Freedom or Death, Liberty Bell III or V 5.12a
Avg time to climb route: 2-4 hours(4 into LibertyCrack)
Approach time: 1-2 hours
Descent time: 1-2 hours
Number of pitches: 14
Height of route: 400' or 1,200'
OverviewFreedom or Death is a four-pitch bolted route; the pitches are rated 5.10b, 5.11c, 5.12a and 5.10. It provides an alternate start to Liberty Crack, and can be a great way to free climb Liberty Crack as it skips the 5.13 sections of that climb. Freedom or Death involves difficult but well-protected technical face-climbing. The going gets
a little spicier when you traverse back to Liberty Crack.
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Route HistoryMajka Burhardt and Eli Helmuth made a repeat of Thin Red Line (TRL) in September 1996. When fixing the first few pitches, Burhardt and Helmuth found one pre-existing bolt on the direct line and great climbing straight up to the Pitch 1 anchors they had just replaced. They returned to replace the crux bolt, added a couple more on the pitch, and then redpointed the regular/direct 5.10c start to TRL. This route bypassed the terrible traverse pitch described in Beckey’s book. Then in August 1997, American Alpine Institute assigned Helmuth to a one-week aid climbing course with a client who was looking to expand his big wall and aid skill set. After a day of aid practice at Fun Rock in Mazama, they began climbing TRL with Helmuth leading and the client top roping the aid pitches. Helmuth rebolted Pitch 2 anchors on TRL and left their lines fixed to the top of Pitch 4 of TRL.
After spending a few days up there, hanging out and checking out the slab to the left where Freedom or Death (FOD) goes up, Helmuth decided to free-climb through that section of the wall. They created the first two pitches of what would become Freedom or Death, which were equipped at 30m and 60m in length. Helmuth redpointed Pitch 1 after it was equipped and came within one fall on a couple of tries at redpointing the second (crux) pitch. He completed the traverse pitch under the roof and into the end of the thin crack on Liberty Crack. After fixing ropes to the ground again, they returned, jugged back to above the Lithuanian, and free-climbed the rest of the way up Liberty Crack for an 5.11+ & A0 first ascent of Freedom or Death.
Helmuth returned in September 1998 to lead Pitch 2 free with Paul Butler and Larry Goldie. Helmuth recalls that “they were tired after the crazy enduro 5.12 slab,” and so opted out of finishing via Liberty Crack and instead climbed Pitch 1 of TRL and checked out a Pitch 1 alternative to the Independence.
Helmuth envisioned the entire route as a 5.12a free-climb to provide a moderate free alternative to the uber classic Liberty Crack. He was the first person to redpoint all the pitches, however at different times. Thus He claimed the first free ascent, but the route had yet to be led consecutively. Then in 2000, John and Mickey Schafer decided to attempt it. The brothers had to add one bolt to the climb to break up the long face pitch leading to the roof traverse. Helmuth and Butler had originally bolted it as one long 55+ meter pitch, which didn’t make sense for most people. So the Schafer brothers added a belay. After two days of work, they redpointed the entire route, including the traverse over to Liberty Crack.
StrategyThe grade and the nature of the climbing combined with the limited number of ascents keep this route from becoming popular. It is extremely unlikely that you’ll have to share it with another party. Freedom or Death can be a great way to pass parties on the lower section of Liberty Crack. Pitch 1 is a little runout, but at 5.10c, is much easier than the rest of the route. Pitch 2 is where the business starts with sustained 5.11 climbing on a technical granite face. The third and crux pitch is 5.12a and is also sustained and consistently tricky with footsy climbing on a technical slab. Pitch 4 is the final pitch of Freedom or Death before the route traverses leftward to join Liberty Crack. This pitch is also a little spicy, with spaced and mostly small protection on solid 5.10 terrain.
Retreat StormRappel Freedom or Death at any time on bolted anchors. Once you rejoin Liberty Crack, rappel the route using two ropes.
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