The Middlebury Mountain Club (MMC) has organized a fully funded hiking trip to the renowned Santa Cruz trek in Peru over Thanksgiving Break as part of its efforts to increase involvement and accessibility. The trip will last four days as eight students, including two guides, backpack 30 miles through mountainous terrain reaching elevations of 15,600 feet.
The trip’s two guides, Megan Paluska ’25 and MMC President Peter Streufert ’24, began planning this trip in the spring and received approval from the Student Government Association (SGA) Operations Committee this fall, after a lengthy approval process. They decided on the Santa Cruz trek because of its reputation and ideal length of time for the break. They also considered the cheaper plane tickets to Peru and the warmer weather of the southern hemisphere during the fall when deciding where to go.
The trek will be the first international trip by the MMC since the start of the pandemic.
“For a while, we weren’t even allowed to do overnight trips,” Streufert said.
Before the pandemic, the MMC had a system of adventure grants where club funds were given to guides who took charge in leading trips over breaks. The club and school administration recently reevaluated that policy, as it lacked oversight of the safety of these trips. The club now directs that funding into fully funding larger trips like the Santa Cruz trek.
Streufert hopes that this trip is the signal of a transition back to normalcy for the MMC. He is in touch with outdoor clubs at Carleton College and Dartmouth College, where longer trips are common. MMC plans to follow their lead, as Streufert and Paluska hope to make such trips longer and more frequent at Middlebury.
“I would like to think of this trip as a stepping-off point for other international, farther, bigger Mountain Club trips,” Paluska said. “And it’s definitely an incentive for guides to lead more trips and be more involved, because they can lead and execute big trips like this.”
The trip demonstrated a high demand on campus for international experiences. According to Paluska, there were 94 “highly qualified” applicants — twice the amount that they had anticipated — and only six available spots on the trip. Paluska and Streufert reviewed the applications anonymously and gave priority to those who had no prior international backpacking experience.
“There were a lot of applicants who were like ‘Oh! I’ve been backpacking in Switzerland, and Argentina, and all these foreign countries’ and we were like, that’s really cool, but also there’s a bunch of people on this who wouldn’t normally have the opportunity to do this,” Streufert said. “I think the point of this trip is giving people that opportunity. Out of the total eight [participants], almost no one has been backpacking internationally.”
Paluska and Streufert were also interested in selecting participants who could speak Spanish, had some medical training or were experienced with wilderness medicine.
MMC will rely on the gear room, located in the basement of the Freeman International Center, to supply items for the backpacking trip. The gear room offers a wide range of supplies, such as rain jackets, hiking boots, SheFly hiking pants, rain pants and thick socks, which Streufert said alleviate the financial burden of participating in outdoor activities.
All students are welcome to use the gear room. “FIRE [Fostering Inclusive Recreation Experiences], which I’m the president of, uses a lot from the gear room,” said Elise Chan ’24, MMC head guide and head gear manager.
Those interested in using the MMC and the gear room can participate in MMC trips to come.
The MMC strives to help those interested in becoming guides by holding several informational seminars every semester where current guides teach others everything they need to know about leading a trip.
Introducing first-timers to the outdoors was one of the most rewarding parts of being a guide, according to Streufert and Paluska. Streufert said he led a rock climbing trip for first years two weeks ago, where two beginners discovered their love for the activity. Along with beginner-level trips, the club leads moderate and advanced trips, such as the Santa Cruz trek. They hope that these international opportunities will also expand to provide opportunities for all experience levels.
“I think it would be really cool to have beginner backpacking trips in really cool places and introduce people to backpacking that way,” Paluska said.
They are still working on their plans for the trip, now meeting weekly with the selected participants to include them in decisions like the activities for the two-day period in Lima, Peru and other logistics.
“In the future, this could definitely be something that becomes a regular thing for Mountain Club if [the trip] goes well,” Streufert said.
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Editor’s Note: News Editor Ryan McElroy ’25 contributed reporting.