A Heralded Tradition

Camp Tawonga is steeped in tradition. These traditions keep campers connected across generations and help maintain a sense of continuity and progression through the years. Like everything we do at Camp, many of these traditions are centered around the idea of building community, self-esteem and positive self-image. One of the most unique and transformational traditions that we have here at Camp is an activity called the Sweat or Schvitz.


The Sweat is a small dugout room located at Pipeline, a campfire area and swimming hole on our property along the Tuolumne river. The room is big enough to fit up to two full cabins including their counselors. Cabins only participate in the Sweat once per session and it is typically reserved for older campers. The Sweat harkens back to an ancient Miwok practice (the Miwok Native Americans once inhabited the land Camp Tawonga calls home today) wherein individuals would cleanse their minds and bodies before going on hunts. For years Tawongans have engaged in a similar practice in our own sweat lodge. It is an incredibly spiritual and powerful group experience to sweat, chant and meditate together as a bunk, and is frequently a highlight of the session for many campers.  


Preparation for a Sweat occurs at 5:00pm when a staff member lights and stokes a fire in order to heat up many stones. These hot stones when doused with water create the steam that causes the lodge to heat up. When campers arrive at the river, they sit down as a cabin and discuss what they want to gain both as a group and as individuals through this experience. Once they have agreed on their outcomes, they hydrate and enter the sweat with their intentions in mind. Before the campers have entered, the hot stones have been placed in the center of the room, with a bucket of water and flashlight for the facilitator to use during the activity. Upon entering the space, the campers are immersed in total darkness and heat. Once they have settled in the counselors will guide them by telling stories, chanting songs and encouraging thoughtful reflection and meditation as a group. There is also time for campers to sit in silence and reflect on themselves. Before leaving the Sweat the cabin will discuss what they gained from this experience and how they as a group and as individuals can grow and support each other going forward. To close out the program, the cabin takes a refreshing dip in the river, howling at the moon and splashing water, before warming themselves by the fire and heading back to Camp for bed.


At Camp, we use a phrase known as “Challenge By Choice.” In challenging ourselves and stepping out of our comfort zones we can begin to grow and figure out how we can be our best selves and support others in being their best selves as well. The Sweat is incredibly meaningful and has contributed to countless examples of personal growth, as well as key moments for cabins in helping to create bonded, loving and cohesive groups, which is core to our group centered philosophy and Mission


Enjoy photos from the last full day of Session III and check back in tomorrow as we say our goodbyes to this awesome group of campers.