So Many Fun Options

two summer camp girl friends

The recent streak of days with perfect summertime weather continued today as we woke to a foggy cool morning. As the camp begins to stir and the girls make their way to the dining hall for breakfast, it’s common to wear long pants and a sweatshirt or fleece. The temperature today was about 64 when we woke, so it felt great to cozy up like that. Then as the sun burned off the fog, we soon felt warm and comfortable under bright blue skies and clear sunshine. The temperature climbed to about 83, but with relatively low humidity it again felt really good to be outside. Since we essentially spend all of our time outside —even the cabins are open-air, screened buildings— this kind of weather is inspiring. It makes everything we’re doing pop with more vibrant colors, perhaps a little more pep, and an extraordinary freshness. Yes, it was ideal camp weather.

“Cinnamon Apple” was the surprise muffin flavor today. The bakers in the kitchen start about 7am to be ready for this mid-morning snack. Mixing, scooping, and baking 300 individual muffins takes some time. Having a freshly baked treat like this, though, is definitely a highlight of most everyone’s morning.  The muffins are so delicious, it’s challenging to have to limit yourself to just one!

cool tetherball fashion girl

Rockbrook girls know that wearing a costume adds to whatever we’re doing, making things funnier and more fun. That’s why we’ll occasionally declare a costume theme for the day, like today’s “Under the Sea” theme. It was fun to see how the girls and staff members interpreted that theme. They mixed things up with beach attire (Hawaiian shirts, sunglasses, hats), shark and octopus hats, seaweed skirts, and colorful coral leggings. The Hi-Ups and several counselors decorated the dining hall with streamers and painted banners, and an “ocean-related” playlist of music was queued up for all three meals.

There have been a flurry of adventure trips going out this week too. We went rafting on Tuesday, but today Clyde took an excited bunch of girls out to Looking Glass Rock in the Pisgah Forest for an all-day rock climbing adventure. They left early in the morning to reach the south side of the rock face in time to jump on a couple of popular climbs, one called “B52” and another called “Fly By.” Leland and Sarah took a few advanced kayakers to run the rapids of section nine on the French Broad River north of Asheville. Meanwhile, Jayne and Sam offered an overnight camping and canoeing trip on a different section of the French Broad.  All of these trips were offered to the girls as options they could choose, switching up their schedule as they like. So many options all on the same day!

shaving cream fighter

We presented another fun option to the girls during dinner when we announced that tonight’s twilight activity would be a shaving cream fight and slip-n-slide held down on the grassy sports field. This is an event of exuberant play. Girls of all ages, and counselors too, dress in their swimsuits, arm themselves with cans of white foam, and proceed to spray wildly being as mischievous as possible splattering unsuspecting friends. Soon, there are wild hairstyles, messages written on bellies, and even some girls completely covered in shaving cream. As you might expect, this makes the slip-n-slide an extra slick ride. Be sure to visit the photo gallery to see some of the wild messy fun of the evening.

It’s been another full camp day, one with plenty of adventure, creativity, and fun with friends. We couldn’t have asked for a better combination of cheerful campers, enthusiastic staff members, weather and camp activities. Life is very good here at Rockbrook!

It Leads to a Moment

girl on adventure bridge

Whenever the adventure staff announces that trips through the Rockbrook Zip Line course will be offered, there’s always a buzz among the girls. It’s a special trip open to everyone, no matter how old (yes even the smallest Juniors!), and we offer it almost everyday at camp, easily filling each group of 8 throughout the day. The trips take about an hour, so they nicely fit into our activity schedule. Our Zip course is uniquely woven into the forest above the dining hall, among several huge rock faces, old-growth trees, rhododendron thickets, and even a 50-foot waterfall.  With their harnesses, helmets and pulleys, the girls first hike along a trail to the first zip, a 200-foot, low angle ride across the front of Stick Biscuit falls. The second ride is faster, and flies the girls from one rock face to another about 40-feet above a deep contour in the forest floor. Then come the bridges, three different ones in all, challenging the girls to balance and hold on as they traverse to the final zip. That one launches from a rock ledge and screams 450 feet back into the camp, finishing right near the office building. The whole experience is a thrilling, immersive adventure into the natural beauty of camp.

wheel pottery girl

Both pottery studios have taken to the wheels today. Learning to throw on the wheel is often a goal of the girls who choose pottery for one of their four regular activities, eager to move past the basic hand-building techniques using slabs and coils of clay. It’s so much fun for the girls, almost magical when a ball of clay, perfectly centered on the wheel, slowly takes shape into a simple bowl. Zach and Joe, our long-time head pottery instructors, plus the counselors assigned, are right by the girls’ side assisting as they work on this skill. It can be frustrating at first, but with practice, and perhaps with some encouragement from the staff, the girls quickly feel successful. That look of understanding followed by pride at the moment a camper finally pulls up the clay on a spinning wheel —it’s really cool to see.

kayak roll learning at lake

The same sort of progression— practice leading to understanding and accomplishment —happens down at the lake when campers begin learning to roll a whitewater kayak. What begins completely disorienting (being upside down, under water, in a boat) can become simply a moment to perform another maneuver. It begins for girls by learning to slip out of their flipped kayak, learning to “wet exit” —a crucial first step before taking any kayak trip. From there, girls practice a sequence of carefully timed movements (hip snap, paddle placement, etc.) that allow them to right their boat without exiting it. It’s not easy to “get their roll,” but we’ve seen most girls master it over time. Believe me, if your daughter is working on it, you’ll hear about it the moment she finally gets her roll. It’s a truly exciting achievement.

All is well at Rockbrook as we have moved through the week. Glorious weather has provided even more liveliness to what’s already a spirited bunch. Both campers and counselors have grown more confident and comfortable, making each moment even better. It’ll be great fun to watch this continue!

girls camp group

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

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 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

Fantastic Success

Lower Green Kayaking
Kayak Seal Launch
Kayak Camp Girls

First a Kayak Camp update. As you know, kayaking has really caught on here at Rockbrook, and in response to that growing interest, we’ve begun offering 2 special 1-week camp sessions devoted entirely to whitewater kayaking. We’ve called these sessions “Rockbrook Rapids.” Today, the first of those sessions ended and we began to hear some of the exciting stories of how their many river trips went during the last week. The girls ran a section of whitewater every day, building skills and confidence on the water as they progressed through class I, II, and some class III whitewater. On two occasions, the crew camped near their river.  They ran the Lower Green, the Tuckaseegee, the Nantahala, the Chattooga (2 days), and the Upper Green rivers. This afternoon when the van pulled into camp after their last trip, the girls looked pretty tired and maybe a little grubby, but I’ve never seen a group more proud and satisfied. Unloading their gear, the girls happily handled the work, knew exactly what to do, and chatted effortlessly. It was neat to see that kind of camaraderie after just one week of shared outdoor adventure experience. The staff and the campers alike said the whole week was awesome. Check out the photos above (Click them to view a larger version) and you can see a little of the fun (Others are online in the photo gallery). One girl told me, “I’m definitely signing up for this again!” A fantastic success for the first kayak camp of the summer!

Camp Kid on Microphone
Wheel Spin Fun Camp
Pie Camp Counselor

A great moment happened today when Sophia won a chance to spin the wheel in the dining hall. When it was clear she was the winner, Chase asked her where she hoped her spin would land. What prize was she hoping to win? Without hesitating, Sophia yelled “Pie Your Counselor” into the microphone. It’s always very exciting to spin the wheel, but when it lands on what the girl spinning hopes for, it’s so marvelous the whole dining hall erupts. And as you can see in the photo above, “Pie Your Counselor” is exactly what Sophia got! The kitchen helped out right away, whipping up two chocolate pudding pies for the occasion, so right after lunch a crowd gathered on the hill to watch the mess unfold. Everyone laughed and cheered as the counselors proved they could take a pie in the face.  It’s not often you have two willing victims for this kind of pie massacre, so we all had a great time watching.

After Pie in Face

Tonight we also had our first dance of the summer with Camp Carolina. We again held two dances, one at each camp with the older girls traveling over to dance in the CCB dining hall, and their younger boys coming to Rockbrook to dance in our gym. You might think these dances with boys are awkward since they contrast so completely with the all-girl world of Rockbrook. In reality though, we do what we can to keep everything lighthearted and silly. The counselors dress up in crazy costumes, and are quick to encourage group dances rather than pairs. Sure, the older girls spend a good deal of time on shall we say “hair care,” but for them too, what’s fun is the loud music, wild lighting, bouncy dancing and overall exuberant tone. Of course, being their with so many friends is what really makes these dances great.  But that true for everything at camp!

Girls Summer Camp Dance

Ordinary Extraordinary

Green river plunge
girl playing tetherball
Twin day at summer camp
Camp girls inside of their cabin
Bracelet making taped to leg

I’d say today was an ordinary day at camp, but that makes it pretty extraordinary too.

Take kayaking. Leland and Jamie brought a group out to the upper section of the Green River for an all-day event. With moderate class II and III+ rapids, paddling this river is quite an accomplishment.

At the lake, the lifeguards organized a fun relay race for the girls who signed up for swimming. The race involved two teams swimming a lap while wearing a t-shirt that after each lap they passed like a baton to the next girl.

In the WHOA (Wilderness, Hiking, Outdoor Adventure) activity, the girls were learning how to build a fire. Starting with the tiniest twigs and working up to larger sticks, their goal was to use just one match… And then to roast marshmallows for s’mores!

Today was “twin day,” which meant that the girls were encouraged to find a friend and coordinate what they wore to match like twins. Wearing the same color t-shirt and braiding hair similarly, made several sets of “twins” around camp.

All of the ceramics classes were busy glazing their work. Bowls thrown on the wheel, extruded pots, slab tiles and coil mugs —now had several layers of muted color that, after being fired in the kiln, will turn vibrant.

The girls rehearsing for next week’s musical performance filled the hillside lodge during the first free swim period. On the porch, a few campers worked on friendship bracelets. Just outside on the tetherball court girls were taking all challengers, and down the hill from there, two girls decided to spend their free time playing tennis.

For lunch Rick made everyone’s day by serving heaping baskets of his fresh, homemade focaccia bread. There was also his secret recipe chicken salad and tuna salad, along with fresh, local black berries, but the bread stole the show. I saw some tables go back 4 times for “seconds!”

It rained briefly during rest hour, but soon afterwards girls were firing guns down at the riflery range and proudly saving their targets, swimming in the lake again, and batting the ball around in a game of gaga.

Shaving Creak Fight Hair styling

The most exciting event happened after dinner during our “Twilight” activity period: a huge shaving cream fight for the entire camp. Like all Twilight activities, this was optional, but we still had about 140 girls, some from all age groups, arrive at the grassy landsports field dressed in their swimsuits “ready to rumble” with some slippery white foam. A shaving cream fight is not much of a “fight” really. It’s more a shaving cream bath, or hairstyling session, or friendly body painting party. As the girls run around spraying and smearing each other, laughing hysterically, it’s takes very little time before everyone has shaving cream in their hair, on their stomachs, arms and backs. Some, thanks to their friends, literally get completely covered with the stuff. We also brought our a long sheet of plastic to make a super fun slip-n-slide, made even better with all that shaving cream lubricating everything. This is another example of silly camp fun. Sure it’s messy; sure it’s loud; but, it’s just as wonderful too.

Overall, I’d say we had an ordinary extraordinary day.

Extraordinary Shaving Cream Fight Group of Girls

Smiling Faces

Smiling Camp Friends
Smiling Teen Camper

Another remarkable thing about life at camp, something that distinguishes it from ordinary events at home and school, is that when you walk around and see camp girls interacting with each other and their counselors, you are very likely to see someone smiling. It often includes laughing too, but incredibly, there are smiles while doing crafts, grins jumping to avoid the gaga ball, smiles at the lake, atop a horse, while on belay climbing, even while just walking down the cabin line on the way to lunch. Our online photo gallery provides a glimpse of this, and while it’s not everyone at every minute, it’s almost unsettling how regularly you encounter a smiling face during your day at Rockbrook. Recently a mother and her daughter touring camp noticed it as well. The daughter said, “Everyone here is so nice and friendly,” referring to the smiling greetings she got throughout the tour.

The best way to understand this phenomenon, of course, is to attribute the smiles to how the girls are feeling at camp, to how relaxed and happy they are here. All of the fun things we do at camp contribute to this happiness, as does the fantastic food, and beautiful, wooded mountain setting, but I suspect this feeling of camp life is more essentially derived from our spirited community than from what have or what we do. Put differently, it’s our relationships with the caring group of people around us, based upon respect for one another, that inspires this deep feeling of comfort and happiness. It’s the people who make smiling the language of Rockbrook. Knowing you belong to this community of kind, “sweet” people, “nice and friendly” folks, is a powerful force. Feeling it, you can’t help but smile. I’d say we’re all fortunate to feel it, and smile, everyday at camp.

Teen Girl kayaking celebration

Today was a big day for adventure trips, with rock climbing, canoeing, zip lining, day hiking and kayaking all pulling campers out of their regularly scheduled activities. We announce these trips during meals, sometimes at dinner to sign up a trip leaving early the next morning, and sometimes at breakfast for shorter trips, like to our zip line course for example. The kayakers were particularly excited about their trip because it was an all day paddle down the lower section of the Green River, near Saluda, NC. This section of the Green is perfect for beginners because its class I and II rapids offer plenty of opportunities to practice ferrying and catching eddies while not being too difficult. Instructors Jamie, Marjorie Ann, Leland and Andria led 9 campers down the river.  A highlight of the day was stopping to play at the “Surf Rapid,” a spot where a standing wave is formed in the river allowing boaters to scoot in, pointing up stream, and be held in place. Surfing in the mountains of North Carolina! Now after tackling the Green, these girls are excited to paddle more challenging rivers. Stay tuned, because next week, we’ve got plans!

Kayaking surfing whitewater wave

Giddy with Wet Hair

Kayak Camp Roll Clinic

When you squish yourself into a colorful plastic kayak and seal yourself inside the boat by snapping a rubber, elastic skirt over the cockpit opening, like 16 or so Rockbrook girls did this morning, the boat feels like it’s part of you, making it fun to maneuver through the water. Using a double-bladed paddle, the girls can turn their boats quickly. In moving water though, when currents and obstacles can surprise you, these boats can suddenly tip over. At that point, a kayaker can slip out of her boat by tucking forward and pulling a loop on her spray skirt, performing a so called “wet exit.” There is a more advanced self rescue technique, however, called an “eskimo roll” where the kayaker stays in the boat. Rolling a kayak takes some practice to learn, so today Jamie, Leland and Andria, our kayaking instructors taught a “roll clinic” to girls at the lake. They demonstrated the coordinated series of actions a roll requires— tuck, set, sweep, snap, and lean —head, hips, shoulders and paddle all working together. Then, working one-on-one, they helped each camper learn the technique. Later, several Seniors proudly let me know that they “got their roll” and they were excited to get out on the river tomorrow.

Forest Marker Shoes

Also this morning, Jayne and Hunter led a group of girls on a hike to one of the highest points east of the Mississippi River, Black Balsam Knob (6214 ft) and Tennent Mountain (6040 ft). With a lunch packed, they left Rockbrook (2300 ft) and drove up and up, through misty clouds, to the Blue Ridge Parkway where the Art Loeb trail crosses near the road. This is way up there, high above most of the trees in the area, and even above the clouds filling the valleys below. This photo shows a US Geological Survey Bench Mark, indicating a point where the elevation has been measured and recorded (as well as the variety of footwear that can tackle this kind of high altitude hiking!). This was a great trip, exposing the girls to a uniquely stark, natural environment. The feeling being up there is amazing and everyone loved the impressive view.

For our afternoon cabin day (when individual activities are paused, so each cabin group can do something special together), we gathered all the Middlers and the Mini Session Seniors for a picnic dinner in the Pisgah Forest, and a stop at Sliding Rock. Ready in swim suits, we drove to our favorite picnic area and had hotdogs, homemade coleslaw, potato chips and fruit. We ate quickly— we’re always building appetites here at camp! —and then ran around a bit playing tag games before loading all the buses again for the short trip to “the Rock.”

Sliding Rock Girls Camp
Sliding Rock Summer Camp

Sliding Rock is formed by Looking Glass Creek as it cascades over a 60-foot dome of rock ending in a deep pool at the bottom. It’s our habit to visit Sliding Rock after the area is officially closed to the public, but because we have a Forest Service permit that requires us to be self-sufficient with respect to first aid and lifeguards, we are permitted to slide after hours. This is great because, like tonight, we often have the place to ourselves and our mob of girls (82 of them this time) can enjoy more slide time. Visiting Sliding Rock is also our habit because the girls absolutely love it. It’s the roar of the “freezing” water as it spills down the rock. It’s the piercing screams of the girls as they take turns slipping, spinning and sliding down. It’s watching your friends splash and swim at the bottom. It’s all just super fun.

To top off the outing, we made one more stop— Dolly’s Dairy Bar. Everyone screamed (again!) with excitement when we pulled into the parking lot. With “Rockbrook Chocolate Illusion” and other “Camp Flavors” on the menu, as well as more traditional flavors to chose from, it was simple for everyone to order a sweet treat they liked. Once again, when the Rockbrook girls arrived and everyone had their cup or cone, Dolly’s became quite a party. With this many girls, it doesn’t take long for them to start singing songs, laughing, and posing for silly photos. Back in the buses, still giddy with wet hair and probably a smudge of ice cream on a face or two, we were soon back at camp, happy to warm up and turn in for the evening.

Girls Summer Camp