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.

What to Expect

Digging Deeper provides more opportunity for high adventure, with backpacking and canoeing being adventure highlights of the week.  The adventure starts with trip preparation at Mountain Shepherd, including a review of the survival priorities and an introduction to the basics of backpacking. On the 2-night backpacking adventure, GEMS will hike a total of 14 miles along the Appalachian Trail. Along the trail, GEMS will develop new skills with hands-on practice from your camp leaders. After finishing up backpacking, GEMS head back to Mountain Shepherd lodge for a much-needed shower and other fun activities, then head out to the next day for a canoeing excursion on Craig Creek.

Campers should plan to spend the majority of the day outside – rain or shine. We teach campers how to dress appropriately for the weather (see packing list for specifics), including how to stay safe while backpacking and canoeing. While onsite at Mountain Shepherd, we have parachute canopies set up on the property for rain and sun protection.

All GEMS campers are housed in Mountain Shepherd’s cozy bunk rooms with private bathrooms attached for a portion of the week. During GEMS: Digging Deeper, we will camp together in tents on our backpacking expedition.

The adult to camper ratio is 3:10 or better depending on enrollment. Campers and adults move together between activities and during upper-level expeditions. There will be a female adult with your daughter throughout the day and quickly accessible at night. All staff are Wilderness First Aid or Wilderness First Responder trained.

Adventure Highlights

  •       5 days/5 nights
  •       Outdoor Fun!
  •       Backpacking
  •       Canoeing
  •       Team-building
  •       All meals included
  •       Memories to last a lifetime
  •       Small group environment (10 maximum)
  •       Hands-on learning

Ready to embark on the next stage of your GEMS journey? Check out our other GEMS courses. 



What else should I know?

Who chooses this course?

Outdoor experience levels do not matter. Campers with no experience, weekend day-hikers, and seasoned wilderness warriors are all welcome to partake in the Girls Empowered experience. No matter what experience you arrive with, we hope each girl leaves feeling empowered by the benefits of outdoor learning.

This program is designed for girls entering grades 7 and up. Each session is open to mixed age groups for a unique peer-to-peer experience. For example, GEMS: Shining Bright sessions are ideal for girls entering grades 6-8, while GEMS: Digging Deeper and GEMS: Rock On sessions may each have a combined group of girls entering grades 7 and up.

What’s Included? 


The only required items are comfortable, weather and activity-appropriate clothing, a pair of walking/hiking shoes or hiking boots, and river-appropriate footwear. Closed-toe shoes are required; no flip flops, sandals, or other open-toe shoes. To avoid blisters and other injuries, we don’t recommend campers bring brand-new shoes or boots to wear during camp. Please have sturdy, good-fitting hiking shoes or boots for your camper! Our packing list specifies required items and offers some suggestions for optional items. We provide basic toiletries, towels and linens, and all outdoor equipment (please review the Equipment and Property Care policy regarding all supplied outdoor equipment).


Breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks are provided daily. Campers enjoy delicious, balanced home-cooked meals, and we can accommodate for allergies and dietary restrictions as needed. We prefer that campers do not keep their own food in bunkrooms.

Yes, campers will learn which bugs are edible and how to identify them – but eating them is optional!

Overnight accommodations

All GEMS campers are housed in Mountain Shepherd’s cozy bunk rooms with private bathrooms attached for a portion of the week. During GEMS: Digging Deeper, we will camp together in tents on our backpacking expedition.

Travel Arrangements

Each session begins on Sunday afternoon between 5:00 and 6:00 pm and wraps up on a Friday afternoon at 4:00pm.  Airport pick-up and drop-off from Roanoke-Blacksburg Regional Airport (ROA) is also available with prior notice.

For directions to Mountain Shepherd, please visit our Contact page or check out the info sheet for this course.

What is the activity level of this camp? 


Your camper will spend the first part of the week exploring Mountain Shepherd’s 100-acre property, which borders the Jefferson National Forest. There will be lots of opportunities for hiking and learning around the property, which has varying terrain.

During the middle of the week, the group will backpack for 2 nights on the Appalachian Trail, which has some steep and ruggedly beautiful terrain.

What should I pack for my daughter? 

Provided by Mountain Shepherd:

  • Shampoo, conditioner, body wash
  • Towels, washcloths, sheets, blankets, pillow
  • Sunscreen, insect repellent
  • Feminine hygiene products (limited supply for “just in case”)
  • Basic over-the-counter medications & first aid products
  • Backpacks (multi-day and daypacks)
  • Sleeping bags, sleeping pads
  • Tents, hammocks
  • Flashlights, headlamps, helmets
  • Camp field journals
  • A growing GEMS library of age-appropriate books to borrow!
  • All other necessary outdoor equipment for program
  • Yummy meals, snacks, and drinks
  • Educational fun and adventures!

Required Items for Campers to Bring For Camp:

  •  5 pairs of comfortable, outdoor-appropriate shorts (not too short, not too tight)
  •  5 short-sleeved t-shirts (non-cotton, quick-dry fabric is ideal for outdoors)
  • 1-2 long-sleeved t-shirts
  • 1-2 pairs of jeans or long pants
  • 1 sweatshirt, light sweater, or fleece jacket
  • 7 pairs of underwear (5 days + extra)
  • 2-3 sports bras, if needed
  • 7 pairs of socks (5 days + extra), wool is best for hiking
  • 2 sets of pajamas – 1 lightweight set, 1 warmer set
  • Rain jacket with taped seams – “Waterproof ”
  • 1-2 pairs of comfortable, broken-in, closed-toe shoes (2 pairs of appropriate shoes is ideal in case one pair needs to dry out).
  • No sandals or flip flops; lace-up athletic sneakers or hiking boots are preferred over shoes like Vans, Keds, Converse, Toms, and other slip-ons.
  • Toothbrush and toothpaste
  • Hairbrush and hair accessories as needed
  • Feminine hygiene products, if necessary (we keep an emergency supply)
  • Deodorant, if necessary
  • Eyeglasses and/or contact lenses, contact lens solution
  • Refillable water bottle (32 oz. is ideal)
  • Prescription medications in original container with dosage information
  • An open mind, positive attitude, and sense of adventure!

For Backpacking:

  • Hiking pants/shorts
  • Wool socks
  • Camp shoes – closed toe, slip-on to rest feet like Crocs, Keen Sandals, Sanuks
  • Hiking shoes/boots – please break-in before coming to camp *can be same pair as above

For Canoeing: 

  • 1 pair of quick-dry shorts or board-shorts (not too short, not too tight)
  • 1 lightweight, quick-dry shirt for sun protection
  • 1 swimsuit (one-piece or two-piece, comfortable, “function over fashion”)
  •  Sun hat or baseball cap, sunglasses
  • 1 pair of old sneakers or closed-toe sandals (KEEN brand-style) *can be same pair as above
  • 1 lightweight towel – quick-dry camp towels are great!

Optional/Suggested Items (Remember: You only need enough for 5 days!):

  • Any personal toiletries, sunscreen, insect repellent (especially if you have sensitivities to general products)
  • Flip-flops for use as shower shoes only
  • Extra pair of eyeglasses and/or contact lenses
  • Bag for dirty laundry
  • Flashlight or headlamp
  • Disposable camera or basic point-and-shoot camera
  • Books, magazines, small crafts, instruments, coloring books, puzzles, card games – bring things to share with the group!
  • Stuffed animal or other comfort item such as photos from home
  • Cell phone – can be brought but will be stored by staff in safe space and given to campers for plenty of opportunities to call parents (Only Verizon-connected cell phones will operate at Mountain Shepherd.)

Equipment and Property Care Policy:

Campers are responsible for the equipment issued to them and should care for it like their own. Equipment is expected to be returned in the same condition in which it was issued. Campers should be proactive about contacting staff to fix damaged equipment. Issued equipment varies depending on the GEMS level, but may include: backpacks, tents, knives, sleeping bags, sleeping pads, camping stoves, flashlights or headlamps, first aid kits, and other gear provided by Hollins University Outdoor Program (HOP) or Mountain Shepherd.

Campers are expected to respect Mountain Shepherd property, indoors and outdoors. Bunks and bathrooms should be kept tidy, trash should be put in garbage cans, and gear should be stored properly. While outdoors away from Mountain Shepherd, campers and staff will practice Leave No Trace ethics.