Ascent of Birkkarspitze on 2008-09-03

Climber: Rob Woodall

Others in Party:Andrew Tibbetts
Date:Wednesday, September 3, 2008
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
    Motorized Transport to Trailhead:Car
    Elevation:9019 ft / 2748 m

Ascent Trip Report

Birkkarspitze: 2749m, P1567m

Map: Freytag & Berndt 1:50k map WK322 (100m contours).

Stats: 35km, 1670mH.

Time: Wed 3 Sept 2008.

Start: Schaftelbrucke, SE Scharnitz, W end of Hinterautal. Car park (E3 for the day)

Route: Most people use a bike as far as Karwendelhuas (15km). From there it is a 4 hour round trip to the summit. I imagine it is possible to hire a bike in Scharnitz. From the car park, take the Karwendeltal road: steeply NW from the car park then sharp R (E). This ascends gradually for most of the way, then steeply zigzags the last 1 km to the saddle (Hochalm). Here the Karwendelhaus, a large smart mountain hut (food, accommodation), stands at the foot of a crag. Behind it, a steep track zigzags upwards, with steel cables for assistance and protection. The trail (Trail 225 on the map) then levels off, and heads SSE, initially protected by cables as there are steep drops to the R. A signposted track branches off L to the Hochalmkreuz. Stay on the main trail, which bends to the SE and makes its way up the L slopes of a large cwm, initially ascending scree slopes (pretty good trail despite loose scree), then zigzags SW up steep stony/rocky ground to eventually reach the ridge linking the main summit with Odkarspitze, reaching the ridge a little above the saddle. Easy rock leads upwards to a small bivouac hut. From here, the route zigzags up steep rock, protected most of the way with cables, with moderate exposure, to the summit.

Difficulties: The approach is quite long if walked (take a bike). Beyond the Karwendelhaus there are passages of rock scrambling, although never exceeding YDS 3, and the harder sections are cable protected. The ascent to the main ridge has some loose steep sections, requiring care.

Summit: Shapely rock pyramid with compact summit. Large wooden cross, its guy ropes decorated with what appear to be prayer flags. Big view with several nearby peaks slightly lower and generally looking more difficult than this the highest one. I could see no sign of a triangulation point; the map suggests E Odkar Spitze should have one.

Notes: Following yesterday afternoon's Grosse Arnspitze ascent, we spent a while exploring the first part of the trail (by car) but noting the signs and threats of wheelclamping, we parked at the trailhead car park for the night. The car park has a large sign showing the system of trails and huts serving this impressive area. Our research had suggested the road could be driven (you could get a taxi to the Karwendelhaus) but these days, clearly this is a car free zone. We were in for a 35km day.

Rising early, we feed 3 Euros into the parking meter and at 07:15 start our long march. The road is good, initially tarmac but soon becoming a good quality rolled stone surface. Walking is easy and scenic, with coniferous woodland, steep rugged slopes and a classic alpine stream. Several vehicles come past, some carrying workmen: at least one has a couple of lady hitch-hikers perched on the back! Mostly we are passed by mountain bikes - clearly the normal means of accessing this peak. At the halfway point is Larchet Alm, a good place for Apfelstrudel (later). It's a steep pull up to the Hochalm, and after a 4 hour route march we enjoy elevenses at the Karwendelhaus before tackling the ascent proper.

The initial ascent from the hut is fairly cluttered, has some damp rocky slabs, but is well protected by cables and soon dealt with. Above, the terrace followed by the trail is a delight, with fine views down Karwendeltal and across to a serious-looking ridge which includes two P600m summits: Hochkar and Ostliche Karwendelspitze. The Hochalmkreuz path branches off, and Birkkarspitze comes into view, at the head of a barren rocky cirque, its near-twin Odkar Spitze to its R. We make steady progress up the trail (easy-angled scree), eventually passing a young couple just before reaching the ridge. This is an impressive place, with our first view down into the Birkkarlamm valley far below. A short fairly level rocky ridge walk leads to the Birkkar Hutte - a small neat wooden hut where a comfortable night could be spent, although there are no facilities; no bedding.

The hut is at the foot of a steep craggy slope, protected by cables (mostly fixed but a few anchors have gone). We've brought our ferrata (self-belay) kit so we sit in the hut and gear up, and although the extra security is welcome, it's not really necessary and I don't think it is really worth the trouble of carrying it in. A series of ledges with some scrambling on good rock, and moderate exposure, and we are soon on the summit (13:00). Here we find the ?Austrian couple, who passed us while we were gearing up. Finding we have a map, they become a little more talkative and as expected, their English is better than our German. The summit is very fine. Not for the first time on this trip, we find ourselves surrounded by summits nearly as high as ours, and count ourselves lucky that the main summit has a straightforward way up. The Karwendel is an impressive area, with row upon row of jagged ridges stretching away into the distance.

Immediately to the west, the Odkarspitze ridge looks challenging but has a red dotted path on the map, so it should be do-able. But our day is big enough already and we retrace our steps, down the cables, carefully down the initial steep slopes with stretches of rock overlain by gravel, requiring careful footwork. Once below this, we easily descend the scree trail, follow the terrace with that fine view laid out at our feet, and make the steep rocky descent to the Karwendelhaus (15:00). After a late, tasty lunch, we head back down the main track, now in quite hot sunshine; frequently we are passed by cyclists making good use of the gentle gradient. We look forward to reaching the Larchet Alm, intent on Apfelstrudel and a cold drink. Sitting in the last of the sunshine we finish our Johannesbeer then complete the last two hours of our journey.

Back at the car park (19:15), we drive into Partenkirchen, find a meal, then find our way to the Austrian side of Zugspitze, our goal for tomorrow. The large car park provides a convenient place to spend the night.

For trip details and logistics, see the Säntis report
Summary Total Data
    Total Elevation Gain:5542 ft / 1689 m
    Total Elevation Loss:5542 ft / 1689 m
    Round-Trip Distance:22 mi / 35.4 km
    Grade/Class:YDS 3
    Quality:9 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)
    Route Conditions:
Road Hike, Maintained Trail, Unmaintained Trail, Exposed Scramble
    Weather:Pleasant, Calm, Clear
Warm and sunny
Ascent Statistics
    Gain on way in:5476 ft / 1669 m
        Gain Breakdown:Net: 5410 ft / 1648 m; Extra: 66 ft / 20m
    Loss on way in:66 ft / 20 m
    Distance:11 mi / 17.7 km
    Route:Karwendeltal; Hochalm
    Start Trailhead:SE Scharnitz  3609 ft / 1100 m
    Time:6 Hours 
Descent Statistics
    Loss on way out:5476 ft / 1669 m
        Loss Breakdown:Net: 5410 ft / 1648 m; Extra: 66 ft / 20m
    Gain on way out:66 ft / 20 m
    Distance:11 mi / 17.7 km
    Route:Hochalm; Karwendeltal
    End Trailhead:SE Scharnitz  3609 ft / 1100 m
    Time:6 Hours 

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