The Big Picture: I’ve been excited about this trip for some time – partially because Cloudland Canyon is one of my favorite State Parks in Georgia and partially because this trip introduced a new style of camping to the Sure Foot repertoire: Pioneer Camping. Though most of our adventures take participants to primitive campsites, this one included the amenities of a State Park. I was interested to see if we could still produce the connection with nature when paved roads, running water, RV campers, and plumbing were so close by. But though we had to use our cars to access the park’s trail system, the moment we stepped onto the trail, the magic of the woods surrounded us. And sitting around our campfire, surrounded by a semi-circle of tents at night, we listened to the soothing sounds of the forest and were easily able to forget the stresses of city life.
The Participants: I love introducing people to camping, and on this trip, we were able to help two families to bring their kids to the woods. Our adult participants had some experience camping, but the boys (one almost six and one almost seven) were new to it. No matter, they took to it like water. Everyone carried a backpack with some of our gear to the campsite and the boys diligently helped their parents set up tents and lay out sleeping pads and bags. Our group was a nice mix of interesting adults and fun kids. Dana facilitated games that everyone participated in, and the boys made up their own games in the woods.
“Pioneer Camping”: At Cloudland Canyon, the most primitive style of camping offered is called “Pioneer Camping.” This means that you have to walk away from your vehicle to get to your campsite, but your campsite includes a lean-to Appalachian Trail-style shelter, two picnic tables, a fire ring, and a nearby privy toilet and water spigot. Though several scout groups were nearby and serenaded us with their shrieks and laughter, the pioneer sites were quite comfortable and private. And when we drove by the park’s car-camping sites later in the day, I felt relieved that we were “pioneers” and didn’t have to share our campsite with the hum of generators, wires from RV satellite dishes, and piercing light from other campers’ gas-powered lanterns. Though I’ll soon be excited to return to the primitive sites near the Chattooga River that I love so much, I hope to lead many more pioneer camping trips at Cloudland Canyon!
Beautiful weather: Looking back on the last three years of Sure Foot trips, I’m amazed at the good luck we’ve had in 2011. Back in 2009, we had lots of trips with precipitation, like this, this, and this. But in 2011, sun and warm temperatures have prevailed! The meteorological blessing continued on this family camping trip. Though it was chilly enough for us to put on jackets in the morning, it was perfect sleeping weather and sunny skies prevailed all weekend.
“Level 2”: On our Saturday hike on the West Rim Trail, we came to an area of rock outcrops and boulders on the edge of the canyon. The two boys squeezed down a channel between two boulders and I hustled to keep up. Though I knew there was no dangerous cliff nearby, it’s always a good idea to have an adult nearby when 5- and 6-year-olds are exploring. We climbed around, over, and through some incredible rock formations and then emerged back on the main trail. The boys were so excited about the adventure that they dubbed it “Level 1” and asked me to find a “Level 2” for them to conquer. They asked the right man – I love designing impromptu adventures. So, we found a boulder to scramble over to accomplish “Level 2.” Later, if my memory serves me right, building the campfire was “Level 3” and the hike to the waterfall on Sunday morning was “Level 4.” I still haven’t figured out if the “levels” were video game terminology – or maybe degrees in some new secret society? I’ll have to ask the boys next time I see them.
Picking Up Sticks: Never before have I had a group be patient enough to collect, process (break up into smaller pieces) and sort (by size) firewood to the anal-retentive level that I prefer to do it when I’m by myself. But these two boys were so good at it! Armful after armful, they brought sticks of all sizes and piled them near our fire ring. And then the three of us worked to snap sticks to the appropriate size and then sort them into piles: tinder (the smallest), kindling, small, medium, and large. Finally, I showed them how to build a pyre, collect try leaves, and start a fire with only one match. Though they were both a little nervous around the fire at first (which is a good thing), they eventually both learned how to safely lay new sticks on the fire without burning themselves or throwing the sticks (which can disrupt the structure of the campfire as well as cause sparks to shoot).
If I had to sum up this camping trip in three words, they would be: Relaxation, Exploration, Positivity
To view more photos from our adventure, visit the Sure Foot Facebook page.