A pioneer of the Northern Limestone Alps: Hermann von Barth

A pioneer of the Northern Limestone Alps: Hermann von Barth

Page Type Page Type: Article
Activities Activities: Mountaineering

An Approach

The Alps are well developed and made accessible as far as possible.

Highways, roads and railways are crisscrossing the valleys and the cols. Villages and towns are expanding. Countless accommodations are waiting for more and more tourists.

Ski areas and their longing for more space and new attractions are conquering remote areas of yesterday. Cablecars shovel people, who would do much better by staying in the valleys, up to airy heights. Fun parks begin to spread throughout the ranges, skywalks or long and steep summer toboggan runs stir up adrenaline, paraglider and parachute jumpers try to compete with eagles or alpine crows.

Mountain bikers put on their bike gear, a helmet, sunglasses and race downhill forest roads, trails and even alpine meadows.

High in the air innumerable aeroplanes traverse the mountains while deep down in the earth more and more traverse galleries are erected to channel even more public traffic through or into the mountains.

For the alpine mountaineer there are innumerable well maintained, marked and signposted trails to alpine huts, where he is well kept, fed and watered to have a good start to the high alpine peaks. Browsing the internet, breading over maps and using his latest GPS he will not go astray.

Countless guide books are waiting for their buyers, for hikers, for beginners, for those who get up late, for mountain bikers, for ski tourists, wall climbing, trad climbing, ice climbing, for the via ferrata lovers, for those who love only 4000-peaks and so on.

Sometimes I really get annoyed about all that huzzle and buzzle and I venture out for a remote or rather unknown summit without being prepared what is waiting for me.


I remember well my first climb of Öfelekopf in the southern Wetterstein range - a rather unknown summit - or Kreuzkarspitze in the southern Allgäu range - a rather remote and equally unknown summit.

For both mountains I had no guide book, no description, I did not consult the internet, I just started fresh and innocent to look what those mountains will have in store for me. I did both as a solo and just left my whereabouts at home.

I hiked up to the beginning of the off trail summit ascent and was there on my own to find the easiest way up through the rock faces and rock slopes of these peaks. There were cairns but they were no help. On most off-trail mountains they are more like fen fires than route marks.
For Öfelekopf I had at least one advice of a friend: “Below the summit block don´t use the chute but the wicked looking and steep buttress left of it. You will get blocked in that chute.”
You might guess it: I took the chute because it looked much easier than the buttress and climbing up that chute I get blocked (there were cairns leading into that damned chute). I retreated, swearing, climbed down the loose rocks, sent a shower of those rocks down the steep southern rock face. And then I looked up the buttress. It looked steep, airy, narrow and wicked. There was nobody around. I took a deep breath and started to climb up that buttress. I´m not a very good climber, UIAA grade III is my upper limitation, maybe parts of IV in good company. I guess that ridge is UIAA grade II+ to III-. I made it, with weak knees mainly because I was completely alone and that buttress is exposed. Good rock, though. And the way down was much easier because all the grips and steps were now well known to me.


Kreuzkarspitze summit block looks rather difficult when viewed from the south ridge, which is the normal route to the summit. There is loose rock and it is not a very good climb. There, too, I was completely alone, nobody to be seen for the whole day. I said to myself: just try it, look for the best route and when it will be too difficult just turn round and retreat. I tried and found out that the route is not too difficult (maybe UIAA grade II in parts). It is one of those rare Alpine summits without summit cross, just a little cairn with a worn out summit register, lying there in a box for more than 15 years.

On those summits you can get that feeling how it was when it all begun, how the opening of the Alps to alpinism started. It was some mountain loving pioneers of the 19th century, running away from the even then boisterous towns, from unsatisfying jobs or from an uncomfortably restrictive society. They really had to look how to get to the top of the mountain, they needed at least the ability to master UIAA grade II and III, they normally had no guides and sometimes they even had no companion.
It was on those peaks when I made acquaintance with such a pioneer of the alpinism in the 19th century.

Hermann von Barth
Hermann von Barth

He did not tackle the well known, huge glacier mountains of Austria or Switzerland. He had no Matterhorn or Mont Blanc in his eyes. It was somebody who fell in love with the pale, sparse and remote Northern Limestone Alps.

You possibly will meet this name in the Allgäu Alps, the Wetterstein or the Karwendel and Berchtesgaden range. His name stands for many first ascents of summits unknown to most people in those times (and even in our times). And you then will recognise one of the most important developers of alpinism in the Northern Alps, a sort of founder of individual alpinism without guides, somebody who mastered the grade II and III, even IV without much belay, somebody who brewed coffee on the summits, slept out in the wilderness without a tent, thankfully shared the dishes with hunters and shepherds, who climbed with crampons on his boots and with a huge walking stick, the first who published an accurate description of the Northern Limestone Alps and somebody who led an almost ardent and cometlike life and died much, much too young:

Hermann von Barth.

A Try On A CV

Hermann von Barth
Eurasburg castle

Hermann von Barth was born on June, 5th, 1845 in the castle of Eurasburg, a little village south of Munich. He is by birth a Baron “von und zu Harmating”. Early in his youth, Hermann was attracted by outdoor activities. He often went out hunting with his two brothers, Ernst and Hugo, or undertook long hikes.

His father, a royal Bavarian chamberlain, sold the castle in 1857 and the family moved to Munich, due to the better schools of the Bavarian royal capital.

After finishing his school career in Munich he joined the University of Munich and started to study law. During an internship at Regensburg his uncle placed him in may 1868 to the county court at Berchtesgaden.

Watzmann (2713m) and Hochkalter (2607m) seen from Kneifelspitze above Berchtesgaden
Berchtesgaden Alps (user EricChu)

Berchtesgaden and its marvellous mountain scenery was a sort of ignition for young Hermann. At the age of 23 he started to explore thoroughly the ranges and peaks of Berchtesgaden county and he managed to summit 69 peaks in this first year, 10 of them as a first ascent.

Mountaineering all on your own in those times was considered to be maniac. Nobody in his right state of mind planned to tackle those limestone giants without a company. There where no huts, no trails and - most important, no mountain partners for young Hermann. He did it all on his own. He did not take a guide and he had to look for the best routes on his own. Trustworthy and experienced mountain guides where hard to be found in those times and Hermann von Barth did not like to be dependend on somebody. He laughed about the farmer sons “guiding” tourists up on some easy mountain using the same routes over and over again. He didn´t like glacier routes, too. He said that he did not want to be “drawn across a glacier like an ordinary cow.”

Sometimes he could ask huntsmen or herdsmen if they knew some routes but this “help” was often a rather dismal one. Most of them didn´t know the routes to the summits. Most of them even did not know the names of the summits, a fact, you can experience even nowadays, e.g. in some remote regions of Südtirol. (On a hike near Stilfs / Ortler Group I once was questioned by a mountain farmer about my hiking plans. I want to summit Piz Minschuns, Schafberg, I answered and he did not know what mountain that was. It was standing right in front of us. His meadows were below that summit. Our landlord explained later that most people do not know the proper geographic names of the surrounding peaks.)

Hermann von Barth
Hermann von Barth

But Hermann von Barth did not only summit these peaks, he did more: he started in this year to record his mountain activities. He made description of routes and of his experiences and he started to catalogue the ranges, peaks, routes, rockfaces and all the important features like cirques, creeks, Alm huts and so on. And he collected minerals, fossils as he was interested in geology. This must have been a heavy load to carry sometimes ...

With all his records he intended to write a first mountain guide to the Northern Limestone Alps, a project, which made him the first developer of mountaineering in the Northern Limestone Alps and the first writer of alpine guiding literature with the aim that mountaineers will be able to summit a peak without the help of a guide.

Allgäu Alps Panorama

The year 1869 saw him move from Berchtesgaden to Sonthofen in the Allgäu Alps. What a new territory full of new adventures and possibilities for him ! As soon as the snow situation allowed hiking he started his explorations and summited between May and September 44 peaks. He continued with his exact records of his mountain activities and tried for the first time to find an editor for them. He was so inspired by those experiences that he wished to share his adventures with other people. He thought to help the many equally glowing successors to find their goal. He thought wrong. There was not very much response to his enthusiasm and there was no editor interested in what he had to say.

In those days, May, 9th, 1868, the Deutsche Alpenverein, the German alpine club, was founded and Hermann soon joined the club to find like-minded people.

Towering above Ehrwald
Zugspitze - Wetterstein range (user Lukas Kunze)

The year 1870 saw Hermann von Barth roaming up and down the Karwendel ranges. He summited 88 peaks, many of them as a first ascent. He continued with his records of his mountain adventures and described the mountains, rocks, the geology, biology and the weather during his adventures. He described how he found his way up by following chamois herds always saying: where they can climb I can it, too. He wrote about the herdsmen inviting him in their Alm huts for an overnight stay. He described their summer lives out of their farmhouses and far away from their families, how they cook their meals and how they where all sitting around the table at night, a frying pan in the middle with huge amounts of a flour dish made with water and /or milk, butter and salt or sugar, which is known as “Schmarrn” or “Melchermus” in the German and Austrian Alps.
He described, too, how he lived the whole climbing day long only with some bread, water out of the creeks and a fresh brewed coffee on the top of a peak where he immediately explored how to get best onto the neighbouring one.

Back to his work, back to civilisation and back to the mountain club meetings he was highly disappointed by the lack of interest about his adventures. And worst of all: there still was no editor with interest in sight. So he abandoned the idea exploring the Lechtal ranges.

In 1871, when he started to explore the Wetterstein range, he did it for his own pleasure and unfortunately for us he stopped with his exact and avid records which are so interesting to read nowadays, particulary when you know all these mountains and the routes he did.

Hermann von Barth
One of the last pics of Hermann von Barth

In those days his profession as a lawyer did no longer satisfy him. So he decided to abandon his profession and get back to studies. From 1872 on he started his studies of Natural Sciences, especially geology and paleontology, and in the following years he seldom went into the mountains because he followed the University paths with the same enthusiasm he ventured out to follow mountain trails in the past few years.

And now, after long, long years, an editor in the town of Leipzig was interested to publish his records. So he headed back to Wetterstein to complete his sparse descriptions of 1871. In 1874 his first book, “Aus den Nördlichen Kalkalpen” (records from the Northern Limestone Alps) appeared in print. It will become one of the classics of German alpine literature.

But maybe it was too late for him who led a speedy, cometlike life, to go back to the mountains. He now was deeply interested in the exploration of Africa and he wrote several publications about English exploitation journeys to different African regions. He get famous with those works and was invited to join an expedition to Western Africa as a geologist. 1875 he had to refuse because of his dissertation which he had to finish in this year. In june he was made Doctor of Philosophy (which, in fact, meant doctor of geology, paleontology and mineralogy) with “summa cum laude”.
Soon later the Geographical Society of Munich invited him to another expedition into Western Africa which took place in 1876. Before leaving Munich, Hermann gave all his records and scetches of his mountain explorations to a friend, Anton Waltenberger, for “later utilisation”. Soon after that Waltenberger would be one of the most important mountain guide writers. Maybe this was a sort of foreboding of Hermann von Barths fate.


The journey started at Sao Paolo de Loanda in the former Portuguese colony of Angola. Before arriving in Africa there was a stopover on the Kapverdische Inseln, were Hermann summited two main peaks of the islands of San Jago and San Antao, recording a huge amount of scientific data. These were the last records of Hermann von Barth.

Travelling to the heartland of Angola, von Barth was infected by a tropical disease which took a very bad turn. He had to return to Sao Paolo where the illness really got serious.

It is said that due to a severe fever attack his mind was troubled, he felt extremely hopeless and he shot a bullet into his heart.

Thus ended a short life full of enthusiasm and exploratory spirit.

Hermann von Barths First Ascents in the Northern Limestone Alps

An incomplete list, just to give you a first impression:

  • Hocheisspitze (Berchtesgadener Alpen) , september, 06th, 1868

  • Hochfrottspitze (Allgäuer Alpen) , june, 16th, 1869

    Hochfrottspitze (left; user Huberschwiller)
    Hohe Warte & Brandjoch
    Brandjochspitzen (user wuedesau)

    Karwendel range:

  • Hintere Brandjochspitze, june, 05th, 1870

  • Hintere Bachofenspitze, june, 14th, 1870

  • Roßkopf, june, 14th, 1870

    Hintere Bachofenspitze
    Hintere Bachofenspitze, Roßkopf

  • Stempeljochspitzen, june, 14th, 1870

  • Rotwandlspitze, june, 22th, 1870

  • Steinkarlspitze, june, 22th, 1870

  • Hochnisslspitze, june, 22th, 1870

  • Mittagspitze, june, 22th, 1870

    Rotwandlspitze, Steinkarlspitze, Hochnisslspitze (user Lukas Kunze)
    Fiechter Spitze and Mittagspitze
    Mittagspitze(user wuedesau)
    Steinfalk from the south
    Steinfalk (user Vid Pogachnik)

  • Steinfalk, june 30th, 1870

  • Grüne Rinn Scharte, Verzweigung, june, 30th, 1870

  • Risser Falk, july, 01st, 1870

    Lalider Falk from Steinfalk
    Grüne Rinn Scharte Verzweigung (user Vid Pogachnik)
    Risser Falk from Steinfalk
    Risser Falk(user Vid Pogachnik)
    Östliche Karwendelspitze

  • Östliche Karwendelspitze, july, 04th, 1870

  • Vogelkarspitze, july, 4th, 1870

  • Kuhkopf, july, 05th, 1870

  • Talelespitze, july, 5th, 1870

  • Birkarspitze, july, 06th, 1870

  • Ödkarspitzen, july, 06th, 1870

    Birkkarspitze from the east
    Birkkarspitze(user Vid Pogachnik)
    Birkkarspitze und...
    Marxenkarspitze, Ödkarspitzen(user luidger)

  • Große Seekarspitze, july, 06th, 1870

  • Marxenkarspitze, july, 06th, 1870

  • Hochglück, july, 16th, 1870

  • Tiefkarspitze, july, 12th, 1870

  • Eiskarlspitze, july, 16th, 1870

    Katzenkopf, Jägerkarspitzen and Praxmarerkarspitzen

  • Schafkarspitze, july, 24th, 1870

  • Nördliche Jägerkarspitze, july, 30th 1870

  • Katzenkopf, july, 30th, 1870 481285 ich

  • Westliche Praxmarerkarspitze, july, 31th, 1870

  • Kaskarspitze, august, 01st, 1870

  • Sonntagskarspitze, august, 02nd, 1870

  • Larchetkarspitze, august, 03rd, 1870

  • Breitgrieskarspitze, august, 14th, 1870

  • Kaltwasserkarspitze, august, 15th, 1870

  • Laliderer Spitze, august, 16th, 1870

  • Laliderer Wand, august, 16th, 1870

    Östliche Karwendelspitze
    Kaltwasserkarspitze (left) and Birkkarspitze (center)
    The Lalidererspitze from...
    Laliderer Spitze, Laliderer Wand(user UlrichPrinz)
    Leutascher Platt,...
    Leutascher Dreitorspitze (user tiefenthaler)

  • Grubenkarspitze, august, 16th, 1870

  • Moserkarspitze, august, 16th, 1870

  • Dreizinkenspitze, august, 16th, 1870

  • Roßlochspitze, august 17th, 1870

  • Spritzkarspitze, september, 02nd, 1870

  • Gerberkreuz, date unknown

  • Wörner, 1870, date unknown

  • Hochkarspitze, 1870, date unknown

  • Bäralplkopf, 1870, date unknown

  • Schlichtenkarspitzen, 1870, date unknown

  • Südliche and Nördliche Sonnenspitze , 1870 date unknown

  • Bockkarspitze, 1870, date unknown

  • Hohe Warte, 1870, date unknown

  • Östliche Kaminspitze, 1870, date unknown

  • Schafkarspitze, 1870, date unknown

  • Grabenkarspitze, 1870, date unknown

  • Lackenkarspitze, 1870, date unknown

  • Wetterstein and Mieming range

  • Westl. Plattspitze (Wetterstein) , august, 02nd, 1871

  • Leutascher Dreitorspitze (Wetterstein) , august, 07th, 1871

  • Großer Waxenstein (Wetterstein) , august, 09th, 1871

  • Hochblassen (Wetterstein) , august, 25th, 1871

  • Oberreintalschrofen (Wetterstein) , august, 26th, 1871

  • Öfelekopf - Ostgipfel (Wetterstein) , august, 29th, 1871

    Hochblassen (user David_Holland)
    Zugspitze Jubiläums ridge in...
    Höllentalspitzen (user Bernhard Sauer)

  • Hinterreintalschrofen (Wetterstein) , september, 01st, 1871

  • Innere Höllentalspitze (Wetterstein) , september, 09th, 1871

  • Mittlere Höllentalspitze (Wetterstein) , september, 09th, 1871

  • Wetterwandeck, 1871, date unknown

  • Partenkirchener Dreitorspitze, 1871, date unknown

  • Wettersteinwand, 1871, date unknown

  • Hochplattig (Mieming range), august, 11th, 1873

  • Östliche Griesspitze (Mieming range) , september 1873

    Hohe Wand, Mieminger Range
    Hochplattig / Griesspitzen
    Hermann von Barth
    Hermann von Barth alpine club hut
    Katzenkopf and Jägerkarspitze with Barthgrat (left)
    Barthspitze and (behind) Schafkarspitze

    Late Reminiscences

    Slowly and rather late Hermann von Barth got his reminders within the Northern Limestone Alps which he loved so ardently. There are now several alpine features named after him.

    Hermann von Barth
    von Barth monument at Kleiner Ahornboden

    The southern Allgäu Alps are hosting Hermann-von-Barth-Hütte, an alpine mountain club hut high above Lechtal and a starting point for several summits and trails (e.g. Kreuzkarspitze, Enzensperger Weg).

    The Barthgrat (Barths arete) is a classic climbing route (UIAA grade III to IV) between Katzenkopf and Mittlere Jägerkarspitze within Karwendel mountains, which was tackled by von Barth himself in 1870. It was, in those days and as a free solo, a rather daring undertaking. Von Barth described his experiences in his book “Aus den Nördlichen Kalkalpen”.

    Coming out of a sort of dilemma was the naming of Barthspitze (2454 m) in Karwendel. Although von Barth can be marked as the “opener of the Karwendel ranges to modern alpinism”, all major peaks where already named in those times. So Barthspitze is, despite of the meaning of Hermann von Barth for the Karwendel exploitation, more of a minor peak within the neighbourhood of the more dominating main peaks like Schafkarspitze, Lamsenspitze, Hochnisslspitze, Hochglück and Eiskarlspitze.

    Barthkamin (UIAA grade III) is located within the first ascent route of von Barth to Risser Falk, july, 1st, 1870 (Karwendel).

    Herrmann-von-Barth-Weg is the normal route to Partenkirchner Dreitorspitze within the Wetterstein range. This route is sort of a via ferrata and offers the easiest ascent to this prominent summit of the eastern Wetterstein. Combined with a traverse of the summits of Partenkirchner Dreitorspitze it is a “classic” and can be highly recommended to the experienced (UIAA grade I and II, III in parts).

    At last there is a monument erected at the Kleiner Ahornboden (named after the famous grove of alpine maples growing there in abundance) for Hermann von Barth in the middle of Karwendel ranges. It shows the numerous hikers and mountain bikers who was the “first mover” on the tracks, trails and routes which can be used so naturally in our days.

    A Publishing List

    Hermann von Barth
    Hermann von Barth

    Hermann von Barth:
    Aus den Nördlichen Kalkalpen; Ersteigungen und Erlebnisse in den Gebirgen Berchtesgadens, des Allgäu, des Innthales, des Isar-Quellengebietes und des Wettersteins; Mit erläuternden Beiträgen zur Orographie und Hypsometrie der Nördlichen Kalkalpen, Mit lythographierten Gebirgsprofilen und Horizontalprojectionen nach Original-Skizzen des Verfassers;
    Eduard Amthor, Gera 1874. XXIV, 637, 22 Tafeln und 5 Falttafeln mit jeweils mehreren Abbildungen

    the same as facsimile reprint: Fines Mundi Verlag, Saarbrücken 2008

    Hermann von Barth:
    Aus den Nördlichen Kalkalpen. Ersteigungen und Erlebnisse.
    Süddeutscher Verlag, München 1984, ISBN 3799162178

    Hermann von Barth:
    Aus Den Nordlichen Kalkalpen: Ersteigungen Und Erlebnisse in Den Gebirgen Berchtesgadens, Des Algau, Des Innthales (1874), 698 pages, Verlag Kessinger Pub Co (April 2010), ISBN-10: 1161347836, ISBN-13: 978-1161347838

    Hermann von Barth:
    Ostafrika vom Limpopo bis zum Somalilande
    Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA : University Microfilms Internat., 1980, Reprinted on demand, authorized facsimile [d.] 2. edition

    Carl Bünsch, Max Rohrer:
    Gesammelte Schriften des Freiherrn Hermann von Barth,
    München, Alpine Verl.Anst., (1926), 1206 pages, ASIN: B0030B6OXI

    Anton Ziegler:
    Hermann von Barth, Erschliesser der Berge, Band 1; Eine Auswahl., München, Hg. deutscher und österreichische Alpenverein. 1926, 80 Seiten mit 4 Kunstblätter und 1 eingedruckte Kartenskizze, ASIN: B00453V22S

    Waltenberger A., Hermann von Barth:
    Orographie des Wetterstein - Gebirges und der Miemingerkette. Mit einem Vorwort und Ersteigungslinien von Hermann von Barth Augsburg: Lampart's Alpiner Verlag 1882, 59 S., mit 5 lithographierten u. teils mehrf. gefalt. Karten, Profilen u. Panoramen


    Post a Comment
    Viewing: 1-14 of 14
    Vid Pogachnik

    Vid Pogachnik - Dec 28, 2010 4:05 am - Voted 10/10

    Great article of a great man!

    Very good compilation of data and an interesting reading, enjoyed it!


    selinunte01 - Dec 29, 2010 3:26 am - Hasn't voted

    Re: Great article of a great man!

    thanks, Vid!


    visentin - Dec 28, 2010 3:05 pm - Voted 10/10


    and deserves to be attached to the famous alpinists page along with Muir and the others !


    selinunte01 - Dec 29, 2010 3:38 am - Hasn't voted

    Re: great

    thanks eric. I often compared von Barth with J. Muir as they lived in the same time. But they were very different caracters despite of the fact that both described their undertakings, the landscape, the nature, the weather exactly and thoroughly. For instance von Barth in those times did not think about natures protection, he wanted to be the opener for many followers.
    Cheers, Michael


    selinunte01 - Dec 30, 2010 2:19 pm - Hasn't voted

    Re: Thanks for the effort.

    Hey, great to hear that you enjoyed it. Cheers, Michael


    hansw - Dec 31, 2010 10:54 am - Voted 10/10

    Re: Thanks for the effort.

    If there had been a Thanks button I would have used it!

    I.e. great article!


    selinunte01 - Jan 1, 2011 5:10 am - Hasn't voted

    Re: Thanks for the effort.

    I take your vote as "thanks button", Michael


    mvs - Dec 31, 2010 5:03 am - Voted 10/10

    really nice to see

    It's a great portrait of someone so important around here. That guy really had the climbing spirit. So many of us sympathize with him today, but in his time he must have been kind of lonely!


    selinunte01 - Jan 1, 2011 5:31 am - Hasn't voted

    Re: really nice to see

    Hey, nice to see that you are still roaming the SP pages and dropping nice comments :-)
    I think H.V.Barth is one of the most forgotten pioneers of "our playgrounds" at the gates of Munich. So I thought he deserves a page on SP.
    Happy Ne Year and many successful climbs in 2011, Michael


    mvs - Jan 3, 2011 10:26 am - Voted 10/10

    Re: really nice to see

    You are absolutely right. Did I tell you I followed your Director's Cut route? I wrote about it on my private site here: http://www.mountainwerks.org/mstanton/tripreports/191

    Thanks for a great trip idea and a cool name for it!


    aran - Jan 14, 2011 11:06 am - Voted 10/10

    thank you

    That was wonderful to get educated about. Thanks for sharing all your research- I feel moved by his passion, ambition, and style. Well done.


    selinunte01 - Jan 17, 2011 4:51 am - Hasn't voted

    Re: thank you

    hello aran,
    I´m glad you found it interesting! Cheers, Michael


    markhallam - Oct 30, 2016 1:53 am - Voted 10/10

    Thanks for

    bringing this fascinating man with all his quirks and achievements to life again. I agree he deserves a page - good to see pieces like this on SP.
    best wishes, Mark


    selinunte01 - Nov 1, 2016 7:43 am - Hasn't voted

    Re: Thanks for

    thank you for your vote and nice comment.

    Viewing: 1-14 of 14