People always say that if you are afraid of heights you shouldn’t look down, but for Caitlyn Levy looking down provided her the support and inspiration of new friends willing to challenge her. Caitlyn and her sister, Lauren, attended two separate rock climbing camps last summer, walking away with life-changing experiences. And there were no boys there to mess it up.
The Levys signed up for an alternative outdoor education camp through Boulder-based Girls’ Wilderness Program geared specifically for young women between the ages of 12–18. Kathy Van Syke, the sisters’ mother, believed the girls-only setting was more appropriate for her children because it allowed them to challenge themselves without any expectations other than from one another.
“Teenage girls are beaten down by the media,” Van Syke says. “And once you get them out in the middle of nowhere, you can build from there.”
The philosophy behind such female-only programs is that girls, especially teenagers, have specific needs, ones not necessarily addressed in co-ed outdoor adventures such as Outward Bound.
Girls’ Wilderness “found that girls and boys, men and women, just had really different experiences,” says Wendy Wray, marketing director for the camp. “It’s a time where kids, especially teens, really need a lot of positive role models and affirmation—we provide that.”
The atmosphere and adventure left its mark on the Levy kids.
Neither sister had rock climbed before, and the 13-year-old Caitlyn enjoyed belaying despite her fear of heights.
“I thought it felt really cool to help my friends with the climbing part because I was making them feel safe,” Caitlyn says.
The girls spent a week each at Vedauwoo, a Wyoming climbing site. Prior to attending, typically few campers have any experience climbing or participating in other rugged adventures. Once a basic founation of technique and safety are in place, campers are allowed to challenge themselves over the course of the four-day session.
But it’s more than just outdoor adventure. The camp teaches life experience and other important lessons that help these young women progress through adolescence.
“The concept is that teenagers are in a super volatile time in their life and they are making so many decisions about their life,” Wray says. “Do they do something really positive or do they do something really destructive?”
That thought resonates with parents.
“I like the whole idea that the camp is run by women,” Van Syke says. “It’s all about team-building and self esteem-building and pumping girls up.”
Basically, Caitlyn and Lauren honed their climbing skills and left camp with the typical summer memories—new friends and experiences they’ll remember for years.
“I liked going to the camp because it gave me something new to do during the summer, and I wasn’t in the house all the time,” says Lauren, 16. “The first time was scary and exciting. There are lots of people that support you. For most of the girls it is the first time climbing so you don’t feel left out or stupid for not being able to do it. I made lots of friends.”