Taking Cherokee to New Heights

In August 2022, seven climbers representing Camp Cherokee past, present and future, will be bringing awareness to our Capital Campaign by completing a summit at Mount Rainier.  During their training and climb, they will be fundraising for the Recreation Hall. The climb is completely underwritten, so 100% of every dollar donated to the capital campaign will go towards the goal and the construction.

The climbers will be completing a 3.5 day climb, led by International Mountain Guides. After a pre-climb orientation on Day 1, the campers will spend Day 2 on a long hike to Camp Muir where they will spend the night in tents overlooking the Cowlitz Glacier. On Day 3, the climbers will conduct mountaineering skills training school and complete a short trek to camp on “The Flats.” On the last day of the climb,  campers will wake as early as 10pm, and trek Disappointment Cleaver before summiting at Columbia Crest and beginning their descent.

Meet the Climbers

Will Gilmore | Camp Director

I began coming to camp as a camper in 1999. Over the years, I fell in love with the culture of Cherokee and aspired to be like many of my role models at camp. I worked on staff as a counselor and upper staff member through high school and college, and began full time as the Assistant Director in 2016. To this day, some of my best friends were friends I met at camp!

This summer is my 24th summer at camp!

Hiking is one of my true passions. My greatest hiking accomplishments include hiking several trails in the Boulder, Lyons and Estes Park Area (Rocky Mountain National Park).

I can truly attest and credit camp for part of my upbringing and becoming the person I am today. For me, camp is the one true place where everyone can be their true selves and have a sense of belonging. Overnight resident summer camping is one of the most formative programs a child can experience.

I am personally very excited about the rec hall project for multiple reasons. I am excited for the indoor flex space for our participants in all aspects of offseason and summer programming. The Rec Hall project will not only provide a state of the art indoor facility, but will also provide separation between food service and programming. I am also excited for the Rec Hall as it will provide a new state of the art Health Center for our campers and nurse staff. The Rec Hall will certainly prove to be a generational community project to serve youth for years to come.

Ian Estes | Assistant Director

I’ve been coming to camp every summer since I was 6 years old! I’ve served as a CIT, Counselor, Program Director and now I am the fulltime Associate Resident Camp Director.

19 and counting! (2004 – Present)

Summitted Cold Mountain, Frequent Skier, once climbed the Cherokee climbing wall in 13 seconds flat!

Camp has been a huge part of my life ever since I was 6 years old! Giving back to the community that has molded me into the person I am today will always be something that is very important to me.

I am a firm believer that, in order to find success, organizations, teams and individuals need to be constantly striving to improve. The Recreation Hall project would be a monumental improvement to YMCA Camp Cherokee’s facilities and programs. I am thrilled to be a part of a project that will help us further improve our campers’ experience for years to come.

Chad Echols | Board Member

I came to camp for the first time in the early 80’s as a young camper. I then went to camp every summer until eventually serving as BC Area Supervisor in 1995. My two children, Guy and Liza, have been attending camp now for several years. Guy completed his CIT session earlier this summer!

My climbing experience began as a camper at Cherokee. I worked with Jay Thompson to begin offering rock climbing as a part of the YMCA Camp Cherokee camper experience. I also spent a summer as a climbing instructor at Camp High Rocks in North Carolina. Lastly, I successfully summitted Mt. Rainierin 2001 during my secondyear oflaw school.

Hiking is one of my true passions. My greatest hiking accomplishments include hiking several trails in the Boulder, Lyons and Estes Park Area (Rocky Mountain National Park).

It is always great to be happy and to see other people truly happy. There is something different about the smiles you see on the faces of campers and staff at YMCA Camp Cherokee. I consider my life-long friends from Cherokee to be family. Being a part of this effort to make a generational improvement to the facilities is very exciting. It’s great to be at Cherokee!

Camp’s growth over the years has increased the need for proper facilities for the campers and staff. Also, the addition of staff housing and an up-to-date health center willprovide those at camp an even better experience. Finally, having this new and impressive structure as the first building seen by anyone visiting camp will be an impressive introduction to the place we all love so much!

Anna Echols | Camp Alumni

I started going to camp with a group of girls after sixth grade when I lived in Clemson. Our Clemson group met a group of girls from Rock Hill and we have been best friends ever since. I attended camp as a camper, CIT, counselor and Upper Staff. I met my husband, Chad, at camp and now our two children, Guy and Liza attend!

I started going to camp in 1991 and attended camp for 7 years as a camper or staff member. I was also nurse/camp mom for a week each summer for five or six years.

I love to be outside in the woods and grew up hiking in the mountains of North Carolina. I have been lucky to climb all over the US. My scariest and biggest climb was at Angels Landing in Zion National Park. I’m looking forward to replacing that category with Mt. Rainier.

YMCA Camp Cherokee made me who I am today. I made lifelong friends and met my husband at camp and can remember those weeks at camp being the happiest of my year. I am so thankful that my children now feel the same way. It is a place they feel safe, happy and loved. I feel nothing but gratitude towards camp for the relationships, lessons and experiences I gained at camp that I now see happening with my own children.

Those that know camp know that we always say, “It’s more than a camp, it’s a feeling.” This is true, however, the rec hall project will help the facilities there reflect on the surface how awesome camp is. It will provide a space for new experiences, relationships to grow and more people to enjoy camp throughout the year!

Jay "Bird" Thompson | Former Camp Director

My connection to Camp is deeply rooted in my upbringing and a part of my soul to this day! It is one of the places I feel most connected to emotionally, spiritually and physically.

1980 to present. I’ve been going to Camp in some capacity for over 40 years! Started with my mom (Camp Nurse) at age 5 and have been back every summer as a camper, CIT, cabin counselor, Upper Staff, Asst. Camp Director, Camp Director (1998-2006), Camp Cook (one week each summer for 5 years after “retiring” from Director) and now as Camp LUCK Director!

Adventure class (circa ’89) at Camp Cherokee really sparked my interest and wonder in the outdoors. Chad Echols and I started the rock climbing program at Camp in 1993. Most memorable hike to this day is the Grand Canyon South Rim (19.2 miles roundtrip in one day)

What does Camp mean to me? It means LIFE! It is the truest form of how life should be lived where everyone is accepted for who they are and contributes to the betterment of the community in supportive and positive ways!

It’s a Game Changer! To be able to provide more efficient programming as well as an improved Health Center space is a straight up need at Camp Cherokee, not just a want!

Joe Casey | Camp Alumni

My fun with camp started when I was six with my brother and several of my friends, including Will Gilmore. We made plenty of new friends and while on staff learned leadership qualities that I use every day. Today I still help when I can with Cherokee and its staff, while also volunteering with Camp LUCK.

This summer will be my 24th summer of running around the mess hall.

I grew up in Boy Scouts where we always hiked and backpacked. So I have plenty of experience with backpacking. I am ready to get back out in the elements and climb an epic peak.

Camp is a place where individuals can be themselves without all the distractions of the outside world. It is so nice to be removed from the drama of the world to focus on those around you at camp.

I am excited for the rec hall because camp needs a little growing room. I am excited to see the new space in action during the summer and off-season. I cannot wait to get my “other job”/work-team on a planning retreat once complete!

John Gordon | Former Camp Director

I was hired on as the Executive Director at YMCA Camp Cherokee in April or 2012. Prior to then, I had heard of Cherokee but did not attend as a child.

I was the Director from April 2012 to October of 2017. Some of the best years of my life!

I’ve always been active in the outdoors since I can remember. I really started in college and then learned a lot of the technical aspects at the first residential camp that I worked for in college.

Camp is a special place. What camp does for kids in one week is transformational. Especially Cherokee – I’ve seen it happen. There’s something in the water up there.

I am excited to set Camp Cherokee up for the future!