing one of the most popular activities. The first Winter Carnival was held in February, 1915, sponsored by the Trails and Byways committee of the Good Government Club. The carnival featured an afternoon of skiing and snowshoeing races and a ski jumping contest. Ten Williams students entered this contest. Two years later, Williams held its first intercollegiate Winter Carnival, competing against Colby. The feature event of this carnival was the first ever 2-mile relay race on skis. Soon after, WOC took control of Winter Carnival and has run it ever since.
Winter Carnival grew throughout the ’20s, and other New England colleges, such as Dartmouth, Middlebury, and the University of New Hampshire, competed in Williams’ carnival (Stevens). The skiing races were held on Bee Hill, and skating competitions were held on Sage Hall Rink (1927 Gulielmensian). The mid-’30s saw a few especially successful carnivals. The carnival of ’35, for example, included sleigh rides, a hockey game, lunches in the Harris cabin, three dances, and a two-day ski meet, with six colleges (1936 Gulielmensian). The next year, twelve colleges competed in Williams’ carnival, making it the most successful to that point (1937 Gulielmensian).
Winter Carnival fell by the wayside during WWII, but picked up again in 1949. Besides the ski races, there were social events as well, such as dances and house parties. The snow sculpture competition was popular, and there would often be 15 entries, each made by one of the fraternity houses or dorms. The winner would receive the “Koveted Keg” (WOC Scrapbook). Girls schools were invited as well, and in the ’50s it was traditional to crown a Carnival Queen each year. The skiing events were held on the Thunderbolt trail on Mt. Greylock in the ’50s. Jim Briggs described the races in the ’50s: “The race used to start on top of Greylock. There were no gates. The first guy to the bottom wins. One guy won it one year by jumping the trees, these little short trees, and hitting the trail and going down it he cut the whole corner off!” The skiing was moved to the new Williams College ski area at Berlin Mountain in ’61 (1961 Gulielmensian), then was moved to Brodie Mountain in 1980 (Stevens).
In recent years, carnival has included events such as tricycle races, banana-eating contests, and fireworks displays. Briggs also brought a few additions to carnival: the citizens’ cross-country ski race, open to any member of the campus or community, and broomball, which he introduced to Williams in the mid-’70s. Briggs remembered the first broomball game at Williams:
I brought the first broomball game to Williams College… for carnival…. We went around and got brooms from everybody, and taped them all their old, beat-up brooms and a soccer ball, and went on the ice, and it was the students against the faculty. And that first game goes down in history as one of the all-time great games. It was a nothing-nothing tie until the faculty scored. Charlie Fuqua knocked all the students down. It was a riot. And then at the end, in the last 2 minutes of the game, both teams just emptied onto the ice.
Snow sculptures have, unfortunately, become scarce in the last two decades.
Of course, Winter Carnival would have been difficult without somewhere to ski, and the Outing Club has provided a few such skiing locations throughout the century. In the ’30s, the Outing Club began to lease Sheep Hill. While this slope was neither very difficult nor very exciting, its proximity to Williams College and North Adams made it well-used. Jim Parker, who arrived in 1933 to coach the ski team, improved the facilities on Sheep Hill, which increased students’ enthusiasm for skiing. The first ski jump was put in on Sheep Hill in the early ’30s, and a ski tow in the mid ’30s. At this time, running Sheep Hill was one of the Outing Club’s primary functions (1942 Gulielmensian). Then, in 1948, Bee Hill was added to this ski area to extend the length of the slope from 1200 to 2000 feet. This added three new trails of varying skill levels. The Outing Club also added a new 850-foot rope tow to carry skiers up the new hill, as well as a warming and refreshment hut at Sheep Hill. The new 2000-foot open slope was called “one of the finest collegiate ski areas in the east” (1949 Gulielmensian). Because of the large amount of work that had to be done each fall to keep the trails clear, Physical Training credit was given to students who worked on crews to clear these ski trails. The slopes were patrolled by Williams College’s own ski patrol, made up of Williams students.
In the late ’50s, WOC stopped running Sheep Hill, although students would still ski it occasionally (Jim Briggs). In 1960, Ralph Townsend acquired a portion of Berlin Mt., and turned this into a new ski area for the college. A downhill trail, slalom slope and ski jumps were built on Berlin. Many wanted to expand the Berlin ski area into a commercial ski area in the ’70s, but the college could not provide enough funding to do this, largely because of the construction of a new college library at the time. In the early ’80s, a lack of snow, and a lack of snowmaking capabilities, made it difficult for the ski team to continue to practice at Berlin. At the same time, the Brodie Mt. ski area offered the college a section of its mountain to build a trail on. Thus, Williams abandoned the Berlin ski area in 1981, moved its ski lift to Brodie, and began to use the ski facilities there (and later at Jiminy Peak as well) instead, both for ski team practices and for general recreation.
Cabins & Shelters
The first mention of a WOC cabin is from 1924-5: “A cabin on the slopes of the Dome has been bought and renovated, being reserved for the use of members of the club when on hikes across the state line” (1926 Gulielmensian). The next year, this cabin was fixed up and maintained. When the club was reorganized in 1926-7, a greater emphasis was placed on acquiring cabins: “The club feels that there is enough interest in overnight cabin trips to warrant the construction of its own cabin” (1929 Gulielmensian). Accordingly, the club built a cabin on Berlin Mt. in 1931. A dam was built in a stream near this cabin, creating a swimming pool (Trail Guide for the Williamstown Vicinity, 1934). In the late ’60s, the Berlin cabin became a drug hangout, and the owners of the land asked Ralph Townsend to remove it. In addition, it was in disrepair by this time, so it was removed around the mid-’70s.
In 1932, another cabin was built, this one between Mt. Williams and Mt. Fitch, in the Greylock range. This cabin, built by the CCC, had a living room with fireplace, a kitchen with stove, a bunk room and a loft. WOC bought the cabin with money from the parents of Norman Harris ’31, who was killed in a car accident just after graduating; the cabin was named the Harris Memorial Cabin. This cabin stood until 1962, when it was burned down by vandals on Halloween (Jim Briggs).
Both the Berlin cabin and the Harris cabin were used for organized Outing Club trips, as well as being open to individual Outing Club members. Students used them extensively in the mid-late ’40s and early ’50s, partly because they were both refurbished in the early ’40s. In addition, the Harris Memorial Cabin was used by Appalachian Trail hikers.
Yet another cabin was purchased by the Outing Club in 1955. The money for this cabin was also given by the parents of a Williams student to memorialize their son – this cabin was a memorial to James Dorland ’50, who was killed in the Korean War. The cabin was located near the Mad River ski area, a popular destination for Williams skiers, and contained a living room, bedroom, sleeping loft, electric lights, and gas heat. This cabin was a popular place for Williams students to stay while skiing in Vermont, as it was close to both the Mad River and Sugarbush ski areas. In ’69, the cabin was deteriorating, and the Outing Club made plans to renovate it. According to one Outing Club document, “by the new plans, it will be possible for the new female members of the Outing Club to enjoy the same facilities formerly used only by the more rugged Williams men” (single couples, though, were not allowed to stay in the cabin alone!). It was soon discovered, however, that the cabin’s structure itself was no longer stable. Furthermore, the location had become less desirable, since a housing development had been built nearby. Because of these factors and the growth of ski areas closer to Williams College, the Dorland Memorial Cabin was sold in ’80.
To replace this, the Outing Club’s most recent cabin, a new Dorland Memorial Cabin, was built in Hopkins Forest in ’81. This cabin is still used frequently today, and contains a single large room, a bathroom, electric lights, a wood-burning stove, and a sleeping loft. Because this cabin is located near the road, in ’89 Jim Briggs decided to build a primitive shelter in Hopkins Forest as well, about a two-hour’s hike from the road – something that you “have to [do] work to get to it” (Briggs). Williams students built this shelter themselves and carried all the materials up as well: “We carried everything up there. We’d have trail crews going up, carrying stuff; I’d get the ski team that was out running: ‘Alright, how ’bout running up to the lean-to’, and they’d carry stuff up” (Briggs). Before this shelter existed, the club had had at least one other lean-to, in the Hopper. When this became a wilderness area, however, the state made WOC tear the shelter down (Briggs).
In the fall of 1977, WOC added a new activity to freshman orientation: WOOLF, or Williams Outdoor Orientation for Living as First-years (originally called Williams Organization for Outdoor Living for Freshmen). The purpose of WOOLF was, and still is, to provide incoming freshmen with an orientation to ease their adjustment to Williams by helping them get to know the area and other students. The idea for WOOLF came from 7 students who had been disappointed with their Freshmen Days experience and wanted an alternative. Two of the key students in the creation of this program were Eric Lascheuer ’78 and Malinda Bergamini ’80.
The first year of its existence, the WOOLF program had 84 freshmen participants in addition to upperclass trip leaders. There were WOOLF trips at four times in the beginning of the fall: a two-night pre-Freshmen Days trip, an overnight during Freshmen Days, an overnight the first weekend of classes, and a two-night trip on the second weekend of classes. The trips went out at these four different times to make the program simpler logistically.
The WOOLF program grew over the next 15 years: in ’89, 135 freshmen participated; in ’93, 205 participated; and in ’96, about 300 (almost 60% of the incoming freshman class) participated. The participation has remained around 300 for the last five years. WOC has also broadened the types of trips offered by WOOLF. In ’83, canoeing was offered for the first time. A biking trip was added in ’85, and rock climbing in ’86. By around 1990, hiking trips of different lengths were being offered, including 5-day advanced backpacking trips, 3-day trips (this was the normal trip length in the past), and 2-day trips, which often involved only day hiking, for beginners. The timing of WOOLF also changed. As Jim Briggs described it,
We tried to [send out WOOLF trips] on a couple of weekends, but it kind of died. We’d have weekends with 6 or 8 people that weren’t pre-orientation. Then I remember, one year we had people all geared up, and a whole bunch of kids had signed up, and it never went nobody showed up….By this time, we were already doing hikes for everybody, and a lot of those people were joining the hikes anyhow.
Since then, WOOLF trips have been offered only before freshmen orientation.
The WOOLF offerings today are similar to those of the last decade – backpacking and hiking trips of various lengths and difficulties, canoeing, and rock climbing. In the last two years, a community service trip has been offered as well. When Scott Lewis took over as faculty advisor to the club, he expanded and formalized the WOOLF leader training program; now, WOOLF leaders must take part in a week-long training course, including Wilderness First Aid certification. Lewis also brought more standard camping fare to the program. Before his arrival, trips carried boxed lunches and bottled water; he quickly did away with these delicacies (Lewis). WOOLF has proven to be a successful program, introducing over half of each freshman class to the surrounding area and to the Outing Club itself.
In my research, I have gone through most relevant written documents, both in the Outing Club archives and in the Williams College Archives and Special Collections. Two major jobs that should be done, though, are sorting through historical pictures (there are many in the Outing Club archives, and some in old Gulielmensians) and possibly incorporating them into this document, and conducting more interviews with people who have been connected to WOC in the past. In addition, a summary of the Outing Club’s evolution over time would provide an appropriate conclusion for this document.
The written sources for this document are from the Williams Outing Club archives and the Williams College Archives and Special Collections. Most of the documents in the WOC archives are unpublished, primary documents, and are not cited individually in the text. Many of the documents in the Williams College archives, though, are published sources. These are cited in the text, as well as below.
Briggs, Jim. Personal interview. 23 Jan. 2002.
“Editorials.” Williams Athenaeum. (year and page not given). In Williams Outing Club archives?.
Gulielmensians (Williams College yearbooks), various years. In Williams College Archives and Special Collections.
The Gulielmensians provide lists of Outing Club members for some years, as well as annual summaries of Outing Club activities in the yearbooks from 1924-38, 1942-63, and some years from 1979-96. Note that Gulielmensians put out before WWII summarize the events of the year before their given date (e.g. the 1933 Gulielmensian summarizes the year 1931-32).
Hooke, David. “History of the Dartmouth Outing Club.” Obtained online:at http://www.dartmouth.edu/~doc/about/history/
Lewis, Scott. Personal interviews. Jan. 2002.
“Mountain Day.” The Williams Alumni Review. (Oct., 1909): 5.
“Mountain Day.” The Williams Review. (1871-2): 22.
“Mountains of Eph: A Guide Book of the Williams Outing Club.” Williamstown, MA: WOC Trail Commission, 1927.
Niles, Grace Greylock. “Albert Hopkins and Williamstown.” New England Magazine (year not given): 665-680. In Williams College Archives and Special Collections.
“North Berkshire Outdoor Guide.” Williamstown, MA: Williams Outing Club, 1999.
Scudder, Samuel H. “The Alpine Club of Williamstown.” Appalachia, v. 4 (Dec., 1884).
Sewall, Albert C. Life of Professor Albert Hopkins. New York: Anson D.F. Randolph & Co., 1870.
“Sidehill Gouger,” various dates. In Williams Outing Club archives.
The Sidehill Gouger is the Outing Club’s newsletter. The Outing Club archives contains some Gougers from 1967 to the present, as well as a few from the ’50s.
Stevens, Lauren R. “From Silly to Serious: The Williams College Winter Carnival Has Come a Long Way Since 1915.” In Williams Outing Club archives.
“Trail Guide for the Williamstown Vicinity.” Williamstown, MA: Williams Outing Club, 1934.
Townsend, Ralph. Biography in Williams College Archives and Special Collections.
Townsend, Ralph. Biography in Williams College athletics building.
Webb, David. “Outdoor Adventure History Part 1.” E-mail to Scott Lewis, sent 12 June 2001.
Williams Record, various dates. In Williams College Archives and Special Collections.
WOC Scrapbook. In Williams College Archives and Special Collections.
The scrapbook contains news clippings, summaries of activities, and other Outing Club documents from 1948-1952 and 1974-1977.
Wood, Meredith. “The Outing Club at Williams College.” Appalachia, v. 13 (1915): 353-356.