Society Spotlight: Trinity Hiking Society

Grace Fannon speaks to Chairperson Camille Stock about moving hiking online and how not to lose someone up a mountain

The Wicklow Mountains are, presumably, still just south of Dublin City. But for Trinity Hiking Society, caught in the limitations of Level 5 lockdown, they may as well be as far as San Diego, where coincidentally, their chairperson currently resides. Camille Stock, a PhD astrophysics student, decided to return home after the announcement of Level 5 restrictions for the remainder of the semester. She didn’t see the point in staying in Dublina choice many international students have made. The fact that the chairperson of a functioning society can reasonably live a whole continent and ocean away from Trinity is telling of how far this year has brought us.

“’This year has been good for in that it’s forcing us to be more creative with the society.’”

Indeed, hiking, by its nature, an activity that generally requires fresh air and preferably includes mountains, is particularly ill-suited to a virtual life under Covid-19. While Zoom events are a challenge for all societies, it is especially difficult to move a Hiking Society online. In a normal year, the main staple of the society is its weekly weekend hike, most often taking place in the Wicklow mountains. Re-enacting a group hike in a video chat when most people don’t live within 5km of a mountain perhaps defeats the purpose of hiking in itself. Instead, the society has turned to other, more indoor forms of socialising, like coffee hours, film screenings and quizzes. According to Stock, “this year has been good for that it’s forcing us to be more creative with the society”, and the extra social events have “allowed the community to be a bit more cohesive”. It has been somewhat of a learning curve for Stock, as she has ended up running a different society to the one she had expected. “I didn’t expect to be running a society that did a lot of social events. In a normal year, hiking is fairly low key on the committee endyou just run and attend the hikes. But this year we’ve been doing virtual events once a week.” In fact, despite the lack of actual hiking in this year’s iteration of the Hiking Society, the society still had 750 new sign ups, a record number since its founding.

The Hiking Society is, in the grand scheme of things, a relatively new addition to Trinity’s societies. Founded in 2012, the society “hasn’t changed that much” since then, barring the unforeseen circumstances of 2020. The main focus of the society is the weekly hikes, along with a few social events throughout the year, including a Christmas party in which people often wear their hiking boots. Generally, the weekend hikes last the entire day, and culminate in a trip to a pub in the eveninga necessity after any exercise that involves copious amounts of mountain air. The committee also often designs the hiking routes themselves and don’t always follow pre-made trails. About 26 to 30 people can attend each hikeany more than that and it “gets disorganised and you lose people”. Stock assures that the Hiking Society hasn’t actually lost any members, that they know of, and that at least three, and usually five, committee members attend each hike.

[/pullquote]“The committee often designs the hiking routes themselves, and don’t always follow pre-made trails.”[/pullquote]

In regards to safety precautions, most important is hikers having the right gear. For this reason, the society insists on proper hiking boots and waterproof clothing, an essential for day-long hikes in unpredictable weather. Nothing they do is very strenuous or technical, and usually, “weather is the biggest problem, you know, it’s Ireland, it changes so quickly”. Stock herself has never been on any society hiking trip that went awry, although she herself broke her ankle this past summer when the weather changed abruptly on a hike with friends. Having to hop down the mountain was a “learning experience” in how calling Mountain Rescue works, and she hopes to organise a more advanced first aid course for all committee members. Along with weekly hikes and Christmas parties, the society usually organises two trips each year, including hiking Carrauntoohil in the autumn, while every second year they organise a trip abroad, and have previously journeyed to Wales and Scotland. 2020 was to be the year of the biennial trip outside Ireland, and Stock had been looking forward to maybe going further afield in Europe. However, this, like a lot of other things has been put on the backburner for now. 

[/pullquote]“’Weather is the biggest problem, you know it’s Ireland, it changes so quickly.’”[/pullquote]

At Trinity, hiking has been deemed a society rather than a sports club. Stock has no ideological issues with this categorisation and says that usually, it doesn’t matter because they have enough funding from the CSC for their hikes, which is the important thing. However, this was a source of some irritation at the beginning of this year as under Level 3 restrictions, sports clubs were allowed to operate in some capacity, while societies could not. Most would agree that hiking, of all forms of exercise, is perhaps most suitable for Covid regulations, as it takes place outside and it would be relatively easy to maintain social distancing on mountains while wearing a mask. Stock mentions that “when Level 5 happened, we were in the process of planning whether we could get some exemption for hiking”. They intend to re-evaluate in January and hope that, depending on the level we find ourselves in, the society may be able to resume hikes, at least with reduced numbers.

In the meantime, the society has included a link in their weekly emails to a public View Ranger account, “a kind of google maps for hiking”, for those looking for walks and hikes that may be within a 5km radius. “We’ve put together a whole bunch of routes that you can get to by public transportation, so you don’t need a bus or a car.” Stock also mentions the Howth Cliff Walk, the Bray to Greystones Walk and the Dublin Mountains, just south of Marley Park, as hike-like possibilities for anyone living in those areas. Until the Hiking Society returns, the rest of us will just have to satisfy ourselves with parks and gardens, and simply imagine the mountains.