Real Rock! Real Family!

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Around mid October of this year, I got a call from the Lane family of Charleston, SC: Abby, Matt, and their son Cameron, 9, who attended camp in 2022 and is returning for June camp in 2024.

At the Alumni Camp, over Labor Day weekend this September, they had asked if it were possible to get out on real rock? They had climbed a lot in the gym on artificial walls and holds, and they were interested in experiencing the real thing. Apparently there was a shared hunger for this experience, because we took 23 people on an afternoon session at nearby Gilbert’s Rock and it was a huge success.

This fall, they wondered if it were possible to get out on real rock one more time before the winter. I replied:

“Sure, I’ll meet you at Big Rock, SC, on the 28th!”

So up they came and off we went.

There is nothing better than rock climbing in autumn in the Carolinas. We had clear skies, dry rock and the beauty of the trees, which become more structures of light and color than they are cellulose and water. The pictures here show the family engaged in the pure delight and absorption of moving over stone.

Gym climbing is great; the climbing wall at camp is great - perfect ways to learn how to move upward with gravity tugging on you. But the shift to real rock is profound: there is no line of colored holds to follow; there is no apparent design of route intended to be climbed. There may be no incut holds at all; you just have to figure out how to use the grain of the rock, put your foot on the slab, and step upward, trusting to friction. It takes more mind control than strength. Rock climbing is also essentially honest: you cannot fall up a climb too hard for you. You either climb it on your own or you don’t. As a 14 year old learning that at camp in 1969, I loved that honesty and I still do, and it was fun to watch Cameron experience that.

The whole family climbed and everyone had a great time. It was wonderful to watch the parents engage in the same activity as their son. Cameron earned my highest praise of climbing like a blue tailed skink, the little rock lizards who scamper effortlessly up and across the slabs of granite. Matt, his father, with a lot of skill from his time in the gym, even tried his hand at lead climbing, going up the rock first with the rope trailing him to reach anchors above. He practiced on a route with closely spaced anchor bolts that was perfect to learn the craft.

At the end of the day, we talked about this as a model opportunity for families to come to camp and have intensely joyful experiences with their children. Of course Alumni Camp does that, but we are considering offering a few days through the year for small group private instruction in requested activities: hiking, climbing, mountain biking, and boating. There is a rich history of this with our Chief and Calla Bell Scholarship Foundation Whitewater Clinics, usually the first weekend of May, where families can come and experience whitewater together and also have the opportunity to make donations to the Foundation for other children to enjoy what we offer. So beginning this winter/spring, we will try to expand on that model with “C+CBSF Outdoor Adventure Days.” Interested? We will post a few trial dates for weekends for 2024, and you can contact me, Gordon Grant (; C: 828 713 7267) to discuss details.

We’ve said it many times before, Chief’s great line about adventure being activity on one’s personal frontiers. Come for a taste of those frontiers with your children. Give me a call. Onward, Gordon Grant

About Gordon Grant

I came to Mondamin as a 14 year old camper in 1969, and have followed what I learned here in adventure and academic education for 54 years: at Mondamin and Green Cove, Nantahala Outdoor Center, NC Outward Bound, Asheville City Public Schools, and UNC Chapel Hill. I still practice deep play in whitewater, rock climbing, and hiking, and am still working on my kayak roll…

I have worked closely with the Bell family in these years, from the founders of the camps, Chief and Calla Bell, through their son and daughter Frank, Jr. and Nancy Bell, and their grandchildren Andrew, Calla, and David. Each generation has taught me something.

My wife, Susan, is my partner of 40+ years; we have shared outdoor adventures around the world. Susan has headed canoeing at Green Cove. Our daughters, Rachel and Glenna, were Green Cove campers, and our granddaughter, Virginia Rugh, will be at August camp this summer. We intend that our grandson Grant will be at Mondamin in 2028. I am working with David Bell and the Mondamin staff to assure that he, and many other boys, will be having adventures on their personal frontiers at camp for years to come.

Gordon Grant