Kayaking Katie Pocklington

Rockbrook has a wonderful community of talented staff who make camp a fun, exciting adventure! This summer, Rockbrook is proud to introduce one of our new international staff, Katie Pocklington, affectionately known around here as “Kayaking Katie”! 

whitewater kayaking racer Katie Pocklington

Katie is a member of our Adventure Staff and a kayaking instructor. She has been kayaking for over 6 years and competing for Team Great Britain Wild Water Kayaking Team for the last 3 years.

Katie came to us later on this summer. Why you might ask? Because this amazing Rockbrook Girl was competing at the European and World Wildwater Championships!

Katie said this about her experience:

“The European Championships were held in North Macedonia and involved a pretty complex river. The World Championships were held in Germany on the Munich 1972 Olympic course. The water was pretty challenging but it was amazing to compete on the world stage.” 

Our Katie proudly left the World Wildwater Championship coming in 21st in the world! This Wildwater kayaking competition involved both a sprint down a whitewater course and a longer “Classic” which is a 2-4 mile race.

Katie is so excited to work this summer at Rockbrook Camp with all the amazing counselors, staff and campers and to ensure the best kayaking experience for our campers!

kayaking instructor Katie

Enthusiasm for Adventure

I’ve been away the last few days taking our 10th grade campers, those we call “Hi-Ups,” on a 3-day adventure trip. The Hi-Ups are the girls who help manage the dining hall at camp, setting tables and clearing dirty dishes to rack them and send them to the dishwashers in the kitchen. With close to 300 people eating in the dining hall at any particular meal, there are a lot of dishes, flatware, and serving bowls to handle… three times a day. Hi-Ups work hard! The Hi-Ups have their own special cabin “high up” in the camp, have a few extra privileges and more freedom to enjoy their favorite parts of camp. Toward the end of their session, they take a break on “the 3-day.”

camp blindfold climbing

The exact details of this trip is a secret, making it a fun surprise for the girls going. I can’t say much about it other than it’s both exciting and relaxing. It includes swimming, hiking, camping, and climbing. At different times the girls are laughing, singing, and lounging, and they’re feeling elated, maybe a little scared, and exhilarated. They come face to face with incredible beauty and real physical challenges. Part of the trip is truly thrilling. We always end up a little scratched, maybe with a bruise or two, and solidly tired from the whole experience. And the girls, absolutely LOVE it. If you’re the parent of a Hi-Up, I hope you’ll hear some stories of the adventure.

I’m always amazed by the enthusiasm for adventure Rockbrook girls have. This Hi-Up trip proves it many times over, but there are countless examples punctuating everyone’s regular life at camp. Tying into a rope and climbing a tower blindfolded, zooming through the trees tethered to a zip line pulley, sliding down a 60-ft natural waterslide— all are examples that come to mind. Camping in the woods, paddling a whitewater kayak or canoe through moving water, and balancing high on a tiny rock ledge are also good examples. The girls at camp are taking full advantage of these opportunities. They almost seem to crave the thrills, the exhilarating fun they provide.

Why this appetite, though? Sure, these activities are “fun” or a “blast,” but is there something else that makes them more attractive while your girls are at camp? I think there is.

summer camp hammock nest

As I mentioned, I think the Rockbrook community makes girls more courageous because it provides unconditional support and genuine encouragement. Camp folks aren’t competing or judging each other based on abilities or ranked results. Instead, everyone at camp is facing challenges, trusting their abilities as they try new things, and finding supportive friends along the way. Together, there’s an energy at camp that spins up and toward adventure, a kind of collective power bolstering us to dive in. When those around you are excited to go rock climbing, you might be too. When the whole camp is spraying themselves with shaving cream and launching themselves down a sheet of plastic, it suddenly seems like exactly the right thing to do. In this kind of community, it soon becomes clear how it doesn’t really matter if you climb to the top of the rock, so it’s more fun to give it a try. It’s fun no matter what the outcome.

kids taking care of horse

Maybe we can put it like this; “kids are more adventurous when they’re part of a supportive community.” They’re less likely to let uncertainty stop them from pursuing a goal. The community makes things safer, more focused on what’s positive about a new experience, and less concerned about winning or perfection. This kind of camp community makes it easier for young people to keep a “growth mindset” that pursues novel challenges, and thereby to keep learning, expanding their experiences, and deepening who they are.

I may be repeating myself here, but camp is great in this way. It has a unique power to be fun but also truly formative by proving to girls that challenging experiences, adventures, are positive things. Instead of stepping back, go after opportunities to challenge yourself. There are surprising rewards for those who try. At camp, your girls are not just learning to climb or paddle (that’s kinda not the point), they’re nurturing an aspect of their personality that tells them “I can do it.” “I can get better at this.” That’s a habit I think we want all of our kids to develop.

And finally, I would say the kind of supportive community we have at camp is something we should strive to create in our schools as well. After all, we want all children to develop this approach to adventure, toward experiences that are new and challenging. We want them to seek out opportunities to explore, feel confident to experiment, and know they’re OK no matter how they “perform.” It’s the process of learning and growing that matters. I’ve seen a focus on community make a big difference at camp. Camp girls are stronger. They’re more confident and courageous. They can do so many amazing things. And they’re happy and excited doing them. I wish every child could become like that. Don’t you?

crazy hair summer camp teens

Eagerly Every Day

First, we have a camper service announcement: Please send more mail.

Send more mail to camp

As these campers are happy to spell the word “mail,” and to provide explicit instructions, “send me some,” everyone at camp thinks about receiving mail at least once a day. Everyone has a mailbox, and after lunch each day, we all head to the dining hall porch. Hundreds of heads bend down and peer into the grid of small wooden boxes mounted on the wall, each hoping someone has sent them something. Since everyone is checking their mail at the same time, it feels good for the girls to have something—an email, a postcard, or an envelop containing a proper letter —waiting in this box. And sadly, it feels a bit disappointing to find it empty.

Unfortunately, our local Post Office can easily become overwhelmed in the summer with 14 summer camps suddenly boosting the volume of mail it handles. Delays are practically guaranteed. But don’t let that discourage you! Use First Class postage and get something out. In addition, take some time and send your girls an email. It’s a free service that we hope you’ll utilize because we know how much it means to the girls here. We hope you can make some time to send some mail soon! Every day!

Today was twin day at camp. In addition to celebrating the actual twins attending camp at the moment (I think there are four sets, currently), this theme for the day encouraged the girls to pick a friend and dress similarly. Matching t-shirts and hair styles were the most common way to identify your camp twin. In some ways, it’s easy to find a twin at camp. There are lots of other girls your age, and odds are, you’ve got some Rockbrook gear in common. Wear this year’s sweatshirt, put your hair in a ponytail, and boom! Instant twins! Even triplets!

challenge course climbing pair

Here’s a photo that might need some explanation. It’s two girls about 25 feet up in the air on our climbing challenge tower. Known as an “Alpine Tower,” this log structure forms two pyramids, one inverted on the other. It’s designed to have multiple climbers ascending at the same time, all trying to reach a platform 50 feet above the ground. There are different climbing elements and obstacles on the tower’s 3 sides, each requiring the climbers to lean, balance and pull up in different ways. This photo shows two girls leaning on each other’s hands while balancing on two poles that diverge as the girls step to their left. The goal is to make it to the end without falling. Of course, the girls are always on belay as soon as they leave the ground, so falling means being held up by a harness and rope. Reaching the ends takes balance, strength and nerve. It feels very unnatural to lean like that, especially when high in the air. But that’s the challenge! And these girls did it!

summer camp learning canoeing

Canoeing is one of those outdoor activities that can stick with a person and be something she enjoys the rest of her life. It’s been an activity at Rockbrook since day one, with generations of camp girls learning their strokes on our small in-camp lake and then venturing out for trips onto lakes and rivers nearby. Even for the youngest girls, the Juniors, can learn to paddle a canoe, keep it moving in a straight line and turning it on command. The girls who choose paddling as one of their activities work with the paddling instructors and do just that. Some of the canoeing trips are overnight trips where the girls pack camping gear in their canoes as well. This week a group paddled a section of the French Broad river closer to Asheville, spending the night before finishing their paddle the next day. Camping and canoeing together. An extra adventure!

By rope and by paddle, we’re seeing Rockbrook girls seize opportunities for adventure. They’re backpacking and hiking too, hitting the trails to explore and camp. They’re sliding down mountain streams to plunge into a chilly pool, and they’re flying through the trees on the camp zip line. Encountering adventure at camp is almost expected. Like opportunities to relax, to laugh and sing, and to enjoy the company of really good friends, it’s just what we do at Rockbrook. Eagerly and every day.

female summer camp pals

More Powerful than You Think

After our late night 4th of July fireworks show yesterday, a crew of girls and their counselors woke up early this morning to go on a whitewater rafting trip at the Nantahala River. It was a 6:30am wake up and 7am departure event for us. A quick bowl of cereal and some yogurt still left most everyone pretty groggy for the drive over. It’s about a 2-hour drive to the river, which gave folks a chance to doze in the bus. When we arrived, our Rockbrook guides had the equipment staged and ready, so the girls could hop out of the bus, apply some sunscreen and gear up with their PFDs, paddles and white helmets.

summer camp rafting kids

The weather was perfect for rafting. The morning fog burned off to bright, bright sun, which felt great compared to the cold, cold water of the Nantahala. There were six boats in the crew this morning. They bopped and bumped down the river, navigating around the rocks to follow the best lines through the rapids. The river alternates between fun splashy whitewater and more calm stretches where the girls can chat and mess around in the boats. There’s always a discussion of some sort happening… maybe about the river, or about what pose to make for the camera, or just the regular banter of camp friends having fun together.

The last rapid is where the most intense action happens. It’s a class III rapid called the “Nantahala Falls” and is a fun double drop that is guaranteed to bounce around your boat, and even toss out a person or two. Today, we had a couple swimmers, but after the excitement of being in the water, they were easily pulled back into their boats.

The whole crew enjoyed a picnic lunch with the second (afternoon) rafting group that arrived from camp right on time. Our excellent weather held nicely throughout the afternoon, making this second trip also a great success. Rafting is really an ideal summer camp activity. It’s exciting, a little adventurous, highly social, cool on a hot summer day, and very fun every time you do it, whether it’s your first or your fifth time. Everyone, guides and campers alike, had a great time on the water today.

Yes, the experience of rafting is fun, but I think there’s an even deeper benefit to be gained from it, something that can serve as a life lesson of sorts, or at least a moment when an insight can be realized. There’s a hint of it during the pre-trip safety talk Ruby, the head guide, gives to everyone. She says things like, “everyone in your boat has to power to save anyone who falls out. Yes, even you can save your guide!” She explains how this is done too, how a small girl can grab the PFD of the guide and pull that adult back into the boat. Yes, this has happened (pretty often!), much to the amazement of the girls involved.

girl rafting crew
silly rafting girls

There are a couple of possible lessons here:

Despite this being a risky activity (someone might fall out), we can manage the risk and still carry on. We have good equipment, protocols and techniques that we trust will work if needed. Knowing these, we can be more confident when facing this particular risk. Instead of not rafting, instead of shrinking away from it because it’s a little scary or uncertain, we can rely on expertise and even our own nerve in a situation. Like many times in life when we’re afraid of what might happen, there are probably steps we can take to reduce the risks at hand. There is probably more we can learn and concrete things we can do to reduce the likelihood of something undesirable happening. Experiences like this help kids grow more confident in situations they find scary. These camp moments prove they can manage those feelings and still more forward.

Related to this is another lesson. Rescuing someone, pulling them back into the boat or reaching out to a swimmer using your paddle, proves to these girls, “you’re more powerful than you think.” This is another one of my phrases I use to encourage kids. I think they need to be reminded of this as much as possible. After all, so much of their experience is the opposite. They’re often told, explicitly or implicitly, they’re “just kids.” Grownups do so much for them, ostensibly because they need help. They’re not allowed to do so many things, apparently because they’re unable to “handle it.” Taken too far, kids can become kind of helpless, always looking for an adult to do things for them, soon believing they’re incapable of “taking care of it” on their own. Rafting is different. Here they’re told “we’re counting on you to save people,” “here’s how you do it,” and “you can do it.” And they do! So for rafting, instead of assuming “I can’t,” there’s proof that you can.

This is a great thing for kids to learn. Even if they’re not always successful, I think it’s a good habit to feel empowered in situations, and to know that you can learn how to handle things, even those that seem scary. The lesson is to learn more in those situations and to manage risks as well as possible, and with good reasons, to lean in. My hope is that Rockbrook girls learn some of these lessons. I hope they can remember they’re more powerful than they think.

whitewater rafting splash

Camp Rafting Day

Let’s take a quick look at whitewater rafting, because today was a rafting day for a big group of campers and counselors. Rafting at Rockbrook is a big deal. It’s easily the most popular outdoor adventure activity we offer. The Forest Service restricts us to girls who are 5th grade and older (our Middlers and Seniors), but almost everyone eligible chooses to go. Fortunately, Rockbrook has a permit to raft the Nantahala river (the only girls camp to have one!), so we can send everyone who wants to go, use our own guides and equipment, and schedule the trips at our convenience. We’ve been running whitewater rafting trips since the 1980s.

You can tell from these photos of todays trips that the girls have a complete blast rafting. They’re screaming and laughing with delight. They’re doing silly poses for the camera, making “high fives” with their paddles, for example. They’re sweating a bit from paddling, but also chilled by the splashing and spraying of the whitewater. They’re playful, silly and enthusiastic, especially when the weather is hot and sunny like it was today.

The best part of these trips, I’d say, is the real camaraderie that happens in each boat. For the entire 2-hour trip on the water, the girls are working together, chatting and sometimes singing together, and laughing hysterically whenever someone falls in (or out!) of the boat. As the boats get bounced around in the rapids, the passengers do too. One minute things are calm and scenic, and the next, someone is sprawled in the bottom of the boat with legs flailing, or is bobbing in the 53-degree river water clambering to get back into the raft. With these bright and upbeat attitudes, it’s hilarious and exciting at the same time.

The finale of the trip is the last rapid on the river, the Nantahala Falls. This is a fast, class-III, double-drop rapid that is powerful enough to toss people out of their boats, and is always an exciting thrill. You can see that in these photos (click one to see a larger version). Making it through the falls tends to bring out cheers and celebration from each boat. “Yeah! We made it!” Like all great adventures, there’s a risk that something might go wrong (being tossed, in this case), so when it doesn’t, it’s a true feeling of success.

Rafting is another great example of how the girls at Rockbrook make whatever they are doing better because they genuinely enjoy each others company. Being positive and friendly from the start, being supportive and mutually encouraging, they’re just primed to have a fantastic time. Give them plenty of snacks, and it’s almost automatic! These Rockbrook girls are good friends having an extraordinarily great time. Pretty cool.

whitewater rafting pair

A Kayaking Trip

Today, we have a special post written by Sonya Korabelnikova, one of our whitewater instructors. It’s a fascinating glimpse into what out-of-camp adventure trips are like, and what the girls learn in addition to having fun and improving their kayaking skills. Enjoy!

Kid Kayaking trip

I knew we had a very big day ahead of us when I showed up at camp around 7:45am. Today we would be running section IX of the French Broad River, a whitewater kayaking trip that is a step more advanced. We always try to run the river and be back in time for dinner, and this trip is a long one, especially if we were hoping to squeeze in a stop at Dolly’s on the way back.

To my surprise the campers arrived ready, with all their gear, clothes, sunscreen, etc. It turns out Lula went to talk to everyone the night before to make sure they would be ready to go early. KK jumped on the trailer right away helping to tie the boats. She has perfected her truckers hitch, so while I still checked her knots, I really didn’t have to. She ties them very well. Everyone else helped too, loading the gear and boats into the van without me saying a word. By now they all know what to do and everyone finds the spot where they are the most helpful. We were able to leave camp by 9:06am, much earlier than I have expected. This was a pleasant surprise because last week it took more than twice that time.

camp girl kayaking

Arriving at the river, everyone was ready and excited to go. Riley, the youngest camper (she is only 11 and this would be only her 4th time on a whitewater river) needed some extra help carrying her boat and putting her skirt on. Before I got a chance to help, Kate and Willa were already helping her. Again, with everyone pitching in, we were able to get on the river in no time.

We arrived at a large eddy and decided to practice t-rescues and rolls. As we were working, one of the girls said she was afraid. When I asked her about that, she explained she was “afraid to fail.” I’ve noticed this as a recurring conversation this year— worrying about failing. So, instead of working on rolls, we took a moment and talked about how important it was to try, even when there is a chance of failure. We talked about how not trying is often worse than not succeeding, and how failing is often a part of learning because no one ever succeeds in everything all the time, especially when first starting out. Back at our roll practice, some of them failed but tried again. Some succeeded, but everyone looked happy to keep trying.

girls scouting whitewater rapid

Next up was Pillow Rock, the most difficult and largest rapid on the river. We got out of our boats and climbed up the rock to scout. Lula, KK and Willa were ready to move forward, seeing their line and having no fear. I smiled and told them to go. They climbed down the rock, got into their boats and charged one after another. Of course, they hit the perfect line.

Grape and Kate were nervous. They asked me if I thought they were ready for this rapid. I told them that I thought they were ready, but it was really up to them if they wanted to run it or not. They looked at each other, having a silent conversation. A few minutes later, there were cheers from everyone because they successfully ran the rapid!

Riley was the last one. She said to me, “I’m scared, but I really want to do it. Can I follow you?” “Sure,” I said, “we can go together.” We climbed down, she got in her boat and charged after me. After she took one confident stroke after another, I knew she would be fine. She made it to the bottom of the rapid and other girls offered her high fives and cheers.

french broad river kayaking

At the Swimmers Rapid, we had the girls ferry over to practice their skills. When one of them flipped and swam, half of the other girls charged over to help get her to shore. Soon these other campers were reassuring the camper, retrieving her gear, and getting her back in her boat. I felt that I didn’t need to add anything, since these girls knew how to properly handle this situation, both the rescue part and emotional part as well.

We got to the take out and had a few minutes for more roll practice and swimming. As some of them practiced, others gave their friends tips. I was surprised again. They seemed to remember everything we taught them and some of them were really good at explaining it to their friends.

Back in the bus, the girls were fiddling with their bracelets. They get a knotted cord bracelet for going kayaking, and a different bead for every achievement like paddling a specific river, or accomplishing a maneuver. The bracelets are made by tying a fishermen knot. Kate, who perfected the knot, was teaching everyone how to do it. We discovered that Riley was missing the bracelet and she was leaving the next day. But with no time to make her one, Grape took her bracelet off and said, “Here, you can have mine. I want you to have a bracelet before you leave.”

The conversation on the bus began to get louder. This is the first time on the trip that I heard Riley join in talking. At first, she may have felt like an outsider being the youngest camper on the trip. But now, she is clearly part of the team. All of them are.

Also on the bus ride home, I asked them to list their achievements of the day. They answered, “I punched the hole. I rolled. I caught the small eddy. I ran a big rapid.” Funny enough, none of them mentioned what I think are their biggest achievements: I helped and supported a friend. I made sure everyone was included. I was brave. I was strong. I took initiative when no one asked. I was a team member. With all this, it’s easy to understand why I am so proud of them.

As we sat outside of the Dolly’s eating our ice cream, the girls talked about how much they enjoyed the day and how much they want to come back to go kayaking again. I hope they will. I hope they will have more opportunities to enjoy this sport that will challenge them, force them to be a team member, take them out into nature, and will help them grow into the strong independent women we all want them to be.

kayaking camp girls

Doing this Beautifully

Girl Power kayaker

The kayakers have taken trips almost everyday this week. The interest in kayaking continues to grow, so Leland, Sarah and Stephanie have been busy meeting that demand by offering lots of trips. The beginners went to the French Broad River twice this week. After mastering their “wet exit” (sliding out of the kayak when it tips over), the French Broad is a perfect place to learn other important kayaking skills like ferrying across moving water and catching an eddy. On both Thursday and Friday, groups of kayaking girls drove over to the Tuckasegee River in Swain County to run its rapids. The river was really moving after our recent rains, giving the girls a little extra push over the shallow areas and making a couple of the rapids like Moonshot and Dillsboro Drop even more fun. This section of the “Tuck” takes 2 or so hours to complete giving the crew plenty of time to play on the water and still be back at camp for dinner.

Today, the Hi-Ups had their third “Girls With Ideas” session— a curriculum designed to foster confident girl leaders. On sticky notes, they began the meeting by writing down times that they were positive role models for the younger campers, moments that challenged them, and how they want to end their camp session. Although they only had the space of a sticky note for each answer, their responses and following discussion were quite wise and thoughtful. Between setting and scraping for each meal, putting on Rockbrook surprises, and helping to teach activities, these 10th grade campers have packed schedules! The downtime to reflect was much deserved. Personal goals of theirs for the rest of their Hi-Up year include being good team players, staying selfless, and taking initiative.

Camping Trip Sunrise Mountain Top

Another outdoor adventure trip also returned to camp today with stories and photos to share. We were planning an overnight canoe trip on the French Broad river near camp, but at the last minute a huge thunderstorm caused the river to rise too fast for the group to paddle safely. Shifting gears a bit, adventure staff leaders Jayne and Mattie decided to camp in Pisgah instead and show the campers several very cool spots. They first went to Courthouse Falls for a swim in the icy pool beneath. From there they camped further up the mountain along the Silvermine Ridge. The next morning, despite being pretty tired, everyone woke up early (5:15am!) to summit nearby Black Balsam mountain and watch the sunrise. Being that high up (over 6,200 feet!), far above the morning fog in the surrounding valleys, was quite a treat. Click this photo (any of these!) to see a larger version.  Passing by one more waterfall on the way back to camp, the group just had to stop for a quick swim. These girls love the cold mountain water around here!

Camp Ceramics Class for Teen Girls

Similarly, we’ve been happy to see so many campers improving their skills in pottery. The Rockbrook ceramics program has always been extensive, with two studios, 3 professional potters who serve as instructors, and a steady stream of enthusiastic campers returning year after year to work with clay. Lately, the older girls have been doing amazing work on the wheels. Throwing on the potter’s wheel takes some practice at first, but once you learn to center the clay, stay steady and draw the clay up slowly and evenly, it’s magical to see a lump transform into a delicate, symmetrical pot.  The girls are doing this beautifully. The next step is to vary the final shape of the cup or bowl, perhaps flaring the lip, bulging one side, or adding a handle.  Next week after the pots dry a bit (There’s a special dehumidifying room for that.), it will be time for glazing, and the final kiln firing that will bring out the colors of the glazes. Look for incredible creations coming home after camp.

cute all girl camp basket weaving

A Friendly Fear

Last week, there was an open spot on a zip lining trip, and, since I have the greatest job in the world, I filled it. It was the first time I had been on our new, expanded camp zip line course, complete with three zip lines, one tight rope, and two rope bridges. I am not ashamed a bit to admit that my heart was beating double-time the whole time I was up there.

Keeping an Eye Out

And I definitely was not alone in that sensation. Most of the girls that I was with had done the zip line before, and jumped out into thin air every time without a second thought. But hanging back in the back of the line with me was one brand new camper, whose eyes were just as wide as mine felt. She turned to me just before we got to the first zip line, and said, “I’ve never felt like this before.”

I asked her what she was feeling, and she listed out sweaty palms, dry mouth, beating heart—in short, she described fear. Here she was, far from home, standing high on a mountain, and she was feeling, for the first time in her life, fear. Now, she knew of course that she was wearing a harness, a helmet, and that she was hooked onto each line by two different tethers. She knew, intellectually, that she was safe. But that doesn’t stop the body’s natural reaction to the contemplation of jumping off a high rock face.

Suiting Up

But still, despite her fear, she jumped.

Most of our campers, thank goodness, lead relatively safe lives. They can go through whole days, weeks, and months without feeling the rush of adrenaline that comes along with fear, and this is certainly not a bad thing. Still, in our modern, comfortable world, it can be easy to forget the immense benefits of fear.

Let me clarify that by fear, I don’t mean the spine-tingling fear associated with horror movies or true danger. I mean that moment of breathlessness felt at the base of the Alpine Tower, looking up. I mean the bottom dropping out of your stomach when you’re about to go down the Nantahala Falls in a raft. I mean the way a heart can clench in nervousness when you’re stepping out of the car on Opening Day. I mean the way a tongue can tie itself up in knots when meeting new friends.

I mean the true discomfort, the adventure, of being utterly outside of your comfort zone.

Here at camp, we live outside of the comfort zone. We brush our teeth in sinks shaped like troughs, we live in cabins with screens instead of windows, we try new things each and every day that seem crazy and terrifying. We push ourselves, in a safe environment, to challenge ourselves, grow, and find new limits to our bravery.

Flying High

And yes, this can be scary. It can be terrifying. But it can also be a transformative experience. That fear can precede the moment in which a girl decides that she wants to spend the rest of her life paddling, rock climbing, or even just putting herself out there and trying new things. That fear can precede a moment of true growth.

My zip lining buddy grew that day. I knew it the moment she flung herself off onto the final zip line—the longest and fastest zip line. I heard her scream out in joy, and saw her smiling hugely as she went zooming away. She met me on the other side (after my own breathless ride), with her cheeks flushed, and her smile undiminished.

“That,” she told me, “was awesome.”

A Swarm of Smiles

Summer camp horseback riding girl

With so much going on at camp and with so many people involved, all simultaneously, it’s astonishing to add it all up. While some girls are screaming as they fly by on the zipline, others are silently stretching into yoga poses listening to quiet flute music. As floor looms click back and forth slowing revealing their weaving patterns, pottery wheels spin splattering mud when a bowl forms in the exact center. One girl rides a horse and another the water slide. Campers shoot bows and arrows, as well as .22 caliber rifles. They hit tennis balls with rackets and volleyballs with their fists. As some girls tie a figure-eight into their kernmantle climbing rope, others tie embroidery floss into square knots to make a friendship bracelet. Campers are leaping off the diving board into the lake, while others are jumping on the mini tramp to flip in gymnastics. With plenty of tie dyes, paints, markers, and glitter, we have an army of girls happy to add color to just about anything. In these ways and others, camp is an energetic mass of movement, and an awesome swarm of smiling busy girls.

Junior camp girl shooting archery

Have you written a letter or sent an email or two to your daughter? Here’s some info about the addresses and such, but it’s worth repeating that receiving mail is a big deal at camp. After lunch and just before the girls return to their cabins for Rest Hour, everyone checks their mailboxes. Seeing a card, letter or folded piece of paper (a printed email) is always a nice surprise, and it’s the perfect inspiration for writing a response home! In your letters, tell your girls how you’re proud of what they’re accomplishing at camp, sprinkled with some encouragement to try new things. Pass along lighthearted, upbeat news from home, while trying not to dwell on what she’s missing while away or how much you miss her.  Maybe include one of these kid-friendly jokes written by our own Sofie Ehlinger.  Do you know why the pig was red, for example? He was out all day BACON in the sun! Here is some more good advice about how to write to your kids at camp.  In the end, “Just write!”

Girls camp rafting whitewater rapid

“Hey Middlers! Hey Seniors! Do you want to go whitewater rafting?” That was the question we asked all of the girls on those lines, and perhaps predictably, about 90% of them said “yes,” with some choosing to do even more by camping overnight at Rockbrook’s Nantahala Outpost. These overnight rafting girls drove over on Monday night and had a great time eating dinner, making ‘smores over a campfire, goofing around in the platform cabins (with a package of glow sticks for each cabin making it even cooler), and simply enjoying this “middle of nowhere” campsite. The next morning, the girls hit the water under bright sunny skies, the perfect weather for a trip down the icy Nantahala river. For several of these Middlers it was their first time rafting, yet almost immediately, even before the first named rapid, they were laughing and squealing with delight. The Nantahala provides a nice balance of thrilling rapids with sizable waves and calm spots in the river where the girls can splash each other and even jump out for a brief swim.

I was able to take a little video as a few of our rafts came through the final rapid, the Nantahala Falls (or “Lesser Wesser” as some call it). Have a look and you can see why rafting is HUGE fun!

Our afternoon group of rafters, which was primarily Seniors this time, likewise had an excellent adventure trip with hot sunny weather, and just as much high-pitched fun.

Girls dressed as animals
Dressed a gorilla performance

When we all arrived back at camp, a special event dinner was ramping up, a jungle/animal themed meal we called “A Night at the Zoo.” This was a fun opportunity to dress like your favorite animal and have a dinner party singing jungle and animal songs.  So tonight we had an entire table of cats, a few butterflies, a squid, a platypus, bears, a turtle, several bunnies, a pink panther (Director Sarah!), and a whole school of fish enjoying a meal together. Hamburgers, sweet potato fries, salad and watermelon with chocolate chip cookie bars for dessert… yummy and fun!

After dinner, during our “Twilight” period of free time (before the start of “Evening Program”), several counselors held a “pet show” on the hill where different girls could show off their “pets.” There were dog tricks, and a super strong rabbit, but the funniest was the gorilla who could do cartwheels. It was all pretty silly stuff, and as that, really great as well.

As the sun began to set far off across the distant Blue Ridge Mountains, the lyric painted on the dining hall poster during dinner tonight seemed all the more apt: “But the sun rolling high… Through the sapphire sky… Keeps great and small on the endless round.”

Why Girls Love Rafting

Camp Rafting Crew

Of all the outdoor adventure trips offered at Rockbrook, whitewater rafting continues to be the most popular. More than kayaking, canoeing, rock climbing (though that’s a clear second), day hiking and backpacking, leaving camp to raft the Nantahala River inspires campers to sign up, even as that means missing their regularly scheduled activities. In fact, I’d estimate 90% of the girls old enough to go —Middlers and Seniors only, due to a Forest Service restriction— elect to take a day trip down the river, or to raft and spend the night at our outpost camp located near the river in Swain County. Rockbrook has been guiding these whitewater trips since the early 1980s, when it received one of the few Forest Service rafting permits awarded organizations. Rockbrook remains the only girls summer camp authorized to guide its own trips like this.

If you ask the girls, they’ll say things like “It’s just so much fun!” Or, “It’s a thrilling ride.” As you can see from these photos, they are really enjoying it, but is there something special about a rafting adventure that makes it so “awesome?”

Camp Whitewater Rafting Laughter

Beyond the cool gear you get to wear (a helmet and PDF), the excellent Rockbrook guides steering the rafts down the river, and the sheer novelty of the experience, my hunch is that whitewater rafting is particularly fun for our girls because it is foremost a lighthearted social experience. More so than other adventure sports, rafting is a group event. All down the river, the girls in each boat are together, chatting with each other, singing songs, and reacting to all the bumps and splashes. In particular, each rapid of the river provides an opportunity to laugh hysterically when someone falls into the boat, or even bounces out into the river unexpectedly. Rafting, especially with a group of girls, is simply fun and funny in this way.

Likewise, even though some might wish for something warmer, I think rafting on the Nantahala river is extra fun because the water is always about 53 degrees. It makes every splash more intense, and if someone gets in the water, you can only imagine how that can produce quite a shocking scream!

We’ll be doing more rafting as the session progresses, but for now you can see more photos in the online gallery. It was a great day on the water… Warm and sunny weather, 7 Rockbrook rafts, almost 50 people, and a special experience for everyone.