Outdoor Cooking at Camp

Outdoor cooking is an exciting activity at Mountain Camp which gives campers the opportunity to prepare, cook and eat their own food. It is a popular activity which is offered for each age group at Outdoors sign-ups, runs for one and a half hours and attracts approximately 25 campers each activity period.

Both sweet and savory treats are cooked at outdoor cooking including banana boats, chocolate chip brownies inside an orange, popcorn balls and the most popular foods are pizza pockets and s’moretillas.

To make pizza pockets campers add pizza sauce and their choice of cheese and/or pepperoni onto half a pizza base. This is then folded over, the edges are sealed to trap all of the pizza-goodness, wrapped in aluminum foil and finally placed on the grill over the fire to crisp and turn a golden – brown. Campers then bite into the melted cheese/pepperoni goodness and each pocket is always devoured!

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Happy, smiling faces are always on display at the end of outdoor cooking after the campers devour their delicious treats!!

The Ropes Course

Attention first year, and returning campers alike!

Our Ropes Course was given a facelift in the months prior to the Summer 2016 session. This brief blog will highlight a few of the most exciting changes our campers will find down at Ropes this year.


Our Zipline, the centerpiece of the Mountain Camp Ropes Course, has now been extended by about 40 feet. The extension of our line has allowed climbers to smoothly zip all the way to the ground, gently landing on their own two feet.

Grandest of all the updates were the changes made to our Lobster Claws course.


The Lobster Claw course is essentially all of the elements anchored in the tree canopy at the Ropes Course that are not within reach of the ground. While the majority of the elements of our course are the same, the belay system that our climbers use to safely negotiate these off the ground obstacles has been replaced by a new system: the C-Hook (the latest advancement in challenge course tech). By adopting the C-Hook system we have been able to eliminate the requirements that came along with our old Lobster Claw course. No longer will blazers be turned away because of the height requirement, nor will one week campers be prevented from accessing areas of our course that required longer training. The new belay system also gives our climbers a more complete autonomy up in the trees. Campers choose the elements that they traverse across, and transfer their own C-Hook’s accordingly.


Age Group Songs

Singing and chanting is one of the aspects of camp that make it such a unique place and keeps it so different from school and everyday life. Rarely do you eat every meal with 300 other people, and spend more of it standing up, chanting, dancing or singing than you do sitting down and eating your delicious meal.

At Mountain Camp campers are divided into three different age groups, the Trailblazers, Trackers and Alpiners, each with their own song. Age groups get a chance to practice their song on Sunday as soon as they arrive at camp and then spend all week belting it out at mealtimes, competing with other campers to see who can sing the loudest.

The age group songs have been around as long as Mountain Camp and all have their own unique and special quirks. Why read about it when you can WATCH IT in action! Check out of video below of the session 3A Trailblazers singing the Trailblazer song with their counselors.




Evening Program is one of the highlights of Mountain Camp.  Every night between 7pm and 8:30pm, the whole camp comes together for an activity: Beach Party, Clue Night, Sock Hop, or one of the other classics.  Each summer, our Evening Program Coordinators work tirelessly to plan and run these activities, and this year, Jodie and Kito have outdone themselves by inventing a new classic.

CAMPCHELLA !  Mountain Camp’s Music Festival.

Just take a classic music festival and campify it!  Campers get a wrist band and rotate through 4 different music stages, listening to different genres and singing and dancing along.

At the main stage, our KISS cover band rock and roll all night, and every day (or, more accurately, between 7pm and 8:30pm).  The Job Rockers are a full band, with amplified acoustic instruments, a smoke machine, and requisite face paint.

After being cleared through security, campers enter the main lodge, and grab a glow bracelet, as DJ Major Blazer, spins the latest in electronic music.

Campers then head back out into the forest for the Woodstock station, a decorated hippy encampment filled with love for music and the environment.  The Lonely Crescents sing 2 songs and give out flower-child names to anyone who wants one.

Finally, campers head to the grove, where Old Folk, our bluegrass/old time band plays You Are My Sunshine as well as their spin on a more modern tune.  Campers are given a bit of history on the music and then invited to sing along.

After rotating around all the stations, campers head back to the main stage for a few final musical performances before singing Tents and Cabins, our closing song.

Check out the 2015 Campchella edit below, produced by our Media Coordinator Ian!



The Polar Bear Swim

With every Thursday at Mountain Camp comes the opportunity to participate in one of our oldest traditions, the Polar Bear Swim.   Those brave enough to wake up early and submerge themselves in Ice House Lake are instructed to place a towel at the end of their bed before falling asleep on Wednesday night.  At 6:30am on Thursday morning, staff wake up the campers, assemble at the dining area, and head down to the lake.

Once at the lake, all campers get life jackets before heading out into the water.  Surprisingly, the water often feels warm, in contrast to the cool morning air.  Campers brave the waters for a minute or two before getting out and drying off.

Once back up at camp, as other campers are just waking up, the Polar Bears recount their adventure over hard-earned cups of hot chocolate.   At breakfast announcements, the whole camp recognizes the bravery of the Polar Bears with cheers and applause.  What a way to start the day!  At the end of each session, 2 or 3 lucky Polar Bears win a stuffed polar bear to take home.

The CIT Program

The Counselor-in-Training (CIT) Program is a co-ed, 2-week program for campers entering 10th-12th grades. It runs during our 2 week sessions: Session 3, 4, and 5, and offers a specialized program that seeks to develop leadership and interpersonal skills that are essential to working with children at summer camp. Not all CIT’s have their sights set on becoming Mountain Camp Counselors in the future, but we find that all CIT’s gain something valuable from the program.

The CIT program has a great balance of responsibility and fun, and is run by our four hand-picked CIT Coordinators. The program includes bonding exercises and team building activities that help the CIT’s learn to work collaboratively and set goals. As our oldest campers, the CIT’s become natural leaders at camp, who set the standards of silliness, enthusiasm, creativity, and fun.

The CIT’s have a few different activities that they plan and execute during the session. They run their own Evening Program and Campfire as well as the age-group dances. The Blazer Activity is something they create from scratch for our youngest campers, the Blazers, which usually entails an odyssey of activities all over camp brought together by a fun storyline.

The CIT’s are also assigned to help our Blazer cabins during certain times during the week. During these times, they get to work directly with the youngest campers, under the supervision of our counselors, as a way to help them practice the interpersonal skills needed to work with kids.

In addition to these extra responsibilities, the CIT’s also have a number of specialized trips during the session. They do two overnight backpacking trips as well as an all day River Rafting trip on the South Fork of the American River. Check out the latest video from the CIT Program, the Session 4 CIT overnight trip to Bassi Falls.

Session 4 CIT Bassi Falls Overnight

Water Carnival

What a glorious day!  The Mountain Camp Water Carnival happens during our two-week sessions (Sessions 3, 4, and 5), and occasionally on the Saturday between one-week sessions when we have enough campers.  It is a mixture of creativity, competition, and all around silly fun.

We start by dividing the camp into 3 teams, each with a mixture of our 3 age groups, both boys and girls.  Each team is assigned a color and then tasked with inventing a few chants to celebrate their hue.  Everyone applies generous amounts of sunscreen before using body paint to creatively decorate themselves for the upcoming competition.  Campers sign up for at least one of the events and counselors organize and energize their teams before heading down to the lake at 2pm.

What are these wacky events you ask?  The Greased Watermelon Relay Race, Highest Aqua Launch, Sink the Canoe Competition, Tug o War, Synchronized Swim Performance, Sand Castle Contest, Best Belly Flop (while wearing a life jacket), The Peace Canoe Race, and Swampball (a combination of water polo and inner tube basketball, played while wearing a life jacket upside down like a diaper!).

When campers are not competing, they are cheering on their teammates or enjoying sliced watermelon. And at the end of day, win or lose, everyone gets a fresh baked chocolate chip cookie. Perfect!

Check out the Water Carnival edit from Session 3, Thanks Ian!

Mountain Camp “Overnights”

The Overnight is one of the highlights of our two-week program. Every camper in Sessions 3, 4 and 5 has the opportunity to go on an overnight, and we do our best to offer it to campers who combine 2 or more one-week sessions as well. The Overnight is most often divided by gender and age group, so that 2-4 cabins go at a time.

Cabins meet with our Overnights Specialist and 3rd year returning counselor, Rain, during rest time. She does an orientation that includes what to expect, what to pack, and any other important details, as well as an enthusiastic pep talk for anyone who is hesitant about their first time sleeping out under the stars. Cabins finish packing during Rest Time or Hang Time and then bring their backpacks down to the volleyball court before dinner.

Just after finishing dinner they grab their backpacks and head to the waterfront. Campers get a quick orientation in basic kayaking and then head across the lake to the overnight camping spot. They arrive with enough time for a swim before sunset and then spend the evening making S’mortillas (a Mountain Camp original invention!) and playing games before bed.

Sleeping on the beach of Ice House Lake yields nearly a 180 degree view of the night sky, and with the nearest big city about 75 miles away, the stars are far brighter than they appear in the Bay Area. The shooting stars can be so bright that they leave momentary trails of light behind, providing a sense of wonder and awe for campers and counselors alike.

Campers wake early the next morning, pack up and paddle back across the lake in time for a hot breakfast at camp. For many campers, this is the first time they’ve slept out under the stars, and it can be a truly memorable experience.

Below are images from a blazer boy overnight from Session 3!

Fishing at Camp

FullSizeRenderWhen campers choose to go fishing at Mountain Camp not only do they catch fish, but they also get to eat them!

After sign-ups campers head down to the lake, throw on some PFDs, and jump on the pontoon boat. Ben Fisher, the fishing guru of Ice House Reservoir, drives the boat of campers and a counselor across the lake to one of the several fishing spots and drops anchor. The fishing rods come out next and soon all the lines are cast. Then campers can only do one thing: wait.

Soon enough a fish will bite and campers reel in their fishing lines in hopes of finding a large rainbow or brown trout on the end. No matter the size, the fish get stored in a cooler that is transported back to camp and thrown in the refrigerator. As soon as dinner rolls around, the fresh trout are served with spices and herbs to the campers who caught them. Some kids even dare each other to eat the eyeballs!


Taking the Bus to Camp

One of the best things about Mountain Camp is our remote location, on Ice House Lake, in the Eldorado National Forest.  We’re about 3-4 hours from the Bay Area and many parents delight in coming all the way up the mountain with their campers for check-in and check-out.  But there’s another way to get to camp too.  The BUS!

About half our campers take the bus to and from camp, and for these kids, the camp experience starts the moment they board.  We’ve recently improved our bus systems for drop off and pick up, and have added an extra staff member on each bus to improve the experience for parents and kids.  We have 3 locations for pick-up and drop-off in the Bay Area: Lafayette, Palo Alto, and Larkspur.  We charter 55 passenger motor coaches, complete with bathrooms and screens for our (almost) famous, yearly bus video.  Although we avoid screen time once kids arrive at camp, the Mountain Camp Bus Video gives kids a sneak peek of the adventure they are about to embark upon.

We shoot and edit the video during our staff training week so that it includes all of the staff that the kids are about to meet face to face.  Our media coordinator, Ian, has put together a great video this year, and we are excited to share here.  Enjoy!