Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Shared Experience

On Shared Experience (Another page from the “Book of the Moose”, another work in progress)

When I directed Camp Treasure Mountain, up Teton Canyon, I required my employees to attend Saturday evening story sessions. I actually read them To Kill a Mocking Bird cover to cover over that season, and many other things as well. The lodge had burned down the year before, so we met in the warehouse, remade into a staff dining hall. One married couple worked that summer, she as cook, he as handy man. One night, after I had delivered a“stirring” reading of the cross examination scene, my handyman came to me quite upset. He said I had wasted his entire evening, which he could have spent with his family, and requested to be allowed to miss “story night” from then on. I was young then, younger than he, and gave in to his demand. I was wrong to have done so. From then on, he often chose not to participate in our activities, we were never able to build the kind of bond with his beautiful family that I now feel we could have done had we included them all in our shared experiences. We remain good friends but they did not return another summer. They missed out on us, we missed out on them, by choosing to be by themselves they chose not to be with us. We could have given each other so much more if we would have shared the experience.

It is a bit ironic that it was that very summer I showed the staff a movie about a man climbing the Grand Teton. Those were the days of reel to reel projectors, and we watched this one movie we had in what would have been the warehouse garage, sitting on folding chairs at old church tables. I don't remember the name of the film; who produced it or why, but there was an important lesson in it for successfully building a camp staff team; a special treasure buried in all the adventure. In one particularly exciting moment, the climber attempted to traverse an overhang. He had driven a peton into the stone above his head and attached his rope. As he pulled himself up, the peton came out and he swung into the wall, smashing his face; the blood gushing from his nose. Hanging there thousands of free fall feet above the valley floor, he first placed a finger on the side of his nose and blew out the blood, then pulled out another peton, drove it into the stone, and resumed his climb. The boys cheered his courage and manliness. To me, another thread in the film was more stirring. Early in his journey, as the climber passed through the forest at the foot of the mountain, he stopped by a stream to catch a tiny frog. He put it in his shirt pocket. One hardly noticed the seeming meaningless act. After summiting the Grand Teton with glory, the climber returned to the stream and released the frog; a frog that had gone to the top of the world; who had shared the experience with a hero.

Years later, it was during my second stint as director at Loll, I was told by a professor from Weber State College that the Boiling River was better than the Fire Hole. The Boiling River is between Mammoth and Gardner, Montana. Those were the days when Loll owned a big, red, forty passenger International Harvester bus. As we had scouts arriving on Saturday, we set out on road trips after church on Sunday. It took most of an adventure filled day to get the crew to and through the wildlife museum at Mammoth and to the trail up the Gardner River to the hot water. My wife and I had to tend our children in those days and by the time we had the little boys on the trail the staff had gone ahead hunting for the swimming hole.

Now, to decide if the Boiling River is better than the Fire Hole, you will need to know a little about the Fire Hole. All the hot water from Old Faithful, Black Sands, and Biscuit geyser basins run into that river, then it plunges over a water fall and into a narrow canyon. At the swimming hole there is up to sixty feet of deep, warm, green water. It is a big river and swimmers can jump into the current and be swept through eddies and rapids as they pass beneath the cliffs. We have been taking our crew there since the summer of 1977.

Back to that Sunday trip up the Boiling River. We rounded a bend in the trail to see our entire staff, fully clothed and standing in a group. They were not impressed with the boiling river and had voted not to go in. At that point I explained to them that this was not a democracy, that they didn't get to vote, that I had not driven them all the way across Yellowstone to have them not get into the Boiling River. I had to admit it looked a bit of a let down, no deep pool, the water was only knee deep. There were no trees, only a rather dry grass meadow. They complained that there was no place to change into their swimming suits, that people would see them from the highway above. I explained to them about musk oxen, how they could form a circle with everyone facing out and one at a time change in the center. They did and waded into the river. The Boiling River is really a wonderful place, (although not in my opinion superior to the Fire Hole), for all the hot water from Mammoth Hot Springs flows down the mountain side and falls over a long, low waterfall into the icy coldness of the Gardener River. You can sit under the hot falls, or find any temperature of water to play in, or you can swim in the trough where the two waters meet. Needless to say, an hour later, when I told them it was time to go, they voted and said they were not getting out. Frogs and camp staffers don't always know what they want most, sometimes one just has to take them where they would never go, sometimes one must take them there together.

I remember a whole avalanche of shared experiences with an army of close friends, from swimming in the Fire Hole, to watching Old Faithful, to washing dishes at the sink at Bartlett, to sitting under the stars on Lion's Head, to attending church in the rain and mosquitoes at Lake of the Woods, to seeing Union Falls, to watching corny movies snuggled up on old mattresses on the floor of the Jed Stringham memorial hall, to reading To Kill a Mocking Bird in a dingy log warehouse garage.

Don't get me wrong, I give my crew time to be alone, and time to be with family or special friends. But on a regular basis we have shared experiences which they must attend.


Anonymous said...


At the risk of intrusion, I thought I might post one of those "shared experiences" from my own personal writings. I hope all is going well and that you are having a great summer!

I became very well acquainted with Union Falls when I was a boy. The waterfall is near the south boundary of Yellowstone Park on Mountain Ash Creek. Union Falls is a beautiful waterfall; it is the second largest waterfall in Yellowstone, cascading down over 260 feet.

Every Wednesday was “hike day” at Camp Loll and each staff member was assigned to take his troop on a wilderness adventure. Even when the troop to which I was assigned didn’t go to Union, Delose Conner, the Camp Director, would switch me and have me go with a troop that was headed there anyway. You see, I once made the mistake of telling Delose that I really didn’t like going to Union; after that Delose made sure that I hiked to Union every week. At the time I hated him for it; however, my perspective has now changed greatly. I am grateful for all those trips to that amazing place. I yearn to be able to go to Union one more time.

We took Blake to Scout Camp this year for his first time. We were fortunate enough to be able to go to Camp Loll. Unfortunately, there are some difficulties presented on the hike to Union that Blake is not yet prepared to overcome. There are three river fords (the first is Cascade Creek, the second the Falls River, the third the Falls Fork of Mountain Ash Creek) that are quite difficult; but more than those crossings is the distance to Union Falls. It is more than Blake can accomplish in a day.

If you leave from Camp Loll, the distance to Union is twenty miles round trip. If you begin the trip from the trail-head off the south boundary road, the distance is 16 miles. Blake is great, but that distance is just too much for him.

There were troops who wanted to make the trip as an overnighter from time to time. It was nice to take the trip as an overnight hike; you awoke refreshed, and had the entire day to play before making the hike back to Camp Loll.

The trail to Union from the junction leads to a creek confluence that forms Mountain Ash Creek; the Warm Fork joins with the Falls Fork to double the flow of the creek. Swimming in those creeks was wonderful. One was ice cold (Falls Fork) and glacial-fed; the other was bathtub warm (Warm Fork) and geyser-fed.

The contrast was stark, and it always made for a wonderful afternoon to swim from one fork to the other.

Some of the staff members after me followed the Warm Fork upstream to find a better swimming hole. They found a wonderful, deep pool to swim in. I have never been to Scout Pool, but when I return to Union I hope to be able to go there and to swim.

The trail to continue to Union Falls crosses the Falls Fork at the confluence. That crossing would probably be the most difficult for Blake, as one must balance as he crosses logs to reach the other side. It is then about two more miles before reaching the actual waterfall.

The falls is majestic and breathtaking. The trail turns a corner and climbs a hill at the same time; when the hill is crested, the spray from the falls almost knocks the hiker over.

I complained mercilessly about those trips to Union Falls, and now I dream of glorious warm afternoons spent there for a swim, lunch, and a view of the falls. I can’t think of a better way to spend an afternoon.

Lysis said...


Thank you for writing and for sharing your adventures at Camp Loll, and on the Camp Loll staff. I believe that staff members need to be required to do things that are difficult and somewhat beyond their “comfort zone”, we do not choose to grow, we must be forced to it or come upon it by chance. Perhaps one can see some universal application of this philosophy.

Let me assure you, you grew to be everything your Camp Director hoped you would be.