Tuesday, September 6, 2011


The "Thin Red Line" is the proudest, most direct line up the East Face of Liberty Bell, one of the proudest and most imposing faces of white granite outside of California. First done as a cutting edge grade VI aid climb in 1967, it was recently freed by Washington hardman Mikey Schaefer. It has actually attracted a decent number of free repeats in the past few years. So far the reviews have been STELLAR, and now I can add my (mostly worthless) voice to that consensus:

The Thin Red Line is the 3rd best long granite climb in the low-to-mid 5.12 range that I've ever been on!!

It's so good, I figured I would write out some beta for all y'all granite-loving hard-people out there. So, the spraydown:

Blake stemming it out on P3. P3 continues underclinging left under the white overhang, and then P4 continues left out the adjacent, darker-colored roof.

Approach: Park on Highway 20 at a pullout (east side of the road) below the East Face of Liberty Bell. This pullout is ~1/2 wast from the visitor center/picnic area. A climber's trail ascends the hill to the base of the face, find it by located a small pond on the west side of the road. The trail starts on the left (south) side of this pond. Follow the climber's trail, generally staying to the right (north) if you lose the trail. There will almost certainly be a snowfield at the base; it faces east, and thus gets morning sun and should be easily navigable in running shoes (Blake did it in flip flops). Car to base of climb: ~45 minutes.

TRL generally ascends the left side of the main face. To find the route, look for a ~60m long, left-facing corner and roof system starting about 55m off the ground. This is the route. There is a tatty old fixed line on the face, TRL is to the left of this.

P1: 5.10-, 35m We climbed the first pitch of "Freedom or Death", and recommend it! It starts at a ledgy section of rock, maybe 10m to the right of a short RF corner. The first pitch has four bolts and ends at a set of chains. There is also a bolted lone that starts in the same spot and goes to the right, this probably takes you to the same spot, but I don't know anything about it.

Supplement the 4 bolts with some gear as you face climb on good little edges and flakes. This is a good warmup for the style of the route. Clip the first set of chains, and then move down and right 4m to another 2 bolt station and belay there.

P2: 5.11, 20m Move right off the anchor to a small RF corner through a low roof. Climb past a few pins, and then continue up the splitter into the large LF corner (mentioned above). Build a gear belay here.

P3: 5.11, 25m Ascend the obvious corner. Ignore the two-bolt station and line of bolts on the face to the left. The corner becomes a white, left-angling roof, and leads to a three-bolt belay stance.

P4: 5.10+, 20m Continue up the corner above, and then traverse left under the big roof. At the lip, step left out from the corner onto the face, and make some moves left past a pin, then up (you can clip a bolt here from "Freedom or Death"), and then quickly back right into the original corner system. Upon reentering the corner, move right again across a juggy flake to a 2-bolt belay ledge.

P3 and P4 can link, use runners well

Blake following the crux pitch.

P5: 5.12, 35m The original route went straight up the crack above the belay, and then eventually penji-ed rightwards. The free variation face climbs rightwards immediately past three bolts to a prominent LF corner system. Gain the corner and climb it, eventually passing 4 bolts (crux). The hard climbing is sustained and involved, and can be solved with good technique and creativity. This pitch ends at a 2-bolt belay stance. You can continue up another ~6m to a better stance and build a gear belay if you'd prefer.

Blake making the final reach on the crux pitch. This move is very span-dependent.

P6: 5.12-, 22m Up the corner, past 2 fixed heads and a small tree, to a double roof system. Do not undercling out left, but rather pull up and over the first roof. Clip a slew of fixed hardware (some good, some mank), and then commit to the burly second roof. Solid gear is available just above the lip, and is strenuous to place before pulling the crux. Continue up the crack to a small tree and many pins to belay.

P7: 5.9, 40m Up the corner, then step right when the crack steepens and banks left (fixed gear here). Follow this new crack system easily up and right to a large ledge, and then belay at 2 bolts on the right side of the ledge.

P8: 5.11+, 20m Ascend the less-than-vertical twin crack system off the ledge, passing some heads and a pin. The gear here is better than it appears from below. Once the climbing eases, you can move left onto an easy ramp system to avoid grass. The ramp rejoins the main crack shortly, and you can build a gear belay in the crack at a small stance just above.

P9: 5.10, 35m Up the corner. At the top, move right below a roof (past a small tree), and then up short RF corner to a large ledge (M&M Ledge). Build a belay here.

It's certainly possible to link 9&10, again use long runners. A 70m rope might be helpful so that you have extra rope on M&M ledge to position the belay.

P10: 5.7, 60m Move right on M&M to find a left-leaning, right-facing corner ramp system. Climb this, eventually gaining a blocky left-facing corner system (it's possible to face climb to the left of the blocky corner). Chimney past a protruding block to gain a comfy ledge.

P11 and on: 5.6, ~150m Follow the blocky (but surprisingly solid) crack corner system above, moving right to a 2-bolt station, and then across a slab up and right to more cracks that gain the North crest of the mountain. The climbing gets progressively easier at this point, so stop and unrope wherever you'd like. A bit more 3rd classing brings you to THE SUMMIT!

Chilling on the summit after our SEND!

And finally, here it is, the long awaited, much speculated over, highly regarded:

TOP TEN LONG GRANITE CLIMBS (from low-to-mid 5.12)

10. Hearts and Arrows, the Diamond on Long's Peak, Colorado
9. Let it Burn, Colchuck Balanced Rock, Washington
8. No Te Olvidaremos, Torre Principal, Frey, Argentina
7. The Rostrum (with Alien Finish), Yosemite Valley, California
6. University Wall, the Chief, Squamish
5. RNWF of Half Dome, Yosemite Valley, California
4. Tague Yer Time, Black Canyon, Colorado
3. Thin Red Line, Liberty Bell, Washington
2. Romantic Warrior, the Needles, California
1. The Venturi Effect, Incredible Hulk, California