Blitzen Ridge stands out as perhaps the best ridge climbs in Rocky Mountain National Park because of its stunning rock and untamed location in a wilderness environment.

Don’t let the 5.4 grade fool you; when making plans for this route, bear in mind that you’ll be climbing a pretty challenging ridge that is vulnerable to lightning and blind to impending storms. Solo climbers in good alpine condition should anticipate reaching Ypsilon’s summit by late morning. Roped parties must prioritize moving quickly and effectively and exhibit greater safety.

An early start from the Lawn Lake trailhead is necessary if you want to finish the full climb in one day. Start your journey at Ypsilon Lake and continue on a short track heading to Spectacle Lakes in the northwest. When you enter the cirque, keep to the right and climb a talus hill to get to the beginning of Blitzen Ridge in order to avoid the Spectacle Lakes.

The story of the Blitzen Ridge and its connection to the names “Donder” and “Blitzen” is fascinating. In September 1958, a group of Yale students achieved the first ascent of the Blitzen Ridge in the Rocky Mountains. After a challenging night on the summit, they made their way to Fall River Pass, hitch-hiking down. The students originally named the two ridges “Donder” and “Blitzen” with the intention of meaning ‘thunder’ and ‘lightning’.

What’s interesting is that “Donder” has since been altered to “Donner.” This change evokes a connection to Santa’s reindeer names, and it’s worth noting that the names of Santa’s reindeer have indeed evolved over time. Originally, in the 1823 poem “A Visit from Saint Nicholas” by Henry Livingston, Jr., they were “Dunder and Blixem” in Dutch, which translates to ‘thunder’ and ‘flash’ respectively. Later versions by other authors modified them to “Donder and Blitzen,” and by the time the 1923 song “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” was popularized, “Donner and Blitzen” were used. Interestingly, ‘Donner’ is the German word for ‘thunder,’ aligning with the original intention, while ‘Blitzen’ means ‘flash’ in German and was chosen to rhyme with ‘Vixen.’

So, while there may have been some shifts in the naming over the years, the story of the Blitzen Ridge and its connection to these names provides an intriguing link to the evolution of Santa’s reindeer names and the language itself.

photo credit: Lenny Lens Frieling