Clean Break, Juno Tower IV 5.10b/c
Avg time to climb route: 4-10 hours
Approach time: 3-6 hours
Descent time: 3-6 hours
Number of pitches: 15
Height of route: 1,500'
OverviewPitch after pitch of sustained climbing on beautiful clean granite in wild surroundings make this route a must-do for any Washington climber. Clean Break, rising nearly 1,500 feet from its base with sustained 5.10- climbing for many of its lower eight pitches, is certainly a modern classic in the Cascades. It gets its name from the clean splitter crack on Pitch 1 and the many splitter cracks that follow. When you first walk up to the base of the route and see this soaring splitter crack, you wonder how climbers could have walked right by it until the mid-1980s. The quality of climbing and position alone make Clean Break a fantastic endeavor. Despite the size and difficulty of the route, Clean Break climbs surprisingly quickly, due to its straightforward nature.
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Route HistoryWith The Liberty Crack going up in 1964, and the Independent route in 1966, climbers continued to wonder about the possibility of other big wall routes on the amazing East Face of Liberty Bell. Soon after the Liberty Crack route was first climbed, the first-ascent master, Fred Beckey, spotted a possible route right up the center of the face. He staked his claim to the line by climbing up and fixing a rope on Pitch 1.
Alex Bertulis said, “Beckey had ropes hanging from various climbs all over the Northwest, ‘staking his claim to the route’ and other climbers were getting annoyed.” Hanging his rope should have kept other climbers off and laid his claim to the route, but that year Beckey hung ropes all over the Cascades and then went off to climb in Alaska for more than a month.
On their first attempt up the center of the face, Don McPherson and Ron Burgner cut Beckey’s rope from the face. At first, they were quiet about it, worried about the fallout but word spread like lightning through the climbing community; everyone wondered who cut it. Bertulis said the reaction was such surprise, “My God, this was Fred Beckey’s rope!” But after the incident Fred Beckey never hung another rope.
On their second attempt, McPherson’s back went out and the pair had to bail. Burgner and McPherson hobbled out and blamed it on bad karma from the Great One. The pair didn’t get another attempt because in July of 1967 two local rock masters, Jim Madsen and Kim Schmitz, had a go at the route. Schmitz is a strong climber from Portland, Oregon. Jim Madsen, who is often considered one of the most significant climbers from this era, was a UW engineering student and football player. The pair hiked in and started up the wall, They took three days to complete their route, topping out in the afternoon of their third day. When picking a name for the route, Schmitz and Madsen chose not to follow the Revolutionary theme and named their route The Thin Red Line because of its sustained and difficult nature. The following year the duo completed an early and fast two-bivouac ascent of the Nose, blisteringly fast for the time. In October 1968 Madsen rappelled off the end of his Gold Line rope while attempting to rescue his friends Chuck Pratt and Chris Fredericks, pinned down by a storm on Dihedral Wall, perishing in the 2,500-foot fall. Steve Marts went on to claim the first ascent of two more of the 50 Classic Climbs of North America besides Liberty Crack.
He also climbed The Northeast Buttress of Slesse and the North Ridge of Mt. Stuart.
Mikey Schafer long considered the possibility of free climbing the Thin Red Line. In the summer of 2008, he decided to finally take a serious look. He mostly soloed the route, then fixed ropes from the top of Pitch 6 to work the moves on the most difficult pitches. After spending a few days working on the route on a mini traxion, he discovered a small, super technical variation on steep slab around the pendulum at the start of Pitch 5. A week later, Schafer came back with Kate Rutherford. They spent one day top roping it and then sent the route in a single push the following day, originally rating it V 5.12c. As it has cleaned up it is now considered 5.12b. In late August of 2011 Max Hasson and Jens Holsten became the first climber to link up The Thin Red Line and Liberty Crack in a single day.
There were four more bolts placed on the free variation on Pitch 5. Several pitons were fixed to increase safety for free climbers. Mikey Schafer requests aid climbers leave these in place for free climbers and to allow the route to be aided cleanly to preserve the rock. Currently, a climber can simply walk up to the route and safely climb it. However, Schafer acknowledges it will be up to the traditionalists to decide if they can tolerate both safe free climbing and clean aid climbing on this classic line.
StrategyThe Thin Red Line is more famous than it is popular, making it unlikely you’ll have to share the route even on the busiest weekends. Slower parties can take three days. On Day 1, hike loads and fi... [full history for SuperTopo members only!]
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