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Alumni Savor Raquette Lake in Winter

 Alumni Savor Raquette Lake in Winter


They call themselves “The Iceholes.”

It’s a fitting name, of mysterious origin, for an intrepid gang of alumni who can’t get enough of the Adirondacks in the summertime.

So they return in late January to SUNY Cortland’s Center for Environmental and Outdoor Education at Raquette Lake and brave the elements armed with skis, snowshoes, chessboards and (shudder) swimsuits.

Picture them bursting out of the rustic sauna perched on the shores of Raquette Lake at Huntington Memorial Camp to fling their bodies heedlessly into a square patch of black water hacked out of the frozen lake.

Imagine the pained screams and rowdy cheers of graduates bobbing around in the drink momentarily before scrambling ashore and skittering back to a warm cabin and sanity.

Jumping in the lake in January is a great idea, asserted Mark J. Perlman ’75, unconvincingly.

“It’s actually better in the winter because you have to really be sweating in the sauna to be able to jump into the water and not be cold,” Perlman said. “You do not feel the cold if you stay in the water. But if you stand outside the water for a few minutes, you will be cold.”

Slow studies all, some of these graduates have been coming back to the forested peninsula annually since the College began offering a winter alumni retreat in 2003.

winter swim
Huntington Camp caretaker Richard Fey helps alumna Angeline Molinero Whisher ’48 take the plunge. Looking on is Katherine Bilos '72 (all images courtesy of Lewis Cowan '73).

The winter program marked its 10th year from Jan. 22 to 26, when 34 brave souls all hoisted small packs and walked the one mile distance across a frozen Raquette Lake while their belongings followed on a sled pulled by a snowmobile.

The lucky souls avoided having to make the rugged, four-mile overland hike along the very remote Long Point peninsula, which campers must do when the lake surface fails to cooperate for the occasion by freezing solid.

“It’s the only time I get to experience winter anymore,” said Perlman of Philadelphia, Pa., explaining the draw of the winter Adirondacks for some alumni, although most live in upstate New York. Perlman, a Summer Alumni Camp regular of that much older program for many years, has missed only one Winter Alumni Camp.

“I get to say ‘I miss winter’ because I don’t live there anymore,” said Perlman, a former health education student who first visited Antlers in the early 1970s as possibly one of the first students to use the camp who wasn’t a physical education or recreation major.

“This was my very first winter camp,” said Lewis J. Cowan ’73 of Ridgewood, N.J. “I will go back, because I’ve been camping and paddling on Raquette Lake for 32 years. I wouldn’t say there’s a lot of places I haven’t climbed, but it’s hard to find them.”

Cowan, who first experienced the camp in 1972 on a College Outing Club excursion, also has enjoyed 10 Summer Alumni Camps at Antlers with family or his buddies. The difference is that Antlers is about a mile’s leisurely road walk from the amenities of the Village of Raquette Lake. This year, by joining the Winter Alumni Camp, he relished the opportunity to “live the experience” at the Huntington Camp at Long Point, which is accessible only by boat or the aforementioned woodland bushwhack or over the ice in winter.

Rob dines with winter guests
Winter Alumni Camp attendees break bread at Huntington Memorial Camp with Robert Rubendall, director of the Centers for Environmental and Outdoor Education, shown at the head of the table. 

“Walking on the lake was spectacular,” said Cowan, a self-described “fanatical outdoorsman” who invited three hardy friends instead of family members to the winter camp. “To just snap on the crampons and go walking was phenomenal. We just went out and hiked or went snowshoeing every day.

“The place we use as the base camp on our canoe trips in the summer is Tioga Point,” said Cowan. His summertime habit consists of paddling from there along the lake’s squiggly perimeter to the base of Blue Mountain or West Mountain in order to climb those sizeable peaks. “So we hiked over there. To be outdoors is just a premium.”

Perlman, meanwhile, can be found savoring fondly, from a window near the fire, the sight of his many fellow alumni constantly making athletic cross-country skiing or jogging excursions to Silver Beach. He even has been known to venture out to a nearby trail junction with his camera to faithfully record their return.

Even for couch potatoes, the winter photography opportunities are compelling.

Perlman, a technology integration specialist for the school district of Philadelphia, said that, although he is an average hand with a camera, he really loves to share digital technology tips with his campmates.

Cowan takes great pride in his photography, and captured a collage of images (a few are shown with this story). At the winter camp he set up his extensive camera and lighting equipment to record still and videotape images of the “Icehole Team.”

None of the “polar bears” suspected their hilarious nighttime antics were being captured on video until the final evening of camp, when, inside the cozy dining hall, a rapt audience assembled to watch it on a computer screen.

Winter Alumni Camp 2012
Gathered in front of Metcalf Hall for a group photo were many alumni and their friends and family members, many of whom have enjoyed previous Winter Alumni Camp experiences.

 “The magic starts to happen after the second or third day,” said Cowan, of the camaraderie that develops at the winter or summer alumni camps. “Enough things have happened between the campers by then, and it’s great to have that extra day to have a much more cohesive crew. That’s my psychology education at Cortland State coming into play.”

“I coined a phrase I’ve said to some of the people I’ve known since the beginning,” Perlman said. “‘This is the place you can go where you will meet family that you didn’t know you had and make friends for life.’ This is generally how we all feel. It’s just one of those wonderful places. I know the College uses it extensively for many, many other reasons but when I’m there with alums, I feel like it’s our place and we’re the people who discovered it: the sense of family and isolation and just the beauty of being there.”