Do you remember when you fell in love with the mountains? My first summer at Merrie-Woode, as I stared up at Old Bald, I was hooked. I had to climb that mountain. I had to explore those woods and discover all the secret places hidden over the hill: ice-cold streams tumbling over rock waterfalls, huge granite boulders the size of giants, a pine forest where the open space between the trees feels like an outdoor cathedral, rock overlooks with breathtaking views of the valley. Each adventure into the wilderness proved more exciting than the last, and soon I was running rivers and scaling rock faces. I trace my love of wilderness adventure to those first hikes to Panthertown and climbs up Old Bald.
From the earliest days of Merrie-Woode, campers have enthusiastically embraced outdoor pursuits with the same excitement that campers experience today. Before the term “Mountaineering” became part of the Merrie-Woode lexicon, these adventures were known as Tripcraft. In a series of articles here on the CMW blog, I will explore the early days of Merrie-Woode’s innovative wilderness adventure program for young women, and its many similarities with present day Camp trips. Extraordinarily progressive for its time, these trips still appeal to today’s campers because of the universal attraction of the beautiful Western North Carolina landscape and the thrill of adventure.
Ripples from the 1920s are full of stories about hikes to Panthertown, Chimney Top, Mount Toxaway, and Whiteside Mountain. Since much of the land in the Sapphire and Cashiers valleys at that time was undeveloped, traversed only by rugged roads and footpaths, these trips often started from the Camp property. A group would set out in the morning with several pack horses and hike to a campsite, where they would watch a sunset, cook dinner over a fire that they built, take turns keeping watch, and awake early to marvel at the beautiful sunrise.
Generations of Merrie-Woode girls learned to love the wilderness because of their experiences wandering through the forest, climbing granite domes, gazing across the mountain tops, and falling asleep to the smell of campfire smoke and the sounds of the woods at night.
It is wonderful to hear how Merrie-Woode girls described these experiences in their own words. As you read them, consider how their descriptions for nearly a century ago mirror your own camp memories:
I felt as though I were in a trance as I sat by the beautiful campfire during my watch at “Whitesides”. Thoughts of mystic wonder filled my heart when I realized that I [was] alone with the twinkling stars, the moon and the ever faithful trees. The silver moon, looking at me, glorious in its own light seemed to signify the high ideals that Merrie-Woode would have us hold dear. I thought of the shining stars as the little things in life that help make our characters. The bright flames of the campfire, flickering slowly, shone peacefully on our campground and all was well. I think that the watch is the loveliest part of a hike and I hope with all my heart that no one will miss this wonderful opportunity to be alone in the wake of a campfire with God.
-Jennie Hood, 1925 Ripple
Did you ever stop to think that the mountains of North Carolina are compared in beauty to those of Switzerland? And that Camp Merrie-Woode is situated in the midst of the most beautiful ones?
As long as I live I shall never forget the sunset on Whitesides last year. Here we were on the very top of Whitesides mountain and mountains on all sides of us and over in the west this huge ball of red slowly sinking to rest in the nest of mountains.
Another beautiful mountain is our own Bald with its great grey mass of rocks with only a few trees here and there make a beautiful background for our lake while the background for camp is made by Cow Mountain which is named for its shape.
Mt. Toxaway and Chimney Top are the other two mountains which Merrie-Woode girls know the most about. They are both beautiful and are wonderful when you think of their shapes and what beautiful lines they make along the horizon. Many people do not stop to consider that mountains like trees are only made by God.
-Frances Kelly, 1924 Ripple
Stay tuned over the next few months for more blog entries about the adventurous history of Tripcraft at Merrie-Woode!