Liberty Crack, Liberty Bell 5.9 C2 or 5.13b
Avg time to climb route: 1-2 Days
Approach time: 1 hour
Descent time: 2-4 hours
Number of pitches: 14
Height of route: 1,200'
OverviewLocated on remote Washington Pass in the North Cascades, Liberty Bell (7,720’) is a striking granite monolith that harbors a number of great routes, from easy novice climbs, difficult free-lines, and perhaps Washington State’s most accessible alpine big-wall. In 1965, Liberty Crack was the first line to go up on the huge east face and it is still to this day a challenging endeavor, requiring a gamut of climbing skills to tackle its 12 long pitches of mixed aid and free climbing. Most parties can fire the route in one long day, but it is still not uncommon to see parties hauling gear for a bivy half way up.
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Route HistoryBy the mid-1950s, word was starting to spread of the spectacular climbs done on the big walls of Yosemite. The ascents of the Northwest Face of Half Dome and the Nose of El Capitan had ushered in a new style of big wall climbing. In 1964 Alex Bertulis and Steve Marts hiked in from Twisp, coming over Kangaroo pass, unaware of the highway under construction. They started up what would become Liberty Crack. From the beginning the climbing was difficult and involved sustained aid. In this way, the duo reached the huge, 17-foot roof that would become the Lithuanian Lip, named in honor of Bertulis’s ancestry. Bertulis was so intimidated he decided to put a bolt in right below the roof. He put in a half-inch angle piton right at the lip, standing on it and watching it rotate 30 degrees but not popping. “Oh shit, I’m coming off!” he yelled. After this, Bertulis lowered back to the belay, saying, “Okay Steve you have a go.” Steve replied, “No, I’m not going,” and they rappelled off and went home.
Early in the summer of 1965 the pair returned. Bertulis sent the pitch and put in a bolted belay above the lip. Unfortunately, the weather took a turn for the worse with no sign of improvement, forcing them to descend. In July, Marts returned with Fred Stanly and Don McPherson. Because Bertulis had a commitment in Africa, he told Steve, “Go finish the job.” The trio jugged the fixed ropes left earlier in the summer. Marts took most of the day to lead Pitch 3 on what was to be the crux of the route. He placed numerous knife blades and RURPs on this pitch, a pitch that proved to be the most challenging of his career. The three reached a small stance not big enough to sleep on, so they spent the night in hammocks, suspended with the relief of the Cascades beneath them. In the morning, the climbers continued, and as they had hoped, the climbing began to ease. The three men bivied once more on a series of reasonably more comfortable ledges two thirds of the way up the wall at the top of the dihedral. They reached the top on the morning of the third day, severely dehydrated but elated, and rapped the SW face.
During the mid-1980s and early 1990s, some of the strongest climbers in the country, including Ron Kauk, Peter Croft and Dale Bard, attempted a free ascent of Liberty Crack. The painful and extremely technical nature of the Lithuanian Lip and the slab above thwarted all comers until the summer of 1991.
During that summer, Brooke Sandahl, Adam Growski and Kurt Schierer decided to spend some time and make a project out of it. With five days worth of supplies and Brooke’s quiver of four pairs of rock shoes, the trio set up a hanging camp below the Lithuanian Lip. Their wall camp, which included two double portaledges, gave the trio, “A spacious place to hang out, belay, lounge around in style, swill coffee, and dwell above the ferocious bugs below,” according to Sandahl. He later said, “Camping out on a big wall or on a high peak is just sublime.”
After aiding the Lithuanian roof, giving it a meticulous cleaning and closely examining even the tiniest features, it was time for them to start learning a sequence. After three days of intense learning, memorizing, and focused effort, Sandahl had a totally dialed sequence. He sent with gear left in place on the Lip, and it is now considered to check in at 5.13a/b. The next order of business was the micro-hold, bouldery slab that closely follows the old bolt ladder. It took another day to brush clean and thoroughly inspect the bolt ladder slab and dial a sequence. Brooke says, “I purposely didn’t try to link this pitch that day...saving my skin and strength for much needed cool m... [full history for SuperTopo members only!]
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