Kate Snow's Big Adventure

ByReporter's Notebook via logo

BEND, Ore., Aug. 19, 2006 — -- It's when I can no longer feel my ankles that I start to wonder: Was this really the smartest idea?

I'm in a little rubber raft with four teenagers, a camp counselor and a river guide. We're going at a pretty steady clip down the bone-chilling cold MacKenzie River near Bend. The water, they tell me, is 48 degrees. It's snow melt straight from the high peaks of eastern Oregon. I'm screaming every time a wall of water comes my way, which is about once every minute.

I have no one to blame but myself. When our producers said they wanted each anchor on "Good Morning America's Weekend Edition" to go off to summer camp for a couple of days, I had a choice of camps. I chose adventure camp. I chose Oregon. I chose a day of whitewater rafting and a day of rock climbing.

A little known fact about me -- I love the outdoors. When I'm not working, I love to camp and go backpacking and hiking. No shower for days? No problem. Love it.

It doesn't take long to build camaraderie in our boat. Within minutes, we're making up a typically teenage cheer: "Whitewater Wafting Warriors!" we scream, paddles hoisted into a high-five, before slapping the paddles on the water.

We even start singing, badly. Our favorites are "I Feel Good," "There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly" and, of course, "Don't Stop Believing" by Journey (Come on don't pretend you don't know all the words).

There are 22 teenagers on this 20-day adventure. All are 15 or 16 years old. They come from all over -- 12 states and three foreign countries. Some found the "Adventure Treks" program online. Many say their parents found it for them.

I'm old enough to be their mother, but I find myself acting like a teenager again. My fellow campers convince me to take a plunge in the frigid water.

"This is crazy," I protest, but then I jump right in.

It's such a jolt to the system, my lips are blue for the rest of the day. Crammed into a van full of kids for the ride home, there's dance music blasting on the stereo and I'm bobbing my head along with everyone else.

This is not the kind of summer camp that has cabins or an arts-and-crafts center. It's a moveable camp. Everyone sleeps in sleeping bags in small backpacking tents, which they have to set up themselves. They cook their own meals, clean their own dishes (after first licking every last morsel off the plate or bowl -- so there's no food wasted and no garbage to draw animals).

Believe it or not, the teens tell me they love the grown-up responsibilities they have -- even dish duty -- and the sense of community they're creating. On the night I visited, they divided into teams and held a Tex-Mex cook off. I got to be a judge.

The camp's founder says the adventures are just the hook to draw kids in, but the experience is more than a day of rafting or climbing.

"What I think the program really accomplishes is the community of students and the way the group comes together as a close community," says John Dockendorf.

The next morning, it's still dark when I stumble out of my tent. There's a tiny bunny waiting outside my door and the air is clear and crisp. We have to go to Smith Rock before it gets too hot to climb.

As we're hiking in to the rock face where we'll try out rock climbing, several campers tell me if they weren't here they'd probably be at home sitting in an air-conditioned room, playing video games or watching TV.

Ben says he hasn't seen any kind of high-tech gadget in days.

"And you like that?" I ask him.

"Yeah, It's fun to just get away from it all," he says.

And this is the very definition of "away from it all." In the foreground, we're looking out across the high desert plateau of eastern Oregon, dotted with scrubby pines. In the distance -- white-capped mountains. Check out the view at: smithrock.com.

As I step up to take my turn scaling the wall of rock that looms in front of me, I'm more than a little nervous. It's about 90 feet from the point I'm at to the top of the climb, and I've only done this once before outdoors, on a much smaller slab of rock.

"Okay, you guys ready to cheer me on?" I ask my new friends. "On belay?"

"Belay on," says Carol, our rock climbing tutor.

"Climbing." I yell. Then a second later, "Sort of!"

It is so much harder than it looks. There seems to be nothing to hold on to. There are no ledges or convenient shelves sticking out of this rock, just one vertical crack I move toward hoping I can wedge my hands into it. The weight of my entire body is hanging on my toes and fingers. By 10 feet up, I'm shaking all over.

"Don't look down, don't look down, don't look down" I mutter to myself. "Remember to breathe!"

Carol yells up at me.

The cheers from the campers below really do keep me going. And as I approach the top, I can see clearly why Adventure Treks would have teenagers tackle this particular sport. Rock climbing is a lesson in self-reliance and discipline and the feeling you get when you finally reach the top and look out across this amazing landscape -- well that's almost indescribable.

Building confidence. Building self esteem for teenagers. That's what this adventure camp is really all about. If they're still around in 10 years, my then-teenaged son will be going on this trip. He won't have a choice. Me, I'm getting a little old for this sort of thing.

Visit the Adventure Treks' site at adventuretreks.com.