Mountainside has returned!

Hello, families and friends!

Guess what! There’s a guest author for today’s Gwynn Valley news! Allow me to introduce myself. I am…the Mountainside Shelter.

The Mountainside Shelter? Hold on a second! you might say. The Mountainside Shelter! Isn’t that a…building? And you would be correct. I am the 50-foot-by-30-foot pavilion up in Mountainside that serves as the gathering place for 65 Mountainside campers and staff throughout the summer. Depending on the day or time, you might see Mountainsiders convene in me to attend outdoor skills classes, choose sign-up activities, perform skits, organize adventure gear, play games, have discussions, gather around a fire in my fireplace, and sing songs. I have a great life, and I love providing my campers with a beautiful space to congregate. Though my primary function is to protect people from hot sun and cold rain, I’m more than just a pretty roof. I’m also a writer! And today, I was asked to compose Gwynn Valley’s news update. And I couldn’t be happier!

Well…it’s true that I’m happy NOW. But during the last few days I’ve actually been…pretty lonely. You see, as most of you know, a big focus of Mountainside is outdoor adventure. Shortly after arriving at GV, all the campers get to try out five adventure activities: backpacking, earth skills, mountain biking, rock climbing, and whitewater canoeing. Then, they pick their favorite activity and receive two additional days of training in that activity. The culminating event in Mountainside is the “Adventure.” That’s when all fifty Mountainsiders–plus their amazing staff–split into five groups and depart on four-day trips away from camp to pursue their chosen activity. This session’s Adventure started this past Monday. The campers were so excited! Right after the wake-up bell rang, they all gathered inside me to collect the adventure gear–tarps, tents, stakes, stoves, pots, and much more–that they had compiled the day before. Then, they carried all the gear down to the Dining Hall, ate a quick breakfast, loaded themselves (and their gear) into vans…and they were off! The vehicles disappeared over the horizon, bound for distant forests, rocks, and rivers. I was very happy for them…but I also missed them. The rest of the day Monday–and all day Tuesday and Wednesday–were totally quiet.

Hours passed. A few leaves fell. Butterflies drifted by on the breeze. Carson Creek babbled nearby. But for those three days, I remained empty. No campers gathered on my floor to swap jokes and tell stories. No staff huddled together in my corners to confirm the plan for the next activity they were about to lead.

Sure, it was a little sad. But every time I felt sad, I reminded myself about the true purpose of camp. You see, as I’ve heard the Mountainside Head Counselor explain to groups of campers many times, there’s a lot more to camp than just playing games and singing songs. When you look under the surface, you’ll see that camp is really about helping people grow and develop into their “best selves.” It’s about expanding comfort zones, and building character, and engaging with people face-to-face, and making deep friendships, and learning how to live as part of a community. And–as the Head Counselor likes to say–outdoor adventure is an AMAZING teacher of all these qualities.

For example, consider whitewater canoeing, in which two paddlers have to work together to guide their boat down churning rapids. Simply put, success in whitewater canoeing requires TEAMWORK and COMMUNICATION. On the first day, things may look a little awkward. Both paddlers are still getting the hang of the different strokes, and they haven’t figured out how to coordinate their efforts. But by day four, that same boat is starting to look like a well-oiled machine. The paddlers have learned how to talk to each other, to synchronize their strokes, and to put their canoe right where they want it on the river.

How about rock climbing? What an incredible teacher of PERSEVERANCE and the value of ENCOURAGEMENT! At the rock site, campers have the opportunity to try climbs with a variety of difficulty levels. Imagine a camper who has ascended dozens of feet up a sheer cliff. Just when she’s not sure she can go any further, she hears a chorus of voices shouting from below: it’s her friends, cheering her on! Buoyed by the support of her community, she overcomes the next hard move. Another twenty feet up, however–her foot slips. She falls. The rope catches her. And she faces a choice: try again, or ask to be lowered. Her belayer calls up, “You can do it! I believe in you!” And our climber reaches out, grips the rock…and ascends. She falls again. A third time. And a fourth. But does she quit? No. She. Keeps. Trying. Finally–accompanied by an eruption of cheers from below–she completes the climb!

And what about mountain biking? Pedaling up a long uphill teaches GRIT. Rising again after the occasional fall teaches RESILIENCE. Flowing down a twisty, turny downhill trail teaches the power and joy of LIVING IN THE MOMENT.

I could go on…but wait a minute? What’s that I hear? The sound of a 15-passenger van pulling into camp! Oh, joy! The campers are returning! As the afternoon proceeds, one van after another arrives at Gwynn Valley. The vehicle doors swing open, and a tribe of adventurers emerges. Dirty, tired, scratched, and a little bug-bitten, yes–but glowing with the joy, accomplishment, and satisfaction of their journeys.

After dinner this evening, the victorious Mountainsiders once again gathered beneath my humble roof. How wonderful to have them back! It was a delight to listen to their stories. The earth skills group, for example, told the tale of their Earth Skills Olympics, and how much it taught them about CREATIVITY and PROBLEM SOLVING when they had to transport water without using store-bought containers, make string using only plant fibers, then burn through that string using a fire built without matches or lighters. The backpackers explained how they developed CONFIDENCE throughout the course of their trip. For instance, they described how, when they hiked four miles on day one, it felt exhausting and overwhelming. But on day three, when they hiked EIGHT miles–it seemed easy and fun!

So…even though I miss my campers when they’re out on adventure, I love knowing that they’re building such amazing life skills in the process. The rivers and rocks, trees and trails, mountains and valleys have much to teach, and the campers return from the wilderness a little stronger and wiser than when they departed.

That’s it for now! Until next time…this is the Mountainside Shelter, over and out.