A Full Slate

Camp girl rock climbing
camp girls in NC hiking in high altitude

In addition to the regularly scheduled activities at camp, the four hour-long periods during a typical girls camp 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 camp

At 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 drum

Our 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!

Descending and Ascending

Kayak trip on the upper green river
NC Green River Kayak kid

One of the whitewater rivers popular with kayakers in this area of North Carolina is the Green, a dam-released river running through a deep gorge just south of Asheville. One reason for this popularity, besides the natural beauty of the surrounding forest, is the different sections of the river that provide a range of whitewater boating challenges. Perhaps the most famous, and certainly the most technical, section is known as the “Narrows.” With several class IV and class V rapids, and boasting a gradient of about 100 feet per mile, this is a section for experts only. At the other extreme is the section known as the “Lower” Green. It is about 5 miles of class II whitewater making it excellent for beginners, and the section most commonly run by camps.

Today a group of Rockbrook girls, led by Leland, Andria and Clyde, ran a third section known as the “Upper” Green. It is a moderately difficult section of class II and III+ rapids dropping almost 50 feet per mile over 4 miles. The whole section runs relatively fast, and the two largest rapids, named “Bayless’ Boof” and “Pinball,” are challenging lines with significant waves.  Our Rockbrook kayaking girls handled it just fine, and spent the whole day playing on the water. Rarely paddled by summer camp kids, it’s a real accomplishment for these girls to run the Upper Green.

Kid climbing Sundial route of Looking Glass Rock in North Carolina

Meanwhile, another group of Rockbrook girls, rather than descending a river, ascended a rock. Led by Andy and Rita, a group of Seniors and Middlers woke up early and drove into the Pisgah Forest to reach the base of Looking Glass Rock. They headed up the trail… gently uphill at first, but steep toward the end —to a climbing area known as the “Nose,” and were able to set 2 ropes on a well-known climb called “Sundial.” This climb is rated 5.6 in the Yosemite Decimal System, which means it’s steep enough to require a belay system and technical hardware for safety, but not so difficult that it requires advanced skills or strength. Climbing Sundial requires precise footwork, and the girls quickly figured out that the sloping “brow-shaped” handholds sometimes work better when you cling to them from underneath, lifting up instead of pulling down. Sundial also rewards you at the top of the 80-foot first pitch with a gorgeous long view of the Blue Ridge Mountains. This photo of Haley at the top of the climb shows her after she removed her blindfold.  That’s right; with careful and patient footwork, she was able to climb the whole route blindfolded!  After a quick splash in the creek to cool off, the crew made it back to camp happy about the day’s fun and accomplishment.

Back at camp, the girls eating lunch in the dining hall were surprised when Chase interrupted the meal and shouted “Dance Break!!” into the PA System.  The speakers were ready and the music queued up, and a second or two later the entire dining hall was up and dancing to the song “Classic” that’s popular on the radio these days.  It’s a fun, pop dance song, and most of the girls new the words enough to sing along. For those three minutes of loud pumping music, everyone was moving, smiling and having a complete blast.

Girls slip and Slide for Fun
Girl attacking with shaving cream

Our after dinner “twilight” event was a crazy shaving cream fight and slip-n-slide. This is about as simple as it gets, but also equally as fun. The girls dress in their swimsuits and assemble on our grassy sports field. Then, armed with a can of plain shaving cream, they attack each other spraying and smearing the slippery foam everywhere. The goal is to cover your friends (and, I suppose, anyone within reach!) as much as possible, spraying their backs, arms and hair, all while running around to avoid being sprayed yourself. Can after can of shaving cream was emptied, while we all laughed hilariously and screamed with delight. At one end of the field, we also unrolled a wide sheet of plastic down a gentle slope, added a little soap and sprayed it with water to make a fun slippery ride. The girls, all greased up with shaving cream, took turns launching themselves down the plastic, sliding in some cases 75 feet before rolling off the end to a stop in the grass. This last photo sums up the event nicely… Tons of good “clean” fun.

Camp Shaving Cream Fight for Girls

Taking the Plung into Blue Skies


From dawn to dusk at Rockbrook, girls are given a constant flow of opportunities to take courageous leaps. Our start to this week was no exception.

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Campers sprang into action with their choices of four regularly scheduled activities. Girls are taking aim down at Riflery and Archery, learning to use their cameras to document their time at camp in Photo Journalism, and sprinting into action playing Dodge Ball in Gym Sports, just to name a few. In addition to the regularly scheduled activities, a whole bundle of surprises were offered at breakfast. The climbing staff signed up girls of all experience levels to climb Castle Rock. Rockbrook’s own natural rock face is located a short, hardy hike up the mountain behind the dinning hall. The climbing on Castle Rock offers challenges for beginners and experienced climbers alike, and is sure to offer every camper who tries the rock a stunning view of the mountains across the valley.

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The canoeing staff offered a trip down the French Broad, a river that snakes through the valley below camp with just enough light rapids to challenge beginners and warm up the experienced paddlers. Meanwhile, the kayaking staff gave girls a chance to learn how to “wet exit” down at the lake in preparation for the kayaking trip down the French Broad River that went out this afternoon. A camper learns her “wet exit” when she successfully pops the water tight “skirt” holding her into the kayak so she can safely leave the boat if she tips over. And in the afternoon a whole group of campers packed for an overnight trip to raft the Nantahala River. The opportunity for campers to try something new, exciting, and sometimes rather challenging is always present, even for example at the ever glistening Rockbrook lake. Well-known for its “cool” temperature, it can be a little daunting looking down at the water from the comfort and certainty of the dry dock. But finding the courage to take the plunge into something new around here is always mighty refreshing.

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Not all the challenging leaps we see here at camp are the kind that involve cold water or staggering heights. Sometimes a leap is more subtle. It is learning how to take a round knitting loom and leading a ball of yarn on the complicated journey toward becoming a hat in Curosty, or turning a vine of bittersweet into a Dream Catcher in Folklore. It is finding the right balance of fuel and friction to spark a fire at WHOA! (Wilderness Hiking Outdoor Activities). A “leap” can also be seeing that two fellow campers are struggling to make a rubber band bracelet you know how to make, stepping up to be a leader, and guiding new friends in Jewelry Making or taking the microphone at announcements and sharing with a dinning hall of 275 people that you are beginning a Rockbrook A Capella group that will be meeting today at Free Swim!

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At Rockbrook, we invite campers to see how easy it is to try something new, without fear of “failure” because we celebrate both the glorious successes completed and all the incredible victories and views all the campers earned along the way. After climbing Castle Rock today campers were asked what color they would use to described their experience. “Blue” was the response of one junior camper “Because when you climb you are just focused on flowing up the rock, and when you reach the top all you can see is sky.”

So as the sun sets on our first full day of the June Mini Session and the beginning of our week, the sunset illuminates in full spectrum; celebrating the many colors of discovery we experienced today. And the misty mountains remind us tomorrow offers many more chances to leap, to climb, to stand up, to be silly, to reflect, to try again, and perhaps to reach the sky.

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It’s Good Like That

Muffin Camp Kids

This photograph was taken this morning during “Muffin Break,” that time between our first and second activity periods when just about everyone in the camp treks to the dining hall porch to grab a freshly baked muffin. And yes, it truly is everyone in camp— campers, counselors, activity instructors, and directors alike. The muffins are just that yummy. Muffin Break happens at 10:45am, just about the time when a little snack feels particularly good. The flavor, of course, is a surprise. One day it might be something traditional like Lemon Poppyseed, and the next, a strange flavor like Chocolate Chocolate Chip. It’s perfectly normal late in the morning to ask someone, “Hey what’s the muffin flavor?” even if you might guess from the delicious smell drifting out of the kitchen. Today, our excellent baker Katie, wowed us all with her banana muffins. It’s a pretty good bet your girls will be talking about muffins after camp!

Have you written a letter to your Rockbrook girl yet? Please remember that everyone here loves receiving mail, and handwritten, “old-fashioned,” paper letters are the best. Sure you can pound out a quick email, but nothing beats a thoughtfully written letter from home. Here is the info you need to stay in touch.

Kayaker Camp Kid

Yesterday, I wrote about how whitewater rafting is popular at camp, but it’s also true that whitewater kayaking is gaining steam. This can largely be attributed to the fine instruction provided by Leland Davis and Andria Baldovin Davis. Leland and Andria have worked with Rockbrook for the past four summers both as raft guides and expert kayaking instructors. They are both veteran whitewater boaters having paddled all over the world and literally “written the book” on whitewater kayaking in America. They are also great with the girls… kind and encouraging, patient and enthusiastic, consistently successful inspiring even the youngest girls to love kayaking. It’s neat to see so many girls at camp digging into this more technical adventure activity.

Sliding Rock Kids Camp

The big trip of the day gathered all of the Senior Line girls (the 7th, 8th and 9th graders) and combined three events in one, a triple treat for an evening of food, games, an exhilarating mountain pastime, and a sweet dessert. The first stop for our convoy of five buses was a picnic dinner of hotdogs and all the trimmings up in the Pisgah Forest. We ate and then spent some time playing “I’m a Rockbrook Girl” in a grassy field. Akin to musical chairs where one chair is missing, this game gets everyone dashing about when they have something in common. It’s a fun way to digest a bit before the next stop— sliding rock. Here again, the “refreshing” mountain water common to these parts makes this natural water slide (It’s about 60 feet long with a deep pool at the bottom.) all the more exciting. Most of the girls took several rides down the rock, and as it began to get dark, and rain a little, we all packed up to drive down the hill to Dolly’s Dairy Bar located at the entrance to the Forest.

Sure, we were cold. Sure, we were wet. But that’s not enough to keep us from enjoying our favorite flavor of ice cream from Dolly’s. It’s too delicious, and we were having too much fun to miss this perfect way to end the evening. I do remember turning up the bus’s heat on the drive back to camp. Life at camp in the mountains. It’s good like that.

Ice Cream Kids Camp

Budding Independence

The first full day of the session, as was today, means several things. First, it’s a chance for the campers to become more familiar with the property and activity areas, to get a better sense of where everything is located. Following their camp tour yesterday, now they venture off on their own to the Alpine climbing tower, the Hillside Lodge for yoga, or Curosty for weaving, for example. There are almost 30 different things to do— organized activities available during the scheduled activity periods —and each has a “home” somewhere in camp.

Imagine all the little pockets of activity spread around Rockbrook… Outdoor adventure instructors explaining how to use special equipment, arts and crafts teachers introducing cool sewing, pottery, or weaving projects, horses being tacked up, bows and arrows nocked. If you scan through today’s photo gallery, you can see the variety of things going on. These girls are impressive already!

Young Kid Kayaking
Summer camp yoga class
Camper learns to weave at summer camp

What’s even more impressive though, and probably more significant in the long run, is the independence this first day of camp has already brought about in your girls. Remember, at Rockbrook, the campers select their own activities while at camp. Often after much discussion with friends about the options, and “what are you gonna take?” kinds of questions, everyone selects 4 different activities they will try for the first half of the week. For each activity rotation, which happens twice per week, the girls themselves decide how to spend their activity time. Furthermore, during the blocks of free time scheduled throughout the day— before lunch, before dinner, and after dinner —the campers can decide to do even more independent things. With a friend, they might head to the lake for a ride down the water slide, go to the tennis courts to hit a few balls, challenge someone at the tetherball court, or just hang out on the grassy hill enjoying the mountain view.

The very structure of our day, in other words, encourages this budding independence for Rockbrook girls. As they select their daily activities (“Riflery or Drama? Hmmm…”) and decide on their own how to spend free time (“I want to go play in the creek!”), as well as navigate from place to place throughout the day, all while listening for the bell to help make it on time, they grow increasingly confident. They learn firsthand that “I can do it myself.”

As you see your girls smiling and enjoying themselves doing any of the regular in-camp activities offered everyday at camp, at least part of that smile arises from the simple satisfaction, and maybe a little pride, that follows her successful experience of independence. And that’s pretty cool stuff.

Camper Screams on zipline
Camper proudly displays pottery sculpture
archery camp girl shooting

Constantly Crafty

Camp girl smiling in yellow kayak with yellow helmet and pfd

Today at the lake several senior girls spent time working on their kayaking roll. They practiced the technique used to roll a kayak back upright after flipping upside down. As I’m sure you can imagine, these narrow whitewater kayaks, while being designed to cut through the water easily, are also prone to tipping. When a kayaker hits a river rapid and surfs over or through a wave, there’s a fine line between balancing just right and leaning so far that, in an instant, you’re upside down. At that point, there are two options: you can abandon ship and swim free of the boat by popping the grab loop on your spray skirt (doing what’s called a “wet exit”), or you can twist and snap your hips, and use your paddle to push against the water to roll back upright. Learning to roll is a tricky set of coordinated moves that requires a fair bit of practice to perfect. And practicing takes dedication and determination because it involves spending lots of time upside down in the lake. Some of these girls want to “get their roll” so badly, they will sign up for extra time practicing during their free periods (just before lunch, for example). Reports from the paddling staff are that a couple of girls have gotten it! Next week we’ll offer another kayaking trip to the Nantahala giving the girls a chance to try their new rolling skills in moving water.

If you’ve been following the photos posted each day in our photo gallery, you probably have a sense of how constantly crafty we are at Rockbrook. There are arts and crafts everywhere, and the girls are creating some really cool stuff. In the Hobby Nook cabin, for example, the campers in “Folklore” are finishing pillow dolls, each unique with different scraps of fabric sewn together, stuffed with polyester fluff, and decorated with buttons and yarn. Both ceramics studios have been phenomenally productive as well. The girls there are making bird houses, throwing mugs on the wheel, and sculpting whistles (yes, that actually work!) shaped like turtles and other animals (I think I saw a dragon too). The Hodge Podge girls have been unveiling spectacular tie-dye t-shirts, each with complex designs— hearts, spirals, stripes, and even smiley faces —and psychedelic color patterns. Over in “KIT” (“Keep in Touch”), the campers have been busy making cards, beautiful folded greeting cards from fancy ornate papers, fun stickers and stamps. And the weavers in Curosty continue to amaze. Their work is simply gorgeous.  When you see the armload of crafts your daughter has created, the products of her creativity and imagination, you will definitely be impressed.

Camp girl's cute sewing project
Clay snail made at camp
Girls holding cards made at camp

Tonight’s evening program was another surprise special event, a square dance with the boys of Camp High Rocks. After dinner, with hair and teeth thoroughly brushed, we loaded all of our seniors into 4 vans and 3 buses for the short trip up the mountain to High Rocks, while simultaneously, they transported their younger boys down to Rockbrook to hold a dance in our gym. Having two dances allows us to handle all these children! Stepping out of the van at High Rocks, one girl may have been feeling a little nervous because she turned to me and said, “I forgot what it feels like to be around boys.” It didn’t take long, though, for everyone to be smiling and having fun. With these nice girls, and the boys equally so, the whole event was lighthearted, even a little goofy as they giggled after “messing up” and grabbing the wrong arm or spinning in the wrong direction.

We took a short break after about an hour for brownies and lemonade… a chance to mingle a bit and recharge for a few more dances. On the drive home, one senior in my van said she had a great time, even enjoying the dance more than the “regular” dances we have with other camps. Bluegrass might not be their favorite genre of music, but these girls appreciated the chance to talk with the boys, and to “have something to do,” as one senior put it. For all the best reasons, it was a wonderful evening.

Square Dancing Children
Camp square dancinf kids
Summer Campers square dancing

An Appetite for Adventure

Crew of girls ready for the camp zip line

The girls at Rockbrook have it— a true appetite for adventure. They first of all have plenty of opportunity to step out and challenge themselves with high ropes and rock climbing, whitewater kayaking and rafting, canoeing, zip lining, and water slide rides at our lake. There are both in-camp activities and optional out-of-camp trips available each day for the girls to choose from. Depending on their mood, and often on what their friends are doing— there is often a herd mentality to activity selection around here, but that’s one reason why it’s so important to be free to choose for yourself —the girls can climb high, be splashed and wet, or race down from a great height. They can face a real challenge, one where adrenaline gets your heart really pumping.

Zip Bridge Canopy Tour Element

Why, though, are these girls so enthusiastic about it? Why do your girls love the feeling of outdoor adventure experiences? Beyond their enthusiasm for just about everything here (yes, even the dining hall and cabin chores, believe it or not), what can explain all this climbing, paddling, zipping, hiking, and sliding? If you ask them, the girls say these activities are simply “fun” or “awesome.” That’s certainly true. In addition, part of the answer could be the adrenaline thrill that accompanies being up so high, moving so fast, and crashing so fiercely through a whitewater wave. It’s simply exhilarating to do these adventurous things. Yes, they are extreme, and that alone is quite exciting to experience.

Girl Camp Rock Climber

Beyond the thrill of outdoor adventure activities, there’s something more that leads girls to seek adventure at camp, and in the long run, it’s something that can stick with a young person and serve her well later in life. It’s the feeling of confidence that is strengthened, proven real, when a girl summons the courage to engage an adventure activity.  Because adventure activities appear risky and frightening, they require courage, courage to be upside down in a kayak, to trust your foot balanced high above the camp on Castle Rock, or even to sleep in a tent far away from civilization, for example. Being courageous like this, facing the challenge rather than shrinking away from it in fear, requires you to trust your own abilities and be confident that you’ll be OK. At camp, of course, we have expert instruction, top-notch safety equipment, consistent encouragement, and excellent role models to help our girls meet these adventure challenges, so things always turn out fine. Successful adventure activities help develop that confident sense of “I can do this.”  They provide an experiential lesson connecting courage and results, and thereby build greater self-confidence. And that feels really good. It’s a positive feeling that keeps girls coming back, building an appetite, for more… One more route up the Alpine Tower or ride down the water slide.

Learning to roll a whitewater kayak

Years from now when first learning to drive a car, or starting her first real job, this confidence to trust her abilities is bound to prove valuable. With all of the fun, the cheering and laughing that punctuate each day at camp, it might be hard to see these deep lessons your girls are learning. But they are there. When your kayakers, rock climbers and zip liners return home, they’ll have great tales of thrilling adventures, but keep an eye out for something more important— a greater sense of confidence.

Three Dimensional Children

“Educating the Whole Child” is a phrase that the American Camp Association, the accrediting organization for camps, including Rockbrook, uses to describe what camps really do. Sure camps are fun for kids, but they are also uniquely educational, providing important developmental benefits that the otherwise 2-dimensional experience of schools often do not. If we wish to raise three dimensional children who are more than just academic achievers, polished artists or top athletes, for example, then we need to address the “whole child,” her creativity, imagination, bravery, decision making, thoughtfulness, compassion, love of nature, curiosity, passion, flexibility, initiative, collaboration and communication. We need to encourage and foster these important aspects of being a happy, well-rounded and adjusted human being. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to see all of these traits blossom in our children?

Gymnastics camper doing handstand
Girl camp camper posing with horse
Kids swimming class in lake

Of course! Fortunately, life at camp does provide many opportunities for your girls to develop these character traits. Learning to do a handstand, taking care of large animal, completing swimming laps to join the “Mermaid Club,” discovering a creepy looking bug (maybe, on the wall above your bed!), deciding how to spend free time, helping with cabin and dining hall chores, compromising when a difference of opinion arises, helping a younger camper, being inspired by the misty fog of the morning, singing (loudly!) with friends, getting your bare feet really muddy, tying an even more complicated friendship bracelet, leading your friends in an off-the-wall skit, rescuing a fellow kayaker after a rapid— each of these, and so many more experiences at camp, is a way to develop that third dimension, a way to promote being more fully human. In this way, camp is educational in the best sense of the word. It fulfills real childhood needs, and in the end, can be a profoundly life changing experience.

Kids Camp photography girls
Kids at summer camp kayaking a river

OK, fine. But sometimes, we also cut loose, just for the fun of it… Like this afternoon when the “Biltmore Train” came to camp. Back before it was a winery and tourist destination, the Biltmore Estate ran a commercial dairy selling its milk and ice cream locally. For a while it delivered its wares in a truck decorated with a train motif, so when it arrived at Rockbrook, the girls called it the Biltmore “train.” Today, we have a different supplier of ice cream, but we continue this tradition by forming a different train; we hold an all-you-can-eat (well, at least until the six big tubs are gone) ice cream party. Campers break into several lines, counselors wear themselves out scooping, and after the first cone, the girls race to get back in line (to the end of the “train”) for another. All of this makes for a high-spirited, somewhat sugar-charged, afternoon, a once-a-year decadent treat for these girls.

Friends at summer camp eating ice cream
Summer camp kid eating ice cream cone
Ice Cream campers with cones