Subscribe to the On River Time eNewsletter
* = required field

2018 Camp Blog

Day 1: Arriving

Many of us learned not to mistake the frantic clocklike movements of an airport fo a guarantee. The gang of 15 kids and 4 adults now understand new obstacle words: layover, connection flight, delay, and reroute.

There were other words that reminded us that the flight process overcomes difficult physical journeys down below, not totally immune from the same hardship: turbulence, taxi, baggage claim. At least this gave us a sense of the scale of our journey.

Around midnight, the kids stepped off of a shuttle van into the crisp Idaho air, surrounded by the sounds of Palisades Creek. The ORT staff met the kids with gear, room assignments, and all the fanfare they could muster. All that matters is they will be ready to go out on the water in the morning.

Yearly official group shot

Day 2: Fishing

Wake up! 6a.m. breakfast of everything: eggs, hashbrowns, pancakes, coffee (yes, some old souls among the kids). Jeana and Steve introduced all the kids to their own fly rods and reels and gave an abridged casting lesson. Each camper was then assigned a boat guide and fishing partner. Several board members joined us: Axel Schug, Dan Sullivan, and Emalyn Lovitt. We are sending 13 boats on the water. The water and weather look perfect. The forecast is for mid 70s with a water flow of 18,500 cfs. We have the benefit of clear water, as the authorities at the dam have slowed the flow a bit. See you at 5:00. Lunch will be on the water.

As expected, it was a fine day of fishing. Every boat reported with 5 or more trout, with fish over 15’. Some years, just a couple of trout are respectable. The top three trout totals were over 10. One boat caught 24 of the “gets no respect” Rocky Mountain Whitefish. As usual, no one was fishless.

We had a light, nourishing meal of grilled salmon, risotto, and vegetable-pasta. The best part of the evening was the spontaneous fish stories: a 35” sucker fish; catching a rock; hooking oneself in the ear; 17 year old boys squealing on planes; eagles, moose and osprey. Briefly we had a moment to reflect on the importance of hoping. After dinner and the team fly fishing awards there was too much shared exhaustion for a campfire. It’s time for bed.

It’s a fish

Day 3: Olympics

Here we are midday through our competition and learning day. Fly fishing olympics were held after breakfast with events such as matching the fly, longest cast, saving the drowning person in the ice chest, and rod rigging for time. We had grilled hamburgers for lunch.

The remainder of the day is busy with activity. There are two education stations running. Karen Ann Sullivan is teaching a nature photography session specific to the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem. Meanwhile, Axel Schug is hosting a fly tying lesson. We also have an interviewing assignment to fulfill. Tonight campers will share the material from interviews conducted with one another, vying to reveal the “most interesting camper” as a result of their expert questioning.

More to come tomorrow, another day on the water.

Fly fishing olympics

Evening Day 3/ Day 4

Fly fishing Olympics was great for socializing and feeling at home at camp. Two of our peer mentors led a devotional after some hearty beef ribs.

After dinner, around the campfire, we completed an activity first introduced lasted year, “The Hunt for the Most Interesting Camper.” Each camper draws the name of a camper or mentor from a hat. That person is their interview subject. The object of the activity/competition is to find out what could potentially make an interviewee most interesting. We learn that the skill of a listener is just as important as the eloquence or outward appearance of a speaker. To offset the fact that this is actually a public speaking activity, we keep it light: “If you woke up tomorrow as an animal, which would it be and why?”; “If you had to be an entertainer for a living, what form would you choose and what would your stage name be?”; “Which Guinness Record would you attempt to break?”.

We were proud to see everyone make an enthusiastic presentation on behalf of his/her subject. The winning interview shared an anecdote at a theme park during which a visitor became lodged into a waterslide. Other campers shared embarrassing songs they liked, odd talents, and a future mime entertainer named “Sh, Sh, Sheena”. The gang was wired after this activity, so we roasted marshmallows and played.

Now it’s breakfast on a fresh day of fishing. It’s overcast and a little windy, but it looks like the clouds will clear. Next report will be after fishing. I’m told the girls cabin choreographed a dance routine last night. We’ll see how they hold out.


The fish started by nibbling when the weather was overcast and cool. As the clouds broke and the water settled down, their appetites exploded.

One team, featuring Board Member Axel Schug called themselves “The Bratwurst”. Why? A shared German heritage. The fishin was guten for the Brats, and they set a one-day record for ORT: 33 trout, 71 total fish! Over a fishily appropriate dinner of schnitzel, they claimed their “lights out” award.

Last year, a boat with 10 trout received the “lights out.” That gives you some idea of how good the fishing was today. There were several other boats on the keels of the brats with 31, 28, 23 trout. Out total fish count was easily over 200. No boat caught less than 5.

We were able to share our awards and the evening devotional about looking forward with Lodge Owner Marshall Geller. It was the first time a group has been able to thank him personally for continuing to work with us to make this camp more special each year.

After dinner, we pondered the things that have been holding each of us back, or suspending us in anxiety. Each person wrote down their worries, and we walked out to burn them. Worries are available to us all, but there are better things we can set our attention to. That’s one of the big lessons of camp: just beyond your persisting worries are the things that make life worth living.

There wasn’t much time or energy for after-dinner activity. We have to get up at 6a.m. for some of the greatest nature in the country, Grand Teton National Park.

Karen Sullivan photography lesson

Day 5

On the bus ride to the Tetons, the mountains that awed kids initially change into more dramatic peaks. As we climb a steep hill populated with mountain goats, the imposing Palisades dam is below, and the Palisades and Tetons are above. We are over 6,000ft above elevation all the time here—and it feels like it.

We met our tour guides from the Teton Science Schools in Jackson, WY. They all seemed permanently touched by life here, sharing the enthusiasm of a total newcomer with us. They outfit the kids with binoculars, share some ground rules and show them how to use the safari viewing hatch on the vans we travel in.

Although the Tetons only get around 10 inches of rain per year (that’s basically what a desert gets), we saw some of it. On the bright side, the cloud cover made the mountains more majestic, and may have given us a better chance of seeing some wildlife.

We learned all about the geology of the glacial mountains, and the unique minerals present. As we stopped for photo ops and animal sightings, our guides were full of facts and food for thought about why each creature has certain adaptations.

We saw bison, fox, hawks, deer, pronghorns and a badger. The badger had to be the most unique creature of all, like a floating rug up and down over the hills with multi-colored fur and thick paws.

During our ride to lunch, the campers were able to explore a box of animal “artifacts”—hooves, antlers, horns, legs, paw prints, and pelts.

After a picnic lunch filled with ongoing wrestling matches by the boys, we hiked to Jenny Lake. The Tetons get a fair share of tour buses and selfie sticks, but our guides took us down a trail to get a more exclusive view of the lake. Jenny Lake is over 300 feet deep, and it’s a natural feature.

On the way out of the park, we saw the home of the Elk refuge, and learned more about the conservation efforts to preserve animal habitats in the region. We also learned that if you see Harrison Ford in Jackson, do not discuss Star Wars.

You have never seen kids sleep as soundly as they did on our ride back over the peaks to the Lodge for our last evening together.

Deeper Insights

We had our pinning ceremony after dinner. The pinning ceremony is simply a way for us to let each other know how we’ve impacted one another. One person grabs a pin and asks a special person to affix to their shirt without stabbing. Every year, it has a different flow, and level of seriousness or levity.

This year it was quiet, mature, and somber. Most campers preferred to keep their comments contained between their whispers and the ears of their friends. Some, however, shared more sweeping proclamations that were as inspirational as laudatory. Being there for one another isn’t always dramatic, but the results can be.

These campers are set up for success; as long as they don’t let their vision become obstructed by foggy worries, they’ll achieve those highest peaks, indelible memories with symbolic significance.

Axel Schug fly tying

3 Office Park Circle, Suite 240, Birmingham, AL 35223  |  205.382.4568