Riding the Alpspitze: A Short History

Aug 27, 2013 at 12:54
by Colin Stewart  
The Alpspitze is a rocky pyramid peak that dominates the skyline above Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, and rises 2628m above sea level. Looking up from Garmisch, the upper pyramid's east facing ridge line looks completely exposed and unrideable, the edge appears razor sharp and only meant for the alpine climber, either with ropes and rock shoes or via klettersteigs. On closer inspection, however, the upper section just on the other side of the ridge line is a rocky slope, tiered with small rock steps and a faint path through loose rock leading to the summit cross. Still extremely exposed, but many sections from the summit down are rideable. The only problem is getting up there..


First a little history. The crazy idea to ride this peak first came in early 2009. Fabi, a local Garmisch rider and Vertrider, first started to mention the idea to me. Back then I wasn't in the market for riding any of the top section but I could tell Fabi was seriously considering it; my job would just be to take pics. In October 2009 Fabi and I went up there for a reconnaissance, he carried his old trusty Santa Cruz Bullit and I schlepped my Nikon gear and some flashes. We were up there late, and although we missed the light for the descent, we stayed on top for the sunset and captured some cool images before descending with the lights in the dark. Soon afterwards, the snow came that year.

Kind of amped that it was possible to ride, Fabi and I were keen to go back the following year and film the action. DSLR style filming was taking off and I was really excited to make some moving images on this peak with the Panasonic GH1 kit I had at the time. In September 2010 we were joined by Johannes and made an attempt but the temperatures suddenly dipped overnight and laid a few inches of snow over the mountain. Being the optimists that we are, we climbed to the summit thinking the clouds would clear and the sun would burn off the snow. It didn't. Well, they did clear for 5 minuted, enough for me to take a couple of crazy fisheye shots, but that was it. We descended again – walking mostly down the summit dome and again descending by torch light.


The same year, a month later, autumn was with us and we had stable weather with beautiful cloud inversions. The weather would be perfect for filming something special. These good weather spells don't usually last long, so Fabi, Tobi and I managed to arrange a last minute mid-week day away from the office for another attempt. We left Munich at 4:30am so we could be on the summit early enough to capture the East facing light for the filming, since at that time of year it leaves the face at about 2pm. The day went to plan and we lucked out with perfectly warm weather and dry rock above an amazing cloud inversion. The result was a video I released called “Inversion Riders” and, to this day, it's still the best reference to show exactly how much of the upper section is possible to ride.

Views: 36,501    Faves: 254    Comments: 33


Since then I don't believe anybody else has been up there, except for Fabi again on one of his enchainment link up efforts but he can tell you that story himself.

In August this year we decided to head up there again and this time two other people came along for the ride. Andrea, from Munich, and Dan from Dusseldorf – both decent enduro riders but who were both happy to leave their bikes before the final dome and just walk up to witness the action. By now my own riding had improved and I felt comfortable attempting to ride some of the summit sections myself as well as doing some shooting. Bike technology had also come on somewhat since 2009, and the ultra light Liteville 301's made the carry up more doable. Camera equipment has also lightened, with the Olympus OMD EM5 kit offering a much lighter alternative to carrying up and shooting full frame Nikon. The only twist in the visit to the mountain this time was that we wanted to be up there on the summit for the sunrise at 6:07a.m. Which meant leaving Munich at midnight and beginning the ride up at 1:00a.m. from the Kreuzeck car park at Garmisch. Easier said than done.

From the car park it's about a 1000m of vertical height gain and 13km distance up a forest track that snakes up the mountain through forest and above the street lights of Garmisch. It takes about two hours to ride up to the Kreuzeck huts and gondola station then another hour to the base of the rock pyramid. Above Kreuzeck it's still forest track but, now out of the forest, the view is more open. A couple of final steep bends lead us to a break away point from the track, up a steep scree slope and some rocky steps to the start of a klettersteig. It's about 4am at this point and we're feeling the effects of no sleep, so we take five, eat some food and look silently at the stars and the valley lights beneath.


This section of the approach involves a rising klettersteig traverse across an exposed ledge system to another scree bowl before the final rock peak. Although airy, to walk across it is easier than it looks but with a bike over our shoulders the ladders and tight ledges require much more care. First, we walk through a 50m rock tunnel leading to a wider path and some ladders. The ultra light and powerful Lupine Piko head lamps light the way and put some fun into our night time adventure.


We hike across a narrow ledge system, holding the bikes in our left hand and klettersteig cable firmly in our right hands, which ends in a steeper and very exposed scramble. This is the most awkward section but with the right bike carrying technique it can be ascended with ease.

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Once past this we are nearly at the end of the klettersteig with one final ladder system taking us to the scree bowl beneath the final rock dome.

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At this point the angle eases off and it's where we intersect our descent and summit trails. Andrea and Dan dump their bikes behind a rock since they don't want to ride the upper section.

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Fabi and I keep carrying our bikes and together we walk to the top of the scree bowl to the base of the final rock section. From here it's about 500m to the summit, with the first 150m being the steepest. This steep band of rock has put a lot of people off riding it but the terrain above this eases off significantly and is rideable. I was toiling slightly at this point and it was 5.30am, Fabi had just hit turbo mode to hit the summit before sunrise.

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Dan noticed and kindly offered to carry my bike for me therefore enabling me to walk up to the summit much faster and catch the sunrise with Fabi. After another 300m easier scrambling Fabi and I got there about 10 mins before sunrise. Dan and Andrea arrived only a couple of minutes later and we all enjoyed the sunrise together. It was truly an unforgettable moment.

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After spending about half an hour on top and many pics later, we decided to descend. Fabi and I donned our knee protectors, helmet, gloves, rucksacks and got on the bikes. Andrea and Dan looked on and took some pics and offered some support. After having been up there so many times in the past with only the camera equipment it was an amazing feeling to be riding off the summit on my own bike.


Admittedly, I wasn't riding as many of the steepest sections as Fabi was, or had been ridden previously by Tobi, but I was totally exhilarated to be up there trying it and getting through some sections.


About 100m vertical below the summit there are some amazing rock slabs close the ridge line. One of which is a beautiful rough surfaced slab where you ride in from one side then need to make a turn close to its top. It really is a classic spot, especially when there are no clouds and you can enjoy the view all the way back down to Garmisch.

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We stopped there for a while and rode it several times for pics but, unfortunately, soon after, the clouds rolled in and messed up the light and the view. Nevertheless, Fabi and I still had fun together riding down the upper dome until returning to the top of the steep rock band, where we paused and carried the bikes back down to the scree bowl.

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Here Andrea and Dan got on their bikes again and we started the ride back down to Garmisch. The trail starts at the foot of a small ridge down from the Bernadinewand Spitze. From there down is one of the nicest backcountry trails in the area. Much easier than the technical rock dome above and more comparable to classic enduro riding. The 1000m of descent from here flows past the Stuibensee and joins another classic trail in the forest beneath the Stuiben Hut. It gets more flowy the lower you get but you've got to stay awake because the technical sections, sometimes on damp rock, come at you out of nowhere. At the end of the trail we rejoined the forest track and took another break beside a small hut and water supply. We were all pretty wrecked after no sleep during the night. Happy to have done it of course, but so tired now that if we lay there any longer we'd sleep for hours.


Somehow we got our asses off the grass, saddled the bikes and chained along the track above the Partnachklamm back to Garmisch.


Approximately 10hrs later, 2000m of ascent and 30km of riding we got back to the cars just before midday. Fabi rolled round to his house in Garmisch and the rest of us drove back to Munich after having had another epic day on the mountain.

Note: some of the pics in this story were taken by Andrea, a couple on the summit and several of Fabi and I riding lower down on the rock slabs.


82 Comments

  • + 126
 6 comments on riding that amazing!! yet some guy wearing poorly fitting jeans jumping a glorified BMX over a dirt jump over and over and over gets hundreds, the kids need to learn what real riding is.
  • - 154
flag dbaser (Sep 8, 2013 at 12:44) (Below Threshold)
 This type of riding is as boring as it gets. Zero flow.
  • + 48
 Mountain biking at its finest!
  • - 57
flag LOSTMAYHEM (Sep 8, 2013 at 16:42) (Below Threshold)
 I have to agree with dbaser, great skill but you might as well have a trials bike
  • + 17
 Wow amazing scenery, good job guys! I love reading articles like this...I also love watching guys get steezy on dirt jumps. If you can't appreciate both types of riding I honestly feel bad for you. Wink
  • + 7
 RIDING
  • + 8
 I love TRUE mountain biking. Max respect.
  • + 6
 If you look at the GPS trace, the bit that some people are complaining about not having any flow or whatever comprises what - 5% of the downhill ride? I bet those guys were simply having too much fun the remainder of that ride to even stop to take photos. Anyone who has done this type of riding knows that the most exposed part of the trail from the very peak is extremely hard and choppy and often needs to be walked, but what follows is several hours of bliss made all the better FOR that extremely challenging bit at the very top, it's about the whole MOUNTAIN bike experience, not 4m30s of going sideways down a dirt-luge !
  • + 7
 dbaser should get banned for that Big Grin
  • + 1
 BMX and Dirt Jumping are cool and yes if all you want to see or do is tricks then I guess thats the style for you, but to me this is something more than just riding its sharing unforgettable moments with your friends, moments that will last until your bike is old and rusted, to me, thats what biking is really about, no matter what style of biking you do
  • + 3
 In the beginning, Mountain Biking started out more like what we call today as Downhill or DH. Bikes with the ability to climb those same mountains were not invented until many years later. A lot of what these guys in the video are doing is more like Trials, which has its origins in motorcycles and BMX, so that top statement is a very naive one to say the least. Purpose-built bikes are a big part of the sport, and a carbon 29er hardtail built for climbing or racing is no more of a mountain bike than a 8" DH rig, or a single speed Dirt Jumper, or an 6" full suspension All Mountain bike.

The ability to climb what you descend is my favorite of the styles of bikes out there because of the fitness benefits, but it surely does not take as much skill to ride a bike up a hill as what these kids are doing today on their purpose-built SlopeStyle bikes that threaten you so much.
  • + 1
 I'll bet more than 99% of people who say DH know it means downhill... On another note, the first mountain bike was not a 'dh' bike. Where do you get this shit?
  • + 2
 VTwintips, see the movie "klunkers"- and I have been around a while now myself. I had my first "MTB" in 1984. That where I get it.
Also, thanks for the sarcasm on the DH comment, pinkbike wouldn't be the same without guys like you.
  • + 3
 Hey, don't ban me.
  • + 2
 I've seen it. I would like to argue that Inversion Riders is actually today's version of Klunkers. In both instances, there was no way you'd be able to get up the hills on the bikes. However, you could still go down! The difference is that pioneering was once just going down a dirt singletrack hill. Now, it's going down those crazy ass mountains. Its not like it began with racing anyways. That's just where the part upgrades came from. Just because you are going down a hill doesn't mean you are riding downhill.
  • + 0
 VTwintips, You're right dude, and its pretty hard to go out and buy a SS bike off the shelf like the elite guys have with hydraulic gyros and all that custom stuff. My comment was more for the roadie who got his lycra all in a bunch when he found out his new sport of mountain biking didn't have such squeekie clean origins. Ha!
  • + 46
 While I appreciate all forms of Mountain Biking, I am starting to get a little tired of yet another hyper talented kid blasting tricks off a super groomed trail so for me while this type of riding is a bit beyond my skill level and comfort zone I absolutely loved the story, the photos and the video. True Free Riding for sure
  • + 3
 Well this gives a new meaning to "big mountain" riding!
  • + 15
 This is definitely something I will want to try once I'm more experienced! Would be stupid not too! it's just down the road Razz
  • + 6
 same, a pretty long road, but worth the drive! Saugeil!
  • + 2
 Must be a great experience but only the very thought of climbing the klettersteig with my bike on the back scares me. Smile
And for the descent I'm far away of such perfect balancing, especially from 2:40 to 3:20.
Ride on!
  • + 10
 I'd probably have a heart attack before getting even half way up that mountain if I'd bring my Kona.. Awesome content again, PB should do a lot more articles on stuff like this. Kirill Benderoni story was a great read as well.
  • + 1
 Very nice articles indeed. There is antoher movieclip form the same guys, same setup, very technical and slow, trial-like.
Interesting read aswell combined with good photos.
And now I even more want that big brother for my 101. Wink In a dashing color. Also nice to see my climbing mates have been there, showing by the black and orange sticker on the top cross.
  • + 12
 Is it just me, or was anyone else amazed by the fact that they were riding above the cloudline? Now thats altitude training!
  • + 7
 Best photography I think I’ve ever seen on PB (maybe not technically) before camera geeks neg me…
but stunning scenery & riding! Those Litevilles look yum too…..
  • + 6
 I saw this mountain from my living room window daily, growing up in the foothills of the Bavarian Alps. Hiked it a few times in my teens and never thought I'd see a bike up there. Insane! Thanks for posting, superb!
  • + 8
 I love when riders skills match the size of their balls ! Priceless.
  • - 10
flag Axxe (Sep 8, 2013 at 21:30) (Below Threshold)
 So you like cowards with no skills?
  • + 3
 Axxe, you suck...
  • + 1
 No I work in the health care field and everyday i see kids, women, men, dads, moms, idiots, savants, and people like your self push their body and the limits of their own physical well-being to accomplish a mediocre task for the sake of FB praise or PB praise or even the 14 guys and one die hard girlfriend watching an 11pm men's league hockey game. 99.9 % pay to play a sport and are not getting paid to play,if you are i apologize. If you are really Ben Roethlesberger, thanks for making me 7/8 on the opening week, your a dick. To ride un-groomed raw chaotic trails on the side of a mountain that's above the clouds is something most people could and should never do, I was thanking them for a great video. And this isn't OZ i will take the coward any day.
  • - 2
 No, your reading comprehension sucks. Think slowly about what "match" means.
  • + 3
 sorry dont have all day to troll, tap a talk and my verbal comunication is all i have. Dictated but not read, is all i sea all day.
  • + 6
 Guts & glory -this is epic riding ;
  • + 2
 This is crazy. Garmisch-Partenkirchen is one of my most favorite places on Earth, right with Interlaken, Switzerland. I was stationed in Germany and we used to ride in from the Rheinland-Pfalz almost every weekend in the winter to snowboard on Kreuzeck and Alpspitze. I can't believe I never took advantage of the summers there with MTB. If I make it back, I will do two things: MTB in Garmisch, and go back to Fraundorfer restaurant for some great food, beer, music, and dampfnudel. Best place on Earth!
  • + 3
 Just another set of skills I don't have. Truly amazing the variety of gnarly riding we get from these great machines and some gravity. Big balls and a light touch, in this case.
  • + 4
 Super tacky are the order of the day, cause, in the great words of Jesse Venture "You lose it there, your in a world of hurt".
  • + 2
 Who's going to be the first to market "backcountry" bikes and gear? Maybe a new Mavic wheelset specifically designed for scree slopes, a POC helmet that accommodates traditional mountaineering sunglasses, or maybe a crampon/spd compatable shoe...? Joking aside, this is a truely epic and amazing journey. The photogrpahs are stunning. You have captured the soulful adventure that is so often forgotten in techno-crazed modern cycling.
  • + 1
 While I understand why they took the bikes all the way to the top and then rode down, I probably would do what the two enduro riders did and hike to the top for the last part, sans bike. Don't get me wrong, I love my bike, but for me at least, it is a tool to enable me to do something I couldn't already do, or to do something even better/faster. The pictures are absolutely bad ass (as well as the riders), but the video showed how slowly you have to navigate the top section, and I feel fairly confident from what I saw that I would be able to hike/climb the trail a lot easier and faster than I would be able to on a bike, making your tool a hindrance instead of helpful. Below that section I'm guessing from the article it's much faster/much less technical, making the bike back into an enabler (which is why I would have left my bike at that point). Props though for doing it successfully, just because nobody else had.

As far as carrying the bikes goes: it looks like most everyone was wearing a pack, so why not strap the bike to the pack so you have to free hands to keep your balance and grab onto things, instead of holding the bike in one hand? Maybe I missed something here...

Also, I'm not sure why the author of the article wrote almost everything in English except "klettersteig." Do you not know the English translation?
  • + 1
 Klettersteig: I believe this means 'climbing path.'
  • + 3
 yeah mtblegend there's some stuff that is easier to hike up or down instead of riding at a lot of places I ride too. it's also easier to sit on the couch but what fun is that? Smile I like rides that challenge me and scare me, looks like that's what they were going for here.
  • + 1
 Leeboy, I'm aware of what it means (I also have a Google machine). I ask (really only to the author since only he has the actual reason) because I don't know if the author of the article knows what it means, which could be why he left it in German. Generally when you see a word left in a different language from the rest of the text, it's because there isn't a good translation, or the author doesn't know what it means and didn't bother to figure it out. Obviously there are other possibilities, like that "klettersteig" sounds cooler than climbing route, but I think you get my point.

mrgonzo, I think you missed the whole "it's a tool" thing. A couch is not a tool, it doesn't enable me to do anything better or faster. I like rides that challenge and scare me as well, but I don't want my bike to be a hindrance to me because it isn't the right tool. You wouldn't ride a carbon road bike down a WC dh track would you? It would certainly be more challenging and scarier, but it's not the right tool for the job and will slow you down.
  • + 3
 @Leeboy & @MTBLegend

The author can chime in here and that would probably be best, but in thinking about the reasons for not translating a specific word it is usually down to the fact that the literal translation is inaccurate or not descriptive of a regional word.

In this case: Klettersteig - literally climbing path - is both inaccurate and not descriptive. The author could have chosen to use cable ladder but for most of us that would conjure something like the route up the back side of half dome - not really accurate. He also could have gone with via ferrata (someone else can check my spelling on that one) but in my mind that would conjure more of the non-German speaking alps - much more accurate and descriptive than climbing path or cable ladder though.

Also regionally - the people in the area are quite proud of their klettersteig that provide nice, protected routes up difficult alpine ascents. Why trade that for a poor translation?
  • + 5
 awesome.. true mountain biking!
  • + 5
 Thats what I call "mountain biking" Smile
Awesome!!
  • + 4
 totally badass and a little sketchy too. I would probably be wearing a fullface though haha
  • + 4
 Does it make me a bad rider that l probably cant do that?
  • + 2
 amazing. this trip would probably kill me. Smile I love those pics. i was there few time for winter season, but I never though about riding bike there. epic.
  • + 2
 I went snowboarding in garmisch and zugspitz a few years ago. The view from the top of zugspitz was astonishing... Can't imagine riding a bike there though, pretty intense.
  • + 1
 Wow! This is really great. It inspires me! There are so many places out there that lay undescovered. I love the adventure of finding somthing new and riding. You guys encompass what real mountainbiking is. Respect guys.
  • + 1
 Is it just me or does carrying your bike up a mountain and sessioning a few rideable sections for magazine shots and pushing down the rest not really sound like "true all moutain riding"?
  • + 3
 I'm with you... they have skills, balls and s.. but I can't say I'd have fun doing that as much as I didn't have while watching the video.
  • + 3
 These alpine riders always seem to be riding Litevilles. Maybe if I buy one I'll be able to do a front wheel pivot Big Grin
  • + 3
 Always appreciate Liteville's simplicity.
  • + 2
 Very inspiring! Such an amazing array of places on this earth, yet so little time...
  • + 0
 Metric ton of such terrain in Sierra Nevada mountains. All of limits to biking due to equestrian lobby and our exclusion from wilderness areas that they illealy pushed through.
  • + 2
 Nice one. Motivating stuff! (although I will never be able to tackle that kind of stuff...)
  • + 1
 Can't believe they went from the top! Skiing down there is already intense. Never even thought of biking down. Home sweet home Smile
  • + 1
 Awesome! Though, my buddy Hollis has some thoughts about your choice of bike. You should talk to him before your next trip.
  • + 2
 you guys got fucking balls
  • + 1
 Holy crap. That's a nice little adventure. Awesome skill, considering how spooky some of that looked.
  • + 2
 I would not wanna fall off that ladder!
  • + 2
 now that's real mountain biking, amazing
  • + 2
 This is, for me, FREERIDE!
  • + 2
 Beautiful Story! The ultimate All mountain FR adventure for sure! RideOn!
  • + 1
 That is truly pushing the limits. Amazing adventure.
  • + 1
 scary!! only with a parachute
  • + 1
 That puts a whole different meaning to "Mountain Biking"
  • + 1
 Awesome. Wish I had some friends as crazy as these guys!
  • + 2
 DOSE LITEVILLES!
  • + 1
 Watching this video gave me the OTB sensation ..so much skill
  • + 1
 Where is the "like" button!
  • + 1
 Been there and it's amazing.
  • + 1
 Epic!!
  • + 1
 what a nice trip!! WOW
  • + 1
 GOOD 301 BIKES
  • + 1
 Wow, amazing!
  • + 1
 incrediblle
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