2nd Session Video Note – Part Two

Robbie Francis of Go Swan Filmworks spent another day this past week filming at Rockbrook, capturing some of the sweet interactions at the heart of our camp community. And now we have another of his fascinating 2-minute videos to enjoy.

Take a look! There are moments of accomplishment, true affection, spirit, and of course sheer happiness.  Be sure to turn up the volume to enjoy the sounds of camp too.

Click here for the video. Or see below.

Absolutely Grand

When it gets hot outside, Rockbrook girls go to the water. It’s rare around here that the high temperatures reach above 90 degrees. It helps that being in the mountains keeps things cooler at night, and Rockbrook is tucked into a forested, west-facing slope giving it plenty of shade most of the morning, but there are always a few summer days, like today, when temperatures can climb. Fortunately at camp, we have plenty of ways to stay cool by taking a dip, splashing around, and otherwise getting wet.

Girls Laughing in whitewater raft
Girl Power Rafting
happy girl camp rafting

For example, the different creeks flowing through camp become water-park playgrounds for the girls during their free time periods. Above Curosty, the fiber arts cabin, you’ll find campers standing in the water— even sitting sometimes! —arranging small stones, floating their flip-flop shoes, and just enjoying the moving water headed to the lake. In front of Goodwill, the paper crafts cabin, the stream has more moss, larger stones to turn over and reveal small insects and other creatures —salamanders! crayfish! Armed with a small paper cup, girls are happily exploring, on the hunt for something of wonder.

Of course, the lake is the best place to cool off at camp. The diving board, 50-foot water slide, and variety of floating toys make it a fun and inviting place. Plus it’s always highly social, with groups swimming laps, playing “categories,” or lounging together in the water. As you might expect, the swimming and boating activities, plus the two free swim periods, have been extra popular with this sort of weather.

About 70 campers chose to experience the ultimate cooling adventure today over in Swain county, a whitewater rafting trip down the Nantahala River. Two buses of girls spent the night beforehand at our outpost camp that adjoins the National Forest. After a quick dinner, the girls sang songs around the campfire and topped off their evening by roasting marshmallows for s-mores. The next day, all the other girls met our Rockbrook adventure guides to take the two-hour trip down the Nantahala River. This is such a fun time for the girls. Take a look at the photo gallery (or click these rafting photos) to see their hilarious laughter, wide-eyed moments of foreboding, and cheerful screams through the rapids. In the bright sunshine, the layer of cool air hovering over the cold, cold river water, felt really good today. It was an ideal day of rafting.

Finally, there was a fun surprise for the girls announced during dinner. The whole camp would have a “counselor hunt!” This is a giant, whole-camp version of hide and seek where all the counselors disappear into hiding places all over the camp, and each cabin group together searches. Each counselor was worth a secret number of points (some positive and some negative!) so that after the 45 minutes of searching, the tally would also be a surprise. The camp bell signaled the start and finish of the hunt, and the winning cabin received a sweet treat from the kitchen.

It’s only been a few days, and already this session of camp is absolutely grand. So many friendly girls and enthusiastic counselors, with all the great activities happening, are blending to fill our excellent days.

Girls Camp Friends

Immune to Imperfection

Rockbrook took over the Nantahala River again today as the final group of Middlers and Seniors went rafting. We offer the trip to everyone, but since it means missing their regularly scheduled activities, it can sometimes be a tough choice to make— rafting vs. working on that weaving project, hiking to play in the water below Rockbrook Falls, or learning to canter over cross rails in the horseback riding arena, for example. With so many things going on at camp, it’s impossible to do everything, but that’s OK because the girls revel in the choices and really enjoy following whatever whim they and their friends decide. For example, about 23 campers chose to combine their rafting adventure with an overnight camping experience as well. We drove over to the river the night before, having plenty of time for dinner, singing songs, eating s’mores, resting and meeting the RBC rafting guides the next morning.

teen girls rafting

It was a little misty when the first group hit the water around 10am, not cold, but not sunny either. Right from the start, the girls’ overall excited mood, however, prevailed, helping even more as the sun began to pop out occasionally. After our picnic lunch with both the morning and afternoon groups (about 80 people total!), the weather turned rainy just as the second trip began. Here too, you might think these girls would shrink under such imperfect conditions, their enthusiasm literally dampened, their spirits wilting in what at times became a solid rainstorm.  But you’d be wrong!  Since this rain didn’t include thunder and lightning, the guides kept the trip going and the girls happily kept having a whoop-it-up great time.  Paddling hard provided some warmth, just as their camaraderie provided mutual encouragement and cheerfulness, despite the added challenge. It was an impressive display of grit and determination.  Today the river provided just as many whitewater thrills, plus a few extra chills along the way.

dance camp girls

One of the raft guides put it this way. He said, “There’s something special going on here. These girls seem so happy and together on things. It’s obvious that they love camp.” What’s cool is that he noticed this when the girls were uncomfortable, some even shivering. I too heard a senior girl yell “I love camp!” right when her boat was blasting through the final rapid. It’s incredible that it doesn’t take smooth sailing to have a great time at camp. It doesn’t take luxury —our cabins, after all, are not air conditioned, have only a couple of light bulbs, no electrical outlets, and probably a spider or two. It doesn’t take gorgeous weather, a diet of favorite foods, or constant assistance when things are difficult. There’s a magic to life at camp that makes us immune to imperfection, and a power easily stronger than these sorts of discomfort that could otherwise taint an experience. And your kids embody that power because they love camp.

Why girls love camp, is another topic dear to our hearts and a discussion for another day. But for now it’s simply worth noting that your Rockbrook girls are gaining a valuable skill while here— the ability to see past what’s less than ideal, to enjoy an activity even if it includes a degree of discomfort or disappointment, to navigate around what might be frustrating or seen as an obstacle to fun.

girls aiming rifle

It’s also neat, perhaps even astonishing, that your girls are maintaining these positive attitudes, enjoying life at camp despite the occasional challenges and discomforts, without your help… on their own. They have not needed (nor wanted, I’d bet) anyone to remove every imperfection, smooth every bump in the road, or plow the path for them. Away from parents who might be quick to plow, camp provides this valuable experience of girls having a chance to feel proudly independent, capable and confident. It’s such a great life skill!

My hope is that our Rockbrook girls can carry this skill back home to their lives at school, that they can recreate some of the conditions of camp life that provide that special cheerful power we see here.  How they might do that is yet another topic, but for now, we can’t help but be amazed.

happy camp girls

Celebrating the Silly

Rafting Camp Girls

Rafting, rafting rafting! Today Rockbrook girls took to the Nantahala River for a day of whitewater rafting. Two groups of girls, each made up of about 28 Middlers and Seniors, signed up to go on the adventure.  Rockbrook is known as the “rafting camp” since we take so many girls down the Nantahala (every camper interested who is 5th grade or older… an age/weight restriction imposed by our USFS permit) making us a weekly sight to behold on the river… dozens of Rockbrook girls all decked out in their colorful PFDs and white helmets, happily singing and screaming as their boats bump and splash over the rapids.

Today the weather was perfect in every way— warm and sunny, low humidity, blue skies and a very light breeze.  This made both the morning and afternoon rafting trips extraordinarily fun. The girls enjoyed splashing each other, taking turns “riding the bull” (sitting on the front of the raft), and even taking brief swims during calm sections of the river. Cold river water just feels good on this kind of warm, bright day. It’s really hard to imagine a better day of rafting.

girls sunglasses
girls silly headbands

Meanwhile back at camp, a surprise was brewing. It started at breakfast when all of the camp directors arrived wearing the craziest of fashion accessories. The camp mom wore a hamburger hat, our Program Director an all out 70s hippie outfit, and our Staff Director chose pins featuring pictures of all of her leadership staff. Soon enough, the girls heard the announcement explaining that today was declared CRAZY ACCESSORIES DAY!

Cheers erupted in the dining hall, and not even ten minutes later the whole camp was decorated in the wildest accessories girls could find and make up. One girl carried around a clear umbrella with blue and purple streamers to embody a jellyfish. Another camper picked up twigs to maneuver throughout her ponytail. Many girls were sporting tutus, colorful and crazy hats, headbands, sunglasses, and bright vests that could be seen from across the dining hall. It was fun and silly, in the best camp way!

For years now, Rockbrook girls have proved that everything is made better when there are costumes involved. Wearing a costume always adds an element of playfulness. It’s an opportunity for creativity. It can serve as a social glue bringing together girls to share a unique dress up idea. Costumes are inspiring, helping girls be less shy and perform a little more than they would otherwise. Costumes are genuinely liberating in this way. In a community that celebrates the silly, like Rockbrook, all this is even more true, and even more fun.

Finally, you’ll probably enjoy reading this short article in the New York Times, by Jeff Giles: “Goodbye Muddah, Goodbye Fadduh: Vintage photos of joy, adventure and homesickness at summer camp.” It’s a wonderful testament to the power of camp, how it evokes so much passion, and why it makes a huge difference in the lives of campers and staff members alike.

whitewater raft group

Bouncing, Laughing and Singing

girls rafting crew

When Rockbrook was awarded one of the few permits to raft the Nantahala River back in the early 1980s (still the only girls camp recognized for this), we had no idea that it would become such an important part of our adventure program. Every year since, we’ve guided our Middlers and Seniors down the river, with I’d say about 90% choosing to go. For many girls, rafting is one of the highlights of their session, and their main adventure activity, with the possible exception being day hiking trips or zip lining.

Having this permit for guiding rafting trips on the Nantahala means keeping our own fleet of boats (cool Avon and NRS whitewater rafts), and having paddles, helmets, and PFDs for everyone. We hire and train our own guides (they are on our adventure staff back at camp) and are inspected by the US Forest Service annually. All of this allows us to run trips as we like, and have the confidence that we have great folks in the boats with our campers for the trips to go smoothly.

summer camper rafting

Today was another of those great rafting days. We took two trips down the river with two different groups of girls: the first rafting before lunch and the second after our picnic of sandwiches, fruit and chips. The girls had a blast bouncing over the rapids, splashing around, singing during the more calm sections, “riding the bull” (which means sitting on the front of the boat like a hood ornament), and occasionally falling in.  The Nantahala water is shockingly, steal-your-breath, cold, so when someone falls in, the whole boat screams and springs into action.  The goal is to get the swimmer back in the boat ASAP, so once in reach, the other campers help pull the wide-eyed swimmer back in by her PFD. It’s a coordinated effort that inevitably ends with several girls sprawled in the bottom of the raft laughing hysterically. It really was a fun day on the river, as the weather cooperated (we luckily dodged most of the rain in the area) and we easily made it back to camp in time for dinner.

girl group dance

Somehow, despite the desire to keep it a secret, only half of the girls seemed surprised when it was announced that we would be having a dance tonight with Camp Carolina. We often schedule a dance at some point during each session, but we try to surprise the girls with when it will happen because it minimizes the time spent getting ready. The line for the shower can only be so long! Over the years, what it means to “get ready” for a dance has evolved away from a “nice outfit” and become more about a crazy costume. Dances are less about brushed hair and more about braids, less about make up and more about glitter. Hawaiian shirts have replaced blouses, and pajama pants and shorts are preferred over skirts.

teen group dance

This is practical too when you consider the dancing, which is mostly a simple move of jumping up and down with one hand raised high. Clustered together, the crowd jumps in unison perfectly matching the straight beat of the music. The playlist tonight was a series of familiar, danceable pop songs from recent years— “Party in the USA,” “Can’t Stop The Feeling,” and “Wobble,” for example. A few classics also made it: “Africa” by Toto, “Jessie’s Girl” by Rick Springfield, and “Mamma Mia” by ABBA, to name a few of the sing-a-long examples.

For about an hour and half, both dances (the younger children at Rockbrook and the older at Camp Carolina) were bouncing, laughing and singing along to the music. A little sweaty and surprised by how fast the time flew by, it took a good half an hour for the excitement of the evening to fade after the girls returned to camp and began getting ready for bed. A fun, full camp day to remember.

girl kicking dance

Accepting Adventure

Camp crew whitewater rafting

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.

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

Irresistible Fun

Sliding Rock Emotions
Sliding Rock Cheer

Isn’t this a great photo? As you may have guessed, it was taken at sliding rock here in Pisgah, but what makes it wonderful is how well it captures the expression on the girls faces, one ecstatic and the other a little terrified. For most of the girls we took to slide this evening, to zip themselves down the 60-feet of sloping granite through the cold mountain water of Looking Glass creek, they felt exactly that, an odd combination of intense excitement and dread at the same time. Just sitting down with the chill of the water up their back, elicits this feeling, and then as they begin sliding and accelerating down the rock toward the pool at bottom, most girls can’t help but scream. It’s really the perfect response for any thrilling adventure like this. On the second and third trip down the rock the feeling of excitement overtakes the nervousness, but even then, like riding a roller coaster, it just feels good to throw your hands up and yell. For even these teenage Senior campers we took tonight, this was irresistible fun. Sliding and sliding, we kept it up until it was almost dark— a very full dose of camp adventure.

whitewater rafting camp splash

Earlier today two groups of girls enjoyed a fantastic day rafting on the Nantahala River, another classic Rockbrook camp adventure popular with the girls. Perfect sunny warm weather, our regular crew of Rockbrook guides, and very few other outfitters on the river made the trips superb. We offer these rafting trips to every Middler and Senior— we can do that since Rockbrook has a Forest service permit to guide its own rafting on the Nantahala—and I’d say 90% of the campers opt to do it, either a day trip or a longer outing that involves spending the night at our outpost camp near the river. Like the sliding rock photo above, this rafting shot captures the feeling of rafting, and it too is a heart-pumping ride that’s uniquely fun at camp… good friends screaming their heads off as they bump down mountain whitewater.

Camper being slimed

Finally, tonight we enjoyed a special dinner and evening program set to the theme, “Nickelodeon.” The dining hall was decorated with colorful streamers and painted banners showing well-known Nickelodeon television shows. While everyone enjoyed their roasted chicken Caesar salads and bread for dinner (oh, and which included a delicious chocolate cake with green “slime” glaze for each table), we played “Nick at Night” songs. Lots of campers and counselors dressed up. There was Sponge Bob, Patrick Star, Blue from Blue’s Clues, and the four Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. There were colorful Nickelodeon “Splats” hidden under chairs in the dining hall, and when a camper discovered a certain splat, she won a prize. Several “lucky” campers won the prize of being slimed by a bucket of green goo dumped over their heads. We all gathered on the hill to watch the sliming. During evening program, we also played other messy games like an egg toss that required the contestants to catch the egg in a bucket strapped to their heads. There was a “Double Dare” style game where the girls could only use their feet to remove a banana from a tub containing various canned foods like jello, pie filling, whipped cream and sliced beets. These games were certainly a little messy and in some cases a little gross too, but I think the girls really enjoyed playing them and laughing while they watched their friends. Once again there seemed to be non-stop cheering as everyone stayed excited during the event.

Ninja Turtle Costumed girls

Flamboyantly at Ease

It’s the 4th of July! And that means an incredibly action-packed, colorful day marked by celebration and special events. Right away in fact, it began with an odd alarm bell: members of our equestrian staff riding horses up into camp, and exactly at 8am, down into each of the cabin lines yelling “The British are coming! Wake up! Wake up!” (a reference to Paul Revere’s ride in 1775). Rockbrook has had this 4th of July tradition for many years, but it’s always a remarkable morning for the girls— hoof beats, and then dressed in a sweatshirt or robe, everyone assembling on the hill around the flagpole for the Hi-Ups to raise the flag, a reciting of the Pledge of Allegiance and singing of “America the Beautiful.”

wonder woman zip line small child
Rafting group wave

Some of us spent the morning over at the Nantahala River on a rafting trip. Since our time together is limited and we want to give every camper old enough (5th grade and older) a chance to go rafting, we needed to squeeze in one trip today even though its a busy day on the river. Our solution to that problem was to be the first team of boats on the water, and it worked beautifully. Our seven rafts transporting 49 people followed clean lines all the way down the river, giving the girls a splashing fun ride. It was a little misty and rainy through most of the trip, but it cleared up nicely at the end for our fried chicken and watermelon lunch at the river’s end.

Meanwhile back in camp, other girls enjoyed a morning of regular activities, but with a double scoop of red, white and blue.  What better day to show off our patriotic spirit with balloons, streamers, and table decorations in the dining hall, small American flags, beaded necklaces, face paint, temporary tattoos, hats and crazy flashing pins? Looking around, it was clear everyone knew which three colors to wear. It’s particularly neat to see the girls dressed like this while doing their activities. Wonder Woman on the zip line? Yes! A fireworks headband while shooting archery? Sure! Light-up star glasses for weaving a basket? Definitely. These girls are prepared and flamboyantly at ease.

Camp picnic kids
4th July face painted child

For dinner, we added to our day-long celebration by holding a traditional 4th of July cook out, complete with grilled hotdogs (and veggie dogs), homemade coleslaw, corn on the cob and freshly sliced watermelon. We don’t ordinarily serve soft drinks at Rockbrook, but tonight we offered the girls each a can of Cheerwine, kept cold in the creek in front of the Goodwill cabin. Rick and his kitchen crew topped off the meal with a fun multi-layered (again, red, white and blue!) jello cup with whipped cream and a cherry on top. The weather was perfect, and as familiar “American Music” played, we had a great evening meal.

As I walked around taking a few photos of the girls, it struck me how content and relaxed everyone was. It made sense after us spending this much time together, not to mention the feeling that comes late in the day: a more soothing yellow sun, a delicious meal, and good friends all around. But the girls seemed so essentially happy tonight.

shaving cream smile

The next event was mostly about white, and not so much red or blue: a giant shaving cream fight! After a quick change into swim suits and short walk down to the landsports field, we had a grand time spraying each other with white slippery foam. The girls raced about, armed with a can or two of the stuff, spraying and smearing each other, pausing only briefly to pose for a photo now and then. With shaving cream lathering your hair, and all over your body (in some cases, every square inch!), you can strike a pretty funny pose. There was also a slip-n-slide set up, and Richie, Rockbrook’s Site Manager, brought over a fire truck from his Volunteer Fire Department boosting our messy fun with a giant 40-foot spray of water. There’s nothing quite like the exuberance of a shaving cream fight, and when the weather is warm and sunny like it was tonight, it’s extraordinary.

Not everyone wanted to get messy in the “fight,” so as another option we prepared one of the creeks in camp for gem mining. Of the several creeks running through camp, the one that feeds the lake —and which also is a common place to see Juniors exploring, building makeshift bridges from twigs, and racing their flip flop in the current —was the perfect location. We primed the creek with several 10-pound bags of “special dirt” from a local gem mine and gave the girls sifting pans to use in the creek. Gems kept appearing for a good hour as a few extra determined girls stayed focus on their panning.

All of this led up to the day’s finale, our Fireworks show. As the girls and their counselors arrived and set up their crazy creek chairs on the hill, some under blankets, Chelsea and Emily gave everyone a glow stick to play with as they waited for it to get dark. Of course, we had music pumping from speakers set up nearby, and the girls easily joined in singing along, some even getting up to dance now and then. By 9:30pm we were launching mortars high in the sky and enjoying the multi-colored flashes and booming sounds of each explosion. For the next 35 minutes or so, the girls cheered and sang with their friends while we presented our show.

This has been a wonderful 4th of July celebration. I’ve heard it from more than one camper— that they love celebrating the 4th here at Rockbrook. I hope you can now understand why.

shaving cream fight friends