An Inviting Waterfall

North Carolina Sliding Rock


Here in the “Land of Waterfalls,” as this part of western North Carolina is sometimes called, there are almost 250 named waterfalls to be found. It’s the area’s steep mountains and rocky geology, combined (ordinarily!) with plenty of rain, that create these falls from the broad network of streams and creeks that drain into the French Broad River. Rockbrook itself is an example of this, as Dunns Creek flows down through the property forming several cascading waterfalls, including “Rockbrook Falls,” a popular hiking destination for the campers.

Beyond the beauty of these waterfalls, many of them are spectacular places to play. Even the largest of them, like High Falls in the Dupont State Forest for example, have bubbling pools of water at their base, perfect spots for a daring swim. Stepping into the water below a waterfall is intense. It’s loud and you feel a definite spray thrown out as the water crashes down. Plus, our mountain streams are always chilly, as everyone at Rockbrook knows after swimming in our lake.

Sliding Rock North Carolina Campers
Pair of Sliding Rock girls

Probably the best example of an inviting waterfall is Sliding Rock in the Pisgah National Forest. This is an area where Looking Glass Creek glides over a steep, sloping rock for about 60 feet, ending with a short drop into a pool at the bottom. It’s a unique mountain water slide. Over the years, as the area has become well known, the Forest Service has organized it, charging a fee, providing parking, lifeguards and first aid services during the busy summer months. It’s a very popular place among visitors to western North Carolina.

We love it too, even to the point, in fact, of bringing all of the Middlers and Seniors to Sliding Rock each and every session. Tonight it was time for the entire Middler line, plus all their counselors to take a trip to the rock. That meant marshaling 70 campers, 21 counselors, 3 lifeguards, 3 vans, 3 buses, an SUV, 2 camp directors, and 2 additional bus drivers. We had quite an army of RBC enthusiasm, when we arrived around 7pm, which by the way is after it is officially closed. This is the best time to bring a group this large because we can avoid the typical daytime crowds, have our own lifeguards, and spend more time sliding.

Sliding Rock Girls
Sliding Rock Celebration

The experience of sliding down the rock is exhilarating. The ride itself thrills everyone— feeling the shock of the cold water on your back as you sit down at the top, the disorienting bump and spin as you accelerate toward to splash awaiting at the bottom, plunging deep into the pool for a moment before popping up to see the smiling lifeguards nearby ready to help you swim to the edge and climb out of the water. Each slide takes a few seconds, giving the girls plenty of time to scream, wide-eyed, clutching each other even tighter before hitting the pool below. I heard a couple of girls take a breath mid-scream, mid-slide, and scream a second time before holding their nose and squinting their eyes tight before their splash landing. All around there are friends cheering each other on, clapping and singing camp songs while they wait their turn to slide. The entire evening was filled with laughter, shrieks of delight, and voices of encouragement. There was time for the girls to slide multiple times, but as it grew darker and lips turned bluer, we knew it was time to dry off and roll down the hill to our final stop of the evening.

Dolly’s Dairy Bar! You might think that swimming in 58 degree water, ending up chilled and wet, would discourage girls from enjoying ice cream, but that would be wrong. These girls were psyched to order their favorite of Dolly’s unique “camp flavors” of ice cream: “Rockbrook Chocolate Illusion,” “Soar Super Storm” or “Wayfarer Overload,” for example. I think they have almost 60 different flavors in all, and they are delicious! Now mostly warmed up, we had a great time signing songs while enjoying our cones. By the way, Dolly’s will be open on our Closing Day next week… yes, even that early in the morning. You might want to plan on stopping. 😀

Dolly's Ice Cream Stand

Even More Unique

zucchini muffins

In addition to the pleasure of having a freshly baked muffin everyday between the first and second activity period, it’s also fun for the campers to find out what flavor Katie or Sonne have made. This surprise is the talk of the camp once the first muffin leaves the dining hall porch. Even better, the flavors vary widely with some being traditional favorites like blueberry and others being completely unique like S’mores flavored, for example. This week has been a good example of this variety with Zucchini Muffins making a debut yesterday followed by Pumpkin Chocolate Chip returning today. I asked one girl how she liked the Zucchini variety and, wrinkling her nose, she said, “It had chunks of Zucchini in it!” Hmmm…. Looking around as the girls gobbled up today’s flavor, it’s pretty clear that chocolate chips easily beat Zucchini chunks when it comes to muffin ingredients. No surprise there, I suppose!

Alpine Tower high ropes course climber
Camp Mountain Swim

Hidden in the woods behind the gym is our high ropes course climbing tower, the “Alpine Tower.” You may have caught a glimpse of it from the shuttle bus running on opening day. Perched high above this complex, triangular structure of thick poles, ropes, aircraft cables and wooden climbing walls is a covered platform that serves as the summit of the different climbing routes available. There are three main starting points that branch out providing a variety of climbing obstacles to challenge the girls… Swinging logs, a cargo net, overhanging walls, ladders and ropes, to name a few. The Alpine Tower can accommodate up to 6 girls climbing simultaneously, so it handles plenty of enthusiastic climbers. If a girls climbs all three side of the Tower, then climbs again blindfolded (yes, really!), and also climbs one of the routes on Castle Rock, she is welcomed into the “Seven Summits Club” and receives a special bracelet. There are girls from all three lines who can now claim this accomplishment.

Here is a photo taken during an impromptu day hike a group of senior girls and Emily took this morning up to Flat Laurel Creek at the edge of the Shining Rock Wilderness in Pisgah. This is a truly magical spot. Above 5000′ in elevation and with views of Sam Knob and Black Balsam mountains, the water is clean and cold as is drops down slopes of granite into clear pools. As if they were visiting a private “mountain beach,” the girls were prepared with their swimsuits so they could enjoy playing in the water. What a unique experience!

Even more unique was the kayaking adventure a small group of Senior campers experienced when they spent the day paddling the Nolichucky River. For 8 miles stretching across the border between North Carolina and Tennessee, the Nolichucky drops through a steep mountain gorge of rocks making an excellent set of whitewater rapids. It’s a gorgeous place this time of year!

Camp Nolichucky Kayaking
Camp Girl whitewater kayaking on the nolichucky

Led by Leland, Andria, Clyde and Andy, the crew enjoyed perfect weather as they ran rapids with names like “On the Rocks,” “Jaws” and “Rollercoaster.” With most of its rapids being rated class III or III+, the Nolichucky is an intermediate kayaking river that is often too difficult for most summer camp kids. Not so for these Rockbrook girls! A couple of them had to exit their boats and swim a rapid or two, but overall everyone did really well on the river. A one point, the crew took a stretch break from the boats and practiced saving each other using a throw rope. It’s exciting to know that Rockbrook campers have reached this level of kayaking accomplishment.

Nolichuck Whitewater Kayaking Kids

Back at camp in time for dinner, the counselors threw a “World Cup” dinner party where they rearranged the dining hall to make 10 large tables each designated a certain country. One table was Great Britain, another Germany, and another Italy, for example. As the campers arrived they were sorted randomly so each table/country seated girls of all ages. A few campers dressed up for the event with soccer jerseys, flag t-shirts, and face paint. I think I saw a cheerleader or two as well. We played great World music, and with all the flags decorating the dining hall, dinner soon became a dance party. When the cakes came out, each decorated to look like a country’s flag, the cheers almost rattled the roof. We shared all the cakes, danced even more, topping off an excellent day.

Costume Dinner Dance Line

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.

Zip Line Fever !

Rockbrook's bridge to start the zip line
Girl camper riding the Rockbrook Camp zip line

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

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

February decorated birthday cake at camp

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

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

Castle Rock Climbing

What’s that red dot in this photo? Amazingly, it’s a Rockbrook camper climbing Castle Rock! You may have heard that Rockbrook is lucky to have a great rock climbing area right on its property, and that this makes it incredibly easy to rock climb while at camp. It’s true, and here’s the proof! You may not, however, have a sense of just how BIG Castle Rock is. Well, it’s enormous… the exposed rock face being easily 250 feet tall.

Our friend Bob Twomey, who is a helicopter pilot and the owner of Wolf Tree Aviation, helped a photographer grab these shots last summer. Bob passed them along to us, and we just had to share.

Ready for some rock climbing? That red dot could be you!

Camper rock climbing on Castle Rock at Rockbrook
Camper rock climbing Castle Rock North Carolina
Rock climber taken from helicopter

First Day of Activities

Today all of the activities at camp took off! The camp bell woke us all up to a wonderful cool, foggy morning. After breakfast, the different “Lines” (age groups) headed to their lodges for their morning assembly, a time for a couple of energizing songs, maybe a skit, announcements, and a just chance to regroup before the day gets really moving.

Counselor and Camper Weaving

Then each girl, armed with her own unique set of four activities that she selected yesterday evening, set off to the different activity areas throughout the camp. Around 10 o’clock, girls were climbing, swimming, shooting, riding and creating. There were hikes to Castle Rock, archery and riflery instruction, looms clicking and clacking, introductions to new favorite ponies, and games in the gym to name a few. Everywhere, you could hear girls chattering away, making friends, and laughing. It’s completely action packed and neat to see.

The big event, however, was the first free swim time right before lunch. This is when we opened the new water slide at the lake for the very first time. The staff enjoyed it last week a couple of times, but we have kept it a surprise for the campers until they arrived. It’s down on the far end of the lake. The girls first walk across the new dock, cross over the creek that feeds the lake (with a great view of the waterfall), and then climb a series of steps and platforms to the top of the 30-foot tower.

Camp Water Slide Tower
Waterslide Bridge Dock
Sliding Camper Fun

The slide itself is made of a soft vinyl material that’s nice and slippery when we run a little water down it. There’s a staff member at the top of the tower to help, but when ready, the girls launch themselves and zip down 50 feet before splashing into the lake. It’s then a short swim back to the exit ladders, and they’re off to do it again. Super fun stuff!

After dinner tonight, we offered an optional activity during what we call our “Twilight” time. The Rockbrook schedule has several blocks of free time built into the day (the two free swim times, for example), and this is another one. Twilight is free time when girls can hang out on the hill, enjoy one of the many porch rockers around camp, or get involved in whatever spontaneous activity is announced. Tonight we pulled out the slip and slide! It’s been so warm and dry these last few days, a lot of girls got excited. We rolled out a long sheet of plastic, got the water hose going and added a couple of drops of soap— instant cool summer fun, and just another way to enjoy being at camp.

The first whitewater rafting trips are going out tomorrow and we’ll be unveiling a surprise dinner. Stay tuned. We try to right a blog post every day, so if you haven’t subscribed to the blog, here’s the information about how to do that.

Camp Girls Cracking Up

We Love Roasting Marshmallows

roasting marshmallows on a campfire

Getting excited for camp? We sure are! There are so many reasons, but seeing this picture really gets us looking forward to campfires and roasting marshmallows. It’s such a great classic summer camp experience… searching the forest for just the right roasting stick (the right length, thickness and stiffness, etc.), gathering around the fire, and carefully holding the marshmallow near the coals or over the flame to turn it that ideal shade of brown/black. Golden brown or charred to a crisp?

Did you know that marshmallows originally were made from extracting a substance from the root of the marshmallow plant, Althaea officinalis, and were primarily used as a remedy for sore throats? Later, candy makers in France began whipping it with sugar and egg whites to make a yummy dessert, and then in the 1940s marshmallows were mass produced and distributed as we know them today.

Around here, it seems like a bag of marshmallows goes on every overnight backpacking trip. We’ll definitely be doing some roasting! Can’t wait!

Kids Going Outside

Kids Going Outside at Summer Camp

There’s a fun article in the March 28th issue of the New Yorker Magazine that lists the “features” of “going outside.” It’s by Ellis Weiner and is entitled “Just in Time for Spring” (here’s a summary) In the tradition of a radio commercial for a new product, the article suggests that “going outside” is an “astounding multipurpose activity platform that will revolutionize the way you spend your time.” Of course the humor here is that going outside is not new at all; though, it has been too often forgotten as we spend more of our day interacting with electronic media and filtering our experience through technology.

So what does going outside promise? Here are a few highlights.

1. real-time experience through a seamless mind-body interface.
2. authentic 3-D, real-motion visuals.
3. true surround sound.
4. complete interactivity with inanimate objects, animals and Nature.
5. the opportunity to experience actual weather.

Rockbrook is the kind of outdoor camp where all of this is so easily true. Kids love being outside at camp. They love all the chances to actually do things, to use all their senses, and to experience the wonders of Nature. Of course, we’ve mentioned before just how good this is for kids as well.  If you think about it, it’s good for all of us!