Riflery is another activity that has been a part of Rockbrook since its founding almost 100 years ago. Learning the safety protocols and techniques for target shooting was a camp skill of sorts, something everyone learned, just like hiking, swimming and weaving, for example. Even today, most campers enjoy making their way down to the shooting range to fire our .22 caliber rifles. The girls shoot prone, aiming at their targets 50 feet away. The goal, of course, is to center their shots and hit a bullseye, being accurate with 5 shots per round. Getting all five shots within the concentric rings of the target is really good shooting. Every center shot earns the shooter a place in the bullseye club and her name announced in the dining hall.
Take a look at these painted ceramic beads, strung as a necklace and proudly worn around camp. They represent several ways this camper has been recognized as exemplary. The counselors nominate campers for these beads, and they are announced during the weekly assemblies. The one that says “Bend-A-Back” is awarded to campers who are seen helping another person around camp, or assisting the camp in some way, like picking up a stray piece of trash. “Ps & Qs” recognizes a camper for outstanding manners, usually in the dining hall. The central bead with the cardinal on it is especially meaningful. It’s the “Spirit” bead and it is given to those campers who are simply great Rockbrook Girls showing their love and enthusiasm for camp.
Tonight we took our full session Seniors to Sliding Rock. We started out with a fun picnic of hotdogs, watermelon and chips up in the forest, and afterwards made our way to the natural water slide to give everyone a chance to take the plunge. It’s a huge thrill for the girls to sit down in the chilly water at the top and scream as they make the slide down to the pool at the bottom. Just as we all finished our first slide down the rock, it began to rain, so we made a quick dash back to the buses and vans. Fortunately, everyone had a chance to slide at least once before the rain. Of course, a stop at Dolly’s Dairy Bar completed our night with a delicious cone of ice cream. After they finished eating, the girls had a wonderful time singing camp songs to all the other Dolly’s customers. To everyone’s surprise on the way home, we spotted a complete rainbow in the sky over Brevard. It was a rainy, sunny, silly night in the mountains of North Carolina. So fun!
Watch out for those climbers! All morning at the high ropes climbing tower set in the woods behind the gym, girls were scurrying up different elements to reach the 50-foot-high platform perched high in the trees. Three girls can climb on the tower at the same time, each pulling up on a different rope, log, or handhold. This allows the ordinary group of nine girls to climb multiple times during their 1-hour activity period. During the class of older girls, the climbing staff was teaching belay techniques, giving those interested a chance to run the rope for a climber. With the staff member keeping two hands on the rope as a backup, the girls had fun helping each stay safe while climbing… not to mention, climbing themselves!
Since it’s Wednesday, we paused our regular activity schedule in the afternoon for a chance to do something special as cabin groups. Ordinarily the girls run off and follow an individually selected set of activities, so it’s nice to do something together once a week. The cabin group and their counselors decide what to do too!
Today there were some really fun cabin day activities going on. One group hung out at the lake, while another took a hike to Rockbrook Falls. The CA girls did a blind trust walk led by their counselors, eventually ending up to watch a movie. Another Senior cabin enjoyed a “color war” of sorts on the hill. They all put on new white t-shirts and, armed with cups of colorful paint, had a hilarious time splattering each other and being joyfully messy. A cabin of Juniors decided to have an afternoon, outdoor spa experience that involved giving each other an avocado face mask complete with a cucumber eye treatment. Very fancy! There was a little joyful mess here too as the girls relaxed on the grassy hill by the creek allowing their cleansing treatments to do their work.
For all the Middler girls and their counselors, today was their chance to visit one of the most popular spots in the Pisgah National Forest— Sliding Rock. Like a little army of 100 people, we drove into the forest to have a picnic dinner and run around a bit. The kitchen packed us trays of hot pasta, salad and fruit, more than we could possibly eat. We arrived at Sliding Rock and found it deserted, perfect for our army to conquer! After a brief introduction, it took no time for our middlers to be zipping down the 60-foot water slide to the pool below where our lifeguards were waiting. We slid for more than an hour, until it was getting a little dark. Our final stop was Dolly’s Dairy bar, everyone’s favorite ice cream shop conveniently located at the entrance of the forest. You have to drive by it to go to Pisgah, so we can’t not stop on the way home. And the girls, of course, love it! Dolly’s has specialty flavors named after many of the local summer camps. “Rockbrook Chocolate Illusion” seems to always be popular with the girls. Very chocolatey, and delicious. A little chilled, but still excited and happy, the girls returned to camp ready to warm up and rest of the night. It was a great day.
Sometimes when you go hiking, the aim is not to cover a great distance, or to reach a particular destination. Instead of a goal, it’s a stroll. Instead of striving forward, some hikes are deliberately slow because what’s on the side of the trail is more interesting. Rockbrook is well known (among those who have looked) to be brimming with subtle points of beauty, magical areas of the forest that stand out as special… a clump of moss with the smallest fern poking through, the gnarly bark of a massive pine tree, or a snail silently sliding along a leaf, for example. With just a little imagination, it’s easy to understand all this beauty as the work of nature spirits, or fairies. It’s part of our camp lore; Rockbrook is a “fairyland of beauty,” as one camp song puts it. We live among fairies enlivening our experience of nature. They are rarely seen themselves, but if you look carefully, you can see evidence of them everywhere. Today a group of Juniors took a short hike looking for just such evidence, and to make it even more fun they decided to dress as fairies too. Exploring along the path to Rockbrook Falls, they found fairy houses, fairy gardens, and even fairy playgrounds, as shiny stones, delicate flowers, and colorful lichens proved the Rockbrook Fairies lived nearby. These girls learned that there are wonders everywhere… If we just slow down, look to the side, and pay attention.
Our oldest campers (10th graders), the Hi-Ups, helped teach the younger girls another piece of Rockbrook lore today— how to tie the special “Friendship knot” on the red neckerchief of our camp uniforms. We wear our uniforms only on Sunday mornings and a couple of special events, but the red tie, ideally tied with this knot, is a crucial addition to the white shirt and shorts. The Friendship Knot is also called the “Chinese Square Knot,” “Cross Knot,” and “Rustler’s Knot.” When tied properly it has a distinctive square pattern on one side, and cross on the other, akin to the Chinese ideogram for the number ten. It’s not difficult to tie, but like most knots, the best way to learn it is to have someone demonstrate the twists and turns of the pattern. So today Sarah first taught all the Hi-Ups, and once they mastered the technique, they fanned out across the camp to teach the other campers. Friends helping friends tie Friendship knots. Pretty cool!
A trip to Sliding Rock is always exciting— freezing cold water cascading down about 60 feet of sloping rock into a deep pool below, and camp girls taking turns sitting in the water for a thrilling ride and plunge —but tonight when we took all the Seniors, it was even more so. The recent record rains in our area have completely saturated the ground, and even after three days of completely dry weather, we are still seeing higher water levels in the streams and creeks. Looking Glass Creek begins high near the Blue Ridge Parkway and when it reached Sliding Rock tonight it had had a chance to build quite a bit. With our lifeguards waiting at the bottom, rescue tubes ready, the girls had a great time sliding in the faster water as it pushed on their backs down the rock. It was loud, extra-splashy, cold as ever, and more adventurous than usual. While not every Senior braved the ride, some slid four or five times, and probably would have kept sliding if we had had more time.
We topped off the trip with a quick stop at Dolly’s Dairy Bar for a frozen sweet treat. Everyone enjoys a trip to Dolly’s. With all their special camp combination flavors (“Rockbrook Chocolate Illusion,” for example), plus standards like “Cookie Dough,” there’s something everyone likes. It didn’t take long for the sugar to kick in and the girls to warm up for the camp songs to burst out. It’s quite something to see when about 85 teenage girls start singing at the top of their lungs. The word “powerful” comes to mind. “Impressive” and “joyous” too. With this kind of great Rockbrook girls, this much fun simply turns out that way!
One of the many amazing benefits of attending Rockbrook is the opportunities offered for girls to make their own decisions. Every day, our campers get to spread their wings of independence in choosing exactly what to do, both in their activities and their free time. For two hours each day, one hour before lunch and one hour before dinner, campers must decide how to spend their Free Swim. During this time we open the lake, but ultimately it is up to the campers to decide what to do. Some girls flock to the lake day after day, some choose to stay active by running or walking Charlotte’s Loop, a 1.5-mile loop through camp, and some choose to simply spend the time with friends or counselors, reading or playing in the creek. No matter how campers choose to spend their free time, the joy we see on their face when engrossed in play they are passionate about is unrivaled.
Several of the more organized opportunities that Rockbrook offers during each Free Swim allow campers to work toward a certain goal and enjoy the rewards of their efforts. Many campers choose to participate in these clubs since the reward is so sweet — an extra trip to our favorite ice cream stand, Dolly’s! The Mermaid Club rewards campers who swim a certain number of laps across our lake, determined by their age and the amount of time they are at camp. Campers who participate in the Marathon Club clock miles running or walking Charlotte’s Loop until they meet their age group’s goals.
Today, we loaded up all 49 mermaids and marathoners and drove across town to Dolly’s! It’s pretty amazing that out of all the things that campers can choose to do during their Free Swim, these girls chose to work on this goal. Rockbrook girls are inspiringly ambitious! Although everyone was full from an excellent lunch (tacos!), I could see the pride on each girl’s face as she chose her favorite flavor to enjoy. Everyone was in a great mood — smiles and laughter were contagious, and we proudly sang Rockbrook songs at the top of our voices while eating. As we drove back to camp to return to normal activities, I watched girls of all ages laughing and talking together. These moments happen all the time at camp — immediate bonds over a shared experience, no matter how big or small.
“The big question is whether you are going to be able to say a hearty yes to your adventure.”
One benefit of going to camp in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina is all of the adventures that await us in our own backyard! The outdoor staff at Rockbrook relish in the opportunities they get to introduce campers to all of the excitement that surrounds our camp. One hike has been particularly popular this year. It’s called the Wet ‘n’ Wild Hike. The adventure staff haven’t really explained it beyond that—they want to leave a lot of the surprise in it for girls who have not gone yet. Still, I have been pretty curious about it every time I hear it announced, so I decided to try to get the inside scoop from some of the campers who went on the hike today.
My anonymous source, a member of the elite outdoor staff, gave me the full story. For the sake of this post, we will call her Rita. This morning, Rita made a cryptic announcement that a Wet and Wild Hike would be happening. Murmurs filled the dining hall: campers had heard about this hike, but what would actually happen on it? After twelve lucky girls signed up, the trip was off! Rita co-piloted the van and tried to find tunes the girls would love to set the right mood for their hike. They drove into Pisgah National Forest and got out of the van at Cove Creek. The real adventure was to begin!
The hike begins with a walk through a few fields and campgrounds. At this point, the campers are somewhat confused because there is no water present. Eventually, they bump into the creek and the real adventure begins. There are tiny, rambling trails, and they walk through a confusing and twisted path until they hear the sound of a waterfall. They stand at the base of the waterfall, eating muffins and discussing waterfall safety. With at least 712 waterfalls in Transylvania County (the county Rockbrook is a part of), it seems most relevant to have this conversation. After the refreshments, the girls played with a baby skink, a lizard common in the area, and enjoyed playing in the waterfall.
After that, they voyaged back toward the van and the second part of their hike. They carefully crossed slippery rocks (Rita says they always make sure to note that “there is no shame in crab walking”) and they get on yet another side trail. The girls are elated to find that this leads to a miniature sliding rock—a natural rockface they can slide down! The girls enjoy the perfect day and slide until they are content. Rita says that, at this point, the hike “feels like Eden.” There is such simplicity in the hike, just girls purely playing outside!
The third part of the hike is Rita’s favorite. After hiking on another side trail, the girls arrive at potholes. After talking about how potholes form, Rita talked about how they couldn’t swim in it because it only went knee-deep. Then, Rita fell backwards! The girls were nervous for her, but she popped out of the water laughing. In fact, the potholes were about eight feet deep, so the girls enjoyed swimming and playing in them. On another pothole, water shoots the girls out into the deep part, and the girls took advantage of this many times.
Following such a full hike and pure bliss, it was time to scramble back up the hill and get back into the vans. The girls were told to keep the hike a secret, for the outdoor staff wanted the surprises to exist for everyone who has not yet gone on this hike. They were then treated to a feast of a lunch: homemade chicken soup, chips and salsa, and pineapple—what a perfect meal!
Mini session seniors and middlers got to continue our Wet ‘n’ Wild adventures today for cabin day! After enjoying a delicious picnic dinner and playing a few rounds of “I’m a Rockbrook Girl,” a beloved game, we all got to go to Sliding Rock! Sliding Rock is a natural waterslide that is in Pisgah Forest. It’s sixty feet long, and girls start at the top before taking a wild ride down freezing cold water before plunging into a pool at the bottom. Counselors are standing at the top to help girls get settled and prevent slipping, and life guards are in the water at the bottom, throwing girls floating tubes and reeling them in! The girls can go two-by-two, so many choose to go with a friend or a counselor. Campers are given the choice of whether they want to slide or not, but we had a particularly excited group last night, and many chose to take the plunge! Some girls went as many as five times, and everyone had a perfect time!
After Sliding Rock, we all piled back in to heated vans (some of us were very cold after our adventure) and headed to Dolly’s for some well-deserved ice cream. Girls look forward all session to their trip to Dolly’s, a local dairy bar that offers special edition ice creams named for local camps. Some girls have a favorite flavor (Illahee is very popular, a combination of cookie dough and brownies, other girls love Rockbrook, an extremely chocolaty concoction), while others try to branch out and try all of the flavors. Every girl also got a sticker with the Dolly’s logo, which many put on their trunks and water bottles when we got back to camp. We all sat around in rocking chairs or at tables enjoying ice cream and singing our favorite Rockbrook songs. It was fun seeing the two lines together—girls got to interact across the ages and get to know other campers they are less likely to meet. We ended by singing both the Senior Line Song and the Middler Line Song before we heard a familiar, “Hey Rockbrook, this train is leaving the station!” at which point we got back in the vans and returned to camp, ready for bedtime after such an exhilarating day.
Part of the beauty of our summers is that they give us the opportunity to get Wet ‘n’ Wild on a daily basis. We aren’t nearly as shy as we might otherwise be of “getting our hair wet” (literally and metaphorically) as we might usually be. Some girls are adventurous by nature. They jump in to wild adventures because they look fun. Others (and I might be in this category) are more reserved because they consider how cold they might be after, or how tired they might be because of a long hike, or how they could slip on a rock. Rockbrook has taught me to be more adventurous, though, because I have learned that when I say ‘yes’ to any adventure, I never have regrets. By the end of Sliding Rock, I wound up thoroughly chilled with a minorly stubbed toe. Yet these minor discomforts were discounted by the thrill of going down Sliding Rock with a good friend and being able to have a shared experience with the rest of the senior line.
Rockbrook gives us the room to decide for ourselves when to leave our comfort zones, but I think we all do in our own way. Maybe we decide to go down Sliding Rock because our friends cheer for us and convince us that it will be worth being cold. Or maybe we go on a kayaking adventure that frightens us because we are just learning to be more confident about skills. We might try riding the bull on a whitewater raft even though we may fall out. It will happen for each girl in its own way, but I think living at Rockbrook makes every girl a little more in touch with her wild side.