On the morning of February 13, 72 TASIS sophomores and 10 adult chaperones set off for the Outward Bound wilderness center in Füssen, Germany, ready to add their own chapter to a TASIS tradition that dates back to 2000.
Education comes in many forms, and this assorted crew was about to receive a steady dose of the Kurt Hahn variety. “The aim of education is to impel people into value-forming experiences,” said the German educator, who founded Outward Bound in 1941, “to ensure the survival of these qualities: an enterprising curiosity, an indefatigable spirit, tenacity in pursuit, readiness for sensible self-denial, and above all, compassion.”
Prior to the departure, students were divided into six groups, each of which would be led by an experienced Outward Bound instructor and one or two TASIS chaperones, who were asked to provide support while staying out of the way as much as possible, as the purpose of Outward Bound is for students to “discover and develop their potential to care for themselves, others, and the world around them through challenging experiences in unfamiliar settings”—and that doesn’t happen if a teacher you’re comfortable with is solving all your problems.
TASIS Math teacher and Outward Bound co-leader Danny Schiff, a veteran of four prior trips, was a solo leader for a group of 13 students. Associate Director of Communications and 10th grade advisor Mark Chevalier, who is new to TASIS this year and had never been on an Outward Bound trip, teamed with 9th/10th Grade Dean Sabrina Putnam to chaperone a group of 10. Below are their accounts of this year’s trip.
The Chevalier-Putnam group
We leave TASIS at 8:30 am, and after a long bus ride, a chance to unpack at the Outward Bound Center, a competitive group exercise in the cold, a rejuvenating dinner, and a trip to the local ice skating rink, we’re in bed at an early hour and bracing for the days ahead.
Driving through the Swiss Alps to the Black Forest is a drive, which no matter how many times I’ve done, gets more and more beautiful! It’s great to be back in Schwangau, Germany for the fifth time at the Outward Bound Center with a new group of teachers and students. I’ve never seen this area without snow before.
We spend the morning with our groups and get to know Lehel, our Romanian Outward Bound instructor. He leads us through a number of team-building exercises, many of which involve shouting, aggressive posturing, and some form of physical contact. We talk about our goals and fears for the week, and I’m quickly getting to know the students, most of whom I hadn’t met before this trip.
After a break for lunch, we discover that it’s time for an “introductory” four-hour ramble that starts with a lengthy scamper up a river bed and ends with a joyful slide down a snow-covered trail. The hike is longer than expected, and it tests the spirit of some, but we make it home in respectable fashion, enjoy a curry dinner, and spend a quiet evening in the Outward Bound Center.
Our videographers Claire and Elyana captured the slide down the hill.
Leaving for our three-day trek tomorrow, it is already time for our students to start planning the route, making grocery lists, and packing backpacks. I love the experiential approach of Outward Bound, but with 24 hours to prepare for a trek, our students are getting a crash course in planning for a wilderness expedition. As a teacher who has done this trip multiple times already, it is difficult not to step in and offer advice to the students about estimated hiking times or delegating leadership, as teachers are asked to blend into the background. I am hoping that our group is ready for tomorrow.
Half the groups leave in the morning for their wilderness excursions, but ours won’t begin until Wednesday. We instead start the day with a recap of day one in which we praise each other for our efforts and point out a few things that could have gone better. We discuss the need to maintain a positive mental attitude—the “PMA” that Danny Schiff told us was the most important item to pack when we had our meetings in advance of the trip—and it’s suggested that attitude is usually a choice. We all have strengths and weaknesses, but Outward Bound is about finding a way to be the best versions of ourselves.
After more team-building exercises and a break for lunch, we take on the indoor climbing wall and watch one of our leaders zip to the top in just over 30 seconds.
In the late afternoon we’re back to team activities, and it’s clear that everyone’s patience is starting to wear thin. We’re in the sweet spot between being ready for action and feeling nervous about the journey that lies ahead.
We need a break, and a trip to the thermal baths in Füssen after dinner fits the bill.
Into the wild! As we left the Outward Bound Center this morning, our navigators immediately failed to correctly read their map as we took the longer “scenic route” along a major road to the grocery store. The cooking group bought provisions for the next few days—pasta, chocolate, apples, and a dozen eggs (of which ten would survive the journey)—and we were finally en route to the hut.
As the snow began to gently fall, our hike took us past the tourist-heavy Neuschwanstein Castle. We hiked uphill with snowshoes attached to our backpacks, as we were passed by tourists on horse-drawn carriages sipping hot chocolate. This is no doubt a unique trek!
Our asphalt road turned into snow-covered trails past the castle, and after seven hours of trekking (more like four hours of walking and three hours of breaks), we reached our home for the next two nights—the Fritz Putz Hut, the wooden hut nestled below the mountains!
After changing out of our snow-covered jackets and boots, our Italian students prepared pesto pasta for the two groups which were staying at the hut together. After an evening meeting, everyone was tired from the day and ready to be warm in our bunk beds by 22:00
The Schiff group
I am surprised to wake up and see the ground coated with snow, and when I descend a flight of stairs and arrive at breakfast, it becomes clear that we are entering a new stage of the journey. Many students complain of illness, and even the healthy looked tired.
I would be okay with Lehel letting us know that the planned morning activity on the high ropes course is canceled due to the climbing apparatus being caked with ice and snow, but instead he readies us for a three-hour session.
The climb turns out to be just what we need. We take on Jacob’s Ladder in groups of two, and most teams exceed their expectations. A renewed spirit of teamwork and positive encouragement washes over the group, which seems energized by the challenge. But by the third hour the era of good feelings has given way to numb fingers and toes. We’re ready for lunch.
It’s time to start planning for our excursion, and Lehel separates the students into four groups—cooks, orienteers, hut organizers, and equipment managers—and makes it clear that they are to take ownership of the trip.
We seem ready.
As our group made our way to the kitchen for breakfast, our first looks out the window showed that it had continued snowing all night! The tracks from when we hiked in had been completely snowed over, and there appeared to be almost a half meter of fresh powder, with no sign of stopping!
After some cereal and bread with jam, we learned how to put on our avalanche beacons and snowshoes, and the two groups made their way on the attempted summit of the Schlaggstein Mountain together. It was amazing to make fresh tracks in the deep powder, and both groups enjoyed hiking and throwing snowballs together.
After nearly 500 meters climbing and several hours on the trail, our German mountain guide Faux (pronounced: Fox) advised us that the avalanche warning was too high to continue to the summit. One student claimed about the turn around spot, “This is my mountain top. I am proud I was able to make it here.”
Tonight the second group prepared a pasta carbonara for both groups. What the pasta lacked in taste, it made up for in quantity, as everyone ravenously helped themselves to seconds and thirds after a snowy summit attempt.
After a check-in at breakfast that includes the addition of student who has recovered from an injury and the tough decision to leave behind an ill one, a 20-minute walk down the hill, a stop at a local grocer for our Italian cooking trio to pick up supplies, and a 40-minute bus ride to Rinnan, Austria, we are finally free.
We begin our trek around noon, and within a half hour we cross paths with the team returning from Reuttener Hutte and take control of their snowshoes, radio transceivers, avalanche probes, and shovels. While our spirits are buoyed by meeting a group of upbeat peers, with the packs suddenly more heavy, we begin to gain a sense of the challenge ahead.
The hike is magnificent. A recent snowstorm has blanketed the forest and hills with snow, and for a New Englander like myself, it proves to be a nice contrast to the mild Lugano winter. We let the students take the lead, and Lehel and I stay in the back for the most part. He tells me about the 15-month bicycle trip he and a friend made around Europe five years before. They took only what they could carry on their backs, spent just a Euro or two per day, and relied upon the kindness of strangers for everything else. “That trip taught me that I should always help others when it’s within my power to do so,” he says.
Not everyone is having fun. One of our Americans was not feeling well at all that morning but refused to miss the trip, and she’s starting to regret it. The last thing I’d want to do with flu-like symptoms is go on a long hike in the cold, but she pushes through—even refusing another student’s kind offer to carry her bag—and impresses us all with her grit.
After four hours and just a few small arguments about which direction to go, we safely arrive at our hut—a gem nestled in the Austrian Alps with no running water or indoor toilet. Volunteers fill up our giant water bucket at the well that’s 100 meters away, and we’re all thankful that the previous occupants dug a narrow path to the outhouse, which is also a hearty walk from home.
Our cooks prepare a pasta dinner that really hits the spot, and we meet as one team around the table and discuss the day. We address the challenges of the trek and acknowledge the perseverance, toughness, and leadership of certain team members.
We’re happy to turn in early for bed.
After two nights in the Fritz Putz Hut, our Outward Bound instructor Katja helped the group to clean and organize so that we could leave the hut exactly as we found it. After several attempts at cleaning and sweeping, they had finally reached the approval of Katja and we were hiking back towards the Outward Bound Center by 10:30.
Unsurprisingly, with the prospect of warm showers and prepared food waiting for us, the group’s speed and efficiency hiking as a group improved drastically, as breaks were eliminated and a rhythm was formed. The town of Schwangau which we had left two days earlier, looked unrecognizable for the students as we passed through to find the castle and trails completely covered in snow.
We passed two groups who were just beginning their treks on our way back to town. Students were excited to see their friends and share a few minutes worth of advice and experiences. Our first shower in days was beyond appreciated, and to snack on warm cake and hot tea in clean clothes is a feeling one can only appreciate after three days of wearing one pair of snow pants and eating a diet of gluten.
That night ten students, myself, and Sonny, the TASIS Athletic Director, went to the spa to soak in the hot tubs and relish the sauna!
I awake at 4 am and need to use the bathroom. I tiptoe out of the bedroom, and as my eyes adjust to the dimly lit kitchen, I’m startled to see four people sitting at the table. They are either sick or lending support.
For all the talk about chaperones needing to take a back seat, we would have been in big trouble without Ms. Putnam, who would later remark, “What I’ll remember most is sitting up late at night in a tiny hut in the snowy Austrian Alps with a student who was not feeling well. You can learn a great deal about each other in such remote places and hours, and I will remember that night fondly for some time.”
At 7:00 it’s time to assess where we’re at as a group. It’s decided that Ms. Putnam will stay behind with two sick students.
The rest of us pack our day bags, strap on snowshoes, and launch a steady ascent to the peak of Mount Galtjoch. The optimism of morning and the pristine Austrian forests slowly give way to forces of weariness as we enter a sunny and open climb to the summit, and at times we struggle to stay together.
But in the end we come together as a team and reach the peak in just over two hours. Worn out and hungry, we stop for a snack and some photos before barrelling down the slope at a brisk pace and returning to the hut, exhausted, an hour later. Lunch is followed by a lazy afternoon of naps, games, and an hour for students to write reflections that will be mailed to them later. I’m impressed by the volume of material many of them produce.
The cooking trio hits the mark again with a lovely risotto, and we’re again ready for an early bedtime after a team meeting and a spirited game of charades.
It’s amazing to be back at the Outward Bound Center and to witness how far our group has come in their communication and teamwork. After breakfast, we have a day full of team building exercises. Our group of thirteen impressed me with how much better they communicated, appreciated one another, and accomplished tasks than when they began this experience five days earlier.
In the afternoon we had a chance to climb the indoor rock wall, working on belay and climbing techniques in preparation for our high ropes activity tomorrow. We have some natural climbers in our group!
After dinner tonight, there was no structured activity, and it was great to see the students and teachers recount their trips while hanging out, playing cards, or playing ping pong before bed.
We’re up by 6:30, and everyone pitches in and cleans up the hut after a final breakfast of bread, nutella, and peanut butter. (We’ve already learned that ham, nutella, and cheese does not make for a good sandwich.) We load up our gear and trash and prepare for our final hike, a pleasant two-hour descent through a light but steady snow.
Early on we must decide to take a shorter and steeper route or a longer and flatter one. After a mild argument, all the students agree that because we have people who still aren’t feeling well, we should take the longer but easier route. We’ve come a long way in three days, and one of our quiet leaders would later remark, “We finished the hike like a real team.”
The trek feels like a breeze compared to the previous two days, and we reach our bus in good spirits. After three days in the wilderness, we’re ready to return to the relative comfort of the Outward Bound Center.
The long-awaited shower is magnificent, and we all head downtown for an enormous Medieval Feast that is most welcome after too much peanut butter and trail mix in the wilderness.
This morning the snow began falling once again, just in time for our trip to the high ropes course. Ten meters off of the ground, the week culminated with our group climbing ladders and walking across narrow, icy beams. Each member of our group completed the task impressively.
By the time we finished up outside, the final three groups were returning from their treks, a sensation we remembered well. Hugs and greetings were shared. In a final reflection of the week, our group thanked Katja for her guidance and recognized one another for the skills which they brought to the group and developed. I was proud to hear the students recognize qualities in one another and themselves, which helped to make the week so special.
As the nearly 100 students and teachers gathered in two two buses for our medieval feast in Füssen, there was a tangible air of celebration and triumph. The students had not only survived, but thrived, during their week in Germany, and it was time to celebrate with a feast of french fries, corn on the cob, and chicken legs!
It’s getaway day, and we’re on our way down the hill to the bus after a light breakfast and successful room inspections. It feels like we’ve been away from home for much longer than a week.
I’m pensive on the ride back—both satisfied and wistful. I’m happy because I know we've challenged ourselves, grown as people, and built meaningful relationships, but somber because I understand that we'll never have an experience together like this again. I suppose all we can do is store the memory, move on to the next challenge, and know we’ll be better equipped to face it when it comes.
Reflections from other chaperones
Our sunrise summit hike was, without a doubt, one of the most amazing experiences I've ever had in my three years of Academic Travel at TASIS. The students got to choose what time to get up and they all agreed to get up at 4:00 am in order to get to the summit in time. I couldn't believe it and thought it would be impossible, but they proved me wrong. We started out hiking in complete darkness with headlamps. At first it seemed as though we wouldn't see anything because it was very foggy, and student morale began to go down. As we ascended, however, suddenly we could start to see the blue sky above! It was clear that we were going to make it above the cloud line in time for the sunrise! With that glimmer of hope, the students began hiking faster. We got to the top with 15 minutes to spare, and I remember seeing some students crying (tears of joy and relief, I'm sure). The view was breathtaking with the sea of clouds below us. The moment the sun came over the ridge the entire group broke into applause. I will never forget that moment, nor the immediate feeling of warmth that came over me, both from the sun and from the feeling I got seeing the smiles on the students' faces.
Cori Shea, Varsity Cheerleading Coach and Dorm Parent
One of the most memorable parts of the trip for me was the gift of seeing numerous students challenge—and ultimately, surpass—their perceived limits, both physically and mentally. I am truly grateful for my experience on the Outward Bound trip. I was able to challenge my own preconceived ideas and forge meaningful relationships with students and faculty alike in the process. The setting in Bavaria was nothing short of stunning, and it reminded me how rejuvenating experiencing the great outdoors can be for the mind, body, and spirit.
Kat Walser, Red Cross Yoga Service Learning Leader
The memory that will stand out for me is hiking towards a summit with our students in the worst weather conditions imaginable and not knowing if we were going to make it to the top. Although we had our mountain guide, we all were waiting for him to tell us it would be too dangerous to continue. Cold, tired, hungry, and scared, we pushed ourselves and leaned on one another for support, and we made it! The warm feeling of achievement was welcoming and oh so satisfying. Academic Travel trips like these that not only challenge our students physically, mentally and emotionally are life-changing.
Sonny Lim, Athletic Director
2003 Outward Bound
I attended the Outward Bound trip in 2013. I really enjoyed doing some of the activities in the Outward Bound camp while preparing for the actual excursion. I found them to be useful in learning what collaboration is. Regarding the hike, it was tough indeed, but in hindsight I'm very glad to have done it: I think it made me stronger, and when I think back to it, not all memories are pleasant, but knowing that I made it makes me feel good about myself. Life is made of experiences, and Outward Bound is one of them.
Monica Landoni ’15
It was quite difficult to see how meaningful this trip was right away. When looking back at my vivid memories, I automatically compare who I was then to who I am now. This trip can be summed up in one African proverb: "If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together." I encourage all the students to go on this trip, simply because you can't experience it through someone else's experience.
Orianna Sibada ’14
Outward Bound did two important things for me: Firstly, it nourished my love for the outdoors and introduced less experienced students to outdoor recreation. Secondly, and more importantly, it made me feel confident enough to challenge myself outdoors as well as in a group/team setting. It builds leadership skills and an invaluable trust among peers.
Taylor Sayward ’09
The experience I had at Outward Bound was reflected in the years to come in my leadership skills and my understanding of terms such as resilience. This trip also helped me get to know myself better, even though I didn't see it at the time. I would love to do this again!
Amandha Cardoso ’08
Outward Bound really pushed my limits. Walking up a mountain with a backpack that weighed more than me was a challenge. No shower for two days is another thing that I remember, as well as the outside toilet. However, I remember Outward Bound as a really positive experience and would definitely do it again. During the "hut" excursion, I had the opportunity to get to better know some of my classmates. The trip to McDonald’s and the spa when we came back was a great reward.
Ginevra Giacomini ’13
This trip made me realize what kind of leader I can be and how much being part of a team can facilitate and improve the achievement of the final goal. Even though during Outward Bound a friend of mine got injured and we had to call the ambulance—which arrived with a helicopter at the top of the mountain—and we all had to work together as a team to help him out, it was a great experience to realize what I am capable of.
Gabriele Braglia ’13
Outward Bound was an incredible experience that changed my life, especially climbing to the top of the mountain carrying other people's bags; it has increased my endurance.
Benedetto Santoboni ’15
It allowed me to get to know from the inside a culture very different than mine.
Ma Fernanda Rex ’95
It was a really great trip with a lot of activities to strengthen our way of thinking as a group. I learned that everyone in a team is really important and useful.
Giacomo Braglia ’14
It was a great experience in team building and helping each other in unfamiliar conditions.
Nicolas Martino ’04
I enjoyed all my trips, and Istanbul was also pretty great, but Outward Bound was definitely a unique experience. I was afraid of not being able to do all the activities, so I came out of it with a sense of accomplishment. It was also a very good bonding experience.
Mariana Muñoz ’09
|Click here to see more excellent photos from this year's trip.|