Freedom Rider, Liberty Bell V 5.10d or 5.11b
Avg time to climb route: 6-10 hours
Approach time: 1-2 hours
Descent time: 1-2 hours
Number of pitches: 14
Height of route: 1,200'
OverviewDescribed by the Steve Swenson, former president of the American Alpine Club as his favorite climb in the Cascades, Freedom Rider was the first entirely free route up the east face of Liberty Bell. It is a burly, all free route on an amazing wall. Freedom Rider is not for climbers looking to break into the grade. Long and tiring with a fair amount of loose rock and short run outs, it is a true adventure climb. Two crux options let the climber slightly tailor the route to his or her strengths. Both the techy, thinly protected corner and the thuggish offwidth are good and Medusa’s Roof is spectacular and shouldn’t be missed by jumping onto Liberty Crack at mid-height. The route is still given a Grade V even though most parties complete the route in a day. Liberty Crack is also a grade V and Freedom Rider takes at least one and a half as much effort to climb as Liberty Crack.
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Route HistorySteve Risse and Bryan Burdo climbed this route in August 1988. The upper portion of the route had been climbed earlier in the summer by Burdo and Risse, starting out originally as a variation of the upper section of Liberty Crack beginning on Pitch 9. Risse was working on Tooth and Claw and Burdo was establishing routes on the now-illegal Overlook Wall. They had looked up at the many of the features on the upper portion of Liberty Bell, including the ominous Medusa’s Roof, wondering if they could be free climbed. Before they started up all the two climbers knew was they had been aided before at A4. The face traverse to the roofs looked blank and they were unsure they could connect to the corner below the roofs. To their surprise, it was easy but runout 5.7 climbing. The massive Madusa’s Roof, which they even had bigger doubts about, was an even bigger surprise. After another moderate 5.10a pitch the climbers were staring up at the roof. A wide chimney split the intimidating feature. Burdo and Risse climbed through the Madusa’s Roof by an incredibly exposed and spectacular horizontal traverse, feet on one side, back on the other, looking down the east face of Liberty bell. There was a 5.8 chimney out and through the roof. They couldn’t believe it and were happy with the quality of their new variation.
Risse and Burdo returned to find an alternate start in hopes of making an entirely separate line. They started up the corner 150 feet to the left of Liberty Crack on the southeast corner of the wall. They climbed upwards as challenging but never extreme climbing unfolded before them. Pitch 3 looked challenging – a thin technical corner on the left or a steep 5-8” crack loomed above them. Burdo wasn’t sure if he would have to aid the crux corner, but he picked the left side because it appeared to suit his strengths. Near the top of the pitch the climbing grew more challenging when Burdo, ”the king of the lateral move,” managed to traverse right under a roof and complete the pitch onsite. Risse and Burdo bivied on a small ledge on the top of Pitch 5. The next day the climbers traversed onto Liberty Crack for a few pitches before repeating their variation through the Medusa’s Roof, making the first ascent of Freedom Rider. After they completed the ascent, Burdo called it probably the best 5.8 he ever led. A few years later Risse put the bolts on the traverse in on Pitch 9
StrategyStart early as this is a long and sustained route, and it’s easy to underestimate the difficulties. The climbing rarely lets up, Hauling the first eight pitches is easy, but hauling on the last four pitches is challenging. The final 300 vertical feet above the last pitch is exposed mostly 3rd and sometimes 4th class climbing. Go light enough that you don’t have to haul and you can carry your gear on your back when you scramble up this final stretch. Faster parties taking two days often fix to the top of Pitch 4 with three ropes and then blast to the top the next day. Alternatively, they may climb to Pitch 8, bivi on M & M ledge the first night and then top out on Day 2. Keep in mind that M & M ledge is a large but sloping sandy ledge that is a poor bivi for three. Only a fit and competent party can complete this route in a single day, and there is a fair amount of poor quality rock. On average, this climb takes 25-50 percent longer than it takes to climb Liberty Crack.
Some parties may want to fix the first two pitches. The first 5.8+ pitch is pretty runout on less than average quality rock. There are two options for the crux pitch. The more popular 5.11b offwidth, which is 5.10 for most of its length and protects well with 4-7” cams (you can pull through on gear), and the original but slightly less popular 5.10d corner and 5.10+ techy traverse, which is a little spooky. The techy traverse isn’t runout, but has short distances between small cams and nuts. The two options are suited to different styles of climbing: super techy versus super thuggy. The offwidth crux is short, about a body length, pulling through a small roof. Bring a couple 4-inch pieces for the offwidth if you’re thinking of taking it. The Techy Pitch 5 has some poor rock on the second half of the pitch but takes okay gear. Take your time and don’t break any holds or knock down any loose rock. Bring a few extra micro cams and nuts for the techy traverse. On Pitch 9, you could bail and finish on the easier Liberty Crack, but if you have the energy to keep with Freedom Rider, the Medusa Roof is exciting and spectacular. Go left side in as you chimney sideways for 20 feet at nearly full extension – your back on one side and feet flat on the other. You do get a few small cams in a choke stone for protection, and there are good features for your feet. This pitch is scarier than it is hard. At the top of Pitch 11 the rock isn’t good, so take your time to find good anchors to build a belay.
In the early season there can be a lot of snow on the approach. Most of the time, you can get away with rocks instead of ice axes but there is a period in the early summer when the snow is firm but hasn’t melted enough for you to walk around it. Returning to the base isn’t practical. Carry your gear up and over the route.
Retreat StormThere are often a few slings on trees and horns on the lower portion of the route. However, retreating at anytime is a challenge. You have to leave gear behind. Two ropes are best. The route is on the southeast part of Liberty bell and dries fairly quickly after a storm. It is usually warm even on cooler days.
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