Campfire Notes

Bears’ Adventure

Bears’ Adventure

A kid today can likely tell you about the Amazon rain forest – but not about the last time he or she explored the woods in solitude, or lay in a field listening to the wind and watching the clouds move.
-Richard Louv, Last Child in the Woods

At GAC, “getting outside to experience the awe of nature” is one of our core values. Many of our campers, who primarily live in cities or suburbs, have never had the opportunity to live in and experience nature up close. The rustic set-up of our living areas, which are large tents on wood platforms, allows campers the feeling of being close to nature throughout their stay at camp. With no electricity (and the distractions inherent with being plugged into technology), campers truly get to experience living outdoors. From their tents, campers can hear birds chirping, the water running in the creek, and the breeze rustling the tree branches. Evenings include relaxing chats and stories around the campfire while the sun sets and the stars come out overhead.

Campers experience the wonder of nature from the moment they arrive at camp, but there’s just nothing quite like being really far from “civilization” and even further out into nature. Because we’ve experienced how life-changing it is for campers, getting our campers even deeper into the woods is also a priority. With even fewer distractions than what they experience at main camp, our backpacking program serves the purpose of getting our campers completely immersed in nature. For campers who have completed 4th-5th grades (our “Tigers” age group), their cabin group is scheduled for a one-night overnight backpacking trip. Campers get to experience exploring, sleeping, cooking, and living in an even more rustic setting than their camp tent home. I wrote about one of these magical Tigers’ backpacking trips in my post, “Nature Pees and Lanyard Fishing Poles.” Our older campers, the Lions and Eagles (who’ve completed 6th-9thgrades), have the option of signing up for a backpacking trip, one of the most popular choice options for their free choice days.

But a highlight of the two-week session for our youngest campers (grades K-3), and their version of “backpacking,” is Bears’ Adventure. This one-night trip allows campers to experience sleeping outdoors under the stars and cooking over a campfire. Campers’ luggage is taken for them to the campsite, so they are not technically “backpacking,” because they have no pack to carry. With just their water bottle and their positive attitudes, they set out from camp singing and talking on their hike. Once they get to their destination, which feels far from camp (although it is less than a mile away), they are rewarded with a spectacular view of Huntington Lake and the surrounding wilderness area. They truly get the feeling that they have been on a long, adventurous hike.

The best part of Bears’ Adventure is the free time kids get to play and explore the area. For many campers, the longer sticks provide the perfect start to a fort. Others enjoy laying on their sleeping bags talking with friends or silently watching clouds move overhead. Some participate in crafts and games while enjoying being outdoors. For many of these kids, Bears’ Adventure is their first experience “roughing it,” and they absolutely love it.

When they hike back into camp the morning after their Adventure, our Bears’ campers stand a little taller. And their dirty, smiling faces are the best indication that they have experienced the awe of nature.

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Leaving No Trace at GAC

Leaving No Trace at GAC

Here at GAC, we believe that camp leaves a lasting impact on everyone who experiences it. However, in our backpacking and nature programs, we’ve been working hard to have a smaller impact. Not on campers, but on the environment we camp in! This year is our fifth summer working with the Leave No Trace Center For Outdoor Ethics to become a Leave No Trace Accredited Youth Program. With the guidance of the LNT’s 7 principles, we’ve been making a conscious effort to decrease our impact on nature even as we send more campers into the beauty of the High Sierra!

One of our core values is that we want campers to “experience the awe of nature.” All of our campers have an opportunity to experience nature outside of our traditional camp property. Our youngest campers have an overnight of tent camping (we take care of moving their luggage) that we call Bears’ Adventure. Our middle campers spend one night underneath the stars on a backpacking trip into the Kaiser Wilderness of the Sierra National Forest as a part of our backpacking program. Our oldest campers are given the opportunity to sign up for a backpacking trip, and many do. We even offer a special program, the Outdoor Leadership Course,  for teens who want a more immersive experience in the backcountry. All of these programs adhere to The 7 Principles of Leave No Trace:

  1. Plan Ahead and Prepare
    1. Our trips are planned well in advance and led by certified instructors. They are well versed in how to lead trips with minimal impact on nature.
  2. Travel & Camp on Durable Surfaces
    1. We use well-established trails and sleep on durable surfaces. We are happy to be able to utilize the established trails and camping sites in the national forest.
  3. Dispose of Waste Properly
    1. Our backpacking trips offer the opportunity for campers to “nature pee,” which is an experience fewer and fewer children have today. The trips also offer the opportunity to learn why it’s important that we do not use toilet paper in the wilderness, and that if TP is necessary, we’ll pack it back to camp for proper disposal.
  4. Leave What You Find
    1. It is tempting to bring home a giant pinecone as a souvenir, but our counselors remind campers to “leave only footprints, and take only photographs.” Our campers bring home plenty of photographs (and other memories).
  5. Minimize Campfire Impacts
    1. Campfires are an important part of our program, and we work hard to minimize their impact on the backcountry by using established fire sites and keeping the fires small.
  6. Respect Wildlife
    1. We love to see wildlife on a trip, but we know that the forest is their home. That’s why campers and staff never approach wildlife. Instead, they experience wildlife at a distance, in its natural habitat.
    2. We also respect wildlife by making sure that we aren’t tempting them with food. In camp, we don’t allow food (or even food trash) off of the Dining Porch.  On the trail, every bit of food and food trash stays in a “Bear Canister” to prevent us from becoming attractive to forest friends who would like to share our dinners!
  7. Be Considerate of Other Visitors
      1. We’re thrilled when other people get to share our backyard! We’re friendly on the trail, but also make sure we respect their space and their desire to be in nature as well.

When campers are introduced to their program, the backpacking counselors review the LNT 7 principles as a part of the safety discussion before any trip departs. We even have a banner that hangs on our backpacking shed so that they can read along!

The backpacking counselors also lead two different types of programs in camp, called nature and OREO (Outdoor Recreation Educational Opportunity). The goal of OREO is to teach campers to appreciate nature while spending some time out of camp on a day hike and bonding with their cabin group. At the end of the hike, there’s even a reward that shares its name with the acronym OREO!

The goal of the nature program is to support GAC’s core value of experiencing the awe of nature and let campers play games to connect them to nature. We know that exposing campers to the beauty of nature will help them develop a personal connection and want to protect it for future generations.

Since 2017, we have been close partners with the Leave No Trace (LNT) Program and have educated our campers on the 7 LNT principles before every backpacking trip and OREO hike. We are dedicated to minimizing our impact on the Sierra Nevada and helping our campers understand WHY it is important, both for nature and for future generations.  We hope that if you head out for some adventures in nature you and your family can also minimize your impact!

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