Mt Ypsilon Trip Report

Trail: The Blitzen Ridge Class 5.4-5.6, ~12 miles, 6500 ft elevation gain

I'd had my eye on this route since stumbling across photographs of it at some months ago.  As soon as I saw it I called my Elk range climbing partner Brian Espe and asked him about it.  As luck would have it he also had an eye to doing it.  We agreed it was far to early (this was April) and would wait awhile.  Towards the middle of May Jen and I hiked up to Ypsilon Lake to scout the conditions and found the ridge to be far to snow covered to consider.  I called Brian and we decided to wait another month.  The time passed quickly as I worked and then took a vacation in Florida with my friend Jim.  As the middle of June approached I was excited by the prospect of the warm weather having melted enough of the ridge out to make it feasible.  Brian and I once again got in touch with each other and set on the 18th of June, 2005 as our date to attempt the ridge.  Brian's friend Dave Carter was also going to join us (Dave is a really good guy studying at CSU and a much better rock climber than I).  For those who aren't familiar with the route it is a strenous ridge climb found on Mt. Ypsilon.  The route has 4 distinct rock features known as the 4 Aces which, along with a headwall after them, rise hundreds of feet into the air and comprise the crux of the climb with the difficulty ranging from 5.4-5.6.  Rossiter calls this climb the equal of the Exum Ridge on the Grand (not the Complete Exum).

Dave and Brian in the morning

We all met at the Lawn Lake trail head at 3:45 AM and set off on our hike and planned to either descend the Donner Ridge or hike to Trail Ridge Road (A friend of Dave's suggested this as a better option).  We brought twin 60 meter ropes, a light rack consisting of : a set of nuts (big brass ones were needed for this climb), 4 tri-cams, a couple hexes, two cordellettes, a few lengths of webbing for the rappel, and a few shoulder length slings, rock shoes, and ice axes.  We all approached in our general backpacking boots. We moved at a steady but not speedy pace and gained the lake around 5:45.  On the way in I noticed my right knee began to ache and I started popping Advil like candy.  As it turns out this was a bad omen.  By the end of the trip my knee was so bad I was afraid they might have to send someone to get me. This has only happened to me twice before and coincidentally on two year intervals during June climbs.  I'm not sure why my knee choose to go because it started hurting early on and I have definetly carried more weight on more strenuous approaches than this.  In any event we contoured around the lake and scrambled up a  semi-steep slope before gaining the beginning of the ridge.

Lake Ypsilon

Some Scrambling to the ridge

We were all excited and very relaxed about the day to come as the weather forecast called for no chance of anything bad (and it did in fact turn out to be one of the most beautiful days I have spent in the mountains).  At first the ridge was a straightforward class 2 scramble over some boulders, after a short while it became class 3 and then finally, after many gorgeous views of Long's Peak and The Y Couloir, the 4 Aces were upon us.  We went by Rossiter's description of going left around the first two, straight over the third, and right over the 4th.  Brian and Dave offered to let me lead an Ace or two but I decided to get this and maybe one or two more climbs in an alpine setting before taking the front end on unknown terrain with a heavy pack on (eating a pound of beef jerky and 5 hard boiled eggs aggravated my stomach some which contributed to my decision).

The Blitzen Ridge

Mt. Ypsilon

We roped up with me in the middle and donned our rock climbing shoes.  Brian set out on the first lead and Dave and I followed up the first Ace. 

Brian Leading the 1st Ace

Dave coming up the 1st Ace

At the top we were comfortable enough to climb down and over to the second Ace without a belay.  We moved quickly over and set up an anchor at the base of the second where Dave headed up to the top.

Brian Coming up the 2nd Ace

2nd Ace

Once again we felt comfortable down climbing with no belay.  We also all agreed that the 5.0-5.4 climbing required on the first two Aces would be better free climbed or simul-climbed when we return next year to save time.

At the base of the third Ace Brian set out and climbed the left dihedral to the top.  This portion was probably the most difficult but still only went at ~5.6 and then only for a couple of moves.  All in all the climbing was pretty easy and even with the full packs we all felt comfortable with it.

At the top of the third Ace we decided that while a down climb was probably technically easy that their was no reason to take senseless risks and we decided to rappel.  I climbed down 10 or so feet to an area with a lot of old webbing running through two rap rings and added a ten foot piece of my own webbing as an additional safety.  Brian joined our two ropes and it was off to a beautiful 200 foot rappel.  I unfortunately skipped taking pictures here.

Brian Leading the 3rd Ace

Dave coming up the 3rd Ace

At the bottom of the 3rd Ace we looked over to the 4th and discussed our options.  From our vantage point it looked like HARD climbing but Brian insisted it would be fine when we got there so I accepted his judgment.  We had to do a tricky down climb on some wet grass and then do a hand traverse on rock off  of which a fall would send one plumetting down a colouir.  This was probably the hardest part of the climbing up until that moment but we all managed to cross it quite easily (although quite carefully as well).  

The 3rd Ace (our rappel in yellow and traverse in red)

Sure enough when we arrived at the fourth Ace, the wall offered great hands and feet and its previous featureless appearance was just a matter of it being far away.  Dave quickly headed up it doing an ascending rightward traverse.  I followed to be quickly joined by Brian.  We down climbed a bit until we could see the next part of the climb.  At this point we rested, redonned our hiking boots, and discussed what the best way up the next part was.

4th Ace

4th Ace climbing

Brian Traversing the 4th Ace

Both Roach and Rossiter call this next part 3rd and 4th class but, boy it didn't seem like it to me.  To get up on the easier part of the ridge we had to climb the most exposed, vertical, difficult, no way was it 4th class, rock I have ever been unroped on.  One slip at the beginning would have been pretty fatal.  I tend to gauge difficulty by how much I have to consider each move and I sure felt like there was a whole lot of consideration given to the beginning of this part of the climb.  We all agreed it was the mental crux for us and when we redo the climb we'll probably solo the first two Aces and rope up for the first part of the ascent after the 4th Ace.

After the 4th Ace, the wall ahead held the scariest moves of the day

Fortunately the difficulty let up pretty quickly and we found ourselves on honest 4th and then easy 3rd class terrain.  We practically flew up what I call the rectangle (the ridge should be known for the 4 Aces and the rectangle and not just the 4 Aces) and found ourselves on a somewhat snowy ridge. 

After the crappy rectangle, we hit snow after the first of the two humps in this picture

The three of us headed up with Dave up front.  At some point Dave kicked a bit of snow and started  a wet slide.  I think this sketched him as much as it did me when I saw it a month before on an attempt of the Ellingwood Ridge.  Since that time I had been reading allot about them and, while they were mentally unnerving I knew we were safe as long as we stuck to the very crest of the ridge where rock could always be found.  We headed up to the ridge crest and stayed on rock as much as possible, we did at times have to cross snow but it was never corniced and it was pretty flat up top.  Of course crossing always resulted in more wet slides which were damn unnerving to watch.  Since we had to work to stay on rock (forcing us to do allot of 5th class moves to stay up top) and we had to be extremely cautious when crossing snow (one at a time) the final summit push took MUCH longer than it would have in dry conditions.

We finally reached the summit at about 3:30 for a total climbing time of 7 hours on the ridge, I think with proper soloing, two people,  no snow, and being in the shape I was in last year I could cut this time in half.  I will test that theory next year :)

Lots of Summit pictures (including the obligatory marmot shot)

This was without a doubt the most challenging alpine climb I have been on to date and my second favorite climb (Maroon Bells traverse is still my favorite). Dave (who has led both) rated it as harder than Keiners or Dreamweaver which gives me some encouragement since I am aiming for Keiners in a few weeks.  Only one issue remained and that was my knee.  As soon as we started to move it started to hurt and hurt allot.  I knew immediately that there was know way I was descending the Donner ridge.  I would never make it given the growing agony I was in.  We discussed it and after watching allot of wet slides neither Dave or Brian wanted to go that way either.  In the end we followed a map and compass route around Mt. Chaquita and Mt. Chapin down to Old Fall River Road.  Along the way we had the pleasure of postholing to our waists and ending up in pools of water.  We finally reached the road and although I had taken about 8 advil at once my knee was making me think I might not be able to finish.  Luckily for me a couple mountain bikers passed and I asked them to have a ranger pick us up at the Alpine Visitor Center.  We headed to the top and Dave and Brian thoughtfully waited for me as I hobbled along. The three of us made it up at about 7:30. A ranger came shortly and drove us to our cars.  Fortunately the ranger was in good spirits and assured us he preferred picking people up on the road to having to go find them.  We got back to our cars and said goodbye.  I headed into town and called Jen, it was 8:30.  I got home at 10:00 and stayed awake by blasting Metallica. 

All in all I was pretty happy with the climb.  The weather was great, we always looked for escape routes in the event we needed them, we worked well together, and I had my most challenging climb.  I never felt like I was in danger of more than having to spend a night somewhere because of my knee and that would have been fine (it was warm and a night camping would have been relaxing :) )

I look forward to climbing with those guys again and to my next adventure.


It is with sadness I report that the ranger who gave us the ride, Jeff Christensen, was found dead in Rocky Mountain National Park yesterday.  While I only knew him for a short while he was a good man and the world is emptier without him. 

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