Redwood’s Backpacking Club blazes trails while connecting new members online

“[The coolest part of] last semester was the view at the top [of Mount Tam]. A lot of people hadn’t ever been to the top of Mount Tam and it’s pretty cool to see all of Marin from the top. It was amazing,” Rachel Mueller, cofounder of the Redwood Backpacking Club, said. 

Seniors Rachel Mueller and Kalyn Dawes started the Backpacking Club as sophomores, hoping to create a community of students who enjoy spending time outdoors. 

Club advisor and English teacher Cathy Flores enjoys the energy and spirit of the club and believes Mueller and Dawes have accomplished their goal of creating unity among students. 

“[The members] are from everywhere. We have [both upperclassmen and underclassmen] and I love seeing how they interact and how they enjoy each other through this common thread of hiking and nature,” Flores said. 

Posing at the top of Mount Tam, the Redwood Backpacking Club has participated in a group hike and a gear drive this year. Photo courtesy of Rachel Mueller.

Currently, the club meets every other Tuesday on Zoom and has organized multiple COVID-19 safe, socially distanced group activities outside of school. Since the pandemic has made it difficult for club events to occur, Mueller and Dawes have found other ways to accomplish their club goals.

“The first year, [our goal] was just to create a community at Redwood, but this year we’ve been looking to make the outdoors more accessible [to others] and in that sense focusing on gear,” Mueller said. 

Backpacking gear can be expensive, which prompted the club to organize a gear drive at Piper Park last semester to collect and donate gear to Bay Area Wilderness Training in Oakland. Bay Area Wilderness Training loans their donated gear to students and organizations, allowing them to experience the outdoors for free. The club’s gear drive was successful in part due to the club’s many members. This year alone, Mueller claims the Backpacking Club gained an additional 30 participants.

The Redwood Backpacking club was founded two years ago by Kalyn Dawes (left) and Rachel Mueller (second to left). Photo courtesy of Rachel Mueller.

“I think the reason we have so many new members this year is a lot of them are underclassmen. [The new members are] looking for a way to find a community within Redwood. Just having the club and maybe going on more hikes will help with that,” Mueller said.

One of these new members is freshman Madeleine Muller. Muller enjoys hiking and has participated in several wilderness adventures in the past, including a week-long overnight rafting trip. As a member of the backpacking club, she enjoys being able to connect with other students and make new friends.  

“I think one of the things I was most worried about with [online school] was not knowing anyone when I got to Redwood, so [being in the club] has helped me get more comfortable with the school and the people. It’s going to be nice when we go back to school because I’ll know all these people already,” Muller said. 

Following their hike, the Backpacking Club was met with stunning views of Marin below them. Photo courtesy of Keely Ganong.

Despite their successes, running a club online has not been easy, especially when the activities rely so much on being outdoors and in-person. Mueller and Dawes have run into technical difficulties setting up Zoom meetings and have also had to find creative solutions to keep members safe and socially distanced during in-person activities.

“[One of the biggest challenges is] probably just participation. A lot of the time, I feel like I’m talking to people and they’re just staring back at me, so I kind of empathize with teachers when students have their screens off. I’ll ask a question and people just sit there. Although some people participate, it’s still hard,” Mueller said.

Even through these difficult times, Flores is proud of the club for their hard work and success in creating a tight-knit community that supports new students.

“There are so many students that feel disconnected from their school, even ones that are juniors and seniors, as a result of the pandemic. I think the club functions as a connector and shows that in essence, you are not alone. There’s a message being sent that we’re all in this together. Let’s go for a hike, let’s have a conversation safely and get through this together,” Flores said. “I think it’s important for students to see that they can lean on each other in more ways than might not be obvious to them.”