Dark Side of Liberty

Mikey Schafer, with his partner Shanjean Lee, established yet another free line on the east face of Liberty Bell this summer. Their new route, “Dark Side of Liberty,” an 11-pitch, 350 meter 5.13d, is Mikey’s hardest new route to-date and is now Washington’s hardest multipitch route. So the route is hard, but it is also really, really good. The climbing on it is ridiculously fun, shocking sometimes in its quality.

Mikey and SJ spent a chunk of the last two summers working on the route. I kept hearing about how cool it was, that an improbable steep section of Liberty Bell was shaping up to be quite promising. There is not much, if any, room left on the east face for completely new routes. Their’s might be the last. The line goes for some undeveloped orange, choosy-looking rock of the far right side of the face, right before it turns to the slabby north side. The first four pitches, characterized mostly by face climbing with some gear here and there, are the hardest. The rock on these pitches is impeccable, with some of the coolest granite holds I’ve ever touched. Pitch 2, the best pitch on the route, is a wonderful sustained adventure through edges, crystal pinches, a roof, compression slopers, a lip traverse, and more…

The crux pitch, pitch 4, starts out with some cool 5.12 bouldering into nice, 5.12- fingers in a small corner. A good jug allows you to recover for a thin tech V9/10 boulder, immediately followed by a powerful V5/6 prow boulder. And since we're on Liberty Bell, it’s capped with a final, no-hands slab stand-up move. The difficulty of the crux definitely stands out, and it’s possible the route would be better if it wasn’t as hard there, but the quality of the pitch I think is still quite good and it would be easy to pull through the hardest section if you wanted to climb the route at 5.13a A0.

The upper 5.11 pitches are a nice contrast, taking mostly gear. A couple pitches need some traffic to clean up a bit more, but are still quite nice.

I spent one day working out the first four pitches and came back the following week to try to send the route. It took me three tries to send the first pitch (5.12d), which I had onsighted my first day on it. It wasn’t a great start. I sent the second pitch (5.13a) first go, which probably doesn’t have a move as hard as the first pitch, but is overall much more sustained. At the crux fourth pitch, I fell a third time that day on the last move of the boulder, but was able to send second-go. I was able to onsight the final seven pitches, though the 5.11 pitches are not gimmes. The route did not go down without a fight. After climbing the Canadian Rockies Trilogy just a few weeks earlier, I’d say that the difficulty of the Dark Side of Liberty is right up there with these routes. The quality certainly is.

Mikey already has a great topo posted on Mountain Project with good pitch-by-pitch descriptions. Congratulations Mikey and SJ, and thank you for the great contribution to Washington climbing!

Austin Siadak took the few photos below, except for the last one, which I took. Thanks Austin for letting me post these here!


Mikey working through sculpted crystal pinches on the amazing 2nd pitch. Photo Austin Siadak.


SJ on the crux pitch. Photo Austin Siadak.


SJ on the 5th pitch. Photo Austin Siadak.


Blake Herrington on the final steep 5.11 pitch.