One of the greatest parts of Camp Nor’wester is our Big Trip program. Once a session, for four nights and five days, the four oldest units leave the island for what really and truly can only be called a grand adventure. There is a Kayak trip, an Alpine hike, a Hunt Canoe trip, a Bike trip, a Sailing trip, and an attempt at the summit of Mt. Baker. The community we form here at camp is pretty indescribable. Living in units and working as groups, the bonds you form can and maybe will last you the rest of your life. But as great as all that is, it really does pale in comparison to what happens on a big trip.
The groups are usually small, most of the time less than 20 staff and campers combined and the groups are mixed, being from all four of the oldest units. Usually, there’s at least one or two people on your big trip that before the start of it you had never talked to since they live in another unit. Now, I know this is a cheesy and overused metaphor, but this is camp so I’m going to steer into the skid and do it anyway. Diamonds are not made without pressure. That’s exactly what big trips do, they push you. Physically and mentally. The kayaks on their first day had a nearly 14 nautical mile paddle, and some of the kids on the trip had never paddled more than a few hundred yards in a kayak before. The Mt. Baker trip leaves the island before dawn, hops on a ferry, then drives all the way out to Mt. Baker and then they climb a four mile long trail that gains more than one mile in elevation before they can sleep that night. The Hunt Canoes had a similarly long push like the Kayak trip their first day, and likewise they were just getting the hang of things. I don’t know how else to say it other than these trips are for real. Campers and staff alike are pushed out of their comfort zone. But when everyone finds themselves out of their comfort zones, some cool things start to happen. Everyone helps each other out. If one Kayak started to lag, the others would fall back and cheer them on. Same with a hiker on the way up to Base Camp, and same with any other trip. If need be, things have been taken out of packs and redistributed to other campers, at their peer’s insistence to make sure that everyone gets to where they need to be that night.
Now, let me say; this is not to say big trips are nothing more than a grueling physical slog for five days. Because it is not that. It’s not to say some fall behind. Everyone gets to where they need to get to at night. Maybe some are a little faster than others, however undoubtedly everyone gets there. That’s when the magic really starts to happen. Everyone is tired, everyone is a bit sore, and everyone has probably smelled better at one point or another in their life. But that’s really when the magic happens. You sit around a table, you cook your dinner and eat it, and then you relax for a while. You talk about your day, you talk about life, you talk about what makes you the way you are, and bonds are formed.
The next day, a 6ft 6in Mountaineer is walking along the trail side by side a Wayfarer who’s hardly bigger than the pack she’s wearing. He had never talked to before today, and now they swap stories of their friends back home and what each other’s school is like. And it’s not unlikely to say they might be friends for years to come. That is the magic of big trips. Everyone is out of their element, everyone is a little uncomfortable, and at moments maybe everyone is a little nervous, but these shared experiences and pressures bring together a group of people like no other situation can. And that, is why Big Trips just may be the best thing Camp Nor’wester does.
Scott Minard, Camp Photographer