The Varsity Outdoor Club’s “Useful Person”

By Natalie Chu

The Varsity Outdoor Club (VOC) is a community of adventure-seeking people who love to get outside. Members hike, bike, ski, climb, and explore the outdoors together. They’re outdoor enthusiasts in every sense of the term – waking up at 5:00am for sunrise hikes and bush-whacking through the forest until the sun goes down. To find out more about the VOC and its 102 years of outdoor activity, I sat down with Roland Burton, who has been a member of the VOC since 1960 and holds the self-appointed title of the club’s “useful person”.

“The club is run by elected [student] representatives – as all responsible organizations [are]. And when I decided I wanted to do useful things for the club, I was no longer a student, and therefore not eligible to be elected. I decided I would create an ‘executive’ position for myself…I am the ‘official useful person’.”

From activating memberships to running trips of his own, and everything in between, Burton knows the VOC – and the outdoors – inside and out. He joined the VOC as a student, to balance studying and school work with fresh air and adventure. When he returned to UBC after graduating, he remained a member for all the same reasons.

“I actually worked at UBC for quite a long time. I was [in] the mass spectroscopy facility for the faculty of pharmaceutical sciences. I find that [doing] something, which involves lying under big machines with dust mites and grease and stuff, during the week and then running around the mountains shouting and screaming on the weekends is a good sort of contrast.”

As a member of the club for almost 60 years, Burton has spent many nights in the outdoors with the club. In this time, he has made an immense impact on the VOC.

AMS: Burton Hut

Construction of the Burton Hut near Garabaldi Lake (UBC-VOC Archives)

“One of our huts is on the east end of Garibaldi Lake, and I was involved in building that, to the extent that I had to break my back in a car accident coming back from attempting to visit it in the fall. So they decided they wanted to name it after me.”

He noted that typically, huts are named after influential members or people who have passed. The club decided to make an exception due to Burton’s key contributions and involvement in the VOC, and named the hut the Burton Hut. Another one of his most memorable stories with the VOC took place on a trip where they didn’t have enough vehicles to take all the members interested in going on the trip.

“We have occasionally taken rental cars up logging roads and had some serious things happen to them. One ended up sinking into the mud so deep that the wheels were not actually going forward anymore. I was able to pull that one out with my Jeep, because I’ve got four-wheel drive and high clearance.”

After spending so much time in the outdoor community, Burton has seen how the community has grown and how things have changed.

“Mountaineering used to mean you got all this junk and you loaded it into a float plane, and you landed it on some god-forsaken lake and you got out and you trudged around for about a month, eating all your food if the bears didn’t get it first… Now mountaineering consists of things like going up Crown Mountain and coming back in a day – and why is that considered mountaineering? Well…the trail’s kinda sketchy.”

While he prefers the first type of mountaineering, he still enjoys spending any time in the outdoors and has developed a particular enjoyment of trips out to hot springs. If you’re looking for more information about VOC trips, check out the trip reports on their website. Members recount details about recent trips they’ve taken, blog style, for people to read and learn more.