By: Dr. Liz Simpson
Fluffy clouds and a soft gentle breeze lay peacefully over the sound of laughter, as helmet topped kids carefully pick their way to the top of the Alpine Tower at SOAR’s Eagle View Ranch.
As I watch the kids, I marvel at how perfect the Alpine Tower at Eagle View Ranch is for offering SOAR campers a challenge, both personal and physical, for learning more about themselves and their capabilities. I have to be honest, the Alpine Tower can be fairly intimidating if you are not a bird. Eagle View Ranch is situated at 8,000 feet above sea level, on a mountain top that offers unobstructed views of the valley for miles in each direction. The top of the Alpine Tower adds another 50 feet to the experience of being at the top of the world. While I find that just a tad higher than I would want to go, our campers LOVE IT! Once they realize how supported they are, they are all in.
After the safety talk and demonstration, the staff carefully hook the campers into their harness, helmet, and secure them into a rope that goes up and over an anchor point and back down to their belay partner. Everyone on the team has a part to play in their personal success and the success of the team.
While one camper is climbing another stands by to support the staff on belay to hold the slack in the rope and feed rope when needed. The other members of the camper’s group shout out encouragement and options for making it easier. “Use the red hand hold”, “Just make to the next log and take a break”, “Go to your left, it is faster that way” The whole group becomes part of the forward energy as they see their friends work their way through the challenge of climbing a 50 foot vertical obstacle course.
Everything about the Alpine Tower experience is designed to help the campers practice the Success Attributes of goal setting, perseverance, and emotional coping, with a good dose of the appropriate use of support systems. On this day, I listen as the staff asks the camper, “Which route do you want to take?” The camper replies, “I want to go this way, pointing up the wall dotted with colored globs known as handholds, “but I don’t think I can make it all the way to the top.” SOAR is a camp that has challenge by choice as one of its main mantras. It gives the staff an opportunity to teach goal-setting skills with the camper. “How far do you think you can make it?” the staffer asks. They negotiate a goal. When the camper makes it to the designated spot, the staff asks, “do you want to keep going?” The camper doesn’t turn to reply, they just reach and stretch and before they know it, they are at the top of the tower basking in the sound of cheers from their team. Sometimes the campers not only amaze themselves, they amaze the staff as well.
“One-time last session, we had a group stay longer than usual because they wanted to climb more and try different routes.” John, the assistant director shared. “Some even climbed the 50 ft tower blindfolded, they were so comfortable with their abilities and the support of their team.” Certainly a feat they would have never tried under any other circumstances.
The Alpine Tower experience gives our campers and staff a chance to bond and learn to support one another. The staff learns a lot about our campers as they watch the campers pull from deep inside themselves to overcome their fear of heights and lack of trust to then come to know they can reach the top (of anything) if they just have the right support, attitude, and awareness of their strengths.
The Alpine Tower has been a dream come true for SOAR campers. The idea for the tower was conceived in 2008. Since then, generous donations by the Kemmerer Family and Jeannette Williams have helped to make the dream come true. The Kemmerer’s gift came as support for their Godson, Andrew Alexandre, a long time SOAR camper and former Academy student. Jeannette William’s gift was in support of the great work SOAR did with her grandchildren. Jeannette has been a long-time supporter of the Stewards of SOAR, has made a lead gift in the “Hope for Military” Campaign, the campaign to support the acquisition of Eagles Rest Cabins, and now the Alpine Tower.