Sawtooth Mountains, Stanley, Idaho

(photo courtesy Lee Fanger)


August Camp: A Shangri La for adults

I never enjoyed sleep away camp as a kid.  The counselors made me eat all my food.  There wasn’t anything interesting to do.  I had a hard time making friends.  I couldn’t wait to get home.  Well, I can happily report that at the tender age of 56, I finally found a camp where, if I were writing home to my parents, my letter would read “Having a wonderful time.  Making lots of friends.  Saw stars last night.  Don’t have to clean my tent.  Gave a funny report at campfire.  Dessert is great.  Can I stay another week?”

What is this Shangri-La that has become a tradition in my life for two weeks every summer?  Why, August Camp, of course, a hiking camp run for and by AMC members from all 12 chapters.   

Each summer, from the moment I jump into the cab that takes me to JFK for my flight, my heart sings “Pack up all your cares and woes.. bye bye blackbird”.  My luggage bulges with 10 T-shirts, 6 pair of shorts, 12 pair of hiking socks, long johns, a down vest, 4 pair of stretch tights, enough underwear to last for the duration, books I will never have time to read except on the plane, a bathing suit, one giant towel, sweat shirt, camera and 6 rolls of film.  I’m ready for whatever adventures await me!

 In 2000, the camp was located in Washington State, with Mt. Rainier looming majestically around every turn in the trail.  The highlight of the session was our 4 mile trek up the glacier covered slopes to the base camp at 10,400’, one of the most mentally challenging hikes I’ve ever done.   Our elation at reaching the camp was matched by the sheer giddiness of sliding down the mountainside, butts planted precariously on plastic garbage bags. 

Two summers ago, we convened in the White Mountains of New Hampshire during the great heat wave of 2001.  Waterfall hikes were on offer every day, but a bunch of us did the requisite hike up Mt. Washington, where we got to feast on ice cream and use the toilet with the throngs that had motored to the top. 

Last summer, we experienced the rigors of the Saw Tooth Mountains in Stanley, Idaho, with its 70 degree days and 30 degree nights.  I had checked the weather on the internet and come prepared with my oversized Marmot down jacket, the envy of the entire camp.  A 3 year drought had turned our campsite into a mini-dustbowl, with dust permeating our clothes seconds after dressing in the morning.  We all got a taste of eating dust as we made our way up and down many of the scenic mountain switchbacks. 

There must have been a mutant ‘organizing’ bug going around camp, because every day a new trip was being planned.  Groups formed and reformed, reporting back each evening at campfire on their adventures.  Some explored nearby Ketchum and Sun Valley, vacation capital to the Stars;  two groups made the 3 hour car trip to Craters of the Moon, a vast basalt lava flow that occurred 1000 years ago, only to get caught in a major rainstorm that uprooted their campsite and sent them huddling to the local motel;  a group bumped their way down the Salmon river on rafts and the mightiest of hikers did the 12 hour trek up Mt. Borah, known to the campers as “Borah Borah”.  The participants spent days in the planning, holding evening meetings and briefings, making the rest of us positively jealous. 

These adventures were in addition to the 4 hikes offered every day and the 3 overnights.  You can imagine how much head scratching went on each morning in front of the signup board as we gathered, coffee mugs in hand, to make the hard choices for the day.  One of my all time favorite hikes was affectionately dubbed “The Mystery Hike” because we couldn’t figure out why our van conked out on the dirt road leading endlessly to the trail head;  why we never quite knew if we were on the trail or not;  why we weren’t sure if the lake we arrived at was the first, second or third lake shown on the map;  and why, in spite of the piercing cold,  we had such a good time.  It was all a mystery to us!

Camp was further enlivened by the nearby Fiddlers Jamboree, where campers were entertained by the state fiddling champions playing traditional mountain music.  Members of the August Camp band joined the fiddlers, Wayne on his accordion and Tom on his mandolin, while others kicked up dust waltzing and two stepping the night away.  In conversation, the locals related to us how their families had come out west in wagon trains, romantic history to those of us whose parents came over steerage and settled in the mean streets of the lower east side of New York.  

Another great perk were the hot springs we all indulged in on our way back to camp after a rigorous day on the trails.  Squeezed together between the rocks, we wriggled into the hot spots, soaking away our aches and washing away the dust.  A soak became de rigueur for many campers in lieu of a wash back at camp in the oh-so-breezy outdoor shower stalls.  The winds at camp were very unpredictable, balmy one moment and nippy the next.  They’d blow in at the open bottom of the stall, teasing out goose bumps from our toes to our fingertips.  Now I know why Lee took her shower standing in a water-filled bucket!  Talking about showers- every evening, we had to make the long trek down to the picturesque little stream to fill our sun showers for the next day’s shower.  A few of us rebelled, and commandeered a jeep for the trip.  As we hurtled along the dusty road, we felt like teenagers on a joy ride.  While unloading the sun showers, one of us was laughing so hard that she had to step to the far side of the jeep, pull her pants down and pee.  (That picture is available upon request.)

On my R&R day, my mischievous side got the better of me, and I snuck into everyone’s tents, taking pictures of the messiest ones I could find.  One of the first things I did when I got back home was to email a few of these choice shots to all 55 campers, with the question “Who lived here?”  Guess how many responses I got!

I keep wishing that there was a winter August Camp for me to look forward to, but until we organize that, I’m counting the days until next summer, when August Camp conquers the Bigelow Mountains in Maine.

Jill Cotter

NY/NJ Chapter



Life in Camp:

  (photos courtesy Jill Cotter)


Sawtooth Campsite



Home is where you hang your coffee mug!




Enjoying the hard life at camp




Morning shape up and lunch prep



Water Detail



Cleaning up!


On the Trails


A view from the top


A dusty trail



A flowery trail



Scree Slope Trail



Faith Builds a Cairn

Jill hugs a tree



Mary's hike enjoys some rain





Hikers get close




Stanley and the Outside World


The bustling metropolis of Stanley



Local color



Nite out at the ol' fiddlers' jamboree


Enjoying a soak at the hot springs



last updated 4/11/2010