A Wrench in the Schedule

Ready for the Plunge!

In many ways, the days here at camp run like clockwork.

Wake up at 8 AM. Breakfast at 8:30. Morning Assembly at 9:15. First Period at 9:45. Muffin Break at 10:45. And so on. Our schedule sets the pace of our day, and forms the framework of every camper’s experience. It is comfortable, and familiar; while it may contain countless activities that they had never dreamed they’d ever try, it is still what the campers expect after years of unchanging school routines.

Look, Mom, No Hands!

But the schedule isn’t what the campers remember. Those day-to-day routines aren’t what they can’t stop talking about when they come home at the end of the session. They remember the spice, the excitement, and the spontaneity that are mixed into every piece of the schedule–surprising bits of joy so bright and exuberant, that the campers would never consider the camp schedule to be as unspectacular as their morning commutes to school.

Halfway Up

These surprises can be as small as a cabin making a spur-of-the-moment decision to all wear cowboy boots and Zorro masks to lunch, or as big as the adventure trips that we offer to campers every single day. Just yesterday, for instance, we offered five.

Between zip-lining, Castle-Rock-climbing, Green-River-kayaking, Cascade-Lake-canoeing, and Nantahala-rafting, every camper, from youngest to oldest, had the opportunity to throw a wrench into their schedule, and make their day spectacular.


They took their chance, threw out the schedule they had adopted on opening day, and set out to see the world in a new way–maybe from fifty feet above camp, zipping through the air. Maybe from the spectacular vantage point at the top of Castle Rock. Maybe from a tiny boat in the middle of a vast lake. Comfort zones were left far behind, without a second thought, by campers intent on having an adventure.

On the Road to Cascade Lake

I had the pleasure of greeting these girls when they returned from their trips. They looked exhausted. And dirty. And sweaty. And really, really ready for a good night’s sleep. But they also looked bright-eyed, and thrilled with themselves. Even though they were utterly spent, they still jumped at the opportunity to list out everything they had accomplished that day, whether it was a hand-roll in a kayak, or the courage to step off a tall rock and zoom through the air on the zip line.

It would be back to the schedule tomorrow. Back to the more typical camp days, full of the smaller, though no less wonderful, accomplishments, like tackling a new friendship bracelet design in Jewelry Making. But they didn’t mind. They had made their day spectacular. They’d figure out a way to do the same for tomorrow, tomorrow.

Downright Magical

Lake canoe trip for girls

Learning to canoe first means learning strokes, and there’s no better place to practice than on flat open water. This morning, Emily led a canoeing trip to Cascade Lake for 11 campers to do just that. With boats loaded and other gear stowed in the trailer, they drove just 15 miles to the lake and put on the water. Right away it became clear for the girls that when there is no current to move the boat, propelling and steering requires attention and skill— forward and back strokes, J-strokes, pries, and sweeps. Fortunately, it was a calm, windless morning, with bright sunshine overhead, which made it easier to maneuver the boats. It took a little practice, but soon the band of boats made it all the way down the lake to Hooker Falls, where the girls had time to beach the boats and go for a short swim.  After a light snack, the crew paddled back across the lake to load up the boats and make it back to camp for a late lunch. The girls returned excited and happy about how “amazing” the trip was.

Knitting Camp Kid
Zip line camp girl
Girl and roasted marshmallow

Meanwhile, the regular activities at camp carried on. In Curosty, the fiber arts craft cabin, girls were learning to knit, for example. Working with two knitting needles, instead of paddles, these girls were learning stitches, not strokes. Here, fine hand skills are required to twist, pull and flip the yarn while keeping the tension consistent.  Like canoeing, practice pays off when learning to knit as well, but in the end, you have something soft and warm, maybe a little uneven, but handmade nonetheless. Riding the zip line, on the other hand, doesn’t take any practice, or require strokes or stitches. Nope, all you need to zip line (beyond the harness, helmet, tether and dual pulley) is a little nerve, and maybe a couple of lungs full of air to release as a scream when you fly by high above the camp (oh, and 43 facial muscles for a smile as well!). In the activity we call WHOA, the girls have been learning to build a campfire, and when successful, perfecting their marshmallow roasting technique. Whether aiming for lightly golden brown or charred to a crisp, roasting a marshmallow is the kind of outdoor activity these girls are happy to practice.

Biltmore Train Ice Cream Eating

When Chase announced that the Biltmore Train would be arriving today after lunch, the dining hall exploded with shrieks of laughter and delight. Like Oprah had just given them some unimaginably fantastic prize, girls were jumping up and down in unison, clapping, waving their arms in the air, even collapsing with what looked like tears in their eyes. Yes, the thought of an ice cream party can do this to a group of girls, especially a huge ice cream party like this where everyone can have multiple— in some cases 5 or 6! — cones if they please. It’s been a long Rockbrook tradition to hold this once-per-session ice cream extravaganza called the “Biltmore Train.”

During the dinner announcements, another wild frenzy of screaming broke out when Chase invited everyone down to our grassy landsports for a twilight shaving cream fight and slip ‘n slide. This is another special event that, because it’s so much fun and because we do it only once per session, the girls really look forward to. Campers and counselors alike arrived dressed in their swim suits ready to get messy. Each armed with a can of shaving cream, it took about 5 seconds for the girls to begin squirting and smearing white foam on everyone. Nobody was safe; even the photographer (me) ended up covered.

Shaving Cream Fight Girl with Glasses
Camp girls sliding

For the next 30 minutes or so, the girls became more and more covered with the stuff, happily shaping outrageous hairstyles, finger painting messages on their stomachs, and adding to the designs on everyone else. We also set up a slip ‘n slide. Now covered with shaving cream, essentially coated in slippery soap, the girls took turns running and launching themselves down the long sheet of wet plastic. It’s a great time for them to roll and tumble as they glide along two or three at a time. Being this slick, some of the girls easily slid about 80 feet! After a quick rinse with the hose, it was time for a warm shower, some dry clothes, and evening program in each Line’s lodge.

What a great camp day! Adventure, creativity, time outdoors, yummy treats, and goofing around with friends— it’s been downright magical.

Shaving cream group of girls at camp

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.

The Wheel of Fun

Camp girl riding zip line

It being the 4th of July weekend, we all stayed close to home and enjoyed activities in camp today. This part of North Carolina is a popular tourist destination… even more so this weekend … so to avoid the crowds, we thought it a good idea to do things in camp.  For example, our zip line was humming with action all day today. Located in the woods a short distance up the trail leading to Castle Rock, the zip line begins with a high suspension bridge strung between two massive boulders. Wearing a helmet and a harness clipped into a safety cable is essential both to support the campers should a foot slip, but also to give them a small boost in confidence from the cable’s reassuring tug. The suspension bridge is a little “freaky,” as one girl put it, because it’s wobbly and (intentionally!) missing a few planks. Staring down through the gaps in the planks is indeed a little disconcerting, but it really makes you concentrate as you take each step. At the end of the bridge, perched high on the rock, the campers then clip their pulley into the zip cable. Here a little bravery is called for because the first step is out into the air with about 50 feet of nothing below.  Immediately, you are accelerating down the cable, flying by the Hi-Up cabin and zipping 450 feet across to the other side of the camp. It’s a thrilling ride! The zip ends gently over an inclined platform, where it’s just a matter of standing up and unclipping your pulley from the cable.  “Time for one more zip?” You bet!

Girl Rifle Shooter

One of the benefits of attending a full session of camp, and especially this 4-week (our longest) session, is that the girls can really dig into their favorite activities, signing up for them several times if they like.  The kayakers can take trips to more advanced rivers, the weavers can start more elaborate projects, and the girls can really improve their skills whether its their tennis serve, their archery or riflery aim, their one-handed cartwheel, or dive at the lake. These talents can take extra time to develop, so having a chance to do more while at camp can make a difference. And on the other hand, a longer session means having more opportunity to try new things, to experiment with something that might even become a new favorite. Have you ever tried acting, rock climbing, or dance? At a long session, you certainly can.

Camp wheel spin game

This is the “Wheel of Fun.” It is mounted on the wall in our dining hall, and is a huge hit with the campers. Reminiscent of other “clicker wheels” (think of game shows like “Wheel of Fortune” and “The Price is Right,” for example), a person spins it, hoping it will stop spinning on a something desirable. Our wheel has things like “Candy” and “Muffins,” but also “Dress a Director,” “Cabin Cheer” (work together as a cabin and present a cheer to everyone at the next meal) and “Dance Break” (pick a song to play during the next meal so that everyone can get up and dance). Girls also hope to avoid some of the spots, though… things like “Polar Bear” (which means the whole cabin jumping in the lake before breakfast), or “Lose a Turn.” We don’t spin the wheel at every meal, but when we do, it’s very exciting for everyone. We pick the person to spin by narrowing down the group with a series of criteria. It’s different every time, but it goes something like this. Chase, who often does it, will say “Stand up if your hair is in a ponytail.” And about 100 campers and staff members will stand. Then she’ll narrow it down by saying, maybe, “Stay standing if you’re wearing red.” Then maybe, “Stay standing if you have or had braces.” She’ll keep this up until there’s one lucky person still standing who gets to spin the wheel. All of the items on the wheel apply to the whole cabin, so as it’s spinning, everyone is quivering with anticipation, and when the wheel stops, the whole dining hall explodes with cheers. All in all, the “Wheel of Fun” is something we do simply because that’s what it is— fun… big fun for everyone.

Unconditional Support

Folks who arrive at Rockbrook are often struck by how being here, even for a short visit, feels so different from ordinary life. “Everyone is so friendly and enthusiastic,” and “Everyone seems so happy” are comments we often hear. It’s true; camp life is charged with a special form of community energy, one defined by caring, compassion, and kindness.

Girls supporting each other

Walking around camp today, I thought of another reason to explain this deeply felt contentment the girls enjoy here at Rockbrook. It’s because the collective spirit here, our “Rockbrook Spirit,” provides all of us unconditional support. Everyday, no matter the activity or the outcome, we know that our “true self” will be accepted, appreciated and respected by those around us. Rockbrook is simply a friendly and welcoming place where everyone is included, encouraged and supported. We’ve written before how camp is an antidote for “Community Deficit Disorder,” and as such is also a source of great contentment for girls. They will tell you “it’s so much fun,” or that they simply “love it,” but I think it’s this community spirit that’s really at work.

Zip Line Swing
Canopy Tour Bridge Kid

Everyday at Rockbrook includes adventure too. It might be hiking through the woods, climbing a rock face, paddling a canoe, or even facing something personally challenging like jumping off the diving board at the lake. This morning at breakfast, Christina announced that she would be taking groups of girls down our zipline throughout the day. Campers from all three age groups could sign up for an activity period (instead of whatever activity they had already scheduled) and take a couple of zippy rides in the woods high above the back of the camp. These two photos nicely evoke what this entails: some special equipment, walking across a high, rather wiggly, plank suspension bridge, and flying along a steel cable on a pulley. It’s at first a little scary to step off the launching rock, but with en-couragment and support, it’s all smiles in the end.

Perhaps a different kind of adventure, the evening’s activity got everyone excited, the kind of top-of-your-lungs screaming excitement that happens around here— a dance with the boys of Camp Carolina.  In fact, we held two simultaneous dances, the Juniors and Middlers staying here in our gym to dance with the younger boys, and our seniors loading up buses to drive over for their dance in Camp Carolina’s dining hall. We also made a “Dance Alternative” activity available for those girls who thought dancing wasn’t their thing. Overall these dances are fun for the girls because they are mostly about jumping around with your friends, being silly and singing to the music. They are the kind of lighthearted entertainment we all enjoy.

Camp Girls Dance
Camper Dance Moves
Girls Camp Dance

Small Scale Richness

Camp Kitchen Girl
Camp Girl Cooking

Looking around camp these past couple of days, and if you’ve been following along in the photo gallery, it’s amazing to see so many engaged, smiling girls doing so many different things. It’s almost impossible to describe them all! Of course there are the different organized, scheduled activities like rock climbing, tennis, gymnastics, or making tie-dye t-shirts, but there are also so many simpler, more spontaneous moments when the girls find themselves delighted and charmed. They might be wading in the creek, turning over a rock to “see what’s under there,” chatting with a new friend sitting in a pair of red rocking chairs, or simply walking with a caring counselor to lunch. Part of the magic of camp derives from these moments when we share experiences and grow closer, when we encounter something wonderful or create something beautiful together. It’s this kind of “small scale richness” that really strengthens our community, and make camp so special.

So here’s an idea, and a great example of this richness… Let’s take a group of 1st and 2nd grade girls and let them make samosas for the whole camp! That’s exactly what Rick, our head chef, did this afternoon. He and our baker Katie prepared the dough from scratch and cooked up the filling (potatoes, turmeric, cumin, coriander, salt, and yogurt) beforehand, so the girls could help assemble the individual turnovers. With bright white aprons donned, the group formed a team where some rolled and flattened small balls of dough, others scooped a blob of filling for each, and others folded and pressed each samosa closed. The goal was to make about 400, and with all those (little!) hands helping, the project went pretty quickly. Joyful enthusiasm went into every samosa, and as Rick has said many times before, we’ll be able to taste it.

Girl Zipline Crew

Today we opened up our zip line for the first time this summer. We announced the option at breakfast and in no time we had two groups pumped up for their chance to fly down the 450 foot ride through woods behind the dining hall. The course begins with a cable and plank bridge suspended between two massive rocks high above a stream. The girls walk the bridge, being careful not to look down, to reach the zip line launch. From there, they clip their pulley into the cable, lift their feet and they’re off screaming down to the far hill. It’s a thrilling ride.

Sliding Rock Scream
Sliding Rock Girl Speed
Sliding Rock Cold Water Plunge

Late in the day, we gathered all of the senior campers and drove into the Pisgah National Forest for a picnic. Rick set us up with hot dogs, buns and all the fixins, including some of his homemade coleslaw, fruit and cookies. We enjoyed eating and then played a group game called “I’m a Rockbrook Girl.” This is a chance to run around and learn each other’s names, and of course laugh the whole time. Our next stop was Sliding Rock, that classic natural water slide formed by Looking Glass creek as it cascades 60 feet down a smooth rock. I’m sure you could guess this mountain water is “refreshing” (i.e. freezing cold) but if not, these pictures prove it. (Click the photo to see a larger version.) Not every camper was inspired, or brave, enough to take the plunge, but for those that did, it was a grand, albeit chilly, time. On the other hand, everyone participated in our last stop— Dolly’s Dairy Bar. We all enjoyed a cup or cone of our favorite sweet treat, for example the flavor called “Rockbrook Chocolate Illusion” or one of the other varieties named after the summer camps in the area. Sure, it was too cold to get wet at Sliding Rock, but for these girls, it’s never too cold for Dolly’s ice cream.

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 camp 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 camp 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 camp 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.