Camp St Croix

It’s the ultimate school field trip. Three days, two nights of Environmental Education at Camp St Croix in Hudson, Wisconsin.

Eastview Elementary’s 5th graders have made this trip for 18 years now. Last year, I chaperoned our daughter Julia’s excursion there:

Camp St Croix 2010


So of course I was game to chaperone our Matty this year. I was most excited about getting to know his classmates better, fresh winter air, cross-country skiing and of course campfire skits. Matt was most eager to learn outdoor winter survival and play shinny with his cabinmates.

We departed on Wednesday morning and arrived at camp in time for a quick orientation, cabin move-in and lunch. Kids and adults are divided into cabin groups and study groups. Matt and I were in the same study group, and in neighboring cabins.

Teamwork on the ropes course

Wednesday activities began with team-building. Our study group of 12 students and 3 chaperones, guided by our counselor, Rigel, hit the low ropes course to work on the “3 C’s”:

Communication (that's Jakey in the orange Texas hat; he's a known, ahem, "communicator".)
Caring - don't they look like they care whether someone nudges a rope and sends the whole team back to the start?

Cracking the code

Next up, our team had to get from one side of a “keypad” to the other by stepping on the 16 “buttons” in a specific series–all while, get this, not talking.

We did it!

It took quite a while, but the kids were amazingly tenacious, cleverly nonverbal in communicating and excellent in problem-solving. 

North by northwest

Inside for orienteering info: Braden, Zack, Jakey, Matty

After an indoor lesson in compass-reading for our orienteering session, we headed back outside to find 7 markers throughout camp, armed with a map, compass and plenty of energy to tackle the deep snow. All our subgroups navigated very nicely!

Heaven help us... Finding our last orienteering marker and this sign at the entrance to Camp made me smile.
Effects of orienteering


Effects of orienteering do vary

Hear that bell?

How else would you communicate with 88 kids spread out over 500 acres?

Dinnertime. Meals are family-style with cabin groups. I have to admit I was a little nervous, lodging and dining with Matt’s girl classmates who I just don’t know as well as the boys. That all dissipated immediately. The fellow moms in Cabin 9, Laura and Debbie, were tons of fun. The girls were smart, upbeat, cooperative and very entertaining! I loved falling asleep to echoing giggles.

Yo, Niners! (as in, the ladies of Cabin 9)


After evening campfire, with songs, skits and smiles, we all retired to our cabins. Do these innocent boys of Cabin 7 look like they would be trying to scare other campers? I didn’t think so. ‘Must’ve been the storied ghosts of Cabin 8.

The Boyz of Cabin 7


Can we survive?

Thursday morning, our study group tackled outdoor survival. We learned you can’t survive these time frames without these elements:

3 seconds – Positive Mental Attitude

3 minutes – O2

3 hours – Shelter (clothes included)

3 days – H20

3 weeks – food

The kids just finished reading The Hatchet, about a boy about their age stuck in the wilderness. It provided some nice context for their duties, which included:

Build shelter in 40 minutes


Cozy quinzee, girlz


Apparently their next step was to hunt deer and use the hides for rain and snow protection.

To the river

After lunch, we hiked down to the St Croix River. I was thrilled our counselor didn’t take us on a well-trod path. We blazed a trail down a gorgeous ravine, learning about water cycles, erosion and animal tracking along the way. It was about 1/2 hour hike down and well worth the view.

Hanging out on the beach


The hike back up included a few stops (thank goodness!).

Nice classroom, huh?


Snow Angel


Strap on the skiis, snowshoes

We spent the afternoon cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. It was wonderful watching kids try both for the first time, work on prior skills and master some nice terrain.

KP duty

Several parents remarked at how nice it was to not cook or clean for 3 days. Indeed, the kids were on meal duty in alternating shifts.

Trevor (Matt's pal and hockey team goalie)


Matt, Trev, Colton (another hockey teammate); Days outside = rosy cheeks


Night hike

Many kids said the highlight for them was the night hike. No flashlights, no illumination of any type. And it was a cloudy night. Our time outside focused on nocturnal adaptations of all our senses. Hint: Try chewing LifeSavers Wintergreen mints with your mouth open in total darkness with a friend. Sparks fly : )

Predator and Prey

Friday morning, we played the ultimate survival game, Predator and Prey. It’s designed to have kids live the ecosystem, literally experiencing what it’s like to hunt, be hunted and search for food, water and shelter.

Each group is type of animal, and must find basic needs before being eaten.

We were little porcupines, who, alas, did not survive. I became a cougar, and we couldn’t find water, so we didn’t survive. Matt became a coyote, who did survive.

After lunch, it was time to head home: tired, enlightened, happy.

Cold noses, warm hearts

It was cold our entire time at Camp, especially during our night hikes. One of our students figured he could’ve sold a handwarmer for $100. If I hadn’t had one, I’d have paid that. Or more.

Yet through it all, it was all about the kids. These kids are smart, clever, kind and have wonderful senses of humor. They have an impressively excellent balance of academics and socializing. Someday, they will be incredible wives, husbands, parents and colleagues.

I truly believe they will cure cancer, solve environmental challenges, handle terrorism, hunger and war. They will do it all with grace.

But meanwhile, they are excellent sons and daughters.

The little guy I carried on my left hip all day, every day...not so very long ago, really...

Today, they’re more focused on learning, laughing–and beating their buddies at Bananagrams.

Niners at Night

And for now, they just need a shower and perhaps a little nap.

Then, world, LOOK OUT. We are in very, very good hands with these great young people.