CHAOS Unites Berkeley's Outdoor Activity Enthusiasts

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Chaos is defined in the dictionary as "the disorder of formless matter and infinite space, supposed to have existed before the ordered universe."

But what does chaos mean at UC Berkeley? On campus, chaos can be defined as a number of different things. One must merely walk down Telegraph Avenue to experience sights, sounds and smells that define the true spirit of Berkeley, and to experience the absence of rigid rules and regulations.

In addition to the disorder that surrounds many people's lives in Berkeley, the word CHAOS also functions as the acronym for the more than 50-year-old Cal Hiking and Outdoor Society at UC Berkeley.

CHAOS is not only one of the longest-standing student groups on campus; it also boasts one of the highest number of members - there are more than 500 people on the current CHAOS mailing list.

CHAOS does not have the structure typical of most student groups. The weekly meetings are not the primary focus of the club - only 50 or 60 of the more than 500 people on the mailing list regularly attend. Instead, in the words of Peter Spoerl, an active member of CHAOS for the past five years, "CHAOS is all about the trips."

CHAOS functions as a forum for UC Berkeley students and staff members who are interested in a variety of outdoor activities, from hiking to rock climbing to backpacking.

"CHAOS does not officially organize trips," says CHAOS "Princess" Keren Zaks, who is in charge of meetings and administrative issues for the club. "Members of CHAOS announce an idea for a trip at a meeting or through the mailing list and other people join in."

CHAOS organizes trips year round, with summer being one of its most active trip times since at that time students are not too busy with school.

Over the past year or so, CHAOS members have participated in a diverse series of trips, including camping and hiking trips to the Sierra Crest, Desolation Wilderness, Lake Tahoe, Mount Whitney and a "gourmet trip" to Point Reyes, complete with costumes and gourmet food over the Halloween weekend.

"The backpacking trip I took in Desolation Wilderness with CHAOS was really memorable," Zaks says. "I was with two people who had never been before, and it was just really beautiful up there, really awesome."

This organization appeals to students of all ranges of experience with the outdoors, from novice hikers to the most experienced backpackers and outdoors people.

"A few people in the club run trips for beginners," says longtime CHAOS member Madeline Shultz. "I would never discourage a novice hiker from coming on a trip I was running unless I personally felt they would not enjoy it and would be struggling. Once you combine the factors of altitude, backpacks and distance, you struggle if you are a novice."

Zaks agrees, saying that the club is available for people of all abilities.

"People of all skill levels are involved in CHAOS," she says. "When I first got involved, I hadn't really gone rock climbing before I joined the club. Some people who join are experienced, but some members are not."

For many active members, the club functions not only as a hiking and backpacking forum but also as a primary social outlet. The common recreational interests of the CHAOS members often create a social base for active members.

"Pretty much all of my friends are in CHAOS," says Shultz. "We do social stuff outside of CHAOS outdoors activities - we might go hang out at Pyramid Brewing or something."

Some of the perks of being in the club are that CHAOS only costs $5 to join. Avid hikers and backpackers or just those interested in outdoorsy-type things can receive postings on new activities. Due to the large base of active members, new trips are suggested on a daily basis.

This semester new trips have been announced for Joshua Tree, Mount Diablo and Indian Rock.

Another perk is that much of the hiking and climbing equipment is free for members to use, since the club owns much of the equipment.

"It was really nice being able to check out equipment for free," says sophomore Lally Rezayani. "It made the trip a lot less expensive for me because I didn't have to go out and buy equipment."

CHAOS membership mainly consists of older, graduate and foreign students. A few members say it would be desirable if more undergraduates joined. However, many undergraduates do not join because of other constraints.

"The lack of undergraduates in CHAOS is one of the main issues with the club," says Spoerl, who is a graduate student. "The club probably attracts more graduate students because undergraduates seem to value their weekends more, and are unwilling to part with a day of it."

Anyone with a sense of adventure and an affinity for the outdoors should look into CHAOS. With a new activity suggested every day, no avid (or intended) hiker or backpacker would ever get bored.

"CHAOS just has an interesting group of people, and fun hiking trips," says Rezayani.

To learn more about CHAOS, students can attend one of their meetings on Wednesdays at 6 p.m. at 321 Haviland Hall or visit the Web site at


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