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Scrambles Program Turns 40

By Gillian Frew

Scramble on beach
Students backpack along Washington’s Olympic coast in 2012

From humble beginnings in 1977 as an informal, student-led outing to the current lineup of 20 in-depth nature trips, the first-year Scrambles program has become a hallmark of the Whitman experience and a rite of passage beloved by generations. 

"Going on a Scramble was a really nice way to make meaningful friendships before the school year began," said Grace Dublin '21.  "Whenever you go into the outdoors with people you become really close really fast," she continued. "It was also just a lot of fun and a good way to end the summer."

Every August, the incoming class has the option to sign up for a Scramble that acquaints arrivals with new peers and the Pacific Northwest. About 180 first years participate annually, along with about 65 returning students who volunteer as Scramble leaders.  

Emma Struebing '20 admitted to being nervous about starting college last year and emphasized "how valuable participating in a Scramble was for allaying that fear."

She added, "Being able to participate in the Scramble program again, this time as a leader, and having the opportunity to build relationships with new students and answer any questions they might have about Whitman, were equally valuable and rewarding, and I hope to continue my involvement in the Scrambles program next year."

scramble backpacking

Scramble locations span Washington, Oregon and Idaho, and include the Elkhorn Mountains, Strawberry Mountains, Olympic Coast, San Juan Islands, Salmon River, Wallowa Mountains, Smith Rock State Park, North Cascades National Park and Mount St. Helens. Participants hike trails, scale summits, cook over campfires, kayak, raft, swim and paddleboard together. Last year, some witnessed a full solar eclipse.   

"Scrambles are one of the many ways new students are introduced to the dynamic region where they will be spending their next four years," said President Kathleen Murray. "The wilderness adventures foster unique bonding experiences for students that last throughout their time on campus and beyond."  

Brien Sheedy, director of outdoor programs, agreed. "Scrambles are an amazing opportunity for incoming students to build community, bond with other students and develop deep and meaningful relationships." Participants and trip leaders "are able to challenge themselves and thrive in a supportive community that then gets even bigger once they get back to campus." 

While many colleges and universities offer eco-orientation, Whitman's program includes several unique elements, Sheedy explained. In addition to being one of the nation's oldest, it gives participants the chance to master more outdoor skills over a longer period of time-six to nine days. And Whitties lead the excursions-not outside companies, as is the case at many other schools.  

Scrambles foster lifelong friendships, as thousands of Whitman alumni can attest. In fact, Scrambles are such a revered tradition that Whitties often plan their own reunions with Scramble buddies, just as they might with Greek groups or intramural sports teams. 

San Rafael, California, native and biology-environmental studies major Eva Geisse '17 went on a Scramble in Washington's Olympic National Park and then led that trip for three subsequent years, a practice known as completing a grand slam. "The relationships I made through Scrambles are some of my most special and strongest that I made during my time at Whitman," she said.  

Eliza Wyckoff '20 contributed reporting.

Published on Mar 15, 2018
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