Non Periodic Elements
Determination, self-confidence and encouragement are just some of the things needed to complete any element of the high ropes course at Oswegatchie. The most renowned element at Oswegatchie is the zip line, a challenge that begins with an orange ladder, a green safety harness and the intimidating climb.
I have been through this about a million times. We all put our bags under the pavilion, stand in a circle, and talk amongst ourselves as camp staff hands each of us a harness. We hold the purple loop, step over the harness and feed a long green strap through the purple loops in front of and behind us, fasten it as if it is a belt and wait for further directions. We next tighten the leg straps, get checked to make sure that nothing is too loose or twisted and then we are finally ready to safely challenge any of the elements in the course.
We walk down a steep hill, one that I have fallen on a few times, but from years of experience know not to run down, as it will increase your chances of tumbling to the base of the hill. After given a rundown of how each element works and a crash course in helmet safety, I step back and watch each of the friends that I have made from the hike through the woods, climb up higher and higher, into the canopy of pine and hemlock trees.
I am not fearful of many things, the only things that are genuine fears of mine are what happens after life and heights. You may be confused as to why I have this fear when you see me on roller coasters at amusement parks around the country. I have the ability to ride the second tallest coaster in the world, standing at 420 feet in the air with no trouble, but get an unsettling feeling, that causes my hands to get sweaty and my breathing to get heavy while climbing up a tree 45 feet into the air.
As I watch people climb the zip tree from the sidelines, a conversation between a young girl and her teacher interrupted my fearful thoughts.
“Rebekah are you sure that you don’t want to try again? I think you could get farther this time.” A teacher, Veronica Krohn, a past staff member at Oswegatchie said to a girl probably 14 years of age. The girl was looking at the ground, in a reserved manner, instantaneously shaking her head, a silent response to her teacher’s question. As Veronica and Kaylee, the member of camp staff currently belaying at the Postman’s Walk, sent words of encouragement towards her, with hopes that she would try the element again, I decided to interject.
“I think you should try again! Even if you don’t climb higher than the ladder, you should try again.” Rebekah looked up at me and decided that she was going to try the Postman’s Walk once more. As she climbed, we cheered her on from the ground, and when she decided that she was ready to come down, my reassurance towards Rebekah about her accomplishment, never faltered.
As I looked towards the zip line, I quickly turned back towards my new friend and asked her if she was going to try to do the zip line. Again, she shook her head no and returned to the reserved state that she was in nearly ten minutes ago.
“It’s okay to be scared. I’m terrified of heights!” I told Rebekah. She lifted her head and looked me in the eyes. “The zip line is such a fun experience, the climb up the tree is what is scary” I told her smiling.
“Have you ever done it?” Rebekah asked me. I nodded and told her that I had done the zip line every summer that I was a camper at Oswegatchie and that I had been a camper for six years. Her eyes widened and a confused look was plastered on her face.
“Why are you so scared then?” she asked me. I grinned at her and told her about how regardless of my nerves and fear, I knew that I had the ability to climb the tree, and in the end enjoyed flying through the air, and looked out at the view.
“How about this,” I started after finishing my explanation, “If I try the zip line, you’ll try too.” I excitedly proposed to her. Seeing the nerves overtake Rebekah, I optimistically added, “It’s okay if you don’t get the to the top. You don’t even have to climb off of the ladder, but if you try that is the best feeling ever.” Rebekah pondered the proposal and agreed. I told her that I would climb first as I walked over to the pile of orange and white helmets. I placed an orange one on my head, fastened the strap and secured a backpack with important ropes in it, to my back. I walked to the base of the tree and waited for my cue from Brenna, the belayer in the tree that it was time for me to climb.
I hooked the carabineer through the purple loop in the front of my harness, secured it and showed Brenna that it was tightened by giving her a squeeze check. I looked at the rungs of the orange ladder, began to run through the lyrics of my favorite song in my head and started to climb. After the 12 foot climb up the ladder, I reached the staples that are in the tree, my base for climbing and reaching for the next 32 feet.
I wear a size ten shoe which is considerably large for a girl my age. The metal staples are about eight inches long and three inches wide. The thought of how large my feet were and the how small the staple was, was just one of the many things running through my head as I continued to climb the tree. As I climb, the rope that I am connected too is controlled so that the slack is not too loose. I stop for a moment, roughly three quarters up the tree and about halfway through with my song. I feel a little tug on the rop, as Brenna adjusts to the pause in my ascent. I catch my breath and look up the tree to see that there are about ten more steps and reaches left in my climb. Ten more steps and reaches until the scary part of the adventure is over.
With confidence, I reached my right arm up to grab onto a staple and lifted my left leg up, landing my foot onto a staple. This continued, alternating which arm and leg I lifted, until I was able to step onto the wooden platform, breathe and relax.
“How was your climb?” Brenna asked me, as I turned around to let her take the ropes out of my backpack and hook me up to the zip line.
“It was good.” I said looking directly at the bark of the tree in front of me. “Scary though.” I added as I slowly looked through the leaves of the trees, out at the sun that was reflecting off of the glistening water of Rock Pond.
“Hailey, how many times have you done this?” Roland, the ropes director asked me. I looked away from the pond and to Roland sitting on a branch of the tree, with no platform below him.
“Every summer that I have been a camper” I replied. “Six times.” Laughing, I smiled and looked back out onto the water. Roland, Brenna and I continued to chat as Brenna secured me onto the zip line. After explaining to Roland why I got scared each and every time I climbed the zip tree, Brenna told me I was ready to go. I turned around from facing the tree and looked out across the zip line to see the catch team ready to stop me after my ride.
“You’re sure I’m not going to fall?” I asked Brenna. She reassured me and double checked as I asked her make sure everything was as tight as possible. She again, told me I was good to step off of the platform and zip over a small stream to the catch team.
As I went to step off, something was stopping me. My fear of heights had not suddenly disappearing since being on the platform. The fear had just been distracted by the conversation that I was having and the things I was seeing. I was considering backing out, when I remembered the conversation that I had with Rebekah. I knew that at that moment, Rebekah was at the base of the tree I was about to jump out of, watching me do something that I was terrified of doing. She was, literally, looking up to me. The thought of this and the confidence that I had in myself is what pushed me to step off of the platform. After zipping cross the zip line and getting back onto the ground where I was comfortable, I saw Rebekah start to climb up the ladder from across the stream and I smiled.
Rebekah climbed to the top of that orange ladder, and then she climbed back down. She didn’t do the zip line and she didn’t follow through with the deal that we made, but I was in no way angry with her. I was proud of Rebekah for taking one step closer to doing something that she was afraid of. The same way that I was scared to step off of the platform, Rebekah was scared to climb the zip tree. However, despite her fear, she was able to challenge the zip line and accomplish climbing the ladder. Regardless of whether or not Rebekah completed the element, she is able to say that she tried her best in the situation, and that is the best accomplishment that anyone could ever make.
Up in Flames
Have you ever built a fire? If you have, you probably had fire starters, a lighter or even flint and piece of steel. A tool or two that made building your fire simple. I would also be willing to bet that when you were building your fire, you also had access to dry wood, and you were simply building this heat source to make yourself more comfortable, not because you had to. Imagine building a fire with none of the tools stated above, in a wet, snowy environment and the status of your fire gave you the ultimate bragging rights and warmth that you needed.
The mood on the bus for the three and a half hour trip to Oswegatchie in the middle of January was dull. The trees that were usually caked with fluffy, white snow on the side of the road camp were anything but. The winter had been unusually warm for the Adirondacks with rain and wind, rather than snow. As we pulled into camp, and stepped off of the bus, the pathway to our lodge was muddy and it was just starting to rain. We had all packed the necessary clothing to keep us warm in the snow for hours on end, whether we were sledding, having a snowball fight or participating in the much anticipated winter survival program. But it looked like we wouldn’t have the opportunity to participate in any of these fun snow activities. As we engaged in the indoor evening activities, and went to bed, I thought about the winter weekend program that had experienced before, and determined that this year was not going to be anything similar.
I open my eyes, to a mostly dark room, a small amount of light coming into my room from the rising sun. We had made the room, suitable for three people, sleep five, making it extremely difficult to get out of bed and across the room to the door. Stealthily, making my way to the door and out into the hall, I met Mrs. Case, my advisor walking into the bathroom.
“Did you look outside?” She excitedly asked me. I ran through the short actions f my morning, realizing that I didn’t even look out the window in the hallway. “It snowed last night!” She said beaming, with an ear to ear smile spread across her face. I instantly perked up and smiled.
“Really?” I asked. “How much?” I asked. I was concerned that Mrs. Case’s idea of snow and my idea of snow were two different things.
“A lot of it. Good thing everybody brought snow gear.” she said, still smiling and walking out of the bathroom. I quickly changed out of my pajamas and into a pair of jeans, wool socks and a long sleeve shirt with the Oswegatchie logo across the front of it. As I turned down the hall from the bathroom, I heard some rustling and low chatter from the large dorm room where the younger girls slept. I brought my clothes to my room quietly, seeing that Valerie, Kat, Gia and Olivia were still asleep. I grabbed my hair straightener and my makeup bag, and closed the door. Walking back down, the hall, I passed the bathroom and entered the dorm room, to make sure that all of the Greenville girls were awake and well.
“Good morning Hailey.” I heard a voice say. It was Chloe, an 8th grader who made my day every day.
“Morning Chloe. Guess what!” I whispered, as not to wake the sleeping girls from other schools. “It snowed last night.” I was so excited, that I could barely contain myself. Chloe and I chatted briefly about the snow, as other girls began to wake up and join the conversation. As I left the girls to their own conversation, and the dorm, I entered the now full bathroom to begin to get ready for the big day that I had ahead of me.
The winter survival class at Oswegatchie is an activity where students get into groups of four and build a shelter, a fire or both. For the fire we were given a pack of matches and, if we were lucky, some dry newspaper. It is usually difficult as there is no dry wood to start a fire and this was not going to be any different with a fresh snowfall.
“Hey Hailey, do you want to be in a group together for fire building like last year?” Valerie asked me, walking over to the table that I was sitting at playing “Mau” with my friends from Warwick. Valerie and I have always been two peas in a pod at any FFA event. We’re in the same grade and we’re always competing in the same competitions against one another. It was only script that we would be in a group together for winter survival this morning.
“Of course.” I replied, making my move in the card game that I was playing. “Can Tristan and Peyton be in our group too?” I asked. On our ride to camp we had briefly talked about the two boys on the trip joining our group, but nothing was set in stone. We talked for a few minutes more as my card game finished and we went downstairs to suit up for the winter wonderland we were about to step into.
The snow was perfectly places on the trees and on the ground. It was if we had woken up in a completely different world than we had fallen asleep in. Everybody was in completely different mood once we stepped out of the doors of Sutliff Lodge. We were throwing snowballs at one another and taking turns pushing each other into the snow. Bill brought the group of us into the woods, about half a mile from our lodge, gave us our matches and set us free for the next three hours.
After an hour of being in the woods, Tristan, Peyton and I had gathered lots of bark from Birch trees and some small sticks from dead trees still standing in the forest. We had tried to light our fire multiple times, and with many good starts, each and every one of our flames had went out. Peyton had given up, gotten to cold and trudged through the snow towards the lodge, leaving Valerie, my brother and I to fend for ourselves. It had been snowing lightly the whole time and we were beginning to get cold.
“I’m going inside.” Tristan said standing up and watching Valerie and I work tirelessly at lighting our fire. He looked further out into the forest and saw a group of kids with a large fire, and overheard their cheers as they began to make popcorn. “Right after I get some of that popcorn.” My brother has always been the kind of person to try as much as he could and if that wasn’t good enough, go join someone who was succeeding. Once he left, it was just Val and I. We were both freezing cold, and had less than half a pack of matches left from Bill.
“Val, I am so cold.” I said as she sparked a match and tried to light our small pile of kindling and tissue that had been in my jacket pocket. “I am about to go inside.” I stated, as the tissue lit on fire, but like the others, quickly diminished. Valerie persuaded me to stay and as we took a short break, I thought about the situation that we were in. Half of our team had quit or ditched us for a better group, we were freezing cold in the snow and we had no fire. We were starting to get discouraged.
“Let’s try again.” I said sitting up from the position that I was in. “I grabbed the clump of tissue and prompted Valerie to light the match. Once making contact, the tissue quickly went up in flames. I slowly moved the tissue under the teepee of wood that we had made. Valerie started to place small sticks into the fire and they began to catch on fire. As the flames got larger, we started feeding the fire with larger pieces of wood. Once our heat source was big enough to keep us comfortable, we stopped feeding it and enjoyed our accomplishment. Even though we were both discouraged and the odds were stacked against us, the two of us had the ability to build our fire and persevere through the cold.
For the rest of our time at camp, our story about winter survival skills spread around and we felt proud of ourselves. The boys who had left our group and lost all confidence in us, were ashamed after we told them that we had built a fire, without them. I think that it is safe to say that if Valerie or I were lost in the wilderness somewhere, we would be able to build ourselves a fire as long as we had pack of matches.
Red Leaves and Red Water
98.6 degrees Fahrenheit is the average temperature that our body maintains. This temperature may fall a bit higher or lower depending on the person. We often times see people with fevers who have a body temperature ranging from 99 to 103 degrees Fahrenheit, but in the contrary, when the body’s temperature begins to fall to 95 degrees or less, hypothermia begins to set in.
The autumn season makes Oswegatchie the most beautiful place on earth, next to Oswegatchie during the other seasons of the year. The leaves on the deciduous trees begin to change from their green color to a series of bright yellow, red and orange while the coniferous trees remain their dark evergreen color. Looking out at the trees from the shoreline of Long Pond and seeing the bright fall colors mixed with seaweed green is the only thing, besides the temperature, that makes the Environmental Leadership Program at Oswegatchie different from summer camp.
I have attended the ELP program four different times with the Greenville FFA Officer team. Our chapter uses this program as an opportunity for our officers to grow together and become a closer knit group so that our year runs as smoothly as possible. We engage in low ropes team building activities and complete different elements of the high ropes course. We also have the opportunity to learn about different aspects of the environment, whether this be camouflage used by animals and plants or forest ecology. During my sophomore year, I served the Greenville FFA as the President. My attitude towards our trip to camp that fall was as optimistic as ever. I was determined to step into each activity with an open mind and to try every opportunity.
It was not a cold day for fall on November 7th, 2016. We had just finished the high ropes course as an officer team and we were on our way back to Sutliff Lodge, our home for the three day program we were attending. It was roughly 4:30 in the afternoon and dinner was going to begin at 6:00.
“Bill, are we going to get to do the hypothermia challenge?” I asked him as we walked past the wood mill at camp, on our way back to the lodge. I had tried to do the intense challenge the year before last, but failed. I had no intention of trying again but watching others attempt the challenge was always a fun thing to watch.
“If there are enough people that want to do it, yes.” Bill said as he continued to walk down the paved road that leads right into the heart of main camp at Oswegatchie. I instantly slowed my pace and began to ask everyone if they were going to do the hypothermia challenge. With many “yes” and “no” answers, I was hopeful that the much anticipated challenge was going to happen.
As the last person to enter the lodge, I take my time unlacing my boots and shedding my Carhartt jacket, pink knit Oswegatchie hat and thin black gloves. I listen to Bill announce that anybody that is interested will be able to participate in the hypothermia challenge. After giving everybody a rundown of how the challenge works, he let everyone go to change into clothes that were suitable to get wet. With still, no intention of doing the challenge, I settled myself into one of the couches around the fire pit, listened to the abundance of noises being made throughout the lodge and remembered my past experience with stepping into the cold waters of Long Pond.
We stood in the water up to our ankles for two minutes, then we moved up to our knees. The cold water felt like a million needles were being stabbed into my skin as I stood in it, but it was nothing that made me too uncomfortable. I had made a bet with Caila, a girl on my officer team in 2014, stating that whichever one of us “chickened” out first, would buy the other Starbucks on the ride home. I was determined to win this bet, but once advancing into the water to waist level, I lost the confidence that I had in myself and a bet. Still ashamed from the embarrassment that I put myself through two years prior, I was not prepared to suffer the same feelings over again.
“Why aren’t you changing your clothes?” my advisor, Mrs. Lewis asked me. I was still in my jeans and sweatshirt from doing the ropes course.
“I wasn’t going to do it.” I replied, enjoying the heat from the warm fire.
“You’re the President! You have to try!” she said. I looked at her and thought about the unease I had towards the challenge, but she was right. I stood up and walked down the narrow wooden stairs into the girls’ side dorm. I pulled a pair of leggings and my stand up to cancer volleyball shirt and walked into the bathroom to change. I took off my socks and slide my feet into my sneakers. I could not believe that I was about to do this again. The only difference was that this time, I was going to complete the task.
Besides my obsession with Florida Georgia Line and my love for dogs, people usually describe and know me as emotional. If you were to ask anyone, they would tell you that I cry over anything and everything. This was no different when we had gotten to the stage in the challenge where we were submerged in freezing water up to our waists. As my emotional support, my friend Olivia, someone who is happy and smiling all of the time, was nothing shy of concerned when huge tears began to well up under my eyes and stream down my face. There was only ten minutes left in the challenge, but the cold was affecting me in ways that I hadn't deemed possible. Just as I was about to quit, I looked back at the shoreline and I saw half a dozen of my teammates, including younger FFA members, watching me. This sight reminded me of the optimistic and determined attitude that I had wanted to put towards the activities throughout this weekend. I decided to stay in the water.
As we submerged our bodies from the shoulders down, I treaded water and looked out at the beautiful fall foliage as a distraction, as Olivia, Emily and I began to sing our school’s alma mater. Through tears and gasps for breath, we sang through both verses, and began singing “Party in the USA”. As we were instructed to do so, we all fully submerged ourselves into the dark red water of the pond and pulled ourselves back to the surface for air. My tears began to slow at the sound of Bill’s voice saying that we had completed the challenge. I started to head back to the shoreline, feeling internally proud of myself.
Memory loss, shivering, and shallow breathing are just a few of the many symptoms affiliated with hypothermia. While I have witnessed people forget their own birthday after completing this challenge and have had to physically feed someone dinner because they were too cold to move, none of the extensive symptoms happened to me. I am proud of have completed a challenge that I was scared of and that I considered quitting. The difficulty of this challenge is extreme and throughout the length of it, the mind tells you to get out of the water and quit. However, the hypothermia challenge is not hard because of the freezing water. It is hard because you have to shut out the thoughts of your own intuition in order to complete the challenge.
The most magical place of Oswegatchie for me is the monstrous boulder that sits at the edge of the dark red water that makes up Rock Pond, one of the four ponds spread across 1200 acres of wooded forest. From the rock on a warm summer day, I can see people gliding across the water on bright yellow kayaks, breaking the stillness of the pond and hear the excited shrieks of those swinging freely back and forth over the water from the high ropes course. At night, however, the view from the rock is extremely different, and was something that I had not experienced until the summer of 2018.
“CIT’s meet me at Coffee Cove right after lunch” the voice of the camp director, Bill’s voice bellows throughout the large, open room of Widrick Lodge, the dining hall at Camp Oswegatchie. I sat at my campsite table, pondering the possibilities of what Bill needed to announce.
“I am Bill Waite and you are...”
“Dismissed!” responded all of the campers, counselors and non-counseling staff, a traditional way to end every meal at Oswegatchie throughout the summer. The sound of the wooden benches being pushed along the wooden floor and the noise of silverware being moved around the table dimmed as I made my way out of the dining hall, out onto Widrick porch and down the stairs to Coffee Cove.
It is Tuesday afternoon, the second day of the four that I would spend at Camp Oswegatchie. The mandatory class for CIT’s was held on Monday morning. We got an exclusive tour of main camp, worked on a team building activity and constructed the theme of our reflections that we would present to the entire camp the next night.
The experience of being a CIT gives older campers the opportunity to be placed in a campsite with younger kids, work closely alongside your counselor and create lasting bonds with the other CIT’s that you work with throughout the week. This particular week, was my second time experiencing being a CIT. The previous summer was the first year that I had the amazing opportunity. With a phenomenal group of people, we were able to express purposeful reflections to the campers and went on the much anticipated CIT camp out. During the CIT class this past summer however, people continuously flooded into the screened in Widrick porch. I thought that the stream of people would never end.
There were 28 CIT’s during this week. 28 of us, a record for camp that has been admitting campers into the summer camp program since 1946. This posed as a challenge for Bill and the CITs, as it required our reflection theme to be extremely broad in order for each and every one of us to convey something different, but still unique to the campers. It also meant that there would be no CIT campout.
“Maybe he called us here to tell us we are going to have the campout after all!”
“Or he has a last minute announcement about reflections for tonight.”
These were just a few of the many ideas that people shared as we patiently waited for Bill to arrive under the large pop up tent, covering all 28 of us from the scorching August sun. As Bill arrived at Coffee Cove, a round of applause erupted from 28 pairs of hands, the sound echoing off of the brown wooden walls of Berkey bathhouse. Abruptly, Bill was hit with questions regarding the nonexistent CIT camp out.
“There is no CIT campout this week. There are just too many of you to effectively convey the intention of the activity.” Bill said, over the fading murmurs amongst 28 seventeen year old campers. Seeing the wave of disappointment that engulfed us, Bill continued. “After reflections tonight, once everyone goes back out to their campsites, camp staff will bring you out by Gators and Kubotas. You guys are going to get to jump off the rock.”
Standing at the rock during the night time is unlike any other experience that I have had. The lights of main camp were visible from across the pond, campfires were just beginning to let off their orange-yellow glow and stars were just starting to emerge from the dark blue sky. As we waited for everyone to arrive, I sat down on my damp towel, and began to think about what was about to happen. I had heard stories from staff members, past campers and state officers about their experience from jumping off of the rock. I remember the stories, my friend Taylor had told me about her experiences form the previous summer. The way that she described jumping off the rock eased my nerves, but not completely.
Once everyone arrived, we were instructed to get a partner and told to jump one pair at a time, on Bill’s call. Maddie from Beekmantown and I had both never jumped off of the rock, but we were both excited for the opportunity.
As the group ahead of me jumped into the air, Maddie and I strategized on how we were going to go about jumping. Whether we were going to run and jump rather than stand at the edge and simply step off the rock. Whether we would hold hands while we jumped, or leap at the same time but not hold hands. We decided on running and jumping, not holding each other’s hands.
“Next group!” Bill shouted. That meant us. Maddie and I looked at each other and smiled.
“One, two, three!” we yelled together. On the count of three we both began running towards the edge of the rock, jumping far out to avoid colliding with the side of the boulder.
It is hard to explain what free falling feels like. It is as if you are jumping, but when you begin to come down, the floor is pulled out from underneath you and you are plummeting at an unknown pace. It is hard to know when you are going to hit the water, making it equally as hard to determine when to hold your breath and prepare yourself for the impact. As I thought to myself, “When am I going to hit the water?” my body was submerged into the pond, disappearing completely from sight. There is a peaceful, yet unsettling silence when you are under water. My adrenaline was running so fast throughout my body. Once I emerged from the water, I took a huge breath of air and began to swim around the rock, to the shore where I climbed back up to the top of the rock.
While I caught my breath, I looked out across the pond to see a fire pit, now engulfed in the yellow-orange flames of a campfire. I was reminded at that moment, why I came to Oswegatchie time and time again. Why I gave up a week of work, time spent with friends and to complete homework during my summer. Six years ago, I was the camper sitting around the fire pit, watching older, more experienced campers jump off the rock, and now I had leaped into the “dark waters” twice, despite my initial unease towards the situation. I was, no doubt, scared of jumping from 25 feet in the air into the water below, but my unremitting determination lead me to cease this unforgettable moment and left me with a gripping story to tell.
means taking time away from your normal life and getting outside. We have many opportunities including high ropes, paddling, or team building workshops. If you are interested in an Oswegatchie experience, contact us at email@example.com. We will work with you to make sure what Oswegatchie has to offer is perfect for you!