In the summer of 2000, Phil Friesen stepped into the
office of Bill Harrington, then JHU's
recreational sports director, to offer his outdoor
expertise to an urban university not exactly well
versed in the vernacular of kayak sculls, pitons and
Friesen, who has a master's degree in experiential
education from Minnesota State University,
had just moved to Maryland from California, where he had
spent five years leading wilderness trips
for a private company. He missed the outdoors and thought
that Johns Hopkins students could use
more fresh-air experiences.
Harrington and Friesen instantly hit if off. The pair,
in fact, spent much of that initial meeting
discussing hoops, in particular their mutual love of
Hoosier basketball and the Boston Celtics.
Harrington, now senior associate director for
athletics and recreation, says that Friesen
arrived at just the right time. Plans were under way for a
new recreation center on the Homewood
campus, and Harrington was looking to expand the
university's outdoor offerings, which at the time
were done piecemeal through the student-led Outdoors Club,
founded in 1973.
"The climate had changed on campus about that time.
Students were much more receptive and
interested in outdoor trips. They wanted to go kayaking and
climbing and travel farther distances to
do that sort of thing," Harrington said. "But we needed
expertise in order to do that, and I was
looking to bring in new people — and in walks Phil.
It was the perfect storm."
These days, the sight of a Johns Hopkins student
— or faculty or staff member — screaming down
whitewater rapids or rappelling down a mountain is not an
uncommon one, thanks to Friesen and
Outdoor Pursuits, the university's increasingly popular
experiential program that he runs.
Building upon the momentum that Friesen generated in
his first two years at Johns Hopkins as
an independent contractor, the Office of Recreation hired
him full time in 2002 for the new position
of experiential education coordinator and in 2003 created
Outdoor Pursuits to expand the number of
adventure trips and formalize the outdoor program.
Freshman kayakers get ready to
rapids near Harper's Ferry, W.Va., on their 2007
Photo by Will Kirk / HIPS
In its first year, Outdoor Pursuits hosted 17 day and
weekend trips, then limited to whitewater
kayaking and rock climbing. It also offered instructor
training and a pre-orientation outdoor program
for incoming freshmen, which it now hosts annually. This
year, more than 100 incoming freshmen will
take part in the pre-orientation outdoor program, which
will feature six different wilderness
experiences in Maryland and West Virginia.
Based on demand, Outdoor Pursuits has since added
hiking, caving, mountaineering, canoeing,
mountain biking, sailing, fly-fishing and sea kayaking
trips to its schedule.
In the 2007-2008 academic year, the program operated
80 trips, including a canoe expedition in
Gunpowder Falls State Park, sailboat races in the Inner
Harbor and a whitewater kayaking trip on the
Potomac River. The majority of experiences are day and
weekend trips that take place in Maryland,
Virginia and West Virginia, but the program also hosts
longer excursions, such as a six-day kayak trip
in Tennessee and a two-week mountaineering adventure in the
Quito region of Ecuador.
The upcoming academic year will again feature 80
trips, offered at the beginner, intermediate
and advanced levels. Trips typically cost from $5 to $60,
with many in the $10 to $20 range. Originally
serving students, staff and faculty, the program was
recently opened to community members.
Outdoor Pursuits also offers instruction in all the
activities it hosts, leadership training and a
wilderness first-responder course, conducted in partnership
with the Wilderness Medical Institute of
the National Outdoor Leadership School.
Its trips are led by students, who all must go through
the 10-day intensive Hopkins Outdoor
Leadership Training course and be certified in CPR and
wilderness first response. Currently, Outdoor
Pursuits has 77 student leaders and two full-time staff,
Friesen and Matt Hardy, the program's
This spring, Outdoor Pursuits moved its "base camp"
from a small office in the basement of the
O'Connor Recreation Center to a larger multiroom space,
accessible from the side of the center that
faces the ROTC building.
Friesen said that the new Base Camp, slated for some
polishing up over the summer, will allow
Outdoor Pursuits to be more visible and better achieve its
mission. Eventually, he hopes, it will serve
as a meeting place where students will come to find out
about upcoming trips and learn about the
outdoors from books in its library.
"We want people here to have opportunities to have fun
outdoors and learn new skills," he said.
"Our trips also offer a chance to blow off steam and get
away from the stress of academic life, even
if it's just a lazy canoe trip one afternoon."
Jessica Gifford, a student leader and climbing
instructor, said that many trip participants are
doing an activity for the first time, whether it's climbing
a steep cliff or braving the rapids in a kayak.
"They love it. We have a lot of fun," Gifford said.
"It can really be an adventure when we go
Nearly 450 people took part in the program's trips
last year, Friesen said, and he expects to
easily surpass that number this year.
Harrington said that he is not surprised by the
success of Outdoor Pursuits.
"I knew our growth would be in this area," he said.
"Our intramural and sports clubs continue to
do well, but the biggest increase in participation has been
the outdoors program, by far."
Harrington, in particular, said he appreciates the
leadership experience the student guides
"These wilderness experiences are a natural for that,"
he said. "They are doing something they
love, and that gives them satisfaction, and then teaching
that to others. We are giving them skills
they can really take with them, wherever they go."
To learn more about Outdoor Pursuits, and for a
calendar of upcoming trips, go to: