First off I want to say this is such a classic route. The whole route has fourth class climbing to 5.7-5.8 climbing. It's steep, exposed, and a long alpine route. The ridge never ended. I had been warned by many friends that had done this route to not be on it in a lightning storm. This ridge is committing. Retreat is difficult. Once you're on it, retreat is made very difficult and has to include a few rappels!
What Mountainproject.com says:
When planning for this route, keep in mind that you'll be climbing a rather committing, lightning prone ridge which is blind to approaching storms. Roped parties must take extra care to move fast and efficiently.
The top 2/3 of the Blitzen Ridge at Sunrise
That being said, I knew the task that I wanted to do was pretty serious. I have really wanted to do this climb for quite a while. It seems to be the second most coveted ridge climb in Colorado in my opinion. Let me just say, this ridge was AWESOME! The most fun I have had in a while. I love pushing myself on routes safely. Whether that's cragging, ice/mixed climbing, alpine technical mountaineering, or just summer 14'ers. I love the fact waking up the next day or coming down from an intimidating climb and saying, "I really did climb that." Climbing is a lifestyle for me not just a hobby. I want to climb the world and make a bigger impact in this world we live in. I take it very serious. You need to. Climbing is not something that you can play around with. It's your life you're playing with if you do.
When planning this route, I talked to my usual alpine rock climbing partner, Danny. Danny is only a couple years older than me. He is young and a very good climber. We had already climbed the Petit a few weeks ago and he was supposed to pick the next alpine climb. I approached him with the idea of the Blitzen Ridge and soon he was so motivated and excited for the climb. I usually know what to expect on a route but to be honest I had no idea what this ridge would be like. I knew our rope work skills were fast as we had done a few multi-pitch climbs together including "Solid Gold" in Clear Creek Canyon two days before. We moved very fast on it. I knew we would be fine. The weather was called to be great. We were both very excited.
Now the approach to this route is long. Its 5 miles to Ypsilon Lake. We started the approach at about 4 in the afternoon on Friday. There were many tourists asking us why we were carrying a rope. We replied we were tree climbing as a joke and then told them our plan. Many of them looked at us like we were crazy. The tourists soon were gone after a mile and we had the remote mountain just about to ourselves. This climb is remote. We got to the lake at about 6-7 and found the perfect campsite – right under a huge boulder cave which also served to us as a bouldering cave.
At the lake looking at our goal We scouted the route and still could not see the ridge but found the long grass/rock gully that would put us at the very beginning of the ridge. We then bouldered some more.
Me bouldering before bed Many don't like this form of climbing but I find it a need to enter the harder grades of climbing and figure out the moves. Did I mention we were getting eaten alive by mosquitoes? I am too used to winter/spring climbing that I forgot my spray. There must have been twenty or more on me at all times until I got in the tent. I was getting frustrated.
As I laid down in the tent, I thought above the climb and just how amazing it would be. Soon the alarm woke us up at 4 a.m. to bright stars. We started the long haul up the gully. We got to the top of it when the sunrise was starting. I could see the ridge and I got as excited as a kid that gets his dream toy. We made hasty progress to the start of the "actual" climbing.
Danny on the ridge with some class 2/3 climbing This route has what's called four aces. There almost like jagged teeth of a shark jutting 80 feet into the air. After this there is a long headwall with many 5.4-5.5 moves along with fourth class for about 5 or more pitches if you don't simul-climb. Then there is an unrelentless 1,000 ft. of 3rd or 4rth class to the top. The sun had already come up on a clear day and we committed to the route. We donned our rock shoes and harnesses. I guess the climbing on all the aces is close to 5.4 and even had a few 5.8 moves on the variation we took.
The four aces
We agreed to solo at least the first two aces. I had talked too many and they said they would solo the first two aces and rope up for the last two aces along with the headwall. On the first two aces you have to skirt to the left to climb them. They were actually pretty easy. It had what seemed to be fourth class along with a couple 5th class moves.
Danny traversing the first ace I had been told the exposure is insane. But to me it didn't seem to be that severe. We made fast progress and soloed the 2nd ace and were soon at the beginning of the 3rd of which you have to tackle directly to the top. Well things on it were also pretty easy and we soloed it. It probably had a couple 5.5 moves on it. We got to the top of it and there is a rappel that is usually needed. We brought out the rope and rappelled. It ended up we should of just down climbed the low 5th class rock. The rappel was worthless. On top of that the rock is so sharp that while pulling the rope it got stuck in a crack. I had to climb back up and free it.
The not needed rappel off the third ace
We simul-climbed the fourth ace. I lead what seemed to be the 5.7-5.8 akward offwidth crack. I hate offwidths but learn to deal with them I definitely need to improve on them.
Me leading the fourth ace with some 5.7-5.8 moves above I set up a quick belay and told Danny I would like to give him a belay for those couple of moves. Soon we were on top of the 4rth ace looking at the headwall.
Looking at the rest of the route from the top of the fourth ace We had to down climb the low fifth class rock and Danny started to lead the headwall.
Danny leading the headwall After a while of simul-climbing it we approached many knife edge ridges with some fifth class moves. It was awesome!
Me on the exposed part of the ridge The exposure and remoteness of this climb is amazing. On top of that there was not one trail on the whole route. We chose our route. It felt like we were tackling a first ascent -which is the ultimate climbing to me. Nothing matches the gratitude of doing a first ascent no matter where it is I believe.
Danny Following towards the summit
After a bit we unroped and started the final 1,000 feet of easy scrambling.
Getting to the summit! We reached the summit at 10 in the morning. We got our summit pictures and headed down.
On the summit! We called our descent route "The Blitzen Rush." We went south to the saddle and saw the perfect steep glissade. It went straight down and the flat slope below was all covered with snow. All the rocks were covered. The snow conditions were perfect. There was a catch though. The cornice remnants were vertical for ten feet. We had to downclimb and traverse the rock to finally enter the glissade. I went first and it was the best glissade of my life. It even beet glissading down Lambs Slide. I gained a ton of speed and soon reached the bottom soaked. I screamed to Danny," WOO!" He started down and soon was with me.
Danny with our glissade path in the back The rest of the descent was spent crossing talus, snow, grass, bushwhacking, and many, many extreme stream crossings. But after following the river for quite a while we got to our campsite. We packed up fast while getting eaten by more mosquitoes. We then made the dreaded 5 mile descent down. It never ended. When it finally did we went back to Estes Park and had Village Pizza and celebrated another classic amazing climb.
Then I asked him what's next? We were too sore to talk about it. But the distant future excited me because I knew it will only get better.
A panorama of Ypsilon Mountain