It won't be long before snow begins to powder New Hampshire's mountaintops, but on Tuesday, September 11, the sun shone on Mount Kearsarge while the Colby-Sawyer community celebrated its beloved Mountain Day.
A tradition dating back to the 1850s, Mountain Day is anticipated each year as a time for fresh air, exercise and fun with friends. Its arrival is always a well-kept secret, and this year the campus holiday began with President Tom Galligan's email announcement that landed in inboxes at 10:04 a.m. Soon after, elated shouts started to echo throughout the campus, It's Mountain Day!
With classes cancelled and the dining hall closed for the morning and afternoon, students piled onto the quad and into the buses and vans that headed up to Winslow Park. A record 1,321 people checked into the park, an impressive display of how much Colby-Sawyer has grown. In the late 1800s when the tradition began, only a few dozen climbed Kearsarge each year.
At the base of the mountain, everyone grabbed this year's Mountain Day t-shirt for the annual tie-dyeing ritual, which has become as associated with Mountain Day as hiking itself. More than 20 gallons of dye were needed to color the 1,250 shirts given out. With the shirts twisted, bound, dyed, bagged and stashed, there was nothing left but to begin the ascent. Some took the steeper Winslow Trail while others took the winding Barlow Trail. Some dashed up while others strolled, but everyone shared the same mountain beneath their feet.
For some 500 students in the Class of 2016, the largest group of first-year students Colby-Sawyer has ever welcomed, this was their first hike to the top. While there may have been some surprise or confusion resulting from Mountain Day's novelty (Which way is the mountain? someone asked), its celebratory charm won over the new class, and they embraced the Colby-Sawyer tradition.
Along with the new students were many new faculty members who joined the Colby-Sawyer family this fall. Among the professors hiking Kearsarge for the first time was Hanlong Fu, assistant professor of Media Studies. I'm already hungry, he said as he scampered up the first portion of the ascent. The following day in class, he shared a familiar mix of exhaustion and accomplishment, saying, My legs are sore, but I had fun, a lot of fun.
While some enjoyed their first Mountain Day, others enjoyed their last. It's always exhilarating to get to the top, said Chris Chagnon '13. It never gets any easier, though, so it always feels like a big accomplishment.
A day for personal achievements, Mountain Day also stands as an accomplishment of the community as a whole. Each year it gets better thanks to all the staff and faculty who volunteer their time that day to help, says Director of Campus Activities Sharon Williamson. It is always a little bit of a scramble that morning to pull it off, but it is definitely worth it!
It is definitely an experience to reach the top, to break through the thick trees and feel that first gust of mountain wind, followed by the spectacular view. It doesn't feel real enough, and so everyone signs their name on the Mountain Day banner to prove they made it to the top and strikes some poses for the camera. Back at the bottom of the mountain, the tie-dyed t-shirts are taken home as trophies more than anything, symbols of both the personal accomplishment and sense of community that define Mountain Day.
A fleeting experience in the moment, the traditions of Mountain Day provide continuity in the midst of a transforming college and campus, linking Colby-Sawyer's respected past, its changing present, and its hopeful future in one seamless timeline.
David Hart '13