High up, high on a mountain, we found Our Chalet…” Former Girl Scouts and Girl Guides know that song about the Scouts’ special place, the chalet in Adelboden, Switzerland, where scouts from around the world have gathered since 1932. To many people, the song suggests a pastoral environment, a place where you might take a quiet mountain walk, and then sit around a campfire eating s’mores and singing.
And you can do those things at Our Chalet—especially the singing—but as seven members of Girl Scout Troop 5070 and their three adult leaders found out, Our Chalet is a place of high adventure—a “base camp” where girls engage in tough-but-exciting outdoor challenges that prove they’re mentally and physically stronger than they thought.
Stephanie Brown, Faith Wintermantel, Sarah Labovitz, Megan Kropf, Emily Watterson, Bobbi Gray and Hayley Engle are Girl Scout Ambassadors—the level of scouting for high school juniors and seniors. Part of a larger troop that meets at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, the girls worked hard to raise the money for their trip. But the really hard work began when they arrived at Our Chalet, where they stayed for a week with 60 scouts from Canada, Nigeria, Germany, Denmark and Britain.
They tackled Elsigen Mountain, 7,510 feet above sea level, taking a gondola to the resort base and then climbing the final assent to the peak; they rappelled into Choleran Gorge, a two-part rappel with a 45-foot initial descent, then a 90-foot descent into the crevice carved by glacial waters that runs through the bottom of the gorge, and they soared on ziplines and walked a high wire on a ropes course about 50 feet in the air over a river and did a 60-foot rappel from a bridge. The seven full days of programming, which also included hiking Trummelbach Falls, visiting romantic Oberhofen Castle and touring a Swiss chocolatier, “was the highest, biggest craziest adventure in Girl Scouting,” says
Several of the scouts started kindergarten together at Hoover, and all are all close friends, a bond that the trip strengthened. “We joked about how we’d get sick of each other, but that didn’t happen,” says Sarah.
What happened is that they tested themselves again and again through rigorous activities, overcoming fears and ultimately gaining self-confidence. Faith, for instance, is afraid of heights and was terrified by the idea of rappelling: “I was on the ledge freaking out!” But she did it, along with all her friends and their three adult leaders, Lisa Brown, Michele Wilson and Hope Wintermantel.
“There are studies about women who, when faced with professional opportunities, said, ‘I don’t know if I can do it,’ says leader Lisa Brown. “This will help their lives because they can say, ‘I faced the unknown and have done it.’ ”
A highlight of their trip was paying homage to a 1950s Mt. Lebanon Girl Scout troop that traveled by ocean liner to Our Chalet with their leader Elizabeth “Bee” Cole. Those girls stayed in touch as adults, and for the 50th anniversary of their trip returned to Our Chalet to dedicate a bench in honor of their leader, who died in 2012 at the age of 98.
“We were so excited that we found the bench and were able to take pictures,” says Lisa, choking up a bit. “I told my girls they are obligated to go back for their 50th—and I hope this trip has that kind of life-changing impact for them as well.”
Many girls start out as Daisies or Brownies but leave scouting in middle school when other activities intervene. Scouts no longer wear the dowdy green uniforms many of us remember—the four pretty young women we met were wearing short khaki skirts, white tops and their badge-studded sashes. But they admit there is a bit of a stigma to being a Girl Scout in high school. So how do they deal with it?
Stephanie sums it up: “Nobody gives you grief when it’s cookies season,” she says, smiling. “And who wouldn’t want to travel around the world with your best friends.”