For Gonzaga students interested in exploring the natural world, Gonzaga Outdoors is the place to go. Located in the basement of the John J. Hemmingson Center, the GU Outdoors office organizes student-led trips such as camping, hiking, climbing and biking.

The GU Outdoors leaders are student volunteers, spending much of their free time planning, organizing and leading activities for interested GU students.

Two such student leaders are sophomores Mackenzie Gass and Elise Nicol. They also act as the liaisons between GU Outdoors and Marian Hall, the Outdoor Pursuits Living Learning Community.

Nicol, originally from Northern California, has a special interest in mountain biking, which she discovered her freshman year of high school, as well as backpacking. 

Gass was inspired to get active outdoors after six months of rest following a surgery. She took advantage of her native city of Las Vegas, taking day trips with her friends to surrounding hiking trails.

Both Gass and Nicol got involved with GU Outdoors in their freshman year, but came to be student leaders in very different ways. Gass said she participated in the pre-orientation program Gonzaga Out Of Bounds (GOOB) and went on as many GU Outdoors weekend trips as she could, which led her to apply to be a leader. Nicol said she realized she loved the program after trying different things and landing on GU Outdoors as something she genuinely enjoys and is passionate about.

“It makes the outdoors seem way more accessible than people make them out to be,” Gass said.

Both leaders stress the fact that experience is not required for trips, and that the leaders will train participants in anything you need to know for an activity.

GU Outdoors also provides gear rentals for students, regardless of whether the trip is through the office. Nicol also said that if a student is looking for something the office doesn’t rent, such as skis, they will not only direct them to the resources that do, but also help plan the trip.

GU Outdoors has been a personal experience for both Nicol and Gass. In particular, Gass spoke with fondness about stargazing at Farragut State Park. Similarly, Nicol recollected her second-ever GU Outdoors excursion, which was a difficult backpacking trip, but was also the first time she had seen trees turn brilliant colors in fall.

As student leaders, Gass and Nicol come up with ideas for trips they’d like to lead and the office helps make them happen. All of the trips are student-driven, as they are led and organized by current GU students. 

Involvement with GU Outdoors has taught them valuable life skills as well.

“We’ve learned how to work with people and help people feel more comfortable in environments where they don’t necessarily feel comfortable,” Gass said. “That can translate to your work life someday.”

Nicol also highlighted the importance of risk management in what they do.

“Every trip we run is dangerous; that’s just how things go,” she said. “It’s about how we cut that risk down to as low as it can go.”

Despite the risks, Nicol still reccommends GU Outdoors for making friends. 

“Honestly, the biggest thing I’ve learned is that the people who end up on Gonzaga Outdoors trips, and running Gonzaga Outdoors trips, are the most fun, goofy, amazing human beings,” Nicol said. “I love them all so much, and we feel like a family.”

GU Outdoors isn’t just about appreciating and exploring the outdoors. They also provide resources for those interested in environmental stewardship and volunteer work in the local community.

“They do a lot of trips where they do trail maintenance,” Gass said. “They promote a lot of things that go on, not necessarily only on campus, but even around Spokane.”

In its weekly emails, it promote events and lectures in the area put on by local environmental associations. The GU Outdoors office is also a place to find brochures, stickers and similar items from such organizations.

For those hesitant to get involved, both Gass and Nicol would say to “just do it.”

Nicol describes GU Outdoors as summer camp, but year round and for adults.

“The reason you go to summer camp is to be outdoors, have fun, make friends, and be in a different place,” she said. “That’s what Gonzaga Outdoors is about.”


Stevie Meyer is a contributor.

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