The Wheel of Fun

Camp girl riding zip line

It being the 4th of July weekend, we all stayed close to home and enjoyed activities in camp today. This part of North Carolina is a popular tourist destination… even more so this weekend … so to avoid the crowds, we thought it a good idea to do things in camp.  For example, our zip line was humming with action all day today. Located in the woods a short distance up the trail leading to Castle Rock, the zip line begins with a high suspension bridge strung between two massive boulders. Wearing a helmet and a harness clipped into a safety cable is essential both to support the campers should a foot slip, but also to give them a small boost in confidence from the cable’s reassuring tug. The suspension bridge is a little “freaky,” as one girl put it, because it’s wobbly and (intentionally!) missing a few planks. Staring down through the gaps in the planks is indeed a little disconcerting, but it really makes you concentrate as you take each step. At the end of the bridge, perched high on the rock, the campers then clip their pulley into the zip cable. Here a little bravery is called for because the first step is out into the air with about 50 feet of nothing below.  Immediately, you are accelerating down the cable, flying by the Hi-Up cabin and zipping 450 feet across to the other side of the camp. It’s a thrilling ride! The zip ends gently over an inclined platform, where it’s just a matter of standing up and unclipping your pulley from the cable.  “Time for one more zip?” You bet!

Girl sharp shooter

One of the benefits of attending a full session of camp, and especially this 4-week (our longest) session, is that the girls can really dig into their favorite activities, signing up for them several times if they like.  The kayakers can take trips to more advanced rivers, the weavers can start more elaborate projects, and the girls can really improve their skills whether its their tennis serve, their archery or riflery aim, their one-handed cartwheel, or dive at the lake. These talents can take extra time to develop, so having a chance to do more while at camp can make a difference. And on the other hand, a longer session means having more opportunity to try new things, to experiment with something that might even become a new favorite. Have you ever tried acting, rock climbing, or dance? At a long session, you certainly can.

Camp wheel spin game

This is the “Wheel of Fun.” It is mounted on the wall in our dining hall, and is a huge hit with the campers. Reminiscent of other “clicker wheels” (think of game shows like “Wheel of Fortune” and “The Price is Right,” for example), a person spins it, hoping it will stop spinning on a something desirable. Our wheel has things like “Candy” and “Muffins,” but also “Dress a Director,” “Cabin Cheer” (work together as a cabin and present a cheer to everyone at the next meal) and “Dance Break” (pick a song to play during the next meal so that everyone can get up and dance). Girls also hope to avoid some of the spots, though… things like “Polar Bear” (which means the whole cabin jumping in the lake before breakfast), or “Lose a Turn.” We don’t spin the wheel at every meal, but when we do, it’s very exciting for everyone. We pick the person to spin by narrowing down the group with a series of criteria. It’s different every time, but it goes something like this. Chase, who often does it, will say “Stand up if your hair is in a ponytail.” And about 100 campers and staff members will stand. Then she’ll narrow it down by saying, maybe, “Stay standing if you’re wearing red.” Then maybe, “Stay standing if you have or had braces.” She’ll keep this up until there’s one lucky person still standing who gets to spin the wheel. All of the items on the wheel apply to the whole cabin, so as it’s spinning, everyone is quivering with anticipation, and when the wheel stops, the whole dining hall explodes with cheers. All in all, the “Wheel of Fun” is something we do simply because that’s what it is— fun… big fun for everyone.

Almost Irrelevant Rain

Well, yesterday I spoke too soon, bragging a bit about our great timing in the midst of this unusually wet weather pattern, for today was a truly rainy day. We had rain overnight, rain this morning during breakfast, during rest hour, and except for an occasional break, all afternoon and into the evening too. I suppose we should have expected it, with the forecast using “100%” to describe the chance of precipitation, and that green/yellow/orange color on the radar maps all the way down through Florida. Still, when it comes to your raincoat, or what around here we call a “dew coat” (rain is just a “heavy dew,” right?), it feels odd to need it all day long.

You might think flooding would be an issue with all this rain, and that would be correct for the French Broad River, which has now crested its banks and has turned many local sod and corn fields into expansive lakes. Rockbrook though, with the exception of a few of our horseback riding fields, is high above the flood zone, set on the hill between Dunn’s Rock and Castle Rock. For us, this kind of heavy rain swells our creeks creating more powerful, rushing waterfalls. Over many years, we’ve learned to channel this water, and send it strategically through pipes and down various gutters and ditches. The camp facilities do quite well, even with this much rain… almost 4 inches today total.  Wow!

Camp girl on gymnastics bar
Girls Climbing Wall
Kid playing dodgeball

Our camp people are quite well too. Beyond the fact that most of our activities can carry on either because they are suited to being indoors, in our gym, on a porch, or one of the stone lodges or activity cabins, or because they can be reshaped to happen inside (climbing our indoor wall instead of the Alpine Tower, for example), there is something about our “outdoor lifestyle” at camp that makes rain almost irrelevant.  Living outside most of the time, we grow used to being a little wet, a tad bit muddy, and cool enough to wear long sleeves at night. We actually enjoy hearing the rain on the roof at night, feeling the warmth on our hands from a fire in the lodge fireplace, and snuggling in our cozy cabins. This weather… Although I’ll admit a little less of it would be nice! … seems like a natural part of our camp experience. While the sky might be crying, at Rockbrook, we aren’t sad we’re getting wet.

Girls laughing at shaving cream fight
Girl camp slip n slide

When you’re a little wet already, one idea is to celebrate it, and get even messier. That’s exactly what about half the camp chose to do this afternoon when we pulled out the slip-n-slide and a dozen cases of shaving cream. With only the occasional slight drizzle overhead, the girls attacked each other with foam spraying. They painted each other with the stuff, drawing designs on backs, “six packs” on stomachs, and twisting extreme hairstyles. Being covered with slippery shaving cream also makes for quite a ride down a wet sheet of plastic. This is the kind of mischievous fun, in this case that’s surprisingly sanctioned, that’s also completely hilarious. The girls, and quite a few counselors too, laughed and laughed as they got messier and messier, pausing once in a while to slide down the hill on their stomachs or knees.

Girls squirting each other

Tonight was the last night for our first July mini session girls, and also the night of their closing “Spirit Fire” campfire. The rain made holding the program inside the Hillside lodge a good idea. So with a huge fire roaring in the fireplace, all the mini session girls and their counselors spread out on the floor in Crazy Creek chairs to sing traditional camp songs and hear tributes to all the successes of the session.

Spirit Fire Campfire girls

Several girls from each line (Juniors, Middlers and Seniors) stood and spoke about their experience at Rockbrook, what they learned, the friends they’ve gained, and why they love camp so much. In the same way, both new and returning staff members made remarks. Sarah always speaks at the end of our Spirit Fires, and tonight she reminded us about how “the ‘Spirit of Rockbrook’ inspires kindness and generosity,” and how she hoped everyone would carry that spirit home with them. The small candles everyone lights at the end of the program likewise represent the “Spirit of Rockbrook.” With their candles lit, the girls formed a circle on the hill to sing one last song. It was a gorgeous sight… misty mountains looming in the background, dim blue hazy sky overhead, and the warm yellow glow from more than one hundred candles… All these girls and young women bonding in this special way, in this special place.

Only the Beginning

First Day at the Archery RangeCareful StitchingWhen asked what my favorite day of camp is (an unsurprisingly frequent question around here, considering the sheer number of exciting events that pepper our schedule), I almost always say Banquet Day. The final Tuesday of camp, two days before parents return to retrieve their daughters, thrums with mounting anticipation, as all but the oldest campers (or CA’s, who plan the event) mill about the outside of the closed-off Dining Hall, eager to find out the secret theme of the final Banquet. The girls have all become perfectly at ease with each other and with themselves by these final days of camp—they stroll through the camp that has come to feel like their very own in just a few short weeks, headed for one last dip in the lake, or to polish off the final coat of glaze on their piece de resistance in pottery.

In the evening, all that easiness lifts into jubilation, as the girls laugh through the Banquet skits put on by the CA’s, indulge in the delicious dinner and candy spread across the tables, and dance to the music coming through the loudspeakers. The campers know that this is their last chance to let loose and act goofy before the return to the real world, and you can sense their determination to make the most of it.

The sheer energy that pervades Banquet Day is what gives it the top spot in most Rockbrook girls’ camp memories—including mine. But walking through camp today, stopping in for a while on every activity I passed, I realized that the first full day of camp just might deserve some more acclaim.

Just Hangin' AroundThe girls are nervous, sure, and certainly much quieter than they will be three weeks, two weeks, or even one week down the road. They explore this new space tentatively, poking heads through cabin doors, and quizzing passing counselors on which path leads to Nature Nook, and which leads to the barn. They still have their best manners on, those “please’s” and “ma’ams” that have guided them through long days at school. They place novice hands on looms, clay, and canoeing paddles, and laugh nervously when they stumble through their first tries.

But as the day goes on, if you pay close attention, you can see those polite shells that the girls have spent the whole school year crafting begin to crack. Smiles become quicker, laughs become louder, and footsteps on uneven mountain paths become surer.

You get to watch as the campers realize (or remember, for the returners) just what they’re in for here at Rockbrook—that this is the sort of place where, if you were suddenly to get the urge to put on a crazy costume for no reason, no one would look twice, and more than likely, others would hurry to join you in dressing up; where, while we place a premium on treating others with respect, no one expects you to tiptoe through those tricky rules of courtesy set up in school; where no one cares about the labels on your clothes, the school crest on your backpack, or the grades on your last report card—they only want to know if you want to join in the tetherball tournament.

By dinner time, the Dining Hall is twice the volume it was at breakfast. Girls excitedly fill in their cabin mates and counselors on what they did that day, returning campers teach the camp songs to the new ones, and the Hi-Ups lead the rest of the camp in song after song, creating a happy din that spreads out from the Dining Hall, all across the still camp.

Ready, Aim...As energized and as vibrant as the Dining Hall has become in just twenty-four hours though, there is a long way to go yet before we reach the levels of Banquet Day. Over the next two or four weeks, these girls will face experiences that challenge them, that push them past their comfort zones, that make them laugh, make them cry, make them dance, make them sing, make them create, and make them wish that they could stay longer and experience even more.

That’s what makes this first day so exciting: today is the day they get the first sense of what awaits them in the days ahead. But all of that is still to come—today was just the start.

Making a Splash

Painted Fun

Girl climbing alpine towerGirl climbing high ropes course at summer campOut in the woods behind our gym, a 50ft tall, high ropes climbing tower, our “Alpine Tower,” sees daily action. Campers can sign up to climb it (or the climbing wall in the gym if it’s rainy) as one of their 4 activity periods. It provides the perfect introduction to rock climbing because it introduces girls to the same equipment (helmets, harnesses, locking carabiners, and kernmantle ropes) and techniques like belay commands, knots, footwork and balancing principles. The tower is triangular with three sides each with different obstacles and climbing challenges, so three girls can climb on it simultaneously. Also, each side presents dozens of different routes to the top making it easy to find a find challenge each time you climb.  The are swinging logs, cargo nets, overhanging walls, dangling ropes, parallel posts, and of course all different sized handholds, all requiring a different move to reach the top platform. Once they make it up, the girls enjoy a tree-top view before being gently lowered down on their belay rope.

Teens sitting in waterfallTransylvania County, where we are located, dubs itself the “Land of Waterfalls” because there are hundreds nearby created by the many creeks and streams tumbling off the mountains over enormous rocks. Over the centuries, many of these waterfalls have created beautiful pools of water below that provide a fantastic experience for a brave swimmer. It takes a little courage to swim at the bottom of a waterfall. The churning foam looks intriguing, reminiscent of a hot tub, but the crashing sound and slapping force of the falling water conveys a special power that must be approached carefully.  The water pushes you around. Also, it’s no secret that the water around here is brisk… or let’s call it “refreshingly nippy,” and nothing like a hot tub. The exhilaration of the water temperature and the intensity of it pounding all around you, is a huge thrill. The Hi-Ups (our 10th grade campers) experienced this today when they spent the afternoon at one of our favorite swimming holes. Did they scream? Oh, yes. Was it awesome fun? Definitely.

Camp color runOur evening program tonight was a special all-camp event that was surely a unique experience for the girls. It began with a “color run.” For those interested (it was fine to opt out), they put on an old t-shirt and ran through a gauntlet of counselors armed with brightly colored, powdered paint (non-toxic of course). After a little spray of water at the start, the paint stuck to the girls giving them an colorful, tie-dyed look. This led them down to the gym of a color paint dance party put on by our favorite local DJ Marcus. We passed around glow sticks and used even more colorful glow paint and face paint to magnify the colorful dance lighting Marcus included in his show. This was all so much fun! The girls laughed and played for 2 solid hours, pausing for photos, showing off silly dance moves, and signing along to their favorite pop songs.  With no boys around and everyone, counselors and campers, so fully engaged, they felt even more at ease and willing to be painted. Be sure to check out the photo gallery of this event to see how much we all enjoyed it.

girls colorful dancing Children dancing with face paint

Camp Mastery

Girls yoga class pair poseMany of the girls at Rockbrook are becoming yoga masters thanks to MK and her extraordinary yoga class. Set in the beautiful, stone hillside lodge (which by the way would be a nice place for a wedding ceremony), there’s plenty of room on the hardwood floor for purple yoga mats. MK plays calm music and begins each class with stretching and relaxation exercises, before introducing 2 or three new Yoga poses. There seems to be an endless variety: tree, half and full pigeon, lotus, warrior, eagle, plank, child, frog and bridge poses. Some poses require two people to balance and harmonize together, adding even more challenge and interest.

Camp girls climbing tower wearing polka dot pantsThe alpine tower climbing activity is likewise producing master climbers. Many girls have by now had multiple chances to climb, to work their way up, over and around the different obstacles of the tower. They’ve leaped across the Swinging Logs, scrambled along the Cargo Nets, and carefully balanced up the Corporate Ladder. They’ve done pullups over the Squirrel’s Nest, and enjoyed the ride down from the 50-foot-tall platform at the top. Some girls fearlessly flip upside down for a moment while being lowered (something they call doing a “spiderman”), while others simple hold on anxiously ready to reach the ground.

The afternoon brought the return of the “Redbird Olympics,” an all-camp event of games and relay races we hold down on our lower sports field. We first divided everyone into three teams (Red, White and Blue) making sure to include campers from all three age groups on each team. Each team then built their team spirit by dressing in their color, adding some face and body paint, and creating a team chant. While members of each team competed in different races, the others cheered them on. Pairs of girls tied a leg together for a 3-legged race. Other pairs squared off for a water balloon toss. Groups of 8 raced to thaw a frozen t-shirt by pulling and squeezing it, but also putting it under arms, on bellys and other warm body parts. Oddly, these were races, but we didn’t keep score as the groups rotated through the different activities, making it irrelevant which team “won” in the end. Funny how things can be more fun if you don’t keep score.

three-legged race kids frozen t-shirt relay race camp girls enjoying slip n slide

The highlight of the afternoon, however, was the slip ‘n slide and shaving cream battle that followed the relays. With bright, warm and sunny weather, getting wet and flying down a long, slightly soapy, piece of plastic is just great fun. Some girls launched themselves on their stomachs and others on their knees, but it didn’t take long for many of them to be sliding the entire 100 feet of the plastic slide. When the bottles of shaving cream came out next, it was nothing but squeals of delight as the girls raced around trying to slap white foam on each other. Soon arms and backs were slippery and white, but faces and hair quickly followed, with some girls ending up completely covered in shaving cream. Mastery again! Nobody was safe from getting at least a little of the white stuff on them, staff members and directors alike! The girls absolutely loved this whole scene. You can tell by that mischievous gleam in their eyes and the huge grin on their faces. Be sure to scroll through the photo gallery; you’ll see what I mean.

Camp shaving cream fight Camp girls and shaving cream

With everyone smelling so good after a quick shower, we announced during dinner that (surprise!) tonight we would have a square dance with High Rocks Camp for Boys. Our Senior girls would go there and they would bring their younger boys to Rockbrook so we could hold two dances simultaneously. Everyone was a bit shy at first, but with the help of the caller, soon gained confidence and learned the moves of the Virgina Reel, and basic square dancing. After a quick breaks for cookies and pink lemonade, the last few dances were even more lively and fun. A the end of the night on the bus ride home, I could tell that what began initially as skepticism about this being a “square” dance, had changed into chatter about how much fun they had meeting the boys and laughing at the mistakes everyone was making while dancing. These Rockbrook girls are so friendly and always quick to smile, they know how to enjoy themselves.

Wow, what a great day in the Heart of this Wooded Mountain!

Looking Glass Rock Climbing

One of the best rock climbing areas in the Southeast is Looking Glass Rock. Rising almost 1000 feet from the forest floor, Looking Glass is a dome-shaped mass of granite near Brevard in the Pisgah National Forest. It can easily be seen from the Blue Ridge Parkway nearby. For rock climbers it offers a fantastic variety of sport, friction, face, crack and even aid climbing routes suitable for the beginning, intermediate and advanced climber. Circling the domed rock are well-known climbing areas: the Nose, South Side, Sun Wall and North Wall. On the southeastern side of the rock, there is a popular tourist trail for hiking to the summit.

Rockbrook camper Joanna climbing looking glass rock
Rockbrook Camp Girl Joanna on Looking Glass Rock

Here’s a photo of a Rockbrook camper on the Nose (5.8).  Rockbrook is located only about 15 miles from Looking Glass.  After topping out our own climbs on Castle Rock, our camp rock climbing program brings girls to Looking Glass, as well as other climbing areas in this region of North Carolina.  There’s a lot of rock to climb around here, and the girls love it!

Learning LNT

Leave No Trace Mark and TaraToday Rockbrook welcomed Mark Ardagna and Tara McCarthy from the Leave No Trace organization. They are currently traveling around the country on an e-tour, providing educational programs for young people that use the Leave No Trace principles to promote responsible enjoyment of the outdoors. Rockbrook was very fortunate to have Mark and Tara spend the day with us and present several workshops to our campers. Leave No Trace (LNT) is a nonprofit, educational organization dedicated to “responsible enjoyment and active stewardship of the outdoors by all people.”  It advocates seven principles (not so much rules) to minimize negative impact on the environment from outdoor activity weather it be a camping trip in the woods or simply walking your dog in a city park.

Leave No Trace Principles know before you go choose the right path trash your trash leave what you find be careful with fire respect wildlife be kind to other visitorsAddressing these principles, Mark and Tara discussed with the campers what it means to plan and prepare for outdoor activity, the importance of traveling and camping on durable surfaces, disposing of waste properly, preserving what we find outdoors, safely minimizing campfire impacts, how to respect wildlife, and being considerate to other people when out.  They led an observation activity where the girls broke into small groups and studied a small area of the forest enclosed by a circle of string.  The girls were surprised just how many different organisms were in such a small area of the forest, and how the more they looked, the more they noticed.  Imagining the entire forest, something many, many times larger than their small circle of string, the girls really understood how following the LNT principles can have such a huge impact. Everyone really enjoyed meeting Mark and Tara and we all appreciated learning so much from them.

Tower climber blindfoldedCamper upside down climbing the alpine towerHidden in the woods along a short trail behind our gym is Rockbrook’s Alpine Climbing Tower. This is a 50ft-tall high ropes course with almost 100 different climbing challenges available for the girls. They receive their first introduction to rock climbing here by learning about the safety equipment (helmet, harness, shoes, carabiners, etc.), the belay commands to make sure their belayer (the person holding the belay rope) is ready and working, and the important climbing techniques needed to make progress up the tower or rock. Girls of every age group can sign up for climbing and try the tower, from the littlest Juniors to the tallest Seniors. In addition to climbing one of the routes up the Alpine Tower or tackling one of the challenge elements like the “Cargo Net,” the girls can try and climb blindfolded.  This of course adds a degree of difficulty to the climbing, but it also tends to calm you down and slow you down, thereby allowing you to concentrate on the climbing instead of how high in the air you are.  It’s a strange wonderful feeling and a great climbing exercise.  There’s also a trick the girls often do after they climb and as their belayer lowers them on their belay rope.  They pause mid-air and flip upside down, “Spiderman” style… in true Rockbrook fashion, “just for the fun of it.”

Girls dancing at middler camp dance Senior campers enjoy camp dance

The highlight of the evening, as you may be able to guess from these two photos, was our dance with Camp Carolina for Boys, our two dances I should say because we held two simultaneously: one here at Rockbrook for the younger set, and one over there for our older girls. We’ve found over the years that splitting the girls and boys up by age allows us to adjust the music and the feel of the dance to match the different interests of 13-year-old and an 8-year-old, for example. Some girls are happy to opt out of the dances altogether, so we always provide an easy way for them to do that, to team up for a “dance alternative” activity of some sort involving an art project and snack.

These dances are a lot of fun for the girls, even if they sometimes start out with a few jittery nerves as well. Fortunately, the counselors are there to help with this, to dress a little silly, not making a big deal about their looks, to be carefree about their dance moves (again, goofy is good!), and to encourage group dances. No pressure, just the fun of being together.

Camp is an Adventure

Outdoor Adventure StruggleCamp is an adventure! It is because it gets girls outside for all kinds of exciting activities. Climb high up a real rock! Paddle a raft down through whitewater rapids. Sleep in the woods far from the “comforts of home.” These, and other outdoor activities, are just plain thrilling.

But why is that? What makes something a thrilling “adventure?”

The answer might be a little surprising, but it actually boils down to danger. It’s true; an adventure activity always carries a degree of risk. It’s an activity where we “take a risk in the hope of a favorable outcome” (as my dictionary puts it). So for example, rock climbing includes the risk of falling. Whitewater boating has the risk of capsizing, and when camping in the wilderness there’s always a chance of horrible weather (among other things!).

But of course adventure isn’t about getting hurt or experiencing some disaster (there’s safety training and equipment to help with that). It’s about avoiding danger despite the threat of it. Adventure is about overcoming the difficulty and conquering the fear associated with an activity.

Adventure activities are thrilling because we can actually do them despite the risk. Through our own efforts, applying specialized knowledge and skills, we succeed in the face of possible failure. Sure it might be a struggle, but it feels great. Yes, an adventure activity can be difficult, but also really exciting to face it and win!

That’s why, incidentally, adventure activities are so good for boosting kids’ confidence.

Being at Rockbrook provides so many great ways to be adventurous, opportunities to try activities that may look a little scary, but then with the right instruction, encouragement and role models, to also manage the risks and cope beautifully with the challenges involved. Very cool stuff!