Finding One's Self at Camp Loll
Mist rises in the early morning at Camp Loll's Lake of the Woods in Wyoming.
Recently I found several stories I wrote in a college class in 2002. I felt it appropriate to share a few of them, this is one.
Driving 35-miles of a sometimes dusty, sometimes wet but crudely graded road. The last hour of our trip we meandered like a snake in the grass through lodge pole pines that blanket the region. The all too familiar smell of deep Wyoming wilderness drowned my senses. The sap of tall pines, wild grass on open meadows covered with pink, purple and white spring wildflowers, the sounds of trickling streams, cheerful birds playing in the breeze overwhelm me as I hang out the window trying to soak it all in.
Fortunately, I will have all summer to soak it in, as the next ten weeks will be spent working on the shore of Lake of the Woods, a natural glacier formed lake that is home to Camp Loll where I will spend my third summer.
Isolated from electricity, plumbing, telephones and other modern conveniences by 17-miles of thick forest located between Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks, Camp Loll is a week-long summer camp for Scouts and a high adventure base for Varsity and Explorers.
As a member of the Boy Scouts of America and camp staff, every year we make the pilgrimage two weeks before the first troops are scheduled to arrive. The three tall, yet small, log cabins that make up the camp offices, trading post, commissary and staff dining hall are surrounded by the typical mounds of snow and muddy paths.
The next two weeks will be spent preparing the camp for the thousands of scouts that will spend one week of their summer in this beautiful, mountainous region of Wyoming. Preparations include, repairing holes in any of the buildings, stocking the individual camps with fire barrels, bear boxes, picnic tables and fire rings that will be called home by different troops.
One of the most dreaded chores of opening camp is setting up the waterfront. Launching and locking docks in the frigid waters while snow still sits in the shade of many trees is no easy task. Once the waterfront is set up, the staff members are required to pass the swim check by swimming 100-yards in the 45-degree water.
The one place that staff will call their own is in tent cities that comprise of green canvas baker's tents attached to hexagonal World War II army tents. Some of the army tents are held together by more duct tape than they have canvas remaining. The springs on the cots we will sleep on for the next ten weeks are laced together with orange jute twine and baling wire. Most sag so much that we place our wooden trunks that make up our dressers underneath in order to support our bodies.
Improvements for this year include the installation of a new stove that heats our shower water. Every morning, it is necessary to stoke the fires that heat our open air showers. One of my fondest memories of camp is standing in the hot shower with a light rain falling looking at the thousands of stars on a cold dark night with the crackle and scent of the fire that heats the water.
Without a moment to spare, we make the final touches of preparations to the camp on the Saturday morning, the day the first troops arrive. The empty parking lot slowly fills with the buzz of scouts and their leaders carrying their packs and gear to assigned campsites. As the office hurries to check them in, other scouts are walking in their swimsuits and towels in hand down to the waterfront where they too will attempt to conquer the frigid waters of "Lake of the Woods."
Saturday night is the opening campfire for the whole camp. There is tons of energy shown by all as we sing and enjoy skits around the two campfires that burn on each side of the stage that sits on the edge of a 70-foot cliff that overlooks the surrounding hills and lake. As the embers of the fires glow in the night sky, and the tone of the program leads to a quiet and sincere songs of America the Beautiful and God Bless America, the staff members guide their assigned troops back to their camps where they will close out an exhausting day.
Sunday is spent as a leisure and relaxing day that offers two religious gatherings of choice. With a predominant religion of Latter-day Saints, an authorized Sacrament Meeting and Priesthood is held in an open-air chapel overlooking the lake, made up of split logs for pews and sacrament trays with holes bored out for the cups. You can't help but feel the presence of a supreme being when sitting in such beautiful surroundings.
Scouts spend the rest of the week energetically earning merit badges and having the time of their lives as they take in all that the camp offers. From rappelling and mountain climbing to canoeing and shooting rifles and archery, they learn the skills and principles that shape them into the persons they will become.
Wednesdays are set aside to have a break from the stresses of classes as an adventure day. There are three main hikes that the scouts can choose from. Survey Peak is a five-mile hike one-way with no trail leading directly from camp to the northernmost peak in Grand Teton National Park by using a compass as the only way of direction. Terraced Falls is the easiest hike with only a four-mile hike to two waterfalls that are 100-feet and 50 feet in height. My favorite hike is Union Falls. This hike is the hardest, yet most rewarding of the three hikes. The 16-mile roundtrip hike fords both Cascade and Falls rivers, meanders through the backcountry of Yellowstone and leads hikers to a beautiful waterfall that is formed when two rivers come together at the top and plummet down 250-feet in the shape of an "A." I love seeing the expressions on the faces of my groups as we round the corner and see the magnificence of God's creation. They all sit in awe at the power and beauty. Before heading back to camp, we detour up another trail to a swimming hole appropriately named "Scout Pools."
Every Wednesday, exhausted scouts looking for a refreshing swim overtake this naturally thermal heated pool. On the way back to the trailhead, we have one looming obstacle to overcome. "Sunshine Ridge" or "Cardiac Hill," as the staff fondly calls it, is a mile-long hike up a relatively barren stretch of trail where, no matter the weather, the sun always seems to shine. Otherwise, most of the hike is through dense forests of lodge pole pines.
At the end of the weeklong activities, a final campfire ceremony Friday evening helps the scouts reflect on their accomplishments and rewards them for their hard work. The tone starts out full of energy and winds down to an emotional farewell as they will be packing up and returning to their homes in the morning.
It's easy to look beyond the sacrifices of an entire summer and the modern conveniences left behind to sleep on an uncomfortable bed, shower with log fire-heated water and mosquitoes when you have experiences that place you in surroundings and friendships that develop between you and these fine young men. In a matter of weeks, these experiences will all be over and I will have to return to the facts and hardships that exist in the real world. But at least for a time, I can escape. At least for a time I can enjoy the beauty of God's creation. I can strengthen my fellow men and in return, be strengthened by them.