Habits of Wonder and Joy

There were several special off-camp adventure trips available for the girls today. Beyond our regular short hikes, ziplining, and rock climbing here at camp throughout the week, these were chances to get out and see more of the amazing natural beauty of this area.

camp girls on backpacking trip
Camp girls paddle boarding

A nice group of Middlers and Seniors signed up to go backpacking and camping in the Pisgah Forest. With their gear and provisions stowed in their packs, the crew began by hiking for a little less than an hour to a secluded camping site nearby John Rock. This rock is a fantastic destination. At an elevation of about 3200 feet, it provides a stunning view of the larger Looking Glass Rock across the valley formed by the Davidson River. When the girls emerged from the forest to reveal that view, jaws literally dropped and gasps of “oh wow!” proved how incredible it was. Cooking s’mores over their campfire, sleeping in a cozy tent, and enjoying that view together made everyone happy they signed up for the trip.

The next morning, several of those same backpacking girls wanted to join a rock climbing trip heading to Pilot Rock, another slab in Pisgah. So without returning to camp, these high adventurers joined the group heading out for a day of climbing. Two routes, one called “Chopped” and the other “400 Foot Rope,” kept everyone busy, and at the top thrilled by another amazing view of the surrounding mountain peaks.

Meanwhile, a full van of whitewater kayakers left camp for the day on the Tuckasegee river in Swain County. Including our three instructors, this was a group of 15 boats, making an impressive, colorful sight as these Rockbrook girls navigated their way through each rapid.

And then out at Lake Julia in the Dupont State Forest, another group of girls joined a session of paddle boarding. They enjoyed the warm sunny weather to explore the calm secluded lake, and even to do a bit of yoga balancing on the boards. Another gorgeous location for a day of adventure.

water slide plunge

In addition to the wow factor, the intensity of these outdoor experiences, there’s a subtle lesson they teach. It’s that the natural world is a wonderful place, quite literally full of wonder. By getting outside and immersing ourselves in a natural environment, like we do everyday at Rockbrook, we inevitably have unfamiliar yet fascinating experiences and encounter amazing things. Around here we almost come to expect that fascination— the pounding roar of a waterfall, the sharp call of a whippoorwill, the jolt of swimming in a chilly lake, the flash of a skunk waddling across our path at night, for example. Over time, as the days unfold at camp, we learn that if we open ourselves to new experiences (and this is made easier in a caring, supportive camp community), the world will provide rewarding moments of beauty, amazement, and wonder. Instead of feeling suspicion or hesitation, Rockbrook girls grow more curious and inspired to explore new things, fully expecting to be delighted in the process. Camp life fosters this habit, and later we hope, can serve as a resource enriching your girls experience long into the future.

happy camp kid
Camp shaving cream friends

At camp, there’s also the habit of joy, of unbridled hilarity, that we all relish. What illustrates this better than a shaving cream fight? Tonight’s twilight event proved it as more than 100 bottles of shaving cream were squirted, slathered and re-smeared all over the girls (those who chose to participate). Dressed in their swimsuits, the girls wasted no time emptying those cans, racing about slapping the slippery white foam all over each other. They would run to get away from a pursuing friend, slowing down just enough to be caught and splattered, laughing hysterically the entire time. We pulled out a sheet of plastic for a slip-n-slide too, which works beautifully when you are covered with shaving cream, by the way. No soap needed! It was another camp moment when the simplest thing elicited incredible happiness. The girls were having such full-out fun, they were beside themselves, falling down almost unable to get up, laughing so completely they were speechless.

It was an excellent day of adventure and silly fun, and of wonder and joy.

camp child slip and slide

Entertained and Inspired

With all the in-camp activities humming along here at Rockbrook, populating the daily online photo gallery, it’s easy to forget that there are daily adventure trips going out too. Girls can choose to go on a “wet and wild” hike through a stream, as the Hi-Ups did today for example. They can take their first kayaking trip on moving water like the Middlers did today on the French Broad river. Or, as another trip went out this morning, our rock climbers can spend the day climbing at Looking Glass Rock or Cedar Rock in the Pisgah Forest. You may not see as many photos of these activities in the gallery, but they have been going strong all week.

Camp adventure backpacking girlsA group of fourteen Middlers and Seniors had a memorable backpacking trip today. Led by Clyde, Jayne, A.M. and Savannah, the crew loaded two buses with packs, tents, cooking gear and food for the overnight and set out to the higher elevations north of the Blue Ridge Parkway. At the trailhead, they divided into two smaller groups to hike in different directions and ultimately to convene at a designated campsite for the night. This area near Flat Laurel Creek is littered with wild blueberry bushes, which are right now coming into season, so the girls enjoyed picking and eating the berries as they hiked. With their tents pitched and dinner wrapped up, Clyde led the girls up the steep trail to the top of Sam Knob mountain (elev. 6055ft) to watch the sunset. The amazing 360 degree view up there was just perfect for watching the sun dip through patchy clouds and ultimately behind the distant mountains.

The next morning the girls had a rare, fascinating encounter. While they were exploring a nearby waterfall and rocky overlook, a black bear raided their backpacks! The crew had finished eating breakfast and breaking down their campsite, and as they ventured further down Flat Laurel Creek to explore, they left their packs in a pile near the trail. This took about 45 minutes, but when they returned it was obvious that some animal had torn into the top of a couple of the packs and found a ziplock bag of trail mix.  Looking around, they spotted the bear nearby in the woods. It had dragged one of the backpacks away, but as Clyde yelled and waved his arms, the bear retreated from the pack and soon ran off. The girls were excited to see the bear and not frightened since it was clearly not menacing. Ordinarily, it’s the sunset hike that’s the highlight of this trip, but this time it was the bear.

Meanwhile back in camp, it was time for the circus! We announced a whole evening of circus-themed activity complete with costumes, fun music and games, and a professional acrobatics show by the NC troupe “Imagine Circus.”

circus camp counselor costumecamper circus costumeIt all started with the girls dressing in their best circus attire —scores of clowns and colorful performers —making dinner festive good fun. When suddenly a nine-foot tall (stilt walker) jester ducked into the dining hall to announce the acrobatics show in the gym, the girls seemed dumbfounded. Every eye in the dining hall followed this golden-winged jester as she strode among the girls answering their questions.

Just after dinner, during our twilight time, we further set the mood by serving cotton candy and popcorn, perfecting our circus costumes further, working on face paint, cracking glow sticks (more color!) and getting even more excited for the show.

And what an amazing show it was! Using a 25-foot tall, pyramid-shaped structure and other props, the performers, who were all female, impressed everyone with an array of aerial and ground acrobatics set to music. They hung in the air by silks, held unbelievable poses with suspended hoops, and showed incredible strength, coordination and balance jumping and flipping. Every trick seemed more amazing than the last, and the crowd showed its appreciation with louder and louder cheers as the show progressed. It was inspiring for the girls to watch these powerful women confidently perform such extremely difficult physical maneuvers.

circus acrobat showcircus camp fire performanceThe show’s finale included batons and hoops set on fire! As the performers danced and leapt about, swirling their flaming props in the dark, the campers applauded in a standing ovation. Entertained and inspired, they absolutely loved the whole show!

crazy summer camp costumes

Backpacking Reflections

Every week at Rockbrook, we offer adventure trips out of camp where the girls can hike, swim, paddle or climb in the nearby National or State forests. These trips are always optional; like all the activity offerings here, the girls themselves select whichever they like. Often how they select involves considering who among their friends will also be signing up, what they’ll be missing when out of camp, and sometimes a consideration of what seems new and interesting.

Today a group of girls returned from a backpacking trip through a high elevation area in the Pisgah Forest. Clyde and Jane led the trip that included visiting a waterfall on the Flat Laurel Creek and a morning hike to the summit of Sam Knob (elev. 6050 ft). The girls took some time during the trip to reflect and write about their experience, so I thought it would be nice to publish some of their thoughts. When you read what they wrote, it’s clear they really got a lot out of the experience.

Teen hiking

“Though it doesn’t even come close to the excitement and wackiness of Jayne and Clyde’s Everglades adventures that Jayne recalled as we sat around the fire, here is a little recap of our overnight hike. Started with a 45-minute bus ride where I talked with Sarah Jane and Mae about our favorite Netflix movies, our dogs, and our favorite thing about our houses.Then a simple but gorgeous (and mostly flat!) hike to the campsite. Collapsed onto the ground with our packs still buckled. Pitched tents with no help and relaxed in Mae’s Eno hammock. While the burritos warmed on the fire Clyde made, we played the World Map game where we shared memories from our childhood home and where we want to be at age 25. I stood on my tiptoes on a small piece of moss to show how tiny Rhode Island is. That was one of my favorite parts of the whole trip because I learned a lot about people such as: Mia lives in London and used to live in Germany. Jayne told stories around the campfire. Then s’mores (we polished off a 64 marshmallow bag… Ooops). Peed in the wilderness. Bonded with tent mates as we successfully removed two mating daddy longlegs and a moth, then talked about life. Clocked out at 11ish. Then up and at ‘em at 5:15am for sunrise hike! HA HA just kidding. Mother Nature decided to rain on our parade so back to bed until 8:30. Woke up (part 2) to oatmeal and packing then stunning waterfall, then top of Sam Knob then back to the bus. I’d say first overnight hike = GREAT SUCCESS!!” — Ellery

Teen Hiking Girls

“I’ll preface by saying that I am not someone who considers herself athletic. Not in the slightest. However, if you were to tell me that Rockbrook was offering a position on the same overnight hike that I just returned from, I’d accept that offer in a blink of an eye. This trip pushed me in so many ways and although the saying goes “nothing changes overnight” I certainly returned to base camp with a new notch on my belt that will (and already has) help me grow as a person. On this hike I learned that pitching a tent easily and very quickly reveals one’s inner character. Some think rationally and set up the tent within a matter of minutes. Others take their time cracking jokes and making fools of themselves. Some others offer their help without being asked. Some might lay low in the helping department (and in the hammock at the campsite) and provide entertainment. These characters discovered early on in the trip, continue to blossom and to take new forms. The trailblazer, the campfire storyteller, the pack mule who is more than willing to lessen another’s load, and the photographer, observing the action and capturing it as they relax on a sturdy rock. Each character is integral and a crucial part of the hiking experience. With each of these characters by my side, it suddenly became much easier to hike. It was the difference between exercise being a burden and an adventure.” — Sarah Jane

Campfire Hanging Out

“Well, it sure was a trip, but I enjoyed every bit of it. Being out in nature with friends is truly one of the most enjoyable experiences. Even when wet, dirty, and overall just disgusting, we can look past the inconveniences and still keep a good attitude. I know that this trip will definitely be held in my memory for many years. I made new friends, and got to know past friends even better. I learned new tricks, both for camping and for knot tying. It was a great first-time backpacking experience. I always felt strong and powerful, like I was ready to take on the world, one muddy trail at a time. Of course, I wouldn’t go it alone. I would travel far and wide, but I would never have to look for a friend because I would always have many with me. Even when clean clothes, games and food were short, we could spend time together to feel fresh, entertained and fulfilled. I think that’s why I was never hungry on the trip. Even though we hiked a lot, sweat a lot, and burned tons of calories, I survived on one burrito, some oatmeal, and trail mix. Truly fascinating. I guess being hot, sweaty, tired, and hungry is no match for the good feeling you get from being outside with friends. I could tell that I had a good time even when I wasn’t doing anything in particular. I would walk down the trail, red-faced and sticky, and I would be beaming, even when there wasn’t anything to smile at. It’s something I could get used to.” — Mae

Rock Water Hiking

“Over the whole trip we hiked 5 miles, saw many pretty views, and got to sleep in tents. Even though we were different ages we all bonded so much. We all learned something new about each person. It was beautiful. I have never seen anything like it. It was so magical and an experience I will never forget. When we woke up, we went on a hike to a waterfall. It was super special because we got to look behind us to see the top of the waterfall, and in front of us to see a view of some beautiful mountains. Then we went to the top of Sam Knob, and the view was breathtaking. I would not trade the experience for the world. Then we hiked back and we were all exhausted, but knew it was all worth it. Back to the first day, we hiked 2 miles in just under an hour. It did not feel long at all. It was not that steep. It felt pretty flat. When we got to our campsite someone was already there, so we went back to a vacant spot for us to sleep. We learned all about what to look for as a sign of a good campsite. We also learned how to leave no trace by packing it out. We had to figure out how to put up a tent with no help. After we got our sleeping situation all figured out, we sat around the campfire and learned a lot about where we all live and what we want to be doing when we’re 25. We ate our burritos and s’mores as we talked. Then played a few riddle games including black magic and the elephant game. Overall it was super fun, and an experience I will never forget.” — Mia

NC Meadow Hiking

“On this trip I experienced amazing new things that I never would have before. First, we hiked two miles of a straight path with a few muddy spots. It took us a little while to find the perfect camp spot but when we did it felt so nice to take our bags off. We set up camp and then made a campfire. Then we learned things about each other by playing world map while our burritos got warm by the fire. Even though some of the burritos were burnt, they were still delicious. Afterwards, we told stories and had s’mores. We played black magic, which I did not understand for a long time. Then we went to our tents because we were all exhausted. Even though we were really tired it took us a while to go to sleep. When we woke up at 5:15am we were even more tired. It started raining so we all decided to go back to sleep instead of seeing the sunrise. The second time we woke up it wasn’t raining and we went for a hike to a waterfall. It was gorgeous! By the end of the waterfall, my shoes and socks and feet were soaking wet, but at least it was so fun. Then we hiked to the top of Sam Knob. It was tiring, wet, and muddy, but all of that made the hike better. And when we finally got to the top it was one of the prettiest views I have ever seen. From beginning to end, this hike was and always will be an amazing memory I will never forget.” — Emma

NC Hike Overlook

“From the minute I hopped off the bus and felt the weight of the pack on my back, I knew I was in for something special. I have to say, knowing that I have never done a trip like this before I probably would have never learned as much as I did if I didn’t have Jayne and Clyde and Rebecca. They really just made the trip with the games and the hikes and their leave no trace knowledge. I feel so enlightened. I also learned a lot from the campers like how to set up a tent. Ha Ha. I don’t think I would have had the bravery to hike down that waterfall if I didn’t have them with me either. The waterfall ended up being the most exciting part of the hike. When I stood on that rock and looked at the view ahead I just felt everything in me break free. All the tension and tightness in my back from the pack just released off me. Those are the kind of feelings I live for. I am so lucky to have the opportunity to venture out of the city and feel the breath of life and see mountains of trees and never ending skies. I also love the huge space of just grass and flowers, the meadow where we dropped our backpacks off. It’s another whole feeling being in the mountains and this trip is one I will never forget.” — Karma

Teen Hiking Pose

A Real Adventure

We pulled up to the Fish Hatchery in Pisgah National Forest, ready for a backpacking overnight. In the van were four middlers, four seniors, and three staff members all ready and excited for the night that awaited us. We got all of our gear ready and spent time adjusting our backpacks before taking a picture and doing some basic introductions. Some of the girls were great friends while others just signed up because backpacking sounded exciting and new. After taking a ‘before’ picture, we were off to our campsite, Pickelseimer Fields (but at Rockbrook, we call it The Enchanted Forest) before heading to John Rock for sunset.

Hiking BuddiesOn the way to the campsite, girls talked and laughed, but mostly stayed in their age groups. We stopped a lot for water breaks and bathroom breaks, and the question, “Are we almost there?” was commonly heard. This is normal: backpacks make every hike more exhausting, and going uphill is particularly challenging. In between, though, we also practiced a bird call that could help us get each other’s attention (coo-ee) and we sang a few camp songs because they make even the most exhausting moments better.

We were in no hurry at all, and during the flat parts, we enjoyed crossing wooden bridges and walking through muddy patches. On parts of the trail, the trees formed a kind of tunnel and it became clear why it was called The Enchanted Forest. As we stopped for a water break after a particularly tiring hill, we started talking about the three types of fun. One of the seniors explained. Type 1 Fun is like the fun of a roller coaster or a nice day at the beach; it’s easy fun that does not require much effort, but also does not give much personal satisfaction. Type 2 Fun is like a long hike. It may be challenging as it is happening, but afterward, you look back at it and would do it again because it was fulfilling and meaningful. Type 3 Fun is something you would not want to do again but it gets you where you need to be (portaging a canoe or waiting out a lightning storm). While explaining this, the senior suggested that this hike was Type 2 fun and ensured the younger girls that they would look back at it and be proud they did it.

Even with stops and starts, we were at our campsite within thirty minutes of the time that we left the parking lot of the Fish Hatchery. We found a great campsite near a creek that had a big firepit and plenty of room for camping. Each age group had their own tent, so we encouraged everyone to quickly pitch their tents so we could catch the sunset at John Rock. As the girls were preparing their tents, two of us found a perfect sourwood tree over the creek to hang the bear bag. After eating a few snacks and getting more water, we were off for our hike.

At first, the hike was easy as we did not have backpacks weighing us down. We climbed over fallen trees and crossed creeks, hoping the sun was still up, though we could not see it through the branches. At one point, we came across a bees’ nest, and a couple of girls got stung. Everyone was a little shaken up, but none of the girls were allergic, so we decided to take a break and regroup. We have been trained in wilderness medicine, so we treated everyone’s stings and mostly tried to calm down as a group. As we treated stings, the seniors kept everyone else distracted and calm by getting to know the middlers. In fact, one of the seniors mentioned to me later that she was quite scared of the stings, but she knew that if she was calm about it, the middlers would be too. They started playing a game, “pancakes or waffles,” and slowly, everyone started to calm down, ready to continue hiking.

We looked at the map and decided that, if possible, we should not go back the same way we had just come (because of the bees). The trail looped in such a way that we could get back to the camp site by passing John Rock and going around a different way. We continued hiking as twilight hit, and we made it to John Rock while there was still light in the sky. The view took our breaths away. We were astonished by the vastness of the forest and by our smallness. Instantly after stepping on the rock, we all agreed that the journey was worth it.

Nightime Overlook

It’s a truth that I have found in hiking: no matter how difficult a journey may be, reaching the destination makes every moment of tiredness and every obstacle okay. You realize that it was always going to be okay, though you could not always see it, and the immediate reward makes any past adversity almost vanish from your mind.

After getting a few pictures and taking the view in, we decided it was time to head back to camp. We continued following our loop, ready with water bottles and flashlights. We walked and walked, and some girls got tired and nervous as we continued to check the map. We always knew where we were, but the hike did take longer than we originally anticipated because we were walking around a loop. We talked to the girls and showed them where they were, but we also let them take care of each other. The senior girls stepped in again, keeping up good spirits and laughing throughout the hike. They played games and assured the middlers that they had no reason to be scared.

The beautiful part of this story is that it worked. All of the girls who were nervous were able to dig in and keep walking further than they thought possible. At some point, everyone realized that asking how much further we had to go was counterproductive. We entered a point where we realized reaching our destination was something we would do together and only putting one foot in front of the other would help us get there. When we turned on to the bypass or realized we were at the final stretch, we all rejoiced together. When we saw the bear bag hanging over the tree on the creek, we cheered and hugged, relieved that we had all completed this adventure, supremely satisfied with the work we had just done. It was Type 2 fun (or as one senior said, Type 2.5 Fun), and we were filled up in a way that we had rarely experienced.

Hiking FoodWhen we got back to the campsite, we made a small fire and ate burritos. The girls roasted marshmallows and we read a few thoughts about teamwork that related to our journey. A former NOLS instructor, Morgan Hite, once reflected, “Life can be simple and this is a good place to experience that. We need to be tired and cold and hungry, and then make ourselves a hot meal and go to our sleeping bags to realize that life is complete and how rarely we experience that.” At the end of the day, we were tired and hungry, but we were able to work through these things because we were part of a team. We had everything we needed, but we never would have known it without going on such a journey.

The next morning, we ate oatmeal and effortlessly hiked out. There was lightness in the air as everyone talked and laughed, no longer divided by age groups, but bonded together by yesterday’s adventures. We no longer cared about wearing heavy backpacks or getting muddy shoes (it also helped that we were journeying downhill). The final thing we did was to take an ‘after’ picture, in the exact same positions we were in the day before.

Hiking Camp Girls

The picture was great, but could not accurately capture the journey we had been through together. We made an arc during this backpacking trip: we started somewhere and ended up somewhere different. Over the course of sixteen hours, the seniors were leaders and role models, pushing past their own tiredness or bee stings for the greater good of the group. The middlers became great team members and realized that, despite being pushed a little, they were able to accomplish whatever their goal was. The risk of real danger was low throughout the entire journey. We had a map, water, fully stocked first aid kit, and a lot of experience on our side.

Even so, our hike was real. The only way back was for all of us to work together, to pay attention, and to keep walking. We couldn’t take a shortcut or conjure a hot plate of food. But I think that is what makes backpacking such a profound experience. We work for everything we have, so even just arriving back to a tent site is cause for a celebration. We give ourselves a real-time challenge (getting to a destination) and we rely on each person we are with to help us solve it.

We got back a few days ago, and ever since we have been back, I have noticed the backpackers still look at each other a little differently. They still talk about their experiences, and we are making bracelets from the bear bag rope as a symbol of the bond. We all grew through the challenge, learned a lot about each other, and learned a lot about ourselves.

A Full Slate

Camp girl rock climbingcamp girls in NC hiking in high altitudeIn addition to the regularly scheduled activities at camp, the four hour-long periods during a typical day when every corner of the camp is busily occupied with girls and activity instructors working on craft projects or improving athletic skills, for example, there are also outdoor adventure trips going out. Some might be up to rock climb on our very own private Castle Rock or to hike on the camp property along the trail to Rockbrook Falls (a multi-tiered waterfall formed by Dunn’s Creek), or perhaps out of camp to one of the nearby rivers (e.g. the French Broad or Tuckaseegee) or into one of the public Forests (e.g., the Pisgah, Dupont or Nantahala). Whether in camp or out of camp, we often announce these trips during breakfast either the day before or on the very day they will happen. In this way, if a camper wants to climb Looking Glass Rock (as was offered today), she would sign up and then miss her regularly scheduled activities while gone. With several kinds of trips offered every day, this creates a dilemma of sorts for those girls who want to “do it all.” They have to choose… Kayaking or gymnastics and horseback riding… rock climbing or Needlecraft and archery, and so forth. It’s a great exercise in decision making, but also something that gives each girl even more power to set her own schedule while at camp, to customize it according to her newfound interests or in sync with her newly developed friendships. The girls can sign up for these special trips if they want to, but it’s also just fine if they prefer to stick with their schedule of activities in camp.

Well, that’s a long introduction to report that today we offered a full slate of adventure trips. While Andy took a group rock climbing to the Nose area of Looking Glass, Andria and Leland guided another group of 8 campers kayaking on a section of the French Broad River. Meanwhile Clyde introduced a group of Seniors to a feature in Pisgah by hiking to “Devil’s Courthouse” (elev. 5670 ft.) and Emily led a backpacking excursion to one of our favorite secret campsites in a different section of Pisgah. Rounding out the options, Rita and Jenny also offered trips down the Rockbrook zipline throughout the day. There were plenty of options for everyone to scratch their itch for adventure today.

Pottery Glazing child at summer campAt camp, both pottery studios today were happily pinching, rolling and coiling lumps of clay to make different pots and sculptures. Some campers have chosen to make slab mugs with different patterns pressed into the sides, creating textures with lace, leaves, or combs. They’ve cut shapes, for example different letters, scored and applied some “slip” to fuse them to their vessels. Several girls have been making face mugs complete with eyes, ears and eyebrows, as well as a nose and obvious lips. Other campers are sculpting realistic forms, for example dogs, rabbits, plenty of turtles and even a penguin. The last step, before firing them, is to chose different colors of glaze for the finishing touch on the projects.

Take a look at this short video Emily produced about the pottery program at Rockbrook. It shows campers working with clay and Michelle helping them throw pots on the wheels.

Camp girl learning to drumOur twilight drum circle returned tonight when Billy Zanski arrived with his array of different Djembe and Dunun drums from West Africa. Billy has played with Djembe master Bolokada Conde from Guinea, and teaches regular drumming classes in Asheville. Tonight he led us through several rhythms up in the Hillside Lodge with campers and counselors taking turns on all the drums. Sitting on benches arranged in a circle, several girls danced while others played.  The Djembes produce both high, mid and bass notes depending how your hand hits the head of the drum, and with almost 20 of them being played together it produced a really fun sound.  The Dunun (or Dundun) played alternating bass and mid tones setting the core beat.  There’s something infectiously fun about hearing group drum rhythms like this. We had the doors of the Lodge open so the whole hill was filled with cool drumming music, inspiring everyone outside to be more upbeat and dance a bit. For all of us, it was a fun musical evening. Cool stuff.

We have very exciting plans for tomorrow’s 4th of July celebration. It’s gonna be great!

Drastically Different

Camp girl sitting by a creekDuring another tour this week, I was struck how the setting at Rockbook is in many ways extreme. It’s so drastically different from the straight lines, smooth surfaces and pure tones of the outside, “civilized” world. Around here, the complex forces of nature, the curls and swirls of natural beauty, shape us and provide so many wonderful— wonder-filled —experiences… slabs of grey granite jutting from the ground at odd angles, clear streams sparkling in the sunshine, ancient trees too large to hug, tiny insects busy scavenging the ground, shaded by fractal-shaped ferns. Rockbrook has this organic feeling, and it’s something we cherish and foster. Rather than level every stepping stone, trim back each encroaching rhododendron branch, or eradicate all of the spiders that might wander into the showers, we want life at Rockbrook to include the natural world (at least a healthy, regular dose). It’s a priority that informs a great deal of what we do.

Camp is simply outdoor living. It’s a life immersed in, rather than shielded completely from, the weather. It’s a daily encounter with unfamiliar (and happy, given all the rain we’ve been having this summer!) plants. Tiny critters cross our path all the time. It’s a life that weaves mysterious forest sounds with the constant rush of water coming down the mountain. Camp means having a flashlight ready when it starts to get dark, belting a wide-eyed scream after jumping in our very unheated lake, and ultimately getting a little grubby most days… Perhaps I should say “extremely grubby,” in many cases. After all, these are enthusiastic children playing outside, and they’re not holding back. If you can imagine your girls living outside for this many days, probably not caring too much about how wet and grimy their clothes become, you might be extra cautious when you open their trunks back home! Fighting “Nature Deficit Disorder” like this, is just bound to be messy.

Camp horseback riding lesson for girlsHmmm… Maybe by insisting that our kids always be perfectly clean and starched, we are contributing to this deficit, compounding the negative effects associated with it.

The equestrian staff has been celebrating the recent stretch of dry weather we’ve all been enjoying. It’s been an extraordinarily wet summer this year, and that has been frustrating our riding program because when our fields are wet and muddy, they become too slippery to ride safely. Now, we are finally teaching mounted lessons all day long, helping girls learn the basics of horsemanship, and progressing to more advanced skills when they are ready. I think everyone —staff members, campers and horses alike— are happy to be busy riding.

Camp girls ready to go backpackingChristina, one of our fantastic Adventure Trip Leaders, led a group of girls backpacking and camping at a spot known by some as the “Enchanted Forest.” This truly is a magical place to camp. Tucked a couple of miles into the Pisgah National Forest, a large stand of White Pine trees lines both side of the trail as it follows a small stream. Decades worth of brown pine needles cover the ground with ferns and other clubmosses providing green accents. After packing in their tents, food and water, the girls spent a wonderful night in the forest— roasting marshmallows around their campfire, goofing around and chatting late into the night, and feeling a morning chill the next day.

Camp girls ready for whitewater actionAll of the mini session Middlers and Seniors who wanted to go whitewater rafting took their trip today. With a few remaining full sessions girls joining them, this turned out to be 55 campers. About half of those elected to spend the night beforehand at our Nantahala outpost property in Swain County. This is another chance to be outside and enjoy a campfire, complete with s’mores of course, before bed. The girls had a grand time singing songs, taking turns telling jokes, all while staring hypnotically at the flickering fire. Around 9am we met our veteran rafting guides and all of the RBC gear at the river’s put-in, and after suiting up and hearing the guides’ safety instructions, the rafting hit the water under glorious, bright sunshine. For the next two hours, it was a wild ride filled with laughing and squeals of delight with every crashing wave of the rapids.  This last photo was taken at the final big rapid called the “Nantahala Falls” and as you can see, it’s a great one. After a good sized hole at the top, all of the river channels in a Class III drop producing this kind of splash. It never fails to get everyone’s heart pumping, and once safely at the bottom, a smile on their faces.

Kids whitewater rafting on the Nantahala river

A Summertime Treat

Costumes for Mardi Gras DinnerMost meals at Rockbrook are served “Family Style” in our dining hall, with each cabin of girls sitting together at a table with their counselors and sharing platters of food. Throughout the day, everyone scatters across the camp to attend their individually chosen activities, so meals are a chance to reunite and talk about the events of the day. Tonight, however, we shifted gears entirely and rearranged the 26 individual tables in the dining hall to make 12 large tables, one for each month of the year, because tonight was “Birthday Night.” This is a special surprise dinner party where we celebrate everyone’s birthday on the same night by having all the counselors and campers sit according to the month of their birth. Tonight we made it a Mardi Gras themed dinner, so we decorated the dining hall with streamers, balloons, and posters, handed out shiny beads and masks, and encouraged everyone to dress in their best purple, gold and green.  There were so many great costumes! Some girls wore crazy wigs, or hats, lots of sunglasses, multi-colored tights, even fuzzy leg warmers. Rick prepared New Orleans style food for us too: Po’ Boy sandwiches (with lettuce, tomato and his homemade Remoulade sauce), grits with Andouille sausage, mixed berries, and Miss Vickie’s potato chips. But of course, the highlight of the night was the cakes, the 12 different birthday cakes Katie baked, each decorated by the Hi-Up campers to match a particular month. Depending on your birth month, your piece of cake was larger or smaller because the cake was divided by the number of people in that month (June had the highest number, and September the smallest number of people, by the way).  With Mardi Gras music playing, the girls had a grand time yelling “Happy Birthday” to each other (and to other celebrities), taking short dance breaks, and of course singing along to the music.

Girl concentrating on climbing towerIf you spotted our Alpine Climbing Tower in the woods driving up our north driveway (riding the shuttle bus on opening day), you know it’s an impressive structure. It’s almost 60 feet tall, is triangular shaped because of its pyramid design, and offers dozens of climbing challenges. Even more impressive is the climbing ability the girls have been showing on the tower lately. They are swarming all over the thing, hanging upside down, conquering every element (like the “Swinging Logs,” the “Missing Link” cargo net, and “Corporate Ladder,” for example), and even climbing up sections blindfolded! Karen, our lead photographer, took this photo (and others) today by climbing the tower herself and shooting from above. It’s hard to tell from this shot, but this camper is about 45 feet off the ground! I love the look of concentration in her eye. It shows a level of focused confidence that all excellent rock climbers rely upon. Awesome stuff.

Camp girl using lap loom with feet in creekCan you tell what’s happening in this photo? Blue yarn and white string, feet in some water, and a fork? It’s not a musical instrument (though I suppose it could be!). It’s a lap loom with a weaving project taking shape as the weaver sits with her feet in a creek. The fork is used to weave and tighten the weft as it traces back and forth taking shape along the warp. The creek beside the Curosty cabin, where weaving is taught at Rockbrook, carries water to fill our lake, and is generally a sunny spot in camp. That makes it very enticing as a perfect place to weave, chat with friends, and enjoy the cool water rushing by across your feet. Something this simple and wholesome, it’s relaxing, social and creative at the same time. Such a summertime treat.

Girls sitting at top of John RockHere we have the view from the top of John Rock looking east toward Looking Glass Rock. It’s one of our favorite spots to experience the amazing green-carpeted mountains of the Pisgah National Forest. A group of girls, led by Emily and Christina, backpacked and camped in the forest Monday night (tents, backpacks, water bottles, camping stoves to cook dinner and breakfast, etc.), and on the way back hiked to John Rock for this view. Their hike brought them through Cat Gap, which touches the Art Loeb trail, and looped back to the Pisgah Fish Hatchery… for a total of about 6 miles. I heard they had an overnight rain shower, but as you can see it was sunny and fair in the morning for the hike out, capping off an excellent trip.

Zip Line Fever !

Rockbrook's bridge to start the zip lineGirl camper riding the Rockbrook Camp zip lineThroughout the spring and even into the last few days, we’ve been busily working on a secret project, and today we announced it to everyone at breakfast. Rockbrook now has a zip line! Not a simple, backyard sort of thing, it’s a 450-foot long, professionally designed and built, zip line, making it one of the longest in this part of North Carolina! The idea came to us over the winter when we noticed several huge boulders in the woods behind the camp. One was high and looked like a perfect launching spot for a zip line, but getting to it meant crossing a deep chasm over a creek. What to do? Build a bridge!  But here too, we decided to make something fun, a bridge that would swing a little and because it was high in the air, would make your feet tingle and your heart race as you crossed it. The bridge ended up being about 100 feet long and about 60 feet in the air as it crosses from one boulder to the other. The girls wear a climbing harness and helmet, and are tethered by strong rope as they cross to hook into the special dual-wheel zip line pulley. The ride down the cable only takes about 15 seconds, so you can imagine how fast these girls are zipping. On the far end, across the camp over near the Junior cabins, there’s a gently sloping wooden platform that provides a soft landing. The person zipping just puts their feet down, and with the help of a staff member, walks up the platform to finish and unclip. It works great. Now our challenge is to let everyone in camp give it a try (if they want to) before the end of the session. I’m sure you’ll be seeing more photos of happy zipping children over the next few days!

Today Clyde took a group of Middlers and Seniors kayaking on the Tuckaseegee River, meeting up with Andria and Leland our main whitewater guides. The “Tuck” is a great intermediate level river for kayaking because it has plenty of rapids to challenge the girls, but also nice big eddies (calm areas behind obstacles in the river) and flat stretches for playing and instruction from the guides. Also today, Emily had a different group of girls backpacking in the Pisgah Forest nearby John Rock. With their tents, food and water, and other camping gear, they hiked in about 3 miles, spent the night and will return in the morning.

February decorated birthday cake at campTonight was also everyone’s birthday at dinner with the return of “Birthday Night,” a fun Rockbrook tradition where we rearrange the dining hall to allow the campers and staff to sit according to their birth month. This time the counselors in charge decided to create an “Under the Sea” theme, so many of the cakes, one for each month, were decorated with water-related features. The dining hall also decorated with colorful banners and several staff members dressed in costumes added to the effect. Boy we sang “Happy Birthday” a bunch of times, ate a lot of cake, and had a grand time.

Rockbrook camp girls sitting on a porch rocking chair Rockbrook girls heading to swim at the lake