Girls Empowered by Mountain Shepherd

GEMS are Girls Empowered through exploration of seven survival priorities: positive mental attitude, first aid, shelter, fire, signaling, water, and food. During a five-day overnight experience, GEMS learn the practical skills associated with each priority. Girls also discover the parallels between each survival priority and their lives in the “front country.” GEMS gain an appreciation for their natural and social surroundings through fun — and deceptively educational — activities such as night hikes, team-building games, and biodiversity studies. After five days, GEMS leave with confidence and compassion, knowing more about themselves and how they interpret and interact with their world.


Education research indicates girls benefit from single sex settings, especially for math and science. Although such research opens a door for interesting debate around the comparison of single sex versus coed learning settings, Mountain Shepherd focuses on the positive impact of providing a safe space for girls to explore their interests. Here we encourage girls to explore and express their femininity without sacrificing their rugged strength. Middle school in particular is a critical time for brain development. The GEMS program is designed to give girls the tools they need to be confident and powerful in whatever environment they face during and after their teenage years.

Becoming a GEM

Girls come to this camp to learn the “GEMS Way”. No prior outdoor or summer camp experience is necessary to reap the benefits of this five-day overnight experience. During these five days, girls learn the seven priorities for survival. They engage with each other, the instructors, and outside experts to learn more about themselves. Girls practice using the seven survival priorities as a framework for anticipating and overcoming life’s challenges.

GEMS 4 Life

As an accomplished GEM, girls can move to advanced courses which challenge their comfort zone. GEMS spend time building stronger skills. They reflect on how camp has helped them overcome challenges in the past years; they track their maturation. Using their knowledge of self, girls focus on building empathy for other people.
After a review of the seven survival priorities, the advanced camps provide more opportunity for high adventure, like backpacking, rock climbing, canoeing, camping and caving. What were challenge-by-choice in Becoming a GEM are now expectations. Girls leave these camps with a deepen sense of courage, confidence, and compassion. #gems4life

GEMS: Shining Bright

GEMS Shining Bright enables girls to find courage, build confidence, and show compassion for others. This five-day overnight experience  is designed for girls going into grades 6th-9th, with backcountry survival skills training, environmental education, and adventure activities. During Shining Bright, girls discover the seven survival priorities: positive mental attitude, first aid, shelter, firecraft, signaling, water, and food. This experience introduces girls to the parallels between each survival priority and their lives in the “front country.” Girls explore their own personalities and communication styles, as they gain an appreciation for teamwork and positive social interactions.  Girls leave camp Shining Bright, ready to take on new challenges!

GEMS: Digging Deeper

GEMS Digging Deeper is a five-day overnight experience during which GEMS will be challenged to step outside their comfort zones. This experience begins with a review of the seven survival priorities. Then, preparation begins for 2-night backpacking expedition along the nearby Appalachian Trail, where they will strengthen their survival skills and begin exploring their own unique leadership and communication styles. The week concludes with canoeing on Craig Creek, which allows girls to explore and prepare for situations that may be out of their element. GEMS Digging Deeper presents new challenges and opportunities for goal-setting to Girls Empowered, and girls will move forward with a deepened sense of courage, confidence, and compassion.

GEMS: Rock On

Rock On is an intensive five-day overnight experience focused on personal development and empowerment. This experience challenges girls in exciting ways by encouraging them to take on leadership roles among their peers while exploring new outdoor activities. While canoeing, camping, rappelling, stand up paddleboarding, and hiking, girls will discover parallels to their ever-changing lives. Girls are challenged to think independently and to cooperate with fellow GEMS to be successful throughout the week. Girls leave this inspiring and demanding week having grown into strong, compassionate, confident leaders, ready to Rock On in their communities!

GEMS: Be Genuine

GEMS: Be Genuine challenges campers with five days of personal growth and leadership development, plus plenty of outdoor adventures. Be Genuine campers use the survival, communication, leadership, and safety skills they’ve gained to plan outdoor adventures. Additionally, GEMS in Be Genuine will take trips away from camp to enjoy a starry night hike to McAfee Knob, dive deeper into kayaking and tubing on the Jackson River, hit the trails on bikes on the Jackson River Trail, and practice their confidence pose in mid-air while zip-lining at Buffalo Mountain Adventures! GEMS will grow to be GEMuinely authentic, adventurous advocates in GEMS: Be Genuine.

GEMS: Crowning Jewel

For those GEMS who have spent many a summer at Mountain Shepherd, we present Crowning Jewel! This session invites GEMS back to Mountain Shepherd for five days of new and exciting outdoor adventures, leadership development, self-sufficiency and confidence to continue your passion outdoors after GEMS. Crowning Jewel challenges girls to use every skill they have learned at Mountain Shepherd over the past few summers to tackle their final challenge – confidence in planning their custom adventures. One example is base-camping at Hungry Mother State Park while adventuring to the highest point in Virginia – Mount Rogers, biking the famous Creeper Trail from Whitetop to Damascus, soaring over one of the longest ziplines in Virginia, and enjoy tubing on the New River.

Wilderness Inspirations

Our partner nonprofit organization raises money for experiential programs that ignite courage, confidence, and compassion for women and girls.

About Mountain Shepherd Adventure School

Our Voice

GEMS for G.I.R.L.s

GEMS for G.I.R.L.s

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Strong Women Wednesday – Feb. 21, 2018

#StrongWomenWednesday: Shaesta Waiz Here’s the story of another strong, trailblazing woman! Shaesta Waiz is the first certified civilian female pilot from Afghanistan and the first person in her family to earn bachelor’s and master’s degrees from a university. She’s...

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See our story in The Roanoke Times for an in depth video and more information about how GEMs can teach life lessons.

Looking for a good book?

Check out the official GEMS reading list to be inspired, motivated and intrigued!