Program Highlights: What’s new at camp?

Climbing 1For the summer of 2017, a 28’ Climbing Wall will serve as a new program area! Securing a climbing wall has been on the “to-do list” of the Directors and Board since camp relocated to Johns Island and opened in 2000.

On Sperry peninsula, climbing the natural rock faces around the property was a cherished activity of several generations of campers, and since Johns doesn’t have any appropriate rock faces, the Board added the implementation of a climbing program and a climbing wall structure into the Strategic Plan.

In 2013, we started working with local climbing instructors to create a “climbing overnight” for campers as part of our graduated overnight program. Mountaineers and Troubadours travel to Mt. Erie for a half day each of introductory rock climbing instruction on one of their first overnights of the session. With great feedback about those off-site experiences and the donation of this wall, finally, the time is here to make climbing opportunities for all units available on Johns.

With this rather large addition comes the responsibility of ensuring it is smoothly integrated into our already stellar program. We envision a climbing program, separate from the elements on the Challenge Course, with trained staff, unit activities as well as individual climbing opportunities during open choice times, and a separated inventory of equipment.

A site towards the west end of the property has been selected. Currently (as of January 2017), the support structure is under construction, and the wall itself will be installed this spring. A Climbing Director will be hired for the summer season, and we will do a special, designated training for Climbing staff on our wall. We’re excited to see where this new program area can take us!

Program Areas at Nor’wester

Our program is designed to provide enriching and fun activities for units that will allow for group and individual growth. Campers experience the program as a group so that different campers can have the opportunity to be leaders amongst their unit-mates at different times. You might see some campers take the lead during a sailing session on the Waterfront while others speak up as the group tries an element on the Ropes Course.

Our program staff and Unit Leaders are there to facilitate and encourage their campers to take the opportunity to lead, or remind them to step back when another camper is leading. The unit system allows campers to learn all kinds of different roles and how to be supportive of others taking on a role that is new to them. Check-out the descriptions of all of our wonderful program areas below to learn more about what kinds of activities happen at camp!

Music 2Music

Music is an important part of everyday life at Nor’wester. Folk songs and ballads from many countries, reflecting different times and ways of life, are sung after meals in the dining hall, at campfires, in the shower and on the trails. Lessons offered in guitar, piano and often fiddle and banjo, have marked the beginning of a life-long interest in music for many campers and staff.

Singing from the camp songbook is a cherished memory for most alumni, and past campers and staff get a smile from hearing a camp song played on the radio. Music is one of the larger aspects of cross-generational connection amongst our community.

Some songs from the original Henderson Camps songbook from the 1930s are still sung in our lodge today. New campers learn lyrics quickly and within the first days of each session the lodge is bursting with songs and excitement.

In addition to community singing, campers also participate in traditional folk and square dancing as part of our evening activity programs. We strive to present the history and tradition of these dances to communicate their importance to the various cultural groups that established them.

Sailing 1Waterfront: Canoeing, Kayaking and Sailing

Our waterfront program capitalizes on the camp’s location, the magnificent San Juan Islands of Washington State. Our beach provides a great space for new and exciting challenges on the water. Campers participate as a unit, all canoeing, kayaking or sailing together under the supervision of dedicated staff.

Sailing instruction in 12’ Picos is geared to the experience of each camper, with opportunities available for racing, day and multi-day trips on our 19’ Lightnings.

Kayaking 1Older campers can enjoy our one- and two-person kayak, exploring surrounding shorelines as well as making trips to neighboring islands.

Kayaks are also used for our overnight and multi-day trips as part of our outcamp program.

Canoeing 1Canoeing is popular with nearly every age group. Our twelve 17 foot canoes and our 22 foot Nuu-chah-nulth style canoes are used by campers to explore the shorelines and beaches of the San Juan Islands and also to go on overnight and outcamp trips.

Hunts 1The 22 foot “Hunt” canoes are fiberglass molds of a dugout canoe carved by Calvin Hunt.

Ceramics 1Arts & Crafts

Our craft instructors are on-hand to teach a variety of skills. Campers are taught to conceptualize, develop and produce their individual projects, without the use of kits or prepared projects.

Crafts 1Our large craft center is well equipped for wood working and carving, ceramics, embroidery, weaving, spinning, dyeing, printmaking, book binding, silk screening, batiking, painting and drawing, jewelry making, calligraphy, leather work, and other crafts depending on expressed interests and the experience of our instructors.

Wood 1We also have an Artist-in-Residence program, where past alumni can come back to camp and teach a new craft to current campers.

Most recently, we’ve had stone caring, cardboard sculpture, printmaking, cyanotype photography and natural dye techniques shared by alumni artists.


Climbing Wall

New in 2017, our Climbing wall will provide opportunities for campers of all ages to learn rock climbing skills at camp! The introduction of this program stems from the existence of a climbing program on our former property on Lopez Island. Since relocating to Johns, the camp has been planning for a climbing program and finally this is the year to make it happen!

Campers will participate as units during the week and will also have a chance to sign-up during open activities. We anticipate this program area growing to include bouldering rocks, slack-lines and possibly an additional pinnacle or tower structure in the future.

Ropes 1Challenge Course

The Ropes Course builds self-confidence as each camper attempts the many different levels that make up the course. The challenge component emphasizes group participation and problem-solving skills through activities that develop an appreciation for teamwork and cooperation.

Challenge activities and low elements are available to all campers, and middle and older units can work up to a high course element, building communication skills and learning how to support one another along the way.

Native Cultural Activities


Located on a site with clear and longstanding evidence of native occupation, Nor’wester also has a unique tradition of Northwest Coastal art and culture.

This tradition, inherited from the Henderson Camps, is reflected in the camp’s totems, canoes and our spectacular Kwakwaka’wakw-styled Bighouse. It influences much of the artwork produced at camp, and is the basis for a gift exchange which takes place at season’s end. All campers and staff will learn about the Northwest Coastal tribes and will see songs and dances of the Northwest people, performed at the end of each session in the Bighouse.

All Units attend an “orientation” to the culture and art, and can also sign-up for activities such as a traditional pit-fire cook, native games and storytelling, songs and drumming, or learn about traditional uses of native plants or dance regalia. We cherish the unique relationship we have with our friends from up north – many of whom come to camp to share their culture with us during the summer.

Archery 1Archery

Under the guidelines of the National Archery Association, campers are instructed in safe and fun shooting.

The reward for faithful practice is the satisfaction of mastering a skill and the opportunity to earn awards at the end of the session. Although generally an individual activity, our instructors have also created games and group challenges to support unit-building on the range.


Our 1000+ square foot garden provides a great space for cultivating and learning. Campers participate in all aspects of care for the garden: clearing, watering, weeding, and harvesting!

Garden 1Hands-on activities are designed to teach campers about the food-cycle and compost systems, while collaborations with our Adobe Oven program provide opportunities to move food at camp from earth to table!

Some meals in the lodge are even supplemented by fruits and veggies from the garden, adding to the experiential learning potential for campers.

Outdoor Cooking & Food Skills

Campers have an opportunity to try their hand at baking bread, cinnamon rolls, pizza, cookies, pies and many other tasty creations in our wood-fired oven.

Adobe 1Basic food skills and safety lessons are covered through experiential culinary efforts.

Best of all they get to eat their results fresh from the oven! Fresh ingredients from our garden often make their way into adobe treats, and sometimes a unit can “eat out” of the lodge for a meal they’ve prepared themselves.

Nature 1Nature

Our Naturalist teaches campers about the local ecology and general Biosystems on Johns and in the Puget Sound region.

Our unique natural campsite with its many forests, meadows, beaches, tide pools, wetland and coves invites exploration.

Some units may also visit the Whale Museum and Lime Kiln Park on San Juan Island. Collaborations with several other departments are frequent, combining learning about the natural world with creative benefits to taste and enjoy!


The drama program provides campers with an opportunity to express themselves creatively, to learn to speak in front of groups and to learn to work with others to create entertainment.

Drama 1

Units develop and host campfire skits, inviting other units to perform and designing a plot that encompasses all acts.

Individual campers can also participate in Opry House, a presentation produced by the drama department at the end of each session including snippets of monologues, comedic skits and longer theatrical pieces.

Chapel 1Weekly Community Building

Once a week, we observe an “anchor day” where the whole community participates in larger activities together, allowing for sharing, reflection and appreciation. Weekly Reflection, called Chapel, is a gathering hosted by a different Unit each week. The Unit chooses a topic, like friendship, communication, honesty, or respect, and presents it to the entire camp community.

Songs, readings, skits or small group activities help to guide our discussion and exploration of the chosen topic. We then eat “dinner” as the noon-time meal, a slightly more formal meal to gather and celebrate the week.

Later in the afternoon, Musicale is an opportunity for individuals and small groups to perform for the entire camp. We get to witness some first-time performances right along with experienced musicians, singers, dancers, poets, comedians and even a yo-yoer from time to time. All talents are welcome and encouraged!

Camp Improvement Activities

Contributing to the care of our environment is an essential part of our program both philosophically and practically. Each unit reserves one or two periods during the week for maintenance and improvement projects.


Typical jobs are hauling fire wood for the shower houses, cutting and skinning tipi poles, graveling tipi floors, or clearing trails.
Our Camp Operations crew lead these tasks while incorporating education about the environment and our natural resources.

It’s important for each individual in our community to understand the impact they have and the role they can play to be a steward of the property – which we hope translates into care and concern for their local environment when they return home from camp.