Let’s Go Rock Climbing!

Kid Adventure Rock ClimbingWhen kids come to Rockbrook for camp, they know there’s going to be outdoor adventure happening, things like backpacking, kayaking and whitewater rafting, but they are sometimes surprised about all the rock climbing available. That’s mostly because there is simply so much rock to climb right here on the camp property, not to mention some of the famous rock climbing areas nearby in the Pisgah National Forest. But it’s also because learning to climb is so popular! No matter how old you are —yes, even the youngest kids— you can climb a real rock just about every day at Rockbrook.

Here’s how it works. Usually at breakfast or at dinner the night before, the rock climbing staff will announce a trip they have planned. Like for all of our adventure trips, the campers can then decide if they want to go. They make their own decision weather to go.  It means giving up their regularly scheduled activities, and that can be a hard choice if you really love horseback riding or archery for example, but it also means enjoying the thrill of getting up on the rock. It helps to have experienced the fun of rock climbing to realize these trips are worth signing up for, but even after just one outing, campers learn how much of a treat they are. Some of these trips are short hikes up to a couple of the routes on Castle Rock, while others will be all-day adventures to one of the climbing areas on Looking Glass Rock.

The Rockbrook Camp rock climbing program is a big part of the adventure activities around here. Hey, let’s go climbing!

Green Salamanders at Rockbrook

There is a secret about the western part of North Carolina, something few people know. It is home to more that 50 distinct species of salamanders (Order Caudata), with North Carolina as a whole having the highest salamander diversity in the world! The so-called “Lungless Salamanders” (Family Plethodontidae) are the most numerous and include one species listed as Rare and Endangered by the State: the Green Salamander (Aneides aeneus). This is the only salamander in North America with green markings, hence its name. These little guys have very specific habitat requirements and are rarely seen.

nesting endangered green salamander in North CarolinaRare and endangered green salamander

It just so happens, though, Rockbrook’s Castle Rock and Dunn’s Rock provide a perfect habitat for the Green Salamander. There are plenty of moist, shaded rock crevices for the salamanders to hide in, and for the females, to lay their eggs. Green Salamanders spend most of the year in cool rock crevices, but hide in trees during the summer. They ordinarily live to become 10-15 years old.

Today, Alan Cameron, a 7-year volunteer with the NC Wildlife Resources Commission, came out to Rockbrook for a Green Salamander field expedition. Another naturalist had observed Green Salamanders at the base of Dunn’s Rock, so Alan wanted to verify his hunch that they would be on Castle Rock too. Within 4 minutes of arriving at the rock, he found a Green! Alan believes that the environment on the camp property is ideal for this salamander and that there is likely a very healthy population of them here.

It’s neat to know (now definitely) that Rockbrook is home to this rare and endangered species of salamander. This is important because Rockbrook will always preserve its unique habitat and thereby help insure this special amphibian survives.

Camp Lets You Really Rock!

Girl Rock CampFor many of the girls at Rockbrook, especially the older “seniors” (teens thirteen to fifteen years old), rock climbing is one of their favorite adventure activities. For these girls, RBC can be a girls rock camp. That’s because there are so many opportunities to climb. Not even counting the climbing wall in the gym (which has 6 different very cool routes on it: four face routes, a sweet corner for stemming, and a hand crack route) and the Alpine Tower (which easily has more than 100 different rock climbing challenges), the girls have plenty of rock right on the camp property.

Castle Rock is the huge granite rock towering above camp where girls have six different rock climbing routes to work on.  It’s so nice to just hike up the hill behind the dining hall to our very own private rock climbing spot (no driving!).  And the rock is excellent! There are nice deep hand cracks, a finger crack, delicate face routes with some serious exposure, and of course plenty of chances to work on your friction climbing. The rock provides a variety of climbing challenges that beginners and more experienced girls will find just right.

With all of this climbing right at Rockbrook, and then with the great rock nearby in the Pisgah National Forest, camp has the kind of adventure where girls can really rock!

Steep Hiking Adventure

Steep Castle Rock Hiking Girls

Here’s a picture of a hiking group at the top of Castle Rock, one of the two massive rocks on the Rockbrook Camp property (the other one being Dunn’s Rock). From up there, the view is out across the French Broad River Valley and out to the Blue Ridge Mountains. It’s an amazing spot to see Cedar Rock (another climbing destination) and on a clear enough day, Tennent Mountain (a backpacking spot up near the Shining Rock Wilderness area). Sitting at this spot on Castle Rock your elevation is almost 2,450 feet above sea level. Below you is a 150 foot rock cliff and further below is the main part of camp which has an elevation of 2,250 feet.

You knew hiking the trail from camp to Castle Rock was steep uphill; now you know how much! You’re hiking up about 200 feet in about half a mile.  Sure there are switch-backs, but that trail is steep!

Saving North Carolina Hemlocks

Beetle Treatment for Hemlocks

There is a pest, a small insect native to Japan called the “hemlock woolly adelgid,” that is threatening the health of hemlock trees all across the eastern United States. From Maine to Georgia, along the Appalachian mountains and Piedmont, hemlock trees are dying, and unfortunately Rockbrook has not been immune. Perhaps 75% of the hemlock trees at camp (and we have a lot on our 200+ acres) have been infected. You can easily tell because the insect produces a white wool-like substance at the tips of the trees’ branches.

Initially, scientists attempted to control the woolly adelgid using chemical insecticides, but now there is a growing consensus that a particular Japanese lady beetle, Sasajiscymnus tsugae (“Sassie”), can provide effective biological control of the pest. These small, pinhead-sized black beetles eat exclusively adelgids and a few aphids. They evolved alongside the aldelgid in Japan, and are, as it turns out, a very effective and very specific predator. The U.S. Forest service conducted several years of testing and has now embarked on a large scale effort to release colonies of the Sassie beetle in infected areas. It is somewhat difficult, time-consuming and costly to raise colonies of the predator beetle, but their long-term effectiveness in controlling and even reversing the damage done by the woolly adelgid has been remarkable.

Working with Dr. Patrick Horan, Rockbrook Camp is treating its hemlocks with multiple colonies of the Sassie beetle. We’ve picked more than a dozen trouble spots (like the trees shown here near the Junior Lodge) as starting points, but as the beetles mature and reproduce, we hope they will spread and attack the woolly adelgid throughout the camp. It takes several months, even years to see the benefits of the beetles’ work eating the adelgids, but we’re excited and hopeful to see the results.

P.S. One of our release sites is up on Dunn’s Rock where there are some of largest known examples of Carolina Hemlocks.

Rock Climbing Summer Camp Trip

A Summer Camp Rock Climbing TripAfter breakfast we hike up the hill in camp, just up the trail behind the dining hall, to reach Castle Rock. Locking carabiners, harnesses, helmets, rock climbing shoes, and ropes… everything in place for a day up on the rock. Put on the gear and tie into the rope with a follow-through figure eight knot. Wait for the belayer to get set and begin the commands. “On belay?” “Belay is on,” she says. “Climbing?” “Climb on,” you hear, and you’re ready to go. A left foot up and you’re off. Lean to the right. A foot switch. A little tricky spot, but you get it. This is real rock climbing! Amazing view at the top. A quick rappel and you’re down. Great job!