Crossing The Alps with a school class

Justin ramms his walking sticks into the muddy ground. It has been raining all night, again. It still drizzles from above but Justin is in a highly positive mood. He knows that today only three hours of hiking lie ahead. Usually, we never walk less than five hours per day…

Justin is part of a group of thirteen teenagers from northern Germany who were involved in an extraordinary school project this September. All 8th graders of Friedrich Junge School in Großhansdorf take part in this anual program titled My Challenge. For two weeks after the summer break there will be no traditional tuition for the 13- to 15-year-olds. Instead the schedule stipulates outdoor experiences. Studies show how important it is for young people to make experiences outside of school, to be physically active and to learn in and from environments different from their usual surroundings. The German educationist Hartmut von Hentig found that school becomes agony in the age of puberty. It is a period of self testing, of seeking relationships with other people and a period of emancipation. What young people need in crucial times as these, Hentig claims, are experiences, adventures and challenges. The My Challenge project was designed to respond to this natural development stage of teenagers. The project has been running successfully in the fifth year now.

#itsgreatoutthere at Kemptner Hut.

We, Justin and his fellow pupils plus two teachers and a student, crossed the Alps on the E5 route. We walked from Oberstorf (Germany) to Bozen (Italy) in 13 days, crossing all of Austria inbetween. For most of the days that meant to be on our feet for 5-8 hours straight. Most of the kids, grown up in the flat country, had never done any serious hiking before. When we left, most of them could not imagine to survive a day without their cell phone and few had ever slept in a room with narrow bunk beds accommodating up to 30 people. We hiked off on the 5th of September and we truly experienced horrible weather, walked in pain with blistered feet and sometimes, when the backpacks became too heavy and the days too long, all we wanted was to go home, enjoy a good bath and crawl into our cosy beds. On September 17th though, we arrived in Bozen and looking back, it wasn’t all that bad. Especially with Italian Pizza in our bellies and ice cream for desert. We will remember this challenge for a long time. We will remember the wild marmots and cute calves we met on the way, the tasty Kaiserschmarrn on the mountain huts and the huge suspension bridge we crossed. We will remember how we went for a bath in an ice cold mountain lake and how the sublime landscape left us breathless. The journey was a hard and exhausting one, for our bodies and our minds. But what we learned was how much we could endure. We became stronger, in our will and in our belief in ourselves. We discovered that we can accomplish things that we thought were impossible. We are happy and proud that we can now officially state that WE HAVE CROSSED THE ALPS.

Preparation for the challenges started about eight months earlier. The teenagers were actively involved in the planning phase. They found sponsorships for the projects, they earned money by finding small jobs and they cooperated with the tutors  lanning the project. Thanks to the It’s Great Out There Coalition, Primaloft and The North Face we received significant financial and material support. It made our trip a great deal easier and helped us to reach our goal. We know now that #itsgreatoutthere!

Ben, Marten, Lara, Justin, Lea, Folke, Marvin, Yannick, Janina, Laszlo, Jannik, Hauke & Lennard
with Ms. Kilmer, Ms. Hilgenböker and Bentje (student)

September 5th – Hello alps! We have finally arrived in Oberstorf.

September 5th – The first easy leg: Lea and Justin on the way from Oberstorf to Spielmannsau

Marten’s stone tower.

September 6th – We all love pretzels. Folke during a wet lunch break on the way to Kemptner Hut.

September 6th – Tough kids! On the first day we had to cross water falls on the way to Kemptner Hut.

September 7th – Descent from Kemptner Hut past some really cool cows.

September 9th – What to do when the Zammer Hut is closed? Pick alpine flower bouquets.

September 9th – Smiling for the webcam at Zammer Hut.

September 10th – Snowy hike from Zams mountain towards Wenns.

September 10th – Not worried about the snow: Happy hikers Lara and Lea.

September 10th – Polonaise in slippers at Wenns in Pitztal. The hiking boots are coming off quickly after a long day of hiking.

Exploring different cultures: A church on the way to Zwieselstein.

September 11th – Break with a view on the way to Braunschweiger Hut. Lesson of the day for kids from northern Germany: Always sit with the bagpack facing uphill.

Nina on the way to Braunschweiger Hut.

September 11th – We have reached Braunschweiger Hut after a 4-hour ascend! The sun greeted us and we had a great view of the glacier (see below).

Hot chocolate and fog at the Braunschweiger Hütte.

September 12th – After the first week: Post cards instead of emails from Hostel Zwieselstein.

September 12th – We found a delicious porcini on the way down from Gasthof Sonneck in Solden.

September 13th – Romantic alpine setting during the descent from Timmelsjoch.

September 13th – Fascinated by snow in the summer: Lea at Timmelsjoch

September 13th – Lea found a snow bunny at Timmelsjoch!

We’ve made it across the Holzau suspension bridge.

Fuel for conquerers of the alps: Kaiserschmarn and Gulash soup.

September 13th – We’ve made it to Timmelsjoch. This is the border between Austria and Italy.

Did we find Ötzi’s spear head?

Water!!! … in Meran, Italy.

So much fun! Bobsledding at Meran 2000.

Marvin’s pro tapes.

A lady in Meran, Italy asks Justin about our adventure. He explains and she replies: “What a great trip. I wish I could’ve done things like this in school.”

Yannick clearly happy about real Italian ice cream.

Second breakfast in the sun after an early start to Seescharte from Memminger Hütte.

Finally! Italian pizza.

Ben wishing his mother a happy birthday via webcam.