Written by Wild Skills Director, Christy Pelland
We hosted our first overnight Wild Skills Mountain Camp July 29-August 2 at Mt Rainier National Park thanks in part to our partners Clif, Y.E.T.I., Bight Gear and RMI Expeditions. This unique camp experience ranged from learning camping best practices to mountaineering skills needed to climb big peaks to creating art during your adventures.
On Day 1, Sunday, July 29, campers met up with our team in Des Moines, WA for a gear check prior to packing up into the van and heading out to Mt Rainier National Park. They spent the drive creating a team playlist with everyone’s favorite songs and learning more about communication techniques. After a hour wait at the park’s entrance, we arrived at Cougar Rock Campground where we constructed our basecamp and discussed Leave No Trace principles and other camping basics.
The girls were assigned to tent teams which consisted of 3 girls per tent, per campsite. Each tent team was lead by an adult chaperone who helped guide them through gear checks, dish duty, lessons in personal hygiene & space, respect, teamwork, conflict resolution, ridiculously silly games, and most importantly – choosing a team name, which included The Grounded Squirrels, The Llamacorns and The Mountain Goats.
That evening we attended the nightly Ranger Talk and learned all about owls. Campers were given the opportunity to dissect owl pellets which some thought was the coolest! After a full taco dinner and cinnamon roll dessert; we decided to head up to Paradise and take part in the Star Party that started at sun down. We arrived in the parking lot just before sunset and decided a mini-hike up the Alta Vista trail was in order.
On our descent, the group was abruptly stopped by the deer in the trail – this was quite the surprise for some! As we approached the parking lot we could see the group of at least 40 people waiting for the Star Party to start. Three female rangers led the discussion about the wonders of astronomy including how we enjoy the stars, light pollution, identification, and viewing techniques available that evening.
Day 2, started with breakfast and a yoga session with camp chaperone, Amy, who taught the girls the basics of breath, focus, and balance. This was a perfect way to start off the day of learning.
After packing up into the van, we travelled back down to Longmire where we met up with Ranger Catherine. She led us down part of the Wonderland Trail that follows the Nisqually River. During breaks she presented the girls with new topics and challenges relating to the geological history of the park and what would happen in the event of an eruption. The day’s greatest challenge ended up being the heat, as we struggled with record high temps in the park. Luckily, we remained covered by the trees for most of the adventure, the river was cold, and we had plenty of snacks!
That evening, after all had rested, we broke into two teams, one covering navigation and the other shelter building. In navigation we taught campers about topographic maps, directions, compass use and other forms of navigating. They wrapped up with a treasure hunt throughout the campground. In shelter building, we read through the Wild Skills Journal which lays out the basics of a survival shelter, and then tasked girls with building their own.
The girls also prepared a talent show, which they deemed ‘SheJumps Got Talent!’ They spent the early evening hours rehearsing for the show and inviting others in the campground to the event. Performances included comedy skits, complete with commercial breaks for companies the girls invented, Beyonce covers, and renditions of famous Broadways plays.
Day 3 started early with breakfast and the morning briefing, followed by a quick trip up to the Comet Falls trailhead. Prior to the campers waking up, our leaders determined that Amy would be the victim for the day, as we would be practicing First Aid skills throughout the adventure. We’d planned to have breaks during the ascent filled with educational scenarios, and then on the descent Amy would break from the group and we’d find her injured on the trail with dramatic bleeding wounds and a broken limb. We were all excited to ham it up and create fake injuries but that’s not what the day held.
We were approximately .3 miles from the waterfall when Amy was stung in the ankle by a yellow jacket. She played it off, we treated her on site and after a quick snack – moved up the trail. Within a few minutes we stopped again as we’d finally found a proper site to teach ‘Peeing & Pooping in the Outdoors!’ As I led the group in a conversation about the topic, Amy became progressively worse. I handed the group off to Talia and went to assist Kristen with Amy’s care. We laid out a sleeping pad for her to rest and kept her talking and laughing all while conducted a full body check and gauging breath & pulse. Every lead on this trip is trained in first aid & CPR care but Kristen has just about completed her nursing school degree, which brings ease to any patient’s mind. As Amy’s breathing became more restricted and hives broke out all over her body, we determined EMTs were needed. Talia ran down to alert rangers, as there was no service, and the rest of us carefully made our way down.
As we neared the parking lot, we heard sirens and I gathered the group again instructing them how we will act when we reach Amy. As we reached Amy and the 3 EMTs at the trailhead, all campers hurried past, following Talia to the van in silence. After a full medical assessment, it was determined that Amy was indeed going to live and they worked out a treatment plan with the EMTs. After receiving care in a nearby town, Amy returned to camp, despite the sweltering heat and unbelievably severe allergic reaction, to tough out the rest of camp. We monitored her condition throughout the afternoon as she rested, and upon returning to the land of the living around dinner time, we conducted a debrief with her and the rest of the team. After laying out the day’s most intense event, I asked what was the most important thing they learned from the experience. Without hesitation, Camille responded with, ‘you must stay calm’ – we talked in length about how the leaders acted in order to keep everyone at ease, including Amy, how they knew it was serious, and how decisions were made. We all concluded that Amy is a Wonder Woman for returning to camp and that this situation cemented just how important it is to have first aid skills.
Day 4, was the biggest physical challenge of the camp, and we’d been prepping the campers for it since the beginning telling them to mentally prepare for what is to come. That worked well as most campers later expressed they thought it was going to be much harder. The team started earlier than normal with a quick oatmeal & bacon breakfast, and travel to Paradise where we met up with RMI Expeditions guides, Gloria & Nikki.
The group divied up gear, including ice axes, crampons, helmets, gaiters, avalanche transceivers, and harnesses. Once everyone was set, we made our way up through Edith Creek Basin where we happened upon many creatures, including marmots, squirrels, chipmunks, and birds. The climate was colder than the previous days, which was such a treat and made for easier travel conditions.
The team happily travelled up the many switchbacks and kept conversation flowing throughout. After a hearty snack, which included rainbow sprinkles that somehow ended up in my bag (hehe!), the team strapped on the crampons and learned how to walk in them.
We didn’t spend long on this topic as the snow was softening quickly and crampons weren’t needed. Next, the team geared up in their hard shell jackets and pants in order to work on ice axe skills and self arrest techniques.
We wrapped up the mountain school with a lesson by Nikki in how avalanche transceivers work. She explained why they are used, how to use them, and led the girls in a mock search.
The point of these courses is for young girls to connect with the outdoors, gain skills, and spend time with the strong women of the mountain community. Huge thanks goes out to Nikki & Gloria for hanging with us for the day! You are SOLID GOLD!
In order to give the girls the full mountaineer experience, we had a variety of Mountain House meals for them to try, including the top rated Beef Stroganoff, Spaghetti, and Chili Mac with beef. We finished off the experience with Mountain House ice cream bars, which none of the girls had tried before! Campers and leaders alike were tired from the day’s adventure and we capped off the evening with games of Uno and storytelling.
Day 5, our last day of camp focused on Art & Celebration. The campers slept in as we prepared a lavish brunch and sandwich bar for them. After eating all we could eat including the last of the Eggos and two packages of bacon, we cleaned and packed up camp.
We rolled out of the campground by noon and parked at the Carter Falls trailhead, where we crossed the Nisqually River and set up our nature art studio. The first project we tackled was rock decorating, creating favorite moments from camp or patterns that remind you for the experience. These personalized rocks (which were brought from Kirsten’s personal home #LNT) were then placed in macrame necklaces the campers weaved.
Project two was sketching and watercolor painting the mountain, although it eluded us during this time so the girls had to create pieces from memory and sample photos we provided. After applying watercolor to the pap