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Absolutely Free, Center 

YDS: 5.9 French: 5c Ewbanks: 17 UIAA: VI ZA: 17 British: HVS 5a

Type:  Trad, 3 pitches, 700', Grade II
Original:  YDS: 5.9 French: 5c Ewbanks: 17 UIAA: VI ZA: 17 British: HVS 5a [details]
Page Views: 7,684
Submitted By: outdooreric on Jun 3, 2009

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An angle of the Valley I had not seen before

Closures for Peregrine Falcon Protection MORE INFO >>>


Characterized by a difficult approach and longish descent with three great pitches of roped climbing this climb is an off the beaten track, classic Yosemite adventure climb. Approach by walking up and right from the toe of Lower Brother, taking a left at the first major ramp system. From here 250 feet of scrambling (some 4th or maybe easy 5th) will take you to the base of the route.

P1: Two options, a 5.7 exciting chimney or a 5.9 flake, we took the chimney and weren't disappointed. Belay at the highest ledge at the base of a perfect thin hands splitter.

P2: Climb the excellent splitter. Pass an old bolt casing (optional belay) and continue up the left facing corner. Lots of hands to off hands with an awkward bulge/horn to pass on this part of the pitch. Belay at a nice ledge with trees after 175 feet.

P3: Again a couple options; we continued up the most logical line, the groove to OW corner. The intimidating OW above isn't too bad with lieback techniques and a 5" piece. Continue with the chimney above and belay on another comfortable ledge.


To descend, first climb up another 200-300 feet (some 4th or easy 5th class) to the base of the upper headwall, then descend climber's left down Michael's Ledge. There isn't much of a trail and almost no cairns, so use your best judgement as for when to get off the ledges. Its best not to leave anything at the base as the descent doesn't take you anywhere near the start of the climb.


nuts, double cams .6-3", single 4", slings. Optional extra 1.5-3" and/or a 5" piece.

Photos of Absolutely Free, Center Slideshow Add Photo
Rock Climbing Photo: Absolutely Free Center (and Left)
BETA PHOTO: Absolutely Free Center (and Left)
Rock Climbing Photo: Bolted stations were established in March 2017 at ...
BETA PHOTO: Bolted stations were established in March 2017 at ...
Rock Climbing Photo: 4th/low5th scramble to start of route.
BETA PHOTO: 4th/low5th scramble to start of route.
Rock Climbing Photo: Approach beta.
BETA PHOTO: Approach beta.
Rock Climbing Photo: Dave Silverman pauses for gear in the splitter pit...
Dave Silverman pauses for gear in the splitter pit...
Rock Climbing Photo: Route Overlay for Absolutely Free & Positively 4th...
BETA PHOTO: Route Overlay for Absolutely Free & Positively 4th...
Rock Climbing Photo: On the approach to the base of the route. Go this ...
BETA PHOTO: On the approach to the base of the route. Go this ...
Rock Climbing Photo: The splitter 5.9 hand crack of Pitch 2.
The splitter 5.9 hand crack of Pitch 2.
Rock Climbing Photo: Looking up the final 5.9 OW pitch.
Looking up the final 5.9 OW pitch.
Rock Climbing Photo: Absolutely Free- View from the start of the scramb...
BETA PHOTO: Absolutely Free- View from the start of the scramb...
Rock Climbing Photo: Lauren stabs a foot as she laybacks past the off-h...
Lauren stabs a foot as she laybacks past the off-h...
Rock Climbing Photo: Dave looks over the off-hands pitch
Dave looks over the off-hands pitch
Rock Climbing Photo: Lauren Morrison
Lauren Morrison
Rock Climbing Photo: Three options for Pitch 3: fingercrack (left), off...
BETA PHOTO: Three options for Pitch 3: fingercrack (left), off...
Rock Climbing Photo: The last part of Pitch 2.
The last part of Pitch 2.
Rock Climbing Photo: Sean Ghant enjoying the final moves on the last pi...
Sean Ghant enjoying the final moves on the last pi...
Rock Climbing Photo: Rappelling from the chockstone at the top of the r...
BETA PHOTO: Rappelling from the chockstone at the top of the r...
Rock Climbing Photo: Start
Rock Climbing Photo: Route Overlay for Absolutely Free.
BETA PHOTO: Route Overlay for Absolutely Free.
Rock Climbing Photo: The offwidth/chimney variation on P1. I had to han...
The offwidth/chimney variation on P1. I had to han...
Rock Climbing Photo: Absolutely Free, taking off on the thin hands.
Absolutely Free, taking off on the thin hands.
Rock Climbing Photo: Winter ascent. HA!
Winter ascent. HA!

Comments on Absolutely Free, Center Add Comment
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Comments displayed oldest to newestSkip Ahead to the Most Recent Dated Oct 15, 2017
By Doug Hemken
From: Madison, WI
Jun 9, 2009

P1 and P3 (P4 in Reid) are good, P2 (P2 & P3 in Reid) is great! The 4th class approach and top-out are nice: they keep the riff-raff away.

I would compare this to the Northeast Face of Lower Cathedral Spire, another "former classic" that I really enjoyed.

Take two pieces in the 4-5 inch range.
By Sheets
From: Livermore, CA
Jun 16, 2009
rating: 5.9 5c 17 VI 17 HVS 5a

I've done this twice within the last couple of months since I really enjoyed the climbing. Take plenty of # .75-1 pieces for the splitter crack.
By Rob Dillon
Jun 17, 2009

A topout variation to the right avoids the wide via finger-sized laybacking through a series of corners, 5.9.

Rapping with 2 60's is pretty straightforward. Bring a big piece of webbing/cordelette in case the slung boulder on top has been unslung.
By Sirius
From: Oakland, CA
Jul 18, 2009

Painfully obvious linkup is to continue up Hawkman's Escape, another 8 pitches of old school 5.9 climbing that lead to one of the great, obscure, Yosemite summits. The top of Lower Brother is wild.

Buyer beware with Hawkman's - it's serious up there. DNF zones, and can't pull through some cruxes on gear.

Some good pics:

And here:
By squiddo Siddens
From: Mountain View, CA
Sep 18, 2009

Great route that deserves more traffic. I found the last part of the 4th class to be.....5th.
By Osprey Overhang
From: ...
Apr 2, 2010

This climb is up there with the best of them. Its not too difficult to find and you may not know you are at the bottom of a classic when you do get to the start.

Leave your bags in your car so you don't have to walk back to the start of the climb after descending Michael's Ledge.

I've always taken the variation (.8) out left then up for the last pitch.
By Tom Fralich
From: Fort Collins, CO
Oct 14, 2011

Both the approach and descent were more straightforward than expected. We roped up for the approach and reached the start in 1.5 pitches. I found the splitter crack pretty hard...wish I had smaller hands. Definitely take a #5 for P3.
By Michael Ybarra
From: on the road
Dec 30, 2011

The approach isn't bad, the climbing is very fun, but the descent totally blows (took us longer than the climb), costing the overall experience at least a star. The ideal rack: doubles, green through blue, a #4 and a #5.
By Yosemitesam
Apr 16, 2013

What an stellar route! Definitely some low 5th on the approach and descent. Was gripped a couple times in my crappy approach shoes.
The Reid guide says pro to 3" on this one and I would be inclined to agree. We took one #4 but never used it. Makes me wonder if the first ascent team avoided the offwidth on the last pitch also? The finger crack left of the offwidth is way fun and aesthetic.
All the stuff you read about the splitter pitch being awesome is totally true!
Didn't have much trouble with Michaels Ledge either. When in doubt stay close to the wall.
By benkraft Kraft
From: San Francisco, California
Feb 17, 2015

No intact rap stations on route, and walk-off isn't that bad (but probably knocks rocks onto the base routes).
By Chad Namolik
From: Three Rivers, CA
May 11, 2016

We did this in 4 pitches, breaking up P2 into two. New looking rap rings are atop P1 and out on the face left of route, left of the perfect splitter on P2. New-ish rope around tree atop P2. Could probably rap this route easily with 2 ropes. We had a single 70, but decided to do the walk off. A single 70 might be close. Also spotted some tat around a tree to rap the approach gully.
By Ed Henicle
From: Santa Rosa, CA
May 16, 2016

We took doubles to #3, single #4, single #5

TR here:
By Austin Fisher
Aug 2, 2016

Did it yesterday. There are 3 sets of rap bolts and you can get down just fine with a single 70m rope. Just make sure to bring a sling for the boulder above the offwidth if you plan on rapping.

Brought doubles to #3 c4 and an extra .75 and #1 would be nice to not run it out much. Did the right variation on the 4th pitch and it was super enjoyable 5.9 lie backing. A good way to end a pretty cool route.
By Arch Richardson
Sep 24, 2016
rating: 5.9+ 5c 17 VI 17 E1 5a

Why rap an old school adventure route? The top out and Michaels Ledge are part of the adventure, no? Anyhow the prospect of rapping did not appeal to us, with plenty of loose rock and snag potential. To each his own. Agree that the p4 lieback variation is stellar.
By Max Rausch
From: Monterey, California
Oct 9, 2016

Highly recommend not trying the walk off for the first time in the dark... Had a bit of an epic the other night.... The 200' of 5th up to Michaels ledge was terrifying with a very dim headlamp. Eventually found the trail and thrashed back down to the car with iPhone light taped to helmet. All in all a fun route. I really enjoyed the 5.9 OW variation and the chimney above looks much worse than it is. Sparse pro can be found inside.
By steveoxley oxley
From: Winter Park, Colorado
Oct 20, 2016

just did this a few days ago. there are bolts at the top of the first pitch
By Hanson Boyd
Nov 12, 2016

Just did this today - a hidden gem with a fantastic thin hands section! Rapping can be done with a single 70 but careful of the many trees and rope stuckage. Anchor before the top off width has only 1 rap ring. Next there is a dedicated station down to climbers left of the actual route. My partner and I couldn't find any other rap station besides the anchor on the route with 2 hangers and no rings (if someone could add quick links to these it would be great). From there it's possible to walk to climbers right and rap from a tree to the path.
By Rude Boy
From: San Francisco, CA
Mar 14, 2017

We setup a rappel with rap rings off the chock stone at the top of the chimney on pitch 3. It is mandatory to use a 70 m rope to reach the belay ledge below. We also put rap rings on the two hanger anchor at the top of pitch 1. You can rap the route quite easily with a 70 m rope doing 4 rappels.
By Katie River
From: Oakland, CA
May 15, 2017

Walk off beta: After you top out, walk back towards a large boulder climber's left. Go right around this boulder and scramble back upwards climber's left behind it. It will feel a bit bush whacky in a switch back manner in the bouldery formations you encounter. Finally, you will reach kind of a dead end looking at two sets of gullies 12ft apart on your left. We assumed the gully closest to the wall was the 5.2 and decided to rope up for one move as roping up seemed faster than putting on climbing shoes again. From here, the path is more obvious on even terrain which sometimes gets close to the cliff edge for a short sections. Next, when you enter a talus field, don't do down it, cross it, there was a nice rock with an arrow indicating such. There will be more handy cairns along the rest of the decent which is more intuitive from here!
By mat j
Jun 4, 2017

Climbed the 5.8 corner on the first pitch instead of the chimney and it was really awesome movement all the way through that pitch, but it was a little dirty since it seems to be the most neglected of all 3 options. The rest of the climb was also amazing and will have to be repeated a few times to get all the variations in.
By Bob Johnson
From: Philadelphia, PA
Jun 5, 2017

I think this is a great route if you can ignore the approach and topout pitches, or at least get through them more efficiently than we did. We found the topo in the Sloan et al guidebook for those pitches confusing. I'm not really sure there is a good way to describe where to go other than just follow the path of least resistance.

Regarding the approach: It was relatively easy to find the 5.6 slab that marks the base of the route. The gigantic right facing corner that is to the right of the route is also very clear from the base. Go up the gully to the right of the slab. Don't bother climbing the slab itself - it is unprotected and kinda sketchy in approach shoes. At this point, you might want to put climbing shoes on, but my advice is to stay unroped. Leading this pitch creates heinous rope drag. Climb up and left. Eventually you get to a grassy ramp that has been trampled. Continue up the ramp and up some blocky terrain until you see a steep gully with some trees on the left. The first "real" pitch starts at the top of the gully. We climbed the left-facing corner that is somewhat dirty and vegetated. It gets cleaner the higher you go.

Regarding the topout: After the last 5.9 pitch, continue up and climber's right. You will find a vegetated right-facing corner. Go up the corner and climber's left to gain Michael's Ledge. We placed some half-assed cairns since we weren't 100% certain we were going the right way. But I think it's pretty logical way to go...

As the route gains more traffic, most of this will become more obvious, but right now there's a lot of dirt and we found the topos hard to decipher.
By Max Rausch
From: Monterey, California
Aug 9, 2017

Having climbed this route twice now. I have a few recommendations. P1- I found the chimney/ o.w to be much more fun than the left flake variation, which was very dirty. P3- I preferred the right side crack variation to the squeeze chimney.

As far as the decent goes, we were able to rap from the chockstone in the last chimney, down to the intermediate bolts next to the p2 splitter, then 2 more raps down with a 70m. This was much more efficient than the walk off in my opinion. After reversing a bit of the 4th/5th class stuff, there is a tree with some slings that can be rapped off to the base.
By Erik Sloan
Aug 23, 2017

Thanks for the feedback on the new topo in our book. I agree that not roping up for the approach pitch is the best way to go, but no doubt folks who take beginners will want to at least belay them up that section.

Rapping vs. Walking Off? In this case the descent is long, and creates major erosion walking down Michael's Ledge, so from a ecological standpoint a rappel route is preferred. I've descended both ways, and think rappelling is way better because it is much faster, and doesn't involve the scrambling to get up / on to Michael's Ledge.

As many have said, rapping with one 70m is no problem. There are bolts on the top of the first 5.9 pitch. From the base of this pitch walk downhill on a grassy hillside until you have to make a couple downclimbing moves (5.3) and you can look skier's left and see a rappel station on a ledge. This straightens the final descent bit, allowing you to rap straight down to a tree that is right above the base ledge.

Such a great route. Go For It!
Erik Sloan -
By Tomko
Oct 15, 2017
rating: 5.9 5c 17 VI 17 HVS 5a

BE CAREFUL when rappelling this route with a 70m rope. At the top of the chimney there are 2 chockstones; if you rappel from the higher one (which has slings and rap rings as of early October 2017) you will not reach the ledge prior to P3 and instead end up 2-3 meters above it.

Also, for some reason there is a bolted, hanging belay one meter below the cushy P3 belay ledge. Who would use this instead of a 5x10 foot flat ledge with trees on it?

Otherwise, it's a great climb. Splitting P2 into two makes the most sense; you get two great pitches the first to the tree, second to the ledge. Otherwise its a long pitch where you might be light on pro.

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