Somewhere near Lake Hughes, California, about 3,200 feet high in the foothills of the Sierra Paloma Mountains, campers at the second annual LGBTQ & Friends edition of Camp No Counselors will be gorging s’mores fireside with friends new and old or enjoying an open bar in the middle of Angeles National Forest this Columbus Day.
Camp No Counselors is the year-round, weekend getaway for grownups and friends seeking adventure. The Los Angeles site is one of 80 campgrounds operating in rural wilderness regions across the U.S. over the last five years. Picture climate-controlled stone and wood bunks with in-bunk modern bathrooms and eight beds, not rubberized like those you might find at a kids’ camp, which fit 16 adults comfortably.
Decide between spending your days there traversing one of the most expansive ropes courses the West Coast has to offer, lounging by a large solar-heated swimming pool, zip lining around, practicing your archery, dodgeball, kickball or arts and crafts among other classic camp activities. At night, dance parties, themed costume contests and lip sync competitions are held.
Adam Tichauer, 35, founded the organization as a former camp counselor and professional hockey player. Tichauer defines camp as both “this fun, silly place where you go to meet friends,” and also where you can “be your truest most vulnerable self ... really putting yourself out there for growth.”
He backs the claim up by pointing out that a majority of Camp No Counselors staff were first exposed to the sleepaway experience as campers who then decided they wanted to return.
“They leave the camp weekend profoundly changed by the experience,” Tichauer said. “The profound change is rooted at pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone.”
Camp No Counselors has gone mainstream since launching four years ago, being featured most recently on ABC’s show “Shark Tank.”
It began with Tichauer’s passion for creating shared experiences, which evolved from parties and tennis camps he organized for friends in high school to the first Camp No Counselors for close friends in 2013.
“You are birthed into family but you are not birthed into friendships and when you become friends with people you place a heavy weight on the importance of that, and true shared experiences and creating memories together, that’s the foundation of your friendships, your inside jokes, why you connect with people on a deeper level than you do with others,” Tichauer said. “I think creating that strong foundation through shared experiences are ultimately extremely important when having and finding true friendships.
“There’s a lot of surface-level friends, and people you network with, and people you text, but those people where you have a lived life together, those people are special. And it takes creating those shared experiences and those shared moments in order to truly create what I believe to be true friends.”
One of Tichauer’s favorite activities is the Color War, which brings artistic and athletic sensibilities together in competitions among campers that include lifting, dodgeball and painting your team’s flag.
The camp gets split up into different teams and everyone is assigned a different color and a t-shirt and face paint and you compete against the other team in both arts and competition, Tichauer explained.
The Color War at Camp No Counselors’ LGBTQ & Friends experience on Lake Hughes is unique though.
“We have part of the Color War, instead of it just being our normal Color War we also have a runway drag show, a gay-specific comedian, DJs who are part of the community rather than having our standard camp DJs, so we try and tailor it as much so it’s enjoyable for the community,” Tichauer said.
“We’ve heard that going to Camp No Counselor has changed their view on camp. They’re able to redefine what camp means to them. For a lot of our campers, they didn’t have the greatest experience as kids and so when you can redefine what camp means to you as an adult, that’s a pretty cool thing.”
What other organization can boast about introducing spouses to each other through chili cook-offs at sleepaway camps as well as can brag about getting adult humans to disconnect from their phones and working life long enough to sing songs about moose and alpacas in groups?
“Everyone who comes to our camp is open-minded, is friendly, and is open to play sports, party all night long and just have fun. It’s a very different environment from going out to a bar, or to a club, or any other weekend gathering because people have to chosen to be so open toward one another,” Tichauer said.
For now Camp No Counselor’s LGBT weekend is limited to their Lake Hughes camp in California, but they also have a camp in Florida near Ocala.
Florida’s campsite features a rare aquatic water trampoline, an inflatable jumping iceberg, a climbing structure and a swimming pool aside from classic boating activities like canoeing, kayaking, paddle boarding and boating, slip ‘n slides, wakeboarding and waterskiing.
IF YOU GO:
What: LGBTQ & Friends Camp
When: Oct. 5 to Oct. 8
Columbus Day Weekend
Where: Lake Hughes, California
How much: Individual registration (1 to 3 people): $625 - 699