Pemi 101 – The Pemi Hill Shelter

The Pemi Hill Shelter is an Adirondack-style structure that sits on Pemi’s property roughly two-thirds of a mile above the Junior Camp. This shelter provides cover overhead and is walled on three sides to protect occupants from the elements. Ten yards from the open side of the building, which faces eastward, is a campfire circle essential for cooking meals and for providing a central place for the group to congregate.

Over the years, Pemi has utilized the Pemi Hill Shelter in different ways, most notably as an overnight hike destination for individual cabins. The group traditionally departed after supper, climbed in the early evening hours armed with sleeping bags and a change of clothes, and enjoyed a night in the great outdoors. Led by the cabin counselor, and possibly the cabin’s Assistant Counselor, these hikes aided in developing cabin unity and gave the boys a chance to practice their camping skills.

Campers and staff have documented many of these Pemi Hill trips in Bean Soup articles. Click the links to read about Lower 7’s trip in 1988, or Junior 2’s outing in 1998.

History of the Pemi Hill Shelter

In the earliest days of Pemi (from 1908 into the 1920’s), boys climbed Pemi Hill for similar reasons, but experienced a very different landscape – pastoral rather than forested. In fact, cattle grazed on the slopes above the camp in the 1910’s, and the clanking of cowbells could be heard in the cabins after Taps and before Reveille. In the 1920’s, the first Pemi Hill Shelter was constructed near the spring where the cattle drank. Over the decades since, white pine, white and yellow birch, and various other trees overtook the pasture, creating the wooded landscape familiar to us today.

In the summer of 1962, Al Fauver, former Director and owner, began the project to create a new shelter on Pemi Hill. Charlie Ladd, Pemi’s longtime maintenance man and carpenter, was the builder and led trip counselors Wes Ackley and Roger Spragg and a few campers as the building team. Others (including Board President Tom Reed, Jr.) aided the efforts by carrying up all the posts, lumber, hardware, and roofing materials needed to complete construction.

In 1963, Al charged his son Fred Fauver (current Board member) and trip leader Paul Lewis with locating the old spring and rebuilding it into a useable water source for the shelter. After an all-day search, Fred and Paul had not uncovered the old spring, but they did find a wet spot at the base of a ledge not far from the shelter. After digging it out, they found a growing pool of water and erected a stone dam and beehive roof to protect the water source from debris. The best water in the world still flows from that pipe.

(To read more about the history of the Pemi Hill Shelter, be in touch to secure your copy of Pemi’s History Book – Camp Pemigewassett The First 100 Years!)

The Pemi Hill Shelter today

In planning for the 2017 season, Pemi’s trip staff developed a new (but also old!) system to provide the 8-11-year-old Juniors campers with an engaging, safe, and memorable Pemi Hill experience. Now, the specially-trained trip counselors lead the Junior overnights, aided by the cabin counselor, so that the younger boys learn more about the trip program and develop their camping and outdoor skills.

In the morning, the trip counselor outlines the trip and what to expect, giving the boys a packing list. Later that day, a check verifies that each boy has essential gear, including rugged footwear, a rain jacket, water bottles, a toothbrush, and the food that has been organized in the kitchen. On the ascent, each boy is given a turn to lead the group, learning how to set the pace. The counselors talk about the plant and animal species to be found along the way, features of the landscape, and first aid protocol. Some of the boys take this time to share something they learned in a nature occupation with their peers.

Upon arrival, the boys drop their packs and head to the Pemi Hill Spring to fill their water bottles. Once camp is set up, the boys explore the hillside and use a topographic map to study the land. They also learn to tie useful knots. This safe, unstructured time in the woods provides an ideal opportunity for camper development and growth.

An offseason trip to the shelter during the Family Winter Weekend in 2016!

The boys gather good firewood to cook dinner over the fire. The trip counselor demonstrates how to arrange the wood in the fire pit and talks about regulations and safety relating to controlled fires in the wilds. Other items covered are the principles of Leave-No-Trace camping, which reduces the impact we have on the natural areas in which we camp and hike. After dessert, the boys relax and read a book before falling asleep in the shelter (now equipped with mosquito netting as an appreciated latter-day improvement!). No clanging of cowbells now, though; only peaceful slumber.

Boys rise early at the Pemi Hill Shelter; the extra elevation allows the sun to peek over Mount Carr a bit earlier than the counselors might hope. After a quick breakfast over the fire, the group packs up their supplies and heads back to camp in time for their morning occupations – happy, well-fed, and a bit wiser in the ways of the wilderness.

Check out the detailed description of two 2017 Pemi Hill trips by clicking here. Stay tuned to the Pemi Blog for our next Pemi 101!

–Kenny Moore

Pemi 101 – What’s a BVT?

A BVT is a Baker Valley Tournament comprised of four neighboring camps (Moosilauke, Walt Whitman, Kingswood, and Pemi) and organized by age group (10 & Unders, 11’s, 12’s, 13’s, and 15 & Unders). Teams compete in round-robin athletic tournaments in soccer, basketball, lacrosse, ultimate Frisbee, swimming, archery, and tennis. We also play baseball against our Baker Valley friends—but only in head-to-head match-ups, given the length of a traditional camp baseball game. On any given camp day, there may be three athletic tournaments taking place in the Baker Valley: 10’s Soccer at Pemi, 12’s Hoops at Moosilauke, and 15’s Tennis at Walt Whitman.

BVT Hoops

The Baker Valley

The Baker River, originating on the south side of nearby Mount Moosilauke, runs south and east, joining the Pemigewasset River in Plymouth. All four camps are located within 10 miles of each other, allowing for quick transportation to and from these afternoon tournaments. One of the many positive features of a BVT is how well it integrates with the overall Pemi program. Boys can still participate in all their morning occupations, play in an afternoon BVT, and be on the beach for Free Swim at 5 PM.

Purpose and Goals

The proximity of the four camps was one of the main catalysts in the creation of the BVT. In the early 1990’s, Charlie Malcolm, Pemi’s longstanding Athletic Director, and Port Miller, owner and Director of Camp Moosilauke, thought of the idea: keep the high level of competition, as was custom from the previous Lakes Regions Tournaments, but limit the transportation time to and from competitions. BVTs are now a mainstay of the Pemi athletic program.

15 and Under Soccer pre-kick off

Charlie remembers the original vision: “There was a group of us who shared the importance of sportsmanship and participation. Because of the round-robin format, instead of a ‘winners’ bracket and a ‘consolation’ bracket, we created an environment for kids of all different levels to compete. From a BVT match, coaches and Athletic Directors could identify the best, competitive match-ups and schedule a direct re-match during one of our Saturday play-days.”

Twice a summer, Charlie and the other camps’ Athletic or Program Directors meet to discuss all things BVT, and over the years have developed a tight bond. These “lifers” maintain their individual camp’s standard and further support their camper-athletes through the promotion of healthy competition. These relationships help drive the success of a BVT.

The Origins of the BVT

A trip into the Bean Soup archives uncovered facts about the origins of the Baker Valley Tournaments. In 1991, the 13’s Soccer team played in the first Baker Valley Tournament. This inaugural BVT, which remains each year’s first scheduled event, was co-hosted by Pemi and Moosilauke. Four teams played: the two host camps, Kingswood, and Camp Dunmore. Pemi won all three games. You can read the details of the tournament from Coach Andy Honker’s Bean Soup article.

The third Pemigewassett Newsletter of the 1991 season noted the event with the following description: “Designed to promote the dual goals of good competition and better sportsmanship, it was highly successful. Six well-played games featured some skillful and hard-fought play, with nary a cross word directed at opponent or official. All of the teams ended the day with a heightened appreciation for the fact that competition on any level implicitly demands and depends on cooperation between combatants. With so little sportsmanship left on any level ‘out there,’ we hope that whatever we generate here at Pemi may rub off during the rest of the year.”

Stay tuned to the Pemi Blog to read information and updates on this summer’s BVTs.

-Kenny Moore

Ready for Camp?

“What is the best age to start camp?” asked a prospective camper’s mom yesterday. It’s a great question, and given that it was asked in three phone conversations this past week alone, seems to call for some conventional wisdom offered to a broader audience.

As a simple but dependable guideline, a child is usually ready for overnight camp when he can successfully spend one night away from home with a buddy. On average, sleepovers start at age 8 or 9, as the social skills and independence that emerge in 1st and 2nd grade provide him with the confidence to spread his wings. For some, this might not happen until age 11 or 12 or later, but the bottom line is that one productive night away from home sets the stage not just for surviving but, in fact, for thriving in a 3.5 and, yes, even 7-week session. This “rule of thumb” (and over 100 years of institutional experience) often serves as an eye-opening, if not comforting, benchmark for parents who might otherwise assume their children are too young for sleep-away camp, and for boys who aren’t sure if they’ll be able to manage.

You may experience a major disconnect between your head and your heart before your child goes to camp for the first time. We know that we want our children to be happy and not sad; to be successful and strong; to say and do the right things so they will make friends; to be comfortable in their own skin as well as respect the uniqueness of others. We reason that if we keep him by our side, provide the answers, and safely pave each step of the way, we can be pretty sure he’ll land where we want. But what happens beyond that landing pad? Ultimately, he’ll struggle both academically and socially if his “inner compass” for solving problems, making decisions, and establishing relationships—all necessary skills for a successful and satisfying life—has never been activated. You certainly don’t want that to occur at the college gate. Letting go can feel like cutting off your right arm, especially when there is the potential for your child to experience homesickness or uncertainty, or make a mistake, or not eat because he is a picky eater. You might intellectually recognize that your son will benefit from (not to mention enjoy!) an experience away from home, but, boy, the parental heart pounds at the very idea of letting him go.

“Independence Education” follows a learning curve similar to math, or reading, or sports. A teen or young adult doesn’t understand calculus, or write a cohesive term paper, or consistently throw strikes without having acquired essential building blocks along the way. Similarly, a teen or young adult doesn’t wake up confident, independent, and eager to try new things on a specific birthday. So how does he get there? When adults offer appropriate doses of independence at appropriate times, and have the courage to say, “Go for it. I know you can do it.” Certainly there are many ways to offer such opportunities to your child. Excellent summer camps, however, were established to partner with parents in this very mission.

If you do determine that this summer is the time for sleep-away camp, it is totally natural for both your son and you to be nervous… and even more so as summer approaches. For better or worse, know that it will be harder on you than on him. While you’re at home “letting go,” he’ll settle in and, under the guidance of supportive and caring staff, be doing all the things you hope for: making new friends, trying new activities, living in a gorgeous and healthy place. And if he feels homesick—which most everyone, regardless of age, experiences in an unfamiliar setting—your heart might ache but your head will know that overcoming homesickness will launch him to the next stage of independence, giving him the confidence to embrace further adventures, knowing that if he’s done it once, he can do it again.

Believe it or not, camp sessions fly by. And once you have him back home and listen to his stories, hear him sing the camp songs, and sense his pride in all he has done and accomplished, you’ll know in your head and your heart that you’ve given your child a wonderful gift.

-Dottie Reed, Head Administrator, Camp Pemigewassett

(Great thanks to Ned Whitman, Pemi camper of eight years, who happened to Skype me while this article was taking shape. In the midst of a gap year before heading to Harvard, Ned was in Laos, on his way to Cambodia and then New Zealand. We “chatted” about what he was doing, the new cultures he was experiencing, and the life skills that he gained through his summers at camp, starting at age 8. A few of his astute comments made their way into this article.)

Which Session Should I Choose?

First and Second Sessions at Pemi provide a full experience within each three-and-a-half-week timeframe. However, events and opportunities differ with each session, whether they are First Session’s extra week of instructional occupations, 4th of July festivities, and Birthday Banquet, or Second Session’s Tecumseh Day, special trips, and Pemi Week, and it is luck of the draw as to when our Visiting Professionals are with us. About half of the boys each summer (around 85, ages eight through fifteen) are at Pemi for full season, joined by 85 in First Session and 85 boys in Second Session. Full Session boys enjoy all that Pemi offers, and rarely does a boy choose to scale back to a half season after experiencing Full Session. However, many campers happily return year after year for either first or second session out of preference, or because school, family, travel, and/or finances make it impossible to do Full Session. The three-and-a-half-week session is a solid camp experience and boys who have acclimated to camp routines are able to take advantage of every minute.

That being said, as with a college year abroad versus a half year abroad, there is no doubt that Full Session allows boys—who by the fourth week have fully settled into Pemi and feel comfortable with routines and friendships—to step further out of their comfort zones to try more new things and/or to refine expertise in a given area. Though this is counter-intuitive, a Full Session is an excellent choice for first-time campers. Transition from our familiar surroundings and routines to another setting takes time—even for those of us who return year after year—and can be all the more true for first time campers. The extra few weeks of Full Session lead to increased development in confidence and self-management skills in an almost magical, exponential way.  For this reason, we strongly suggest that a family consider a full session, if schedule and finances allow.

Pemi’s educational mission is to help boys develop into independent, good citizens and to fully-support parents as they navigate the essential skills of “letting go.” We like to think we do so by providing excellent mentoring and instruction, with the hope that campers will return for several summers, each summer building upon past accomplishments, whether that is for seven weeks or three-and-a-half.

-Dottie Reed