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Right Side Gully
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Adaptive Expectations S 
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Free to Choose 

YDS: 5.8+ French: 5b Ewbanks: 16 UIAA: VI- ZA: 15 British: HVS 4c

Type:  Sport, 2 pitches, 180'
Consensus:  YDS: 5.9- French: 5c Ewbanks: 17 UIAA: VI ZA: 16 British: HVS 4c [details]
FA: Romain Wacziarg & Matthew Fienup, November 2006
New Route: Yes
Page Views: 2,590
Submitted By: Matthew Fienup on Dec 1, 2006

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Michael McKay wrapping up the first pitch of Free ...


Free to Choose follows one of the most obvious lines in the Fortress--2 pitches of airy and aesthetic arete climbing.

Pitch 1 (95 feet, 5.6/5.7) follows 9 bolts up a unique, 3-feet wide knife-blade arete. Cross the gully and belay from bolts.

Pitch 2 (85 feet, 5.8) follows 8 bolts up the ever-steepening arete to a dihedral and finishes on a ledge with bolts.

2-rappels with a 60-meter rope will get you down.


Free to Choose climbs the left-hand arete of the right-most slab at the Fortress. See photo for location.


All bolts are 1/2" Rawl-style expansion bolts (except for two 13mm Fixe Triplex bolts)

Photos of Free to Choose Slideshow Add Photo
Romain Wacziarg is all smiles after seconding the first pitch of "Free to Choose" during the first ascent.
Romain Wacziarg is all smiles after seconding the ...
Romain Wacziarg casts off on the second pitch of "Free to Choose" during the route's first ascent.
Romain Wacziarg casts off on the second pitch of "...
Laden with about 30 lbs. of gear, Romain climbs the second pitch of Free to Choose.  Just another "work day," cleaning routes at the Fortress.
Laden with about 30 lbs. of gear, Romain climbs th...
Romain Wacziarg nears the top of pitch 1 on the Fortress' first major route, "Free to Choose."
Romain Wacziarg nears the top of pitch 1 on the Fo...
David Hoffberg climbs the very unusual, 90-foot tall, knife-blade arete on the first pitch of Free to Choose.
David Hoffberg climbs the very unusual, 90-foot ta...
Matthew Fienup nears the top of pitch 2 on the first ascent of Free to Choose.
Matthew Fienup nears the top of pitch 2 on the fir...
Diego Hellewell climbs the airy second pitch of "Free to Choose"
Diego Hellewell climbs the airy second pitch of "F...
Route topo for Free to Choose.
BETA PHOTO: Route topo for Free to Choose.
Romain Wacziarg nears the top of the second pitch of "Free to Choose," at the Fortress.
Romain Wacziarg nears the top of the second pitch ...

Comments on Free to Choose Add Comment
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Comments displayed oldest to newestSkip Ahead to the Most Recent Dated May 29, 2014
By Matthew Fienup
From: Ventura, CA
Dec 1, 2006

As one might expect, Free to Choose will take some time and traffic to clean up perfectly...but it will. This is some of the hardest and best Central Coast sandstone I've climbed on. Until then, there is still lichen and a little loose rock.
By Eileen
From: Ventura, California
Apr 20, 2007
rating: 5.8 5b 16 VI- 15 HVS 4c

I've lead the first pitch of this twice now (2nd outing we just did the first pitch to get to the other climbs). It's gotten a little bit cleaner between times so it should just continue to improve and I think it will end up being a nice beginner lead climb.
By Matthew Fienup
From: Ventura, CA
Jul 29, 2007

I climbed this route today for the n-th time. It is really cleaning up nicely. I must say though, the second pitch feels like it is getting harder. The moves through the fourth and fifth bolts felt like 5.9 to me.
By Diego Hellewell
From: Culver City, CA
Jul 30, 2007
rating: 5.9 5c 17 VI 17 HVS 5a

I felt like the 2nd pitch was a little above 5.8 as well. Classic arete, climbs smooth, but the 5.8 is misleading.
By Jeff Mahoney
From: Santa Barbara, CA
Dec 3, 2007

Yes, cleaning up nicely. Fun and balancey. I'd say 5.8+ because the holds are there, it's just a weight shift issue through that second pitch crux. (Are you sure you can't do this route with a 50m rope? Seems a lot shorter.)
By Romain Wacziarg
Dec 20, 2007
rating: 5.9 5c 17 VI 17 HVS 5a

Jeff - you might be able to rap down P2 with a 50 meter rope - I have not tried, but there was quite a bit of rope left with a 60 meter. However, to rap down P1 a 60 meter rope will just barely get you down to terra firma.
By Romain Wacziarg
Sep 29, 2008
rating: 5.9 5c 17 VI 17 HVS 5a

With a broken hold midway up the second pitch, this may now be a 5.9 climb.
By Ryan Kosh
From: Los Angeles, CA
Dec 1, 2008
rating: 5.9 5c 17 VI 17 HVS 5a

Climbed this last weekend. Be mindful of rockfall as this route is still a bit loose. Lead both pitches and agree on a 5.9 rating for the second pitch.

Great rock that dried out from the recent rain quicker than the wall at Potrero.
By Rob Chaney
Apr 15, 2009
rating: 5.9+ 5c 17 VI 17 E1 5a

Climbed this on 4/14/2008, now that part of the second pitch has broken off clipping the 4th bolt is very barndoor'ish lack of a good left foot makes this clip very intense, blowing this clip would result in a pretty serous fall. add 1/2 a grade just for clipping this bolt. 9+
By Slater
May 26, 2009
rating: 5.9 5c 17 VI 17 HVS 5a

I lead the first pitch and thought it was contrived. I didn't like being 50' off the ground on the right side, but 3' off the ground on the left side, but I was keeping an open mind. Then my nephew lead the 2nd pitch. 5.9 for sure. Was starting to like it but then ran into the last 30' of the route. The whole right side of the route is ready to fall off on the top part. It shuddered, shook, vibrated, made that hollow sound, and then the belay was set on top of a pile of loose blocks. I like adventure climbing, so I can accept it, but I'm hoping there are better routes at this crag.
By Richard Shore
Aug 17, 2009

Climbed this route on sunday 8/16/09. Very fun climb. Must have seen some traffic as it has cleaned up very nicely, with little loose rock and lichen. The second pitch is great! More difficult (5.9?) than the first pitch. There is a scary big block on the right at the top of the second pitch. It is literally hanging off the face of the arete. Within the next few years, or maybe just one heavy rain season, it will surely topple down the mountain. I just don't want to be at the base when that 2-ton bomb comes crashing down.
By Matthew Fienup
From: Ventura, CA
Aug 17, 2009

The top of this route is equipped with Metolius Rap Hangers--thick, oversized hangers that are designed to have the rope fed directly through the hanger for rappels.
By M.Morley
From: Sacramento, CA
Dec 24, 2009
rating: 5.7 5a 15 V+ 13 MVS 4b

Can easily be climbed in a single, 140' pitch with no rope drag. The first 60' of climbing is no harder than about 5.0, but the last 80' is good. The bolting is excessive in my opinion.
By John Knight
Jan 19, 2011

Only climbed the first pitch since we were headed over to PIH. This was a nice introduction to Fortress Climbing. I thought P1 was more like 5.7 but it was my first climb at the Fortress so it's hard to tell. It is a bit weird climbing with an 8' drop on your left and a 40' drop off to your right.

The first pitch is clean and solid. Bolts were available whenever you needed them. It certainly has value as an approach pitch to PIH. Note - The traverse over to PIH is a bit exposed and loose but easy.
By Matt N
From: Santa Barbara, CA
Feb 11, 2012
rating: 5.8+ 5b 16 VI- 15 HVS 4c

I believe the reason for the close bolts is to protect the leader and follower as a swinging fall off the arete wouldn't be too fun. I liked all the bolts, but still don't like the rock. The crux is trusting your holds; I kept telling my belayer "watch out when/if I step on this hold".
By Didj
From: ojai, ca
Aug 20, 2012
rating: 5.9- 5c 17 VI 16 HVS 4c PG13

Nice intro climb into the fortress. Great site. Fun approach. My partner and I were stoked to learn about this area from Mountain Project a month ago. There's a bit of loose rock up at the top of the 2nd pitch so it may be nice for the belayer to wear a helmet. 2nd pitch is when things get a little more challenging. Once I got to the third bolt it was like sticking my head in a wind tunnel. Was tough to communicate with my belayer. Overall it appears to be a bit more cleaned up now. It was over 100 degrees so the wind felt pretty good but it did dry us out a bit.
By Maidy
Jun 24, 2013
rating: 5.9- 5c 17 VI 16 HVS 4c

I agree this is an excellent intro for The Fortress. The first pitch is 5.5-ish but was surprisingly fun and the rock is great. I don't agree that it is "contrived" since it is the logical route to access the next level and is not something most people would want to solo. The bolting seems fine considering this is an easy moderate with a potential for an ugly swing if you come off. Kinda want to take a broom up for the little traverse next time.

Pitch 2 has great exposure and fun climbing. I agree you need to be very wary of loose rock. Following, I cleaned a dinner-platter guillotine flake off that literally landed directly on the belay stance but that hazard is gone now. I also noticed some hollow stuff at the top, but it's easy to pick and choose solid holds if you keep a cool head. Extra bolts seem warranted on a climb like this which is still "evolving" (putting it in nice terms).

All in all still gets a good rating in my book in spite of it's flaws. A worthy adventure with a great summit.

Edit to add: We actually just rapped directly from the summit to the gully/base of PIH for our second climb. Some loose rock, bushes and dirt off that side, so use caution if there are people below.
By Trevor Roberson
From: Oxnard, California
May 29, 2014

A fun route that can be done in one pitch with a 70m. Use some runners, specially the last 2 bolts of the first pitch before the dirt ledge. We rapped down to the base of PIH. Maybe 5.9?