Hiking in the Lehigh Valley with Emily McDowell ’14

For my last “Ask a Student” post I interviewed my friend, Emily McDowell, who is a hiking aficionado. Emily is the current Vice President of the Muhlenberg Outdoors Club and a frequent hiker. She has hiked many of the nearby trails in the Lehigh Valley and describes the benefits of hiking as a Muhlenberg student. Emily hails from Mound, Minnesota and is a Theatre major and Women Studies minor. She is a member of the Muhlenberg Theatre Association, Muhlenberg Outdoors Club, An Artist Collective, and Six Meters Improvisational Dance Ensemble.

Molly: As someone who hikes a lot what’s your favorite trail that’s close to campus?
Emily: One that’s really popular that Enact goes on is the Bake Oven Knob trail. They do it all the time. They do it as a sunset hike so there’s a nice overlook. A lot of people do that, I think that’s really great. There’s a really great hike nearby and that is the Lehigh Gap and it’s a really easy hike. It’s probably like two hours. You get a lot of elevation so you get a really stunning view of the entire Lehigh Valley and like I’m all about elevation. I’d rather hike for a longer amount of time and see a lot than to hike for a shorter amount of time and be in the woods the entire time. Hawk Mountain’s a really good one. That one you have to pay for because it’s within a hawk sanctuary. But if you hike The Pinnacle, which is nearby you get to see Hawk Mountain and you don’t have to pay.

Molly: Do you usually go with other students?
Emily: Yeah, the Outdoors Club is a really good resource for people to do that kind of thing. What we’re trying to do, since we’re so new, is to create a community where someone could write on the Facebook group and say “hey I’m going on a hike on Sunday. I have three spots in my car. Who wants to come?” Right now we just organize trips. That’s what we do. We do big groups of like 15 or 20, but we can only do a few trips per semester. And sometimes it’s nice to hike in a smaller group because you can kind of do whatever you want, and I think the idea is to move towards that. I’ve been hiking a couple of times this semester with people and I don’t have a car which is a problem, but they want to go on hikes, so we try and find something together.

Molly: Do you think it’s something any student can do? Do you have to be athletic to hike?
Emily: Yeah! The one that Enact does is a pretty easy hike. The thing is the Appalachian Trail around here is really rocky, so you have to be careful and wear sturdy shoes. I really think that there are a lot of great hikes around here that are pretty moderate. And you can take it at any pace you want. Like, I’m a slow hiker because I like to take everything in, but you could do the same hike and make it really strenuous.

Molly: What are the benefits of hiking for students on Muhlenberg’s campus?
Emily: I think it’s really important to get off campus. I think Muhlenberg is so much of a bubble that it’s important to get off campus and remember that there are things that matter beyond Muhlenberg. I know the times that I have gotten off campus, especially when I’m hiking, and this might have to do with the fact that I was raised outside in nature, but I think being outside can be very centering. And especially at a liberal arts school like Muhlenberg where the workload is pretty intense and people get involved in a billion things, I think it can be really good to step away from that and have an experience that’s pretty solitary where you’re only focusing on the next step ahead of you. You’re focusing on something so simple and it’s unhealthy how busy we all are. Having something mindless is really nice. With hiking you don’t have to think about it.

Molly: Do you prefer to go at a certain time of day?
Emily: Depends. My favorite thing, and I have not actually done this at Muhlenberg, is to start in the late afternoon and hike to a place where you can camp and then the next morning hike out. It’s nice to go in the late afternoon, you don’t get much of the heat, if it’s the summer, and I love camping as well. I’ve done a lot of the sunrise hikes here this semester and it’s been great. Especially because the sun comes up pretty early, so we get up around 4:30, drive for an hour to a place where we can hike, and then hike for an hour. When you’re hiking down as the sun is coming up, it’s like the best way to start your morning.

Molly: Would you suggest that if more people want to get involved with hiking that they join the Muhlenberg Outdoors Club?
Emily: Yeah! We have a Facebook group and that’s probably the way we’re most visible. So if you want to do anything outdoors, you can always post to the Facebook group, and we will share that kind of stuff through Facebook. I think that the Outdoors Club is a great resource for people to meet other people who are interested in the outdoors, who otherwise wouldn’t have met. I know that from being within the theatre bubble, it’s so hard to meet people outside of that, and I’ve met some really wonderful people through the Outdoors Club, that I wouldn’t have met otherwise. We also have a mailing list and that’s how you find out about our trips. The weekend before Thanksgiving break we did an indoor rock-climbing trip. And we did like a hike every two or three weeks this fall, so pretty frequently.

I went hiking on the Glen Onoko trail this past summer which is about 20 minutes outside of Jim Thorpe. I went with a few of my friends and we stopped halfway at a gorgeous waterfall that overlooked the entire valley. Here are a few of our pictures! Note that I am not a hiking aficionado like Emily, but even a klutz like me made it up a mountain! Anyone can do it and it is a good reminder that there’s life outside of the Muhlenbubble!

Photos taken and provided by Emily McDowell and Molly Israel.

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