Accepting Adventure

We jumped right into some outdoor adventure today, only the second full day of the session, by taking more than 90 people whitewater rafting on the Nantahala River. Since the early 1980s, after the US Forest Service issued us a permit to run the river (we’re the only girls camp to have one!), Rockbrook girls have been taking this exciting outdoor trip. It’s a fun two-hour run through the Nantahala Gorge over several well-known, named rapids as well as calm sections ideal for splashing and goofing around with the others in your boat. Over the years, rafting has become the most popular out-of-camp adventure trip we do with I’d say almost 90% of the Middlers and Seniors choosing to go.

Camp crew whitewater rafting

There were actually two Rockbrook trips down the river, splitting the number of girls to make more reasonable sized groups.  The first chose to add an overnight camping experience the night before at our outpost camp located near the river’s put in. The girls came prepared with sleeping bags, a change of clothes, flashlight, brushes for hair and teeth, sprays to block bugs and the sun.  A few stuffed animals came along as well. We enjoyed a quick dinner of mac-n-cheese and still had time for a campfire and s’mores before heading off to sleep in the platform cabins. The second trip elected to ride over from camp and raft in the afternoon, finish up and be back for dinner.

Happy camp adventure rafting

The weather was ideal for both trips— hot and sunny. This of course made the “extra-cool” (close to 50 degrees) water feel both exhilarating and good. There were “high-fives” with paddles, chances to “ride the bull,” surprising bumps followed by sudden swims, and plenty of screams and laughter all day long. Check out the photo gallery to see shots from both trips. They were great!

There’s more to these rafting trips than simply the thrill, the ride, and the fun. For example, rafting is a real adventure, something that’s a little scary (because something might go wrong— like falling out of the boat), perhaps a little uncomfortable (that cold water!) and certainly a physical challenge. It promises to be fun, but really does take courage for girls to sign up and agree to go. And when they do go, endure the discomfort, power through that twinge of nervousness, and use their muscles in new ways, there’s inevitably success that feels really good. There’s accomplishment built into rafting and thereby it is a great self-confidence boosting experience. Through their own independent choice, their own agency, the girls learn they can do something (often with expert advice and special equipment) even when it looks difficult, uncomfortable or scary. Rafting can be a step toward feeling more confident and capable in other ways. Instead of shrinking from challenges, these camp girls will be more open to moving forward, accepting adventures, and proving once again that they can do it.

Camp is wonderful in this way, and this is just one example of how being independent, making choices, accepting challenges, and finding real success is our daily bread at Rockbrook… all wrapped in a thick layer of fun.  Such good stuff!

Nantahala rafting camper girls

Active Creative Fun

Small Camp Girls

It’s been an amazing few weather days, with everyone surprised by how cool it’s been. If you’ve been checking the Rockbrook Weather Station, you know what I mean. For example, this morning it was a chilly 51 degrees (!), which means overnight we had perfect sleeping weather (in our open-air cabins), and in the morning everyone layered up with sweat shirts, long pants, and in some cases hats. The humidity has also been unusually low, so as the day warmed into the 70s with clear blue skies, it felt wonderful to be outside. It didn’t take long for the girls to shed their layers and enjoy the sunshine as they romped about the camp for their activities.

Camp Twin Day Costumes

So many twins! Not actual twins (mostly, since we do have a few sets of biological twins at camp right now), but costumed twins could be spotted around camp today, since, yes, it was “Twin Day.” We love costumes at Rockbrook, and tend to take any chance we can to dress up, to put on something— and the wackier the better —that’s out of the ordinary. There’s something inherently fun about taking on a different character, perhaps completely changing your hair (neon purple!), wearing a shiny black cape, or even changing your accent (Arrrrh, pirates!). It’s good fun to dress up, but more importantly, it’s active creative fun, and not some kind of passive entertainment. There’s no recipe or formula for how to make your twin costume; you and your friend have to decide. Same shirt, shorts, glasses? What about hairstyle? And since our dress up days at camp are always open to the whole group, there’s both a performance element, and a sense of pride that comes from presenting your costume creativity to everyone else. In this way, participating in a group costume event like Twin Day provides a real boost to our (admittedly zany) community.  When we’re into it, it brings us together. It can be a little disconcerting to see two girls wearing lab coats playing tetherball before lunch, but you can’t help but smile at the sight.

While girls were trotting with horses, zipping high among the trees, and tying t-shirts for dye in camp, about 60 middlers and seniors spent part of the day in Swain County rafting the Nantahala River.

Camp Rafting kids
Nantahala Kids Rafting

The Nantahala has been ranked as the best class II whitewater river in the southeast because it offers both incredible scenery as it passes through a steep, forested gorge, and a perfect mix of whitewater rapids, calm stretches, and an exciting class II+ drop for a finale. Back in the early 1980s the US Forest service awarded Rockbrook a permit to raft the Nantahala, and since that time we are one of the very few camps to do so with its own equipment and guides.  Over the years, taking a whitewater rafting trip has become an extremely popular adventure outing for Rockbrook girls.  There’s no additional charge and we offer the trip to everyone who is old enough to go (that’s a limit placed on us by the Forest Service): the middlers and seniors. One camper explained to me that this was her fourth time down the river— every year she’s come to camp —and it’s more fun every time. “Best trip ever!” One of the defining features of the Nantahala, and I’m sure you’ll hear about this from your daughter if you ask her about rafting, is the temperature of the water. Thanks to the frigid bottom-of-the-lake water released into the river by the Duke Energy hydroelectric project, falling into the 50-degree river is an unforgettable, wide-eyed, breath-taking experience. Toward the end of the 2-hour trip, it’s a safe bet that most toes are numb. Of course, there’s a thrilling rapid around each bend of the river, and a boat of laughing, singing friends to keep the whole trip exciting and fun.

Back at camp, our evening program tonight was an all-camp special event down in the gym, and as you might guess, we turned on the costumes again, this time to the theme, “When I grow Up.” This is a brilliantly conceived costume theme that can accommodate the conventional (I saw a doctor or two, a “professional equestrienne,” and a soldier, for example.) as well as the imaginative, like a shark trainer, a unicorn princess, or a food fairy. All of the costumes were resourceful, mostly eclectic and certainly colorful.

The event was a goofy spin-off from the popular game show “Family Feud.” For us it was more like “Cabin Feud” where groups of girls from each Line (age group) attempted to guess the most common answers to questions like: What’s a fruit that has lots of seeds? Or, What’s a sport that does not involve a ball? Or, What do teenagers like to do when they’re bored? Counselors knew the top 7 answers to each question and as team members correctly guessed answers, the team earned points. Meanwhile the audience rooted for their friends, shouted helpful suggestions, and had a great time following the competition. Each winning cabin (per age group) would receive a delicious-looking cookie cake trophy, so the audience went wild with enthusiastic cheering whenever a group won a round. It was a fun spirited evening celebrating our collective creativity.

Girls Camp Relaxing

A Kind of Collective Euphoria

Raft goes over Nantahala river falls

One of the outdoor adventure trips available to all Rockbrook Middlers and Seniors (girls who have finished the 5th grade and older) is whitewater rafting on the Nantahala River over in Swain County. We don’t make girls sign up for these trips before arriving at camp (or charge extra for them) because we know part of the fun is deciding to go, or not go, with your friends. And when there are two options available -a day-long trip or an overnight camping version -making that decision is important. These girls just want to be together! This can make the logistics of planning rafting trips complicated, but we have plenty of experience making it happen. Like today, when surprisingly 77 girls wanted to raft, we simply ran an extra raft of girls on both trips to accommodate everyone. After meeting our veteran guides at the river’s put-in, and suiting up in the RBC gear (Rockbrook has a special permit to do all this ourselves), the morning trip hit the first rapid called “Patton’s Run” in bright sunshine. The girls had a ball over the next two hours, laughing and screaming with every bump and splash. Some of the rapids on the Nantahala really get your heart pumping, like the one in this photo, the final big rapid called the “Nantahala Falls.” There are calm spots too, making a nice balance of floating (and chances to sing camp songs!) and high adventure whitewater. The afternoon trip also started out warm and sunny, but did have some rain for the last 30 minutes. This didn’t stop the fun however. Their Rockbrook Spirit, a kind of collective euphoria, kicked in and the girls just sang louder and paddled harder.

Back at camp, creativity ruled the day with all kinds of arts and crafts projects taking shape- watercolor painting, t-shirt scrap weaving, extruded form pottery, triple pattern friendship bracelets, beaded headbands, embroidered pillows, and paper craft decorated boxes. For some girls, sports and games like dodgeball, tennis or yoga kept them moving, if they weren’t signed up to ride the zip line course or attend the sharpshooters club taught by Cliff down at the rifle range. Elaine had the gymnastics girls working on balance and posture, and down at riding, Kelly was giving similar instructions to girls cantering around the lower ring.

Black Forest Girls Costumed

For dinner Rick brought back his homemade pizza… completely homemade, with pounds of flour, yeast and water going into the dough, gallons of red marinara sauce, and a mountain of shredded mozzarella cheese. There’s something about the chewy soft crust of this pizza that really makes it extraordinary. Some like it with pepperoni, and others with veggies, but even if it’s plain cheese, the girls gobbled up tray after tray tonight. Everyone had some of the spinach salad and strawberries served on the side too, but it was the pizza that made the meal. To top it all off, Katie made fresh blueberry cobbler that had a perfectly crunchy, crumbly topping, though I suspect most of the girls were pretty full when the Hi-Ups brought out the dessert platters. So many delicious things!

Camps magic show

Tonight after dinner our friend Bill Grimsley entertained the whole camp in the gym with his world famous magic show. Bill has been a full-time, professional entertainer since 1986 and has toured all over the world to perform. He is a talented comedian, juggler and stage magician, and tonight he didn’t hold back. He made two doves appear in an empty box, only to cover the box again and reveal a live rabbit instead. He sawed a counselor in half (reconnecting her shortly thereafter!), and levitated a camper by removing the chairs supporting a plank she was lying upon. The Juniors sitting on the front row were rapt and wide-eyed. He performed other classic magic tricks too, like cutting and magically restoring a rope, mysteriously connecting large metal rings, and a card trick where a card with a ripped corner appeared in a box across the stage. The Senior girls seemed particularly impressed by a mind reading trick where Bill correctly guessed one girl’s favorite food (French Fries) and another’s favorite vacation spot (New York City). “How’d he do that?” “I don’t know, but it’s pretty cool.”

camp girls rafting the nantahala river