NU Outdoors Club backpacks the Grand Canyon, faces “hip-deep snow” and other unexpected weather


Photo courtesy of Andrew Laeuger

The advanced group of NU Outdoors Club spent four nights in the canyon, staying at a new campsite each night.

Kristen Axtman, Assistant Campus Editor

Though the Northwestern Outdoors Club expected warm Arizona weather this Spring Break, they faced snow, wind, rain and hail as they backpacked through the Grand Canyon National Park for five days. 

Eighteen members of the club departed for Flagstaff, Arizona the Saturday after finals week, traveling for 32 hours on an Amtrak train to backpack through the park. The group took a shuttle to the Grand Canyon, where they split into two groups based on hiking experience, with the more experienced group taking a more strenuous path into the canyon.

Weinberg senior Andrew Laeuger, the club’s president, said he hoped to give everyone in the club a unique backpacking experience where they could connect with nature.

“You’re able to escape from the constant stress and fast-paced lifestyle of Northwestern students (on trips like this),” Laeuger said. “When we’re on a train for 30 hours, we can’t do anything except relax,” Laeuger said. 

According to Laeuger, this Spring Break was the club’s most ambitious trip yet. 

Laeuger said the board started planning in September rather than in late Fall or Winter Quarter like they have in previous years. They applied for permits to camp in the backcountry and researched the best transportation, camping sites and hiking routes. 

Laeuger said a trip to the Grand Canyon seemed appealing because of the Southwest’s warmer weather and the destination’s iconography. Unfortunately, he said the club encountered extremely unseasonable weather through the week.

Weinberg junior Alex Brunet, the club’s communication chair, has been camping for about 12 years. At one point, the experienced group hiked in waist-deep snow for several hours, he said. 

“It was definitely the worst weather by far I’ve ever experienced while doing something like this,” Brunet said. 

Laeuger said they made sure everyone had the right equipment for severe weather, but he didn’t expect the group would have to use the equipment the entire time. 

“The club has all the gear, so it’s a way to get that experience without having to go out of your way and buy a lot of stuff that can be expensive,” Weinberg senior Julianna Mendoza said. This was her second year participating in the outdoors club’s Spring Break.  

Weinberg sophomore Shae Murphy, who describes herself as a beginner in the outdoors, said the weather didn’t ruin the trip.

“It was a great experience and the unexpected parts are what makes for the best stories,” she said. 

For Murphy, her best memory was an afternoon when the sun finally came out and dried all of their clothes. She added that the leaders of the beginners group remained optimistic and helped lift the whole team’s morale. 

Murphy said park rangers told their group that the weather they experienced happens around once every hundred years. Still, she said, her five days in the Grand Canyon let her see some “breathtaking” views. 

Beginners like Murphy are encouraged to join outdoors club trips. There are no requirements or restrictions to join. 

“We try to be as accessible as possible as a club,” said Laeuger. “We know that a lot of people at Northwestern are coming here with very little outdoors experience.”

Laeuger said the club plans to repeat many activities from last spring this quarter. The club will kayak along the Chicago River, go on a weekend trip to Devil’s Lake State Park and camp on the lakefill. 

The Grand Canyon was the second NU Outdoors Club Spring Break trip since the pandemic. For future trips, the club may plan more fitness activities beforehand to better prepare members, according to Laeuger.

“It’s definitely bittersweet,” Laeuger said. “I think I certainly went out on a high note.”

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Twitter: @KristenAxtman1

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