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Campus club makes Alberta’s back-country accessible to students

By Christie Melhorn, July 27 2017 — 

Alberta’s lush landscape of turquoise lakes and dense greenery is world-renowned. In 2011, National Geographic listed Tonquin Valley in Jasper National Park as one of its top 15 hikes in the world. While few would argue about how relaxing a day in Banff or Kananaskis is, the grind of student life can cause us to neglect exploring our mountainous backyard. The University of Calgary Outdoor Adventures (UCOA) club wants to change that.

UCOA executive member Abdallah Anam says the club, which was founded in 2009, aims to make the outdoors accessible to students.

“I found that even though I lived in Calgary and the mountains are nearby, I didn’t go out very often,” Anam said. “Though I’ve worked out on and off in the past, this ignited a passion. I developed a more active lifestyle.”

Anam says the UCOA welcomes all Calgary post-secondary students and U of C alumni on group hikes, which take place in many of the province’s outdoor parks. No experience is required and the yearly club membership costs $10.

“We try to cater to all skill levels. We have beginner options for those with no hiking experience. We also have organizers who host really difficult hikes and moderate scrambles,” Anam said. “Kananaskis has great variety and we go there often. But we don’t stick to just one park. We’re also open to suggestions,” he said.

Anam says that the club’s experienced facilitators are eager to share their passion with students.

“It’s a great way to learn about new sports — one of our organizers used to canoe competitively. And you’re also given leadership opportunities. Our trips are generally led by an organizer but we’ll give people attending the chance to lead the hike or find the trail,” Anam said. “I found that my communication skills and leadership skills evolved with my involvement in the club.”

In addition to the physical component, Anam says the socially bonding nature of group hiking and the therapeutic effect of being outdoors cultivates meaningful relationships.

“Half of our membership base is international students. You meet so many people of various backgrounds with different value systems and outlooks on life,” Anam said. “When you recognize someone in the halls, even if you’ve just been on one hike, it makes you feel more included on campus.”

UCOA remains active in the winter with group snowshoeing and backcountry skiing trips. UCOA members also get a free membership to the Alpine Club of Canada, who offer more esoteric opportunities like ice climbing.

Hiking dates and locations are posted on UCOA’s meetup.com page. Anam says the page is updated regularly and is also used to organize carpooling groups.

Anam says students can join by visiting the UCOA booth during Clubs Week or by creating a meetup.com account and requesting to join the UCOA group. UCOA is also reachable at uofc.oa@gmail.com.

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