My troop of Cadettes wanted our spring camp
weekend to be Survivor-themed, since they had just attended a one-day
outdoor skills workshop (taught by me) and wanted to try the new skills out
I designed a beginner survivor-themed camp program called "Challenge Camp
for Cadettes" for them. (I don't mean to take full credit, since most if not
all of the challenges were drawn from an email list (WAGGGS-L), my own
outdoor training, and the experiences of other leaders in my area.) It is a beginner program because there are no real
consequences if you lose the challenge. I was unwilling to let them be
hungry or unsafe -- and the only place available to us to camp in March in
Pittsburgh was a heated cabin. They spent the day outside meeting
challenges, but were given 3 meals a day and a warm and dry place to sleep.
Our biggest decision to make was whether it should be working as a single
group, or working competitively as patrols. The decision they came up with
was not one that I would have chosen, but it worked out very well, so I
guess they know themselves better than I do. They chose to work
competitively in patrols, but to change patrols (picking names out of a hat)
immediately before each challenge. Every girl on the winning patrol earned a
colored bead for the challenge. At the end of the weekend, we had an
ultimate Challenge Winner who had earned the most beads, but there was no
long-term rivalry between patrols (which is what they were most worried
The skills we insisted they learn before they were allowed to participate
were: first aid, rudimentary compass skills, lashing, safe knife skills,
outdoor cooking, emergency survival, team building, fire building, trail
signs, Morse code, and knot-tying, We only covered very basic skills in
these topics -- the whole skills workshop was only 3 hours long.
Now here is the bragging part (feel free to ignore!). When we asked for
evaluations on Sunday morning, we didn't get one single negative response.
They loved the challenges and thought they were neither too hard or to easy.
They had a good time all weekend. They thought the food was fine (We
simplified cooking to hot dogs and spaghetti, to allow more time for
challenges. This is NOT something we usually do, since my girls love to cook
new stuff.) And best of all from my point of view, no one bickered or griped
at anyone else all weekend! (You leaders of 13-year-olds may know what I
mean!) I think they were just too busy to pick on each other.
The not-so-good part was that because the girls had to be surprised by the
challenges, the leaders did 100 percent of the planning. If you are not well
past the learning to plan stage, this is not a great idea for your troop,
but my troop has planned camp weekends for years and I didn't mind giving
them a pre-planned program for a change.
This was several weeks ago and I am still smiling about it.
First a quick overview: The campers were 8 8th-graders and although they had
troop camped lots of times over the last 3 years that I have been the leader
of this troop, they had very little experience with outdoor survival skills,
and NO experience in competitive camp skills. We required that they bring a
sit-can (which we use instead of situpons here, since Pittsburgh is so muddy
in the spring) stocked with the following: 1 bandana, 1 oven mitt, 2
dishtowels, 2 firestarters, 1 pocket knife, 1 roll of toilet paper, 2
plastic garbage bags, mess kit, dunk bag, flashlight, extra batteries,
waterproof matches in waterproof container, emergency phone numbers,
personal first aid kit, first aid manual (optional), 6 feet of rope.
Since we have a lot of thunderstorms in the spring, I also planned several
indoor challenges, in case we were cabin bound for much of the weekend. It
rained throughout the weekend, but no lightning, so we were outdoors until
after evening campfire, but decided to perform the indoor challenges anyhow,
just for the fun of it.
They received their challenges in mailboxes that were large plastic jars
with their patrol names on them, hung by a rope in nearby trees. They were
high enough to require some cooperation to unscrew the lids and get the mail
out. If they needed a piece of equipment that was not in their sit cans, we
placed it in the mail boxes with the challenge instructions.
Here are the challenges:
You most complete the following tasks, in any order. All the tasks must be
completed before the Shipwreck Challenge is finished.
You have been shipwrecked on a deserted island. Fortunately, you had the
presence of mind to grab your sit can while you swam to shore. From time to
time, you may hear other people on your island, but try to avoid them at all
costs. They may be members of an unfriendly tribe and you don't want to
accidentally start a war before you are rescued.
You must lash sticks together to make a signal flag so that a passing ship
can rescue you. The pole of the flag must be at least 6 feet long. Your rope
is approximately 6 feet long. You must stick the end of your flag in the
dirt well enough that it is still standing at the end of the Shipwreck
Challenge. The banner of the signal flag must be large enough to be easily
seen from a distance. Your underpants are not a good choice.
HOME SWEET HOME
You must build a shelter from what you find in your sit can and what you
find in the area. The shelter must protect from rain and wind on at least
one side and the top. Your whole tribe must be able to fit in it at one
time. You may not damage nature, but you may use downed branches or other
nonliving material. Your home must have a name that clearly reflects how you
feel about living there.
You must sharpen a stick well enough to spear a yummy "potato fish" swimming
in "Bucket Lagoon" near the fire circle. While everyone knows that "potato
fish" are delicious and nutritious, the water of "Bucket Lagoon" is
poisonous so you may not reach into "Bucket Lagoon" with your hands or
anything else. If part of you gets wet, you will become too ill to
participate in the rest of this challenge. Bring your speared "potato fish"
(being careful not to get wet) to your Home Sweet Home and lay it carefully
on the grass until it is time for dinner.
By the way, potato fish feel no pain and are happy to be speared and eaten
by shipwrecked tribes. It makes them smile and wave their little fins with
When all of your tribe is sitting comfortably in your Home Sweet Home,
admiring your lovely signal flag, and eagerly awaiting the potato fish
dinner you are to have this evening, send one of your tribe to invite the
troop leaders to share your abundant feast!
Note: A potato fish is an already-sprouting potato that I had at home (so as
not to waste good food) on which I drew a cartoon fish with permanent magic
marker. The bucket lagoon was a fire bucket filled with water with the
potato fish at the bottom. Also, the reason we required garbage bags was
that if it was raining heavily, we didn't want them to sacrifice their
ponchos to make a shelter. This was a speed challenge, so as long as they
met the conditions in the instructions they did not get extra credit for
better construction, superior lashing, etc. One patrol tied bandanas
together for their signal flag and one used a garbage bag -- both acceptable
to meet the challenge.
The Knot Challenge is from a knot-tying website, whose URL is not handy at
the moment. I added the poem part -- I wanted each challenge to have at
least two aspects, if possible. If anyone absolutely needs the source, will
try to locate it. I created the Firebuilding Challenge without a source, but
I am sure I have read similar challenges in the past. (I was reminded to
include sources for each challenge as I send them. The Shipwreck Challenge
was adapted from a handout that our council gave out several years ago
during Camping Training.)
Using square knots only, tie all of your 6-foot ropes together into one long
rope. At each end of the long rope, tie a bowline with a loop big enough to
fit around a person's waist. In the presence of a troop leader, two people
from your tribe must step into the bowline loops, lean back until the rope
is taut, hold their hands in the air, and recite a poem of at least four
lines that your tribe has created.
(Your knots must be correctly tied and strong enough to keep them from
falling backward. The knots must hold for the duration of the poem
The poem must rhyme, and contain the name of your tribe and the words "rope”
For safety reasons, build your tribe's fire within the clear fire circle
area, but as far from the other tribe as possible. No one is to be between
the two fires!
Bring your waterproof matches in a waterproof container to a troop leader in
the fire circle. She will test your matches before you begin. (NOTE: I
dunked the matches, in their supposedly waterproof containers, into the fire
bucket for a count of three. All of their matches passed this test, probably
because they had the opportunity to waterproof some matches at the outdoor
skills workshop the previous weekend.)
You will tie a piece of string (provided) to two sticks stuck in the ground
above where you will create your fire. The string should be at least 12
inches from the ground. (This paper is 11 =BD inches long.) Check the height
of your string BEFORE you light your fire.
You may use all the matches you require, but you may not use a firestarter
of any kind. The first tribe to burn through the string wins this challenge.
All fire safety rules must be followed. Anyone lighting a fire unsafely, or
allowing it to burn unsafely will be disqualified from this challenge. This
includes hair and clothing rules.
NOTE: For older or more experienced girls, you don't need to include the
information that the paper is 11 1/2 inches. My troop is easily frustrated,
and I wanted to make sure I was testing firebuilding skills, not creative
Results: This was our most difficult challenge, given the truly wet weather
and soggy tinder available. Both patrols needed about 50 (yes, 50) matches
each to achieve their goal. We did not forbid (in the directions) the piling
up of almost a foot of wood and the starting of a tiny fire on the peak of
the pile only a half-inch from the string. When one patrol tried this, we
stopped them as we deemed it unsafe firebuilding, but did not disqualify
them since it was an iffy call. One patrol decided to burn their direction
paper for tinder which we allowed since we had stated before we started that
any solution that was not dangerous and did not actively hinder the other
patrol was permitted. By the time the other patrol noticed this creative
idea, their direction paper was already too wet to catch.
Here is another challenge from our Challenge Camp for Cadettes.
"Jungle Code" is, of course, Morse Code and each girl had received a Morse
Code key at the outdoor skills workshop the week before. The "Wise and
Lovely Jungle Oracles" are, of course, the leaders. This challenge came out
of my head.
There are two parts to this challenge. For the first part, you need matches,
a teabag, a cup, and a metal pan.
First, your tribe must make a safe fire and boil water to make a "SPOT OF
TEA" for the wise and lovely jungle oracles. You may use a firestarter if
you wish. Do not run with a full cup of hot tea. Do not leave your fire
until it is completely out.
As payment for the fine "SPOT OF TEA," the wise and lovely jungle oracles
will give you the instructions for the second part of this challenge.
Unfortunately, the jungle oracles do not write in English. They will give
you the message in a secret jungle code.
You must then decode the message (using the secret jungle code key in your
sit can) and complete the second part of the challenge.
Remember: If the water is not hot enough to make a nice, dark tea, the
jungle oracles will withhold their knowledge. They are wise and they are
lovely but they are not pushovers!
(The Jungle Code message contained the Morse Code for "Please lay a trail
using at least 5 trail signs. One of the Jungle Oracles must be able to read
and follow your trail for you to win this challenge.)
Results: Our two tribes approached this very differently. One tribe built a
tripod and suspended their pot over their fire. This took much longer,
despite being a better technique than what the other tribe did. They stuck
their pot directly in the fire, but used bigger and wetter logs and support
for the pot. This boiled much faster, although it wouldn't have worked for a
bigger amount of water, so they received their code message much earlier --
and thought they had this one won. The tripod-builders finally got their
water boiling and received their message maybe a whole minute or two after
the other tribe got theirs, but did the message solving differently. As soon
as they solved the words "lay a trail," they sent two of their 4-girl patrol
to start trail laying, figuring that if the message contained more
specifics, they would at least have a head start. It turned out that their
way was a couple of seconds (literally!) faster and they won. The
fast-boilers were shocked and demanded to check the trail signs for
accuracy. We allowed this,
but they couldn't find anything to disqualify the other tribe.
This was an exciting challenge to watch. We had fun seeing them think the
Here are three more challenges from our weekend. The first one came out of
head, no source.
Using your lashing skills, the ball of yarn enclosed, and your rope, create
a tripod according to the attached drawing.
When your tripod is finished, get a water bucket from the fire circle and
suspend it from the center rope. You may not remove any water from the
bucket. If you spill, you must refill.
Your tripod must be strong enough to hold a bucket of water suspended at
least three inches above the ground for five minutes. The end of your rope
may not dunk into the water. You may secure the end or shorten your rope
(without cutting it).
If the other tribe finishes first, keep working. If their tripod does not
pass the water bucket test, you still have a chance to win.
Hint: Be sure your tripod sticks are strong. A bucket of water is heavy.
Results: We placed a ball of yarn in each mailbox, along with a drawing of a
tripod holding up a bucket. The drawing showed what appeared to be yarn for
lashing the tripod and their 6-foot rope (from their sit cans) for holding
the bucket up in the center. No measurements were included. I was hoping
that at least one patrol would use a sheepshank knot (which we had practiced
at the skills workshop) to shorten their rope, but neither did. One patrol
made a short, stubby tripod that could easily support the weight of the
bucket, but was too short to keep the bucket off the ground. The other tribe
took longer to find sticks, but chose three limbs about 6 feet long and made
a beautiful tripod. They won, since they finished before the other tribe had
a chance to rebuild. You should also be aware that here in Pittsburgh we
have lots of spring storms and therefore, lots and lots of downed wood at
our campsites. In another area, you might need to provide your own sticks to
prevent the temptation to tear a green stick off a bush or tree! Our
campsite happened to have two identical fire buckets, but you could do this
bucket by testing consecutively.
This next challenge was already built for us at camp.
UP AND OVER CHALLENGE
You can see a rope tied between two trees, about five feet off the ground.
It is your challenge to get each member of your tribe up and over the rope
in any safe manner, without touching the rope or harming either tree.
Results: This was one of the stations on a trail already set up at our GS
camp, so both patrols used the same station. If I were to do it again, I
would create two separate stations -- out of sight of each other. Bring a
stop watch -- both patrols easily succeeded, with one tribe only a few
seconds faster than the other. If we didn't have a second hand on our watch,
we would not have been able to choose a winner. If I had this to do again, I
would set the rope higher. It was about armpit to neck high for most of our
girls, and would have been more of a challenge if it had been 6 feet instead
of 5 feet. Both patrols' solutions were similar, but the second patrol got
to refine the technique because they watched the first patrol. We ran it so
that whichever patrol came up with a solution first, got to try first. But
we timed for the winner, since we didn't want both patrols to try to
shoulder each other out of the way to be first -- for safety reasons. If you
want to make this challenge yourself, make sure the rope does not damage the
tree. Ours was loosely looped around the trunk immediately above a sturdy
limb. Since you aren't allowed to touch the rope, no stress is put on the
tree, but obviously a girl could fall on the rope and damage tree bark.
Maybe a rug or fabric cuff around the rope would help.
The words to this one are my own, but the idea came from an episode of
Designing Women (a USA television show) when the main characters were
filling in for leaders of a nature girl group.
CREATIVITY PACK CHALLENGE
Catastrophe! Your backpack just fell into a ravine while you were hiking
with your tribe. Together, you must create a way for you to transport your
belongings without using your hands or impairing your hiking speed or
Fortunately, you are hiking behind a group of sun-worshipping nudist hikers
(obviously not Girl Scouts) who have left a pair of their blue jeans on the
trail. You decide that you can use them to create your new pack.
Make a pack using these blue jeans and what you find in your sit can. Your
pack must be convenient for hiking, be able to hold your flashlight,
bandana, first aid kit, pocketknife, roll of toilet paper, extra batteries,
matches, and poncho.
You must be able to open and close your pack with ease and hike and climb
comfortably while wearing it.
Demonstrate your new hiking pack for the leaders.
Results: We intended this to be a speed challenge, but it was a tie, so we
determined a winner based on sturdiness of the pack. One patrol used the
jeans as a pack, and their ropes as straps. The other patrol used the legs
of the jeans as pack straps and used their ropes to shut the waistband of
the jeans ... clearly better construction and a more comfortable pack, too.
They were declared the winners.
Here are a couple of the indoor challenges. They don't exactly use
outdoor skills, but I planned them in case we had thunder and lightning and
were stuck indoors. On the weekend, the girls decided that they wanted to do
them anyhow, even though it never stormed. We did them after campfire, when
the girls were already ready for bed.
The FLASHLIGHT CHALLENGE was adapted from a post to this list from
spiderjean -- Jean Agra from Hockessin,Delaware. Thanks, Jean!
This is a challenge of speed, efficiency, and courage!
Sit in a circle on your sit cans. Silently, hand your flashlight batteries
to the leader and reassemble your flashlights with no batteries inside.
You are exploring the dark and dangerous ASHGROVE CAVE! Suddenly, your
flashlight batteries go out without warning. With no light, you must locate
your spare batteries in your sit can and put them in your flashlight.
Light your flashlight to show that you have completed this challenge
Results: As you can guess, we shut off the cabin lights for them to complete
this challenge. (The instructions were read to them, not placed in the
mailboxes.) The reason I added the word "silently" to the challenge was that
I anticipated immediate griping along the lines of "My sit can is harder to
open than hers," and "My batteries are still in the package and it's
difficult to get them out." Since the girls were already excited about, and
completely into the challenges of the weekend, this did not happen at all.
If I had to do this again, I would have told the girls to bring spare
batteries unwrapped in their sit cans, since one girl cut her finger trying
to hurriedly open a plastic blister pack wrapping in the dark -- just a
scratch, but it would not have happened if the batteries had been unwrapped.
(On the other hand, it was a lesson in the accessibility of emergency
It took a long time for the first girl in each patrol to locate her
batteries in the dark, but after that, each patrol used that light to speed
their task along. This whole challenge took 6-7 minutes, maybe less.
The next challenge was adapted from one that we use for multi-troop wide
games, to fill in time since some groups finish earlier than others. Each
time we use it, we change what the final message says. Usually it is not a
question that they have to answer, just a comment like "Happy Birthday
Juliette Low!" or "Girl Scouts are 90 years old today." I think our troop
registrar, Fran McLain, wrote it originally. My troop had never tried it
The girls were given a pencil and two pieces of paper. The first one had the
following instructions on it. The second one had numbers from 1-39 with
spaces next to each number.
1. If you ever saw a cow jump over the moon, write W in spaces 3 and 5. If
not, write A in those spaces.
2. If X comes before H in the alphabet, write Z in spaces 4, 8, and 11. If
it comes after H, write T in those spaces.
3. If 31,457 is more than 12 dozen, write E in spaces 7, 10, 14, 15, and 26.
If it is less than 12 dozen, write F in those spaces.
4. If you like candy better than mosquitoes, indicate with a W in the first
and thirty-fifth spaces, and an H in the second, ninth, and twelfth spaces.
5. Closing one eye and without consulting your fingers, write the 9th letter
of the alphabet in spaces 17, 24, 29, and 32.
6. If Shakespeare wrote "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star," but an O in spaces
13 and 14. If not, put an R in the spaces numbered 6, 13, and 25.
7. If black and white are opposites, write K in space #16 and a question
mark in space #39. If they are the same color, write W in those same spaces.
8. If summer is warmer than winter, put an N in space 18 and space 33. If
the reverse is true, put an N is space 23 and 25. (This applies in
Pittsburgh, PA, USA, obviously.)
9. If two quarts make a pint, put an E in space 21, 36, and 37. If they do
not, put an O in those spaces and then put a D in spaces 19, 31, and 38.
10. If you think your troop has great troop leaders, put an F in space 22
and the space immediately following it. If you think they are lousy, you can
go home right now, you ungrateful little bunch of stinkers!
11. If the word bee begins with a B, put a B in space 27.
12. Using the letters in the word SLUG (in order), put the first letter in
space 20, the second letter in space 30, the third letter in space 28, and
the fourth letter in the space immediately following space 33.
Now read the question you have created and answer it (in writing). Give your
paper to your leaders right away.
Results: The question was "What are the three kinds of firebuilding wood?"
The answer was tinder, kindling, and fuel.
They liked this challenge more than I expected. Maybe because they were
silly and sleepy by this time, but it was hard for them to do. Both patrols
made errors that they had to correct to make sense out of the question.
Most of the remaining challenges of the weekend used our existing trails and
trail equipment, so I will have to think about which ones are share-able. We
have an Adventure Trail and a Cracker Jack Trail with athletic and
problem-solving stations along the way. I adapted many of these stations
into patrol/tribe challenges. Some of them a troop could easily transport
with them and create wherever they camped; some of them are not so easily
I have looked through our other challenges, and the rest of them seem too
difficult to prepare if you have to take all the equipment to your campsite
We are fortunate to have two permanent trails at our local camp designed for
team building and problem solving. We used most of these stations as some of
our challenge sites. In the original instructions for the trails, there is
no time limit and no competition. We had the patrols compete against each
other for time.
Here are the two challenges that are probably easy to transport to camp.
A thick rope (with several knots at the end) is hanging from a tree over an
area designated as "quicksand." The goal or challenge is to get the entire
group across the quicksand without touching it at any time. If anyone in the
group touches the quicksand, the entire group must return to the starting
point and begin again.
Results: If I had it to do over, I would make two stations so that each
patrol could not see the solution of the other. Both of our patrols came up
with the identical solution -- the best athlete does a solo Tarzan-type
swing and drops on the other side of the quicksand. The two worst athletes
go next, since there is at least one girl on each side to help push and pull
them across the quicksand if their swing is not strong enough. The second
best athlete goes last, because she has to push herself off without
assistance, but all the girls can help to catch her on the other side and
pull her to safety.
There is a rope winding waist-high through the trees with an entrance and an
exit. Members of the group are blindfolded (bandanas from their sit cans)
and let into the maze holding hands. Once inside, everyone drops their
hands. The challenge is to get through the maze as quickly as possible. Once
one member of the group exits the maze, she may remove her blindfold and
verbally direct the others out of the maze.
Results: This was trickier than we thought. Be sure an adult has tried the
maze immediately before you do this, since you need to watch out for downed
branches and other dangers. If I did this again in the springtime in
Pittsburgh (lots of storms, lots of downed brush and sticks) I would have
one girl remain unblindfolded outside the maze to direct her blindfolded
-- or completely clear the maze area before beginning. No one was injured,
but it seemed a little bit unsafe to me.
Both of these challenges are from GS of Southwestern Pa information that is
handed out to us when we book this campsite. I do not know who originally
designed these trails, since they have been there since I have been a
Sherri Egeland, Penn View Community, GS of Southwestern PA