Leadership and Adventure at Girls Camp
Wed, 02/19/2020 - 00:00
Morning in the Paradise Valley: the summer sun is up and shining, drying dew from yellow grass and several large green tents pitched in a rough semi-circle. Nearby, there are a couple of steaming cups on a picnic table next to a camping stove, and two young women sitting on the benches with a pajama-clad girl. She looks sleepy, but also excited: it’s the first morning of camp, and she has volunteered to be the very first Leader of the Day (LOD) for her session. She is up before all her peers to meet with her trip leaders and learn about her role in the day ahead.
Some may not realize the challenge this camper has taken on: she arrived in Bozeman, MT yesterday, and has known most of the occupants of the tents nearby for less than 24 hours. Today, under the guidance of her trip leaders, she will have the opportunity to help instruct, entertain, and direct the group. Her guides equip her with a notebook (“Write down the day’s menu, it’s pita wraps and watermelon for lunch!”), as well as a watch (“We’ll leave for rock climbing at 1 pm - can you help us have the group ready to leave by then?”). She also receives a sparkly headband that denotes her as LOD, which she chooses to wrap around her wrist. Thus equipped, she’s off to awaken each tent group and gather them for the day’s first activity: yoga under the wide blue sky.
It’s not a typical summer day for a 14 year old girl, and not just because she’s up before 10 a.m. Encouraging ten other teens to rise and shine in time for yoga is just the first of many leadership opportunities she’ll have. Whether this camper is on the quiet side, more inclined to comfort another camper about first-day-of-camp nerves, or whether she is ready to initiate a use-what’s-in-your-backpack costume contest after dinner, she’ll have a chance to explore her individual voice and leadership style.
This is Alpengirl camp, an all-girls adventure camp based in Bozeman. Over the course of the next two weeks, this group of girls ages 14-16 will be exploring the outdoors in southwest Montana, culminating with a four-day backpacking trip in the Spanish Peaks. They’ll raft, rock climb, and trail ride; they’ll learn to pitch tents, pack and carry their backpacks, interact safely with the natural world, and practice Leave No Trace principles; they’ll connect with their trip leaders, laugh, learn, and build friendships (all without using their cell phones!)
At the end of two adventure-filled weeks, each girl will have had an opportunity to step into a leadership role, challenge herself at the level she chooses, and celebrate her new friends as they do the same. Shedding layers of social expectations, she’ll be able to focus on exploring new ideas, learning new skills, and having the time of her life. This is part of the magic of an all-girls camp program: in a mutually supportive group environment, campers experience one individual’s success as the group’s success, and the sense of competing for recognition or striving for perfection fades away as each girl’s unique contributions to the community are recognized for uplifting the group as a whole.
Later in the afternoon, on a rock wall overlooking the Yellowstone River: one camper turns her head and looks down for a photo halfway up the route. “I’m shaking!” she calls, with a grin of delight on her face. Her belay team, faces upturned below her, share her laughter and call up encouragement. Only this morning, this camper stated that she would like to stay on the ground rather than climb. Now she’s looking out over the tops of the evergreens toward the river below, hands and feet on the rock, with a snug harness and new friends to reassure her.
As a summer camp professional, I often wonder about the magic ingredient that produces cohesive, fun, and memorable camp experiences: is it the ratio of mosquitos to flies, or new to returning campers? Is it the number of pancakes consumed, songs sung while hiking, or opportunities to swim alpine lakes? Is it the volume of laughter at the session talent show? But what I return to, again and again, is connection: the key ingredient at Alpengirl is connection between girl, between girls and their leaders, between the group the natural world that surrounds them at camp, and especially between each girl and her inner voice, the voice she practices speaking out loud as leader of the day, and the voice that she will continue to hear long after she says goodbye to Alpengirl.
By Laura S (aka Cindy Lou Who), Assistant Camp Director and Alpenguide