Summer camp is a fond memory for most adults. Whether an overnight camp for a week or more, or at a day camp; most adults can tell you at least one story from their summer camp experiences. Even my daughter remembers fondly her week at drama camp when she was ten.
I went away to camp every summer from the time I was eight to sixteen (when I was a Junior Counselor). Most summers I went for two weeks. However, the summer I was fourteen, my parents decided to take an extended vacation. I spent three weeks at Girl Scout camp, two weeks at Camp Fire Girl camp, and four weeks at a church camp.
I didn’t like camp mostly because that is when my mom and step-dad would go to fun places without me. Places like Yellowstone, Yosemite, an island somewhere, or a beach house. I felt that camp was a warehouse to keep me while they enjoyed themselves. In rebellion, I would manage to sprain my ankle or something on the first day so I could pout in the infirmary for a couple of days.
Despite my resentment, I usually enjoyed the camp experience. There were so many things to do. Canoeing, crafts, horseback riding, swimming, fireside skits, and much more. We took hikes in the California Coastal Mountains, and in the high Sierra Nevada’s.
It is one of these hikes I wish to share with you. As I mentioned, at sixteen, I was a Junior Counselor. This meant that although my folks had to pay for my two weeks, I had authority and would be put in co-charge of a group of younger campers. It would be a lot of work, but well worth it; at least, that is what I thought before the hike.
Fourteen Junior Counselors (JC’s we called ourselves) and three chaperones met at the beginning of a trail going through the High Sierra’s. The plan was to do a three day, two night hike to the camp, arriving the night before the other campers got there. We started off at mid-morning, and six hours later, arrived at our first camp site; Mosquito Lake. There were many mosquitoes and a small welcome cabin where we slept like sardines.
The next day, the chaperones had a debate as to which trail to take from there. After consulting the map, they decided on one of three trails to continue. As the trail led us ever higher, we ran into patches of snow. Still higher we climbed; taking lunch on an overlook showing the valley far below.
As darkness began to fall, it became obvious we were not approaching any sign of our second night camp (another welcome cabin). Finally, one of the chaperones admitted that we had taken the wrong trail. We should have been on the “moderate” trail. We had been taking the “expert” trail.
After a night under the trees, we began our hike again. Another day of hard hiking ended with rationed food and sleeping in a clearing. Breakfast was a handful of trail mix with nuts and raisins. At least water was plentiful, as we could fill canteens in the ice water creeks. The map showed we should reach the camp before sunset, so we started out in high spirits. After a few hours of hiking, we came to a large creek, with a single log bridge crossing it.
Two chaperones and several of the girls crossed over in safety. Then I began to cross. Halfway, I slipped and fell backwards into the snowmelt creek. It wasn’t very deep, but I was stuck like a turtle on my back, with my backpack absorbing water. I simply couldn’t lift myself from the creek.
I was finally rescued and two girls offered to carry my pack between them. I was soaked with ice water and had nothing to dry myself with, or change into. One girl had a t-shirt that I used to try and dry myself. The day was overcast and mountain cool, and I was very cold.
We continued hiking. At some point, I was no longer connected to my body. My feet kept moving, but I was unaware of walking. I remember thinking that I had died and my body hadn’t figured it out yet. Long after dark, lanterns appeared in the distance. A search party from the camp had found us.
Before I knew what was happening, I was stripped down to nothing and shoved in a “mummy bag” with the biggest girl in the group; she was only dressed in bra and panties. Later, I learned that I had hypothermia so bad that I could have died before reaching camp, five miles away.
I was traversed down the mountain in a make-shift stretcher. After several days in the infirmary, I finally joined the camp. Instead of being in co-charge of a group, I was put in charge of KP duties. I’d missed the “bonding time” that JC’s need to connect to a group. That was my last year of camp. Sometimes I wish I could have gone back for the perfect JC experience.