RT= 13.1 miles
TH Elevation = Lawn Lake TH at 8,540 ft
Summit Elevation = 13, 514 ft
Elevation gain = 5600 RT (per GPS)
Descent: Donner Ridge
This is a very special occasion, as it is my very first trip report. I spend plenty of time on 13ers/14ers.com, summitpost, mountainproject perusing trip reports for beta - but wasn't really inspired to write one of my own until now. One reason for this TR is because it was a beautiful solo climb, and it might be helpful information for others wanting to free-solo this route. The other reason is that I feel like many trip reports (not just for Blitzen) do not give the reader realistic expectations. There have been a number of times I read horrific warnings (eg "Do NOT be fooled by the 5.4 rating!!" or "You must rappel the third ace! It is a very sketchy downclimb!" - from Mountain Project) and it makes me a little scared to try anything on my own. But after I do it, I often see that things were not as bad as described. I hope that readers will find my description and photos accurate.
I started out of the Lawn Lake trailhead at about 3:30 am. Thankful to be free of rope and gear, I made quick time to Ypsilon Lake and it was still dark when I got there. In the route description, I had just read "head NW up to Spectacle Lakes." I didn't really look further into it because I figured there would still be a reasonable trail heading to the lakes (and from there the Ypsilon cirque would be obvious). However, I quickly got lost on the west side of Ypsilon Lake. There is a junction where the trail heads left, OR right (in the direction of Spectacle Lakes). I took the fork to the right, crossed a man-made bridge, and followed a steep trail for just 5 minutes before it vanished and I was in a thicket of pine trees to the right of the stream. I was annoyed, and figured I must have missed something since I was in the dark - but wasn't in the mood to backtrack so I decided to whack through some shrubs and climb parallel to the stream up to the Spectacle Lakes. It wasn't too bad and I managed to stay on class 3/4 rock, hugging the edge of gorgeous waterfalls for the ascent. This was probably a more fun way to get up to Blitzen Ridge, since there was good scrambling and I'll do anything to avoid a dirt trail slog. Plus there was a cool breeze and refreshing mist coming off the falls.
By 6:30 I came up on the SE side of Spectacle Lakes. Again, I wasn't too sure where to go but I found a nice scramble directly up to the Blitzen ridge (there were many possible lines here - you just have to avoid a few patches of pine bushes and willows).
I was soon on the ridge and by 7:30 am I was staring at the first Ace.
The famous Aces and Headwall
The first couple of Aces were easy. There is an obvious line just to the left of both of them, class 3/4. I did not climb over them directly, but it honestly looked very feasible, low 5th at most. The first two aces were not very tall either so a downclimb off the back-side should be manageable for a moderate free-soloist.
Given what I had read about the third and fourth Aces, I expected a few dicey moments and was prepared for some real exposure - but found this was not the case. The third Ace was a short up-climb. There were a few possible lines but I basically went straight up, starting in a little crack/dihedral and pulling over a mini-headwall. From there, a few fourth class moves to the top. Done.
The downclimb was pleasantly easy, not "sketchy" as I had read. The rock was not vertical, and very featured giving plenty of descent options. There were even some cracks on the descent you can jam a foot or hand into for security if you need to. (Note that if you are new to trad and not comfortable scrambling up low 5th without a rope, you may still want to rappel for safety).
The third Ace was over before I knew it, and on to the fourth. I had read that you can pass it on the right, with anywhere from a 5.4-5.8 move. I took a peek and to the right it looked like 5.4 tops, and not that fun. I did not think it looked very sketchy. I decided to climb the wall directly. There was a fun combination of face holds and flakes to grab, maybe 5.6 in a couple spots.
Overall, I'd say there are number of lines to climb on the fourth Ace, just pick one and have fun! Again, the downclimb off the fourth Ace was very manageable as for the third.
I should add that if you were to fall downclimbing the third or fourth Ace - you should not plummet to your death. You would actually fall into the saddle on the ridge, and although this would still hurt, the fall is not too far.
Finally I came up on the headwall after the Aces. I took a quick peek and saw that to the right looked like harder climbing - some choss leading to big, blocky blank faces. So I took a nice low 5th/4th class line to the left of the headwall. I was soon on top of the headwall and finished the class 3 scrambling to the summit. I topped out at about 930 AM.
Another important point on possible bailing options: there are several, and thus this climb does not become "committing" until you have passed the headwall. Even then, I think you could bail down some talus to the North. In fact all of the bail routes would be North off the ridge. There is a decent grassy slope between Ace 3/4, and Ace 4/headwall. If you haven't yet climbed the third Ace and need to bail, you could easily trace back over the second and first Ace and find an easy line back down the ridge.
Descent - more issues
I decided to descend Donner Ridge, thinking this route would probably get me back to whatever trail I missed in the morning.
The terrain started out easy, then soon morphed into obnoxious angling class 4 slabs and eventually some cliffed-out areas down the ridge. I decided to bail down a loose gully to the south, which dumped me out onto a talus field (in the Chiquita basin). Again, I was annoyed that the worst route finding of the day was between Spectacle Lakes and Ypsilon Lake. I whacked through some more grass/shrubs and danced on more talus, making a bee-line for Ypsilon Lake, when I finally stumbled on a dirt trail. I discovered this was the trail that represented the left fork I had seen in the morning. I'm still not sure where it led, however - it was not obvious how it led to Spectacle Lakes, if it did at all.
Finally on trail, I cruised past Ypsilon Lake and back to the car as quickly as possible, avoiding a full-body assault by the resident mosquitoes. Was back to the car by 2:30 PM, thrilled with my awesome day!
This was a beautiful ridge and I think best enjoyed as a free solo. I think rope would be cumbersome for the approach and really only useful in a couple spots at most. Make sure you read up on beta for route-finding between Ypsilon and Spectacle Lakes, so you don't get lost like I did!