Peak(s):  Ypsilon Mtn  -  13,514 feet
Date Posted:  08/29/2019
Modified:  08/30/2019
Date Climbed:   07/20/2019
Author:  handonbroward
Additional Members:   OldTrad
 Blitzen Ridge - Ypsilon  

Route: Ypsilon via Blitzen Ridge
Partner: OldTrad
Mileage: 11.85
Ascent: About 5k (watch altimeter is apparently on the fritz)
Time: About 9 hours
Route: Lawn Lake TH to Chapin Pass TH with car shuttle

So last year after completing LB NW Face and the traverse to Blanca, and the Sangres dash, I decided I wanted to start looking at more technical ridges. Logically the next two up seemed to be Blitzen and Gash. There were some comments by a select few (RIP TG) that told me I needed to be comfortable freesoloing 5.8 in order to approach either of these objectives. Obviously that was not true, and I was pretty confident that it was not true, but I felt like I maybe did need to be a bit better prepared to take on Gash or Blitzen.

Cue early this year, I started chatting with Bruce on here a bit, and he convinced my to come do some climbing with him. I had done quite a bit of sport climbing about 5 years ago, but not much since then. My intro to climbing with Bruce was Rewritten in Eldo, which was terrifying. Regardless, these "treatments" in Eldo continued, including some leading here and there. Bruce and I repeatedly talked about both Gash and Blitzen, but the insane amount of snow this year shut down pretty much all objectives until July.

Eventually the TRs and conditions reports looked good, and we decided to take a shot at Blitzen. We had a pretty good weather window on a Saturday, with the weather looking like it was going to turn about noon. Knowing the danger of being caught on the ridge in bad weather, we knew we would have to start early. We decided to go with the shuttle instead of having to worry about hiking back down the road to Lawn Lake TH, and we ended up being SO grateful we made this decision.

I came home from work Friday, ate a ton of food about 630 and went to bed to try to catch a few hours of sleep. I actually was successful, sleeping from about 730-1030. My girlfriend was overly delighted as I was getting out of bed right as she was turning in. She has started to understand some of this, but leaving the house before midnight the night before still seemed a bit off to her. I rolled out of my house in NW Denver right at 1145, exactly on schedule.

I hit the Lawn Lake TH right at 115, exactly on time as well. Nice cruising up the canyon to Estes with no traffic, and not having to worry about park entrance fees. Bruce was already at the Lawn Lake TH, and we immediately started up Old Fall River Road. One of the only mistakes we made the entire day was not tagging the Chapin Pass TH on a map before heading up to drop off out shuttle car. In our haste, we blew right by the TH and dropped Bruce's car at the very last turn before Old Fall River Road takes a straight shot across the hillside to the Alpine Visitors Center, a solid mile plus above Chapin Pass TH. More on that later.

There was no one else around, and we got right back to Lawn Lake TH quickly. We loaded up with a light rack and a rope and were on the trail right about 230. We cruised up to Ypsilon Lake. Finding the trail around the lake to approach the ridge was a bit difficult, but staying low was the key. We rock hopped across the talus fields, hit the gully, and headed up towards the ridge. We crested the ridge right about sunrise, and headed up the shoulder towards the ridge.

Looking at the Y Couloir from the shoulder/ridge on the way to the first Ace

It definitely still is a bit of a grind to get from the top of the gully to the first Ace. But, the views were beautiful, and in a little bit we were right at the base of the first objective. The ridge narrows to the first Ace pretty beautifully, and the excitement started to rise quickly. About 3.5 hours to the first Ace. A little slower than expected, but it was our first big day of the year, with a rope and rack, so not too shabby.

Right at the base of the first Ace
A wider look. You can't see the other Aces or headwall, but you can see the rest of the ridge behind. A LOT of Class 3 with bits of Class 4.

A bit of peanut butter, a few sips of water, harnesses on and we took off. Two guys passed us right here, and we got to watch them pick their line across the first Ace, which gave us a bit of confidence. Sorry I don't remember your names guys!

We skirted the first Ace via the ledges on the left to about half way across, the followed a kind of corner up and over the shoulder of it, tracing the route of the two in front of us. Solid class 4, with some exposure, but it was a great intro to what lie ahead. It only took us about 10 minutes to get up and over the first Ace.

Bruce finishing up the first Ace

Up and over the second Ace was quite easy as well. We followed the left side to some degree, but eventually angled more towards the summit. This one also went in about 15 minutes. The downclimb to the notch between the second and third Aces was also easy.

The climb to the top of the third Ace was also easy, and we found the rap station with some new slings and a rap ring. We were already pretty sure that we were not going to rap, and one look over the back side confirmed this. The low 5th downclimb to the notch looked pretty easy, and it was. Not to be misleading here, but I did not think that this exceeded class 4 in any way if you stayed more North on the ledges instead of directly on the ridge. Bruce took the ridge and said maybe one 8-10 foot section potentially clocked in with a couple 5th class moves. The third Ace also went by pretty quickly, maybe 20 minutes tops.

At this point, we had caught back up to the two guys in front of us, as they had chosen to take out their rope and climb directly to the summit of the fourth Ace. Additionally, some guy moving extremely fast (and light!) also caught us from behind. Good for us, as we would have someone ahead of us to hopefully help us pick a line on the fourth Ace and headwall.

We started up the fourth Ace on the ridge for about 15 feet, then immediately broke right across some ledges. You get up pretty quickly on some very small ledges. Even though this is probably only 4th class, if you do not have any class 5 climbing experience, this part might be pretty unnerving. You are looking almost straight down about 200 (ish?) feet into the notch, and any mistake would send you the whole distance, without a doubt. However, the ledges quickly start to widen, and it is very intuitive following the route around to the right side. The difficulty eases to class 3 quickly, and you are around the corner and over to the base of the headwall.

At this point, we decided that we were not going to take out the rope unless we really got into a situation where we felt it was needed. Everything had felt so cruiser thus far that it really seemed unnecessary. Of course, I was loving carry the extra almost 7 pounds.

We had paid close attention to the guy flying solo ahead of us, and this had an immediate benefit. We started left of the ridge on the headwall, and were able to follow some class 4 ledges to a white chimney/corner, then make maybe one low class 5 move back right onto the white pillar. This is NOT the big white corner that is discussed in other TRs, as that is both further right, and further up the headwall. Surmounting this first technical objective gave us confidence, and we decided to just follow the line of the guy who was alone in front of us. This meant not following the typical route towards the big white corner, and staying closer to the edge.

We stayed pretty close to the left side the whole way, and eventually came up to a large, rectangular block that was also white. It looked like you could go up on either side, and we took the left, same as the guy in front of us. While we had been watching him, it appeared that there was another step around move back to the right that would be class 5. However, upon reaching the top of this pillar/block, the difficulty never surpassed class 4, even though it was stout class 4.

At this point, we were aware we were not going to be following the typical route through the top of the headwall and the "notch" was not going to be part of our route. No biggie, but hopefully we didn't get into a spot where a superhero move was required. Fully embracing the make-your-own style of Blitzen Ridge, and it was a blast. We picked our way up more class 3 and class 4 terrain to a weakness we had picked out at the top of the headwall. It keeping with the previous style, what appeared to be our last objective was a very exposed class 4 scramble up a corner, to a step around move up and around a block back to the right. This was definitely a class 5 move, and the part that made me more nervous was that the whole block I was about to yard on looked like it could peel off and take me into the abyss with it. It sounded very solid with lots of knocking, but the exposure was at its max here. Two jug haul moves with some particular foot placements and that was it! Bruce also let me lead the way up this last "pitch" of the headwall, so it was a pretty fulfilling moment for me.

Bruce coming up and over the last difficulty!

We knew we were past the "difficulties," so we took a break for a minute, took our unused harnesses off, and took in the view!

Nothing but smiles! Trying to find a good rest ledge.
A breathtaking view, with Longs dominating the skyline.

We had cruised through the difficulties pretty quickly, almost 90 minutes exactly from starting the first Ace to surmounting the headwall. It seemed like we were going to crush our goal of hitting the summit by 10am. Little did we know, the heedings of other TRs did not do justice to how much ridge was left.

How much ridge can there really be left!?

This is where the burden of the rack and the rope started to take its toll. The rest of the ridge from the top of the headwall is by far the crux of the route, short of technical difficulties. Normally this type of terrain would be cruiser, but the weight of the bigger pack with the unused rope and shoes, combined with our excitement at our success this far, slowed us down. It was an absolute grind to the top. Eventually the two guys who had roped up caught us and passed up. One of them had a very accurate analogy: although the difficulties are known as the four Aces, the route should be called the thirty or forty aces. There are endless small towers to overcome or skirt around. Mostly class 3, some class 4, all as similar looking and loose as the last. We finally hit the top about 10:20AM, just a bit after our goal.

Looking back down on the endless class 3 and class 4 slog from close to the top.

It went from being calm and hot on the ridge to windy and freezing cold on the summit. I was feeling burned out and went into whiny self preservation mode, insisting we head down as soon as possible. For anyone who knows me well, this is no surprise, as autopilot switches on as soon as the technical difficulties are over, and I become solely consumed with getting the hell off of whatever we are on and back to the truck. It is a required mentality for the finishing grind on objectives like my Sangres trip last year, or Gash Ridge (TR incoming on that), where there are miles and miles of less than desirable terrain to go after completing the main goals.

Summit shot! "Get me the hell out of here..."

Regardless, we packed up and headed towards Chapin Pass TH. From above, we quickly realized just how far we had overshot the Chapin Pass TH parking early that morning. Bruce's car was at least a mile up the road above the trailhead, maybe more. Having to hike that extra mile up the road was going to kill one or both of us, maybe literally. The inevitable thunderstorms started to move into the valley, and the feeling of dread grew and grew the closer we got to the trailhead. I tried to strengthen my reserve for what I thought was a certain mile long death march, uphill, in the pouring rain. With great fortune, we came across 2 very friendly guys right near the trailhead, and they graciously offered us a ride up the hill. The amount of relief I felt is hard to quantify.

We caught a ride up to Bruce's car and very slowly made our way through the conga line of cars traversing Old Fall River Road. The parking lot at the Alpine Visitor Center was an absolute sh*tshow, made worse by the huge herd of elk with fully grown antlers coming down off of the ridge, passing the Visit Center. Hundreds of people all flooding near the road to try to get a distant shot of "those moose!" I did my part by snagging a couple pics out the passenger side as we finally made our way out onto Trail Ridge Road to head back to Lawn Lake TH.

They were looking quite majestic that day!

We got back to Lawn Lake TH with ease, and I got into my truck and on my way home. Just in time for a vicious hail storm to unleash, but the diameter was small enough that it was not damaging and I took advantage of everyone pulling over on the side of the road to get ahead of the traffic. This contributed to a clear cruise back down the canyon and some time to reflect on what we had just done. My first alpine technical ridge, and without any ropes. I was riding high.

I knew that the game was on, and that the door was now open to go after quite a few other technical alpine objectives without hesitation. Combined with the seeming lack of monsoon weather this summer, this quickly lead to 2 other ascents of long desired traverses, Gash and the Bells. In the process of writing those up and will have them up soon!

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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 Comments or Questions
Nice Job!
08/29/2019 14:13
Great trip report! I've been reading up about this route and may use this TR once I get a bit more climbing under my belt and feel ready to go for it!

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