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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.