Dartmouth's Craziest Tradition: The Fifty

by Charlie Ciporin | 10/30/19 2:20am

10-30-19-doc-nataliedameron
by Natalie Dameron / The Dartmouth

Hallucinations, trench foot and intense sleep deprivation only touch the surface of the topics of conversation surrounding the legendary Dartmouth hiking event, The Fifty. A trek of 54 miles from the Moosilauke Ravine Lodge back to campus would be hard enough on its own; completing it over the course of roughly 30 hours without stopping to sleep seems downright insane. Yet many people on campus seem to have a lot of respect for this strange tradition, and even more seem to want to participate; it’s oversubscribed each term, and students have to be selected via lottery, according to co-director Mary Joy ’21. 

When I first heard about The Fifty, I had just decided to enroll at Dartmouth. I was talking to an alumnus friend who brought it up as one of the College’s staple traditions. I had no desire to participate, and I thought the only ones who did would be the most seasoned and experienced of the DOC, with intense mileage and extreme conditions under their belt. Joy, one of three directors of The Fifty this term, emphasized that my previous perceptions were not the case. 

“You get a lot of people who aren’t really involved in the DOC, or don’t really do a ton of outdoors stuff per se, but who relish the challenge. And I think that’s kind of what The Fifty is: it’s a way to appeal to the greater campus and be like, ‘The outdoors is this really cool thing.’” 

Lauren Jones ’20 is one of those people. She said she had never seen herself as very outdoorsy, but once her friends convinced her to sign up with them, she quickly got on board. 

“I think [the Fifty] does still have that same air of Trips,” Jones said. “Like, having fun outdoors while doing something with people, and enjoying yourself, and interacting with the Dartmouth community.” 

The Fifty is legendary within this community. Hikers come back with stories of intense hallucinations and crazed mindsets, both of which have come to characterize the event. Jones wholeheartedly confirmed the rumors.

“Hallucinating? Absolutely,” Jones said. “Not in the way that I think they hype it up to be, like seeing people, or seeing crazy things. When we were walking, I would see trees looking like things.” 

Joy, who participated as a hiker last year, had a similar experience, explaining how she had a lengthy discussion with her friend while on the trail, only to suddenly realize her friend wasn’t even with her. She also recounted that her lack of sleep didn’t stop at her hike. As a director, she had similar amounts of sleep deprivation. 

“Directing it, you have a very similar thing because you also don’t sleep, I think for a couple more nights, because you’re just trying to get everything together,” Joy said.

As logistics director, Joy said she was in charge of coordinating with the Outdoor Programs Office to secure necessities for the hikers, like food and gear. Two other directors, Ted Northup ’21 and Katie McCabe ’21 organized the specifics of the hike and the support crews. From directing the trip, Joy said she was able to get to know the inner workings of the DOC and the event she had grown to love from the year before, even learning about its origins in Dartmouth’s history. According to Joy, the Fifty originated from an idea from Sherman Adams, a member of the Class of 1920 and the founder of Cabin and Trail. The hike is based on what he called “long walks,” where one day Adams decided to walk 83 miles without stopping. 

Madi Duhnoski ’23, who supported hikers doing The Fifty this term by cheering for them and bringing them food at rest stations, agreed that much of the appeal behind it has to do with tradition at the College. 

“I’d say it’s a combination of being wacky and being super outdoorsy, and it’s just a part of Dartmouth culture.”

Duhnoski said that while she and the rest of the support team didn’t bond as much as the hikers probably did, she still made a great group of friends that will last throughout her time at Dartmouth. Many crew members support the hikers because it gives them an increased chance of being selected to hike in the future, according to Joy. However, Duhnoski said that hiking the Fifty in the future was not her primary motivation for supporting. However, after supporting the hike, she said she is now more open to completing it than she was before. 

“I did it super spontaneously,” Duhnoski said. “I’m still not 100 percent set on it, but there’s the possibility of me wanting to do it in the future now, whereas before I would never.”

The Fifty usually makes no sense to people outside of this community; why would someone want to put themselves through all of the pain and tiredness that comes with such a feat? But within the community, those who completed the hike wear it like a badge of honor. When I asked Joy why she thinks the event is so popular here, she said that she thinks it has something to do with the kind of people who attend Dartmouth.

“Dartmouth people are really motivated,” Joy said. “They hear about a challenge and go, ‘I wanna do that!’ It’s this attitude that makes something as crazy as The Fifty a reality here, and what makes this school such a unique place.”