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A TAP Story for a School Snow Day

February 2, 2011

If you think your driveway looks scary right now, you should have tried “the gorge.”

Neuschwanstein Castle in a picture perfect snow.

In the Bavarian Alps in mid-March, you’re high enough up that winter hasn’t ended just yet.  So if you ever find yourself visiting Neuschwanstein Castle for spring break, you might want to consider bring some of those tennis-racket-looking snow shoe thingies.  That was the one and only time, at least so far, that TAP has dealt with snow, and let me tell you, it was quite an adventure.

First off, let me tell you that TAP has not been to a more beautiful place.  Imagine the most picture perfect postcard type mountains.  Now fill that mental picture with huge full pine trees.  Then, add in a bright blue sky with those poofy white clouds that you think you could just float around on like they’re heaven’s bumper cars.  Finally, to finish off this little recipe for touristy perfection, throw in the most amazing looking castle in the world – I’m talking about a castle that would make the Cinderella go, “Daaaaaaaaaaaaaaaang, now that’s a nice castle.”

Now the castle was one thing.  Unbelievably cool, and even though it had an awesome story about an insane dude who built his own bat cave into the castle, that’s not what we’re talking about today.  Today it’s all about the gorge.

The Marianbrucke Bridge and the waterfall from a distance.

The whole hike up the mountain – and don’t mistake what I’m saying – three key words there… Hike.  Up.  Mountain. – we kept seeing signs touting three things.  The castle, which we knew we’d see.  The bridge, which was another half mile up the mountain, but gave you an amazing view of the castle and the valley below.  AND The gorge, which is just one of those awesome words that you can not help but be intrigued by, like crypt, cavern, and dungeon – a gorge is just something that you feel you have to see if the opportunity arises.

I made my way up that one particular Alp on that cold March afternoon in 2007, the whole way being asked again and again by some of the TAP boys – “Can we go to the gorge? Can we go to the gorge?  Mr. Curtis, the sign says there’s a gorge, do you think we’ll get to see the gorge?”

Oh yes, you better believe it we went to the gorge.  Well, not all of us.  Of our group of almost 40, only 11 of us mustered up the courage to brave the gorge.

If this website had sound effects, this is the part where you’d hear… DUN DUN DUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUH!!!

I think we would have been much more successful in our Arctic expedition if we’d brought along an ice axe, a few hundred feet of climbing rope, or perhaps a yak.  Instead what we wound up with was an attempt to traverse an small downhill glacier wearing just our tennis shoes.

At first it was nice.  We could hear a river off in the distance, enough rushing water that we thought there might be some

falls.  There were some falls, but not the water kind.

Looking up at the bridge from down in the gorge. That may be a Minooka person up there looking down at us.

Again… DUN DUN DUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUH!!!

The gorge was beautiful and there was a waterfall that we caught a glimpse of from a distance, but the way down was… well, let’s just say it looked a prehistoric beast that talked like Ray Romano might saunter by at any moment.

Near the top it was actually warm and easy travel.  There was a stone stairway carved into the side of the mountain that led us down the path.  A sturdy handrail made of small logs made walking down pretty simple.  Then we got down far enough that we were in the mountain’s shadow, spots the sun hadn’t hit since September.  It’s weird to think that lower we went on the mountain, the more snow we encountered, but that’s exactly how it was.

It started with the Bavarian equivalent of black ice.  Excited to see the waterfall and maybe catch a peak of the the castle from down below, we started running down the steps.  Everything looked safe and dry, but the teacher in the lead took one more step and her foot shot out from under her.  Luckily she was holding onto the rail, because what could have been a nasty spill instead just looked like a terrible attempt at practicing the gymnastic parallel bars.  For a half of a half of a second, her feet were up over her head and she had the same look of surprise you’d have if you woke up to find the Tooth Fairy in your room eating an ice cream sandwich and knitting some mittens.

Miraculously, she landed on both feet and slid down about five or six steps before stopping herself.  Did this deter us?  No.  We simply realized we’d have to slow down and hold on tight to the handrail.  Further down, the path curved into the sun again, so there’d sureley be no more ice.  It’s thoughts like that that made necessary phrases like this: DUN DUN DUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUH!!!

The hockey rink portion of our hike safely behind us, we rushed through the sunny part of the path and followed another curve around the mountain.  This time we ran into snow.  We were not expecting this, so it was kind of a novelty.  There wasn’t much snow, just an inch or two, but of course we did stop for a quick snowball fight.

A peak at the castle from down in the gorge.

Before too long, the snow was up to our ankles, but as we went down further it turned into that type of snow with the crunchy top that you could almost just walk on top of without sinking in.  And for a good two or three hundred yards, we did just that – walked along on top of the snow.  Then the path curved into the sunlight again, and one of the kids disappeared.

It was kinda like a moment from one of those scary movies – you know, where a group of people are battling some unknown force like an alien or a psycho clown rabbit or dinosaurs and suddenly one member of the gang just isn’t there anymore.  It was just like that.  Where had he gone?  Zapped up to the mother ship?  Pulled down into the monster’s underground burrow?  Eaten?

The snow crust had weakened and one of our boys fell right through the top layer and down into the fluffy snow hidden below.  We found him down there laughing his butt off, exclaiming how awesome it was to be sucked into a German snow vortex.  Then, as we were pulling one kid out of the snow pit, another kid fell, his legs shooting out from underneath him.  Only he was little and he didn’t sink – instead he skipped across the top of the snow crust like an out of control jet-ski cutting through the waves.

It was a big mountain, and he had no way to steer as he zipped down on his butt, but lucky for all of us, he managed to turn himself just a hair and crash into a large bush.  We all held our breath for a second, but able to exhale when Kevin jumped to his feet and shouted, “That was awesome!  You guys have to try that.”

We didn’t have a single sled, but we’d stumbled across the world’s greatest sled hill.  Of course, not a single one of us took Kevin up on his offer, well, at least not on purpose.  Almost all of us did wind up butt-sledding for at least of portion of our descent.  If you’re ever in the area, I don’t recommend it, but, on the other hand, I really, really, really do recommend it.

Before long we were at what we thought was the bottom.  Staring up at the castle and a fantastic waterfall, we were so glad that we braved the gorge.  We weren’t exactly sure where to find the bus from there, but the guides at the top did tell us that it was okay to go down the gorge, that it would take us to the same place the rest of our party was going, right near where our bus parked at the bottom of the mountain, but it just didn’t feel right.

Now, I couldn’t swear to it, because I didn’t have a map, but I have a good enough sense of direction that I trusted myself on this one.  I sincerely felt that the gorge twisted off in a direction that I didn’t want to go, and I felt that following it was much more likely to wind up with me and 10 Minooka students wandering through an unknown village in Northern Austria, so I made a judgement call.  We needed to head back up.

Was that dumb?  Well, let me answer my question this way.  I have no idea.

It certainly wasn’t easy, but we trekked back up through the waist deep snow, stopped to pose for a few pictures in front of Kevin’s bush, and made a game out of getting up the ice covered steps, but we made it, and to this day, we’re the only 11 people to have a snowy adventure while on a Minooka TAP trip.

And, Kevin was right.  It was awesome.  You’ve got to try that.  Perhaps you can put yourself in our shoes out in your front yard today.

Use the comments section below to share your best snowy day story!!!

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. February 24, 2011 2:10 pm

    this story is cool i like the castle can i get 1 of those

  2. Ian McPherson permalink
    November 8, 2011 8:12 pm

    I remember that day. Easily the best day and place of the entire trip.

    • November 8, 2011 8:22 pm

      I agree Ian, that was an incredible day – from driving into the Alps, to climbing up to the castle, then the bridge and the gorge… It was an amazing day. However, I think the absolute best part of that whole trip was when we accidentally lost Tim’s mom in the dungeons of that castle on the last day.

      • Ian McPherson permalink
        November 8, 2011 9:28 pm

        haha ya that was a good day too.

  3. March 5, 2013 9:57 am

    I pushed Emily in the snow last year and she didn’t enjoy it. But that’s really cool! Are we going to have to deal with snow in England?

    • March 5, 2013 10:14 am

      It doesn’t snow in England very much, and we’ll be there in June, so I doubt it. However, we are spending a day in the mountains in Wales. I’d be willing to bet that we see some snow up there – the mountain is called Snowdon, after all.

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