Time Wave Zero - 23 Pitch Sport Climb - El Potrero Chico - Mexico
My eyes opened one minute before the alarm went off… it is 4:19am. Laying in bed at La Posada I absorb that last 50 seconds before it is GO TIME. I slept horribly and I’m sure Jeff did as well with the anticipation of… #1 waking up early + listening to dogs bark all night!!, #2 hoping there was no one else of the route, #3 sending the second pitch in the cold of night. The night before I had come up with a strategy, read beta from other climbers on Mountain Project, drew a detailed topo to help us be most efficient, and prepped the pack. Linking pitches and simul-climbing (the team moving simultaneously up the wall at the same time) was mandatory to get up and down before dark, but we did have headlamps which we would wear till sunrise.
The day before TMZ Jeff and I had a rest day. We decided to walk to town to see the market in Hidalgo, get coffee at El Buho and pick up supplies. When I asked him what he was thinking for the next day, he said what I was thinking “Lets go big and send Time Wave Zero.” We were here for the big routes and this being one of the largest was at the top of the list. This “set the backdrop for the day” as Jeff says. The excitement began while we walked from town to La Posada to make lunch and considered what time to set the alarm. 3:00am? 4:30am? I figured if 4:30 was when most climbers would get up, why not earlier? 4:20am it was.
We would each carry a pack up the wall, containing 2 liters of water, food (hard boiled egg, bars) along with a rain jacket and of course, the camera. At some point, high up on the wall, we would consolidate the necessities into one pack before the upper crux pitches, making it lighter for the lead climber. As I said before I had woken to each sound all night long thinking it was the alarm. You know how it goes… this helps the brain really feel top notch at sunrise with maybe two hours of sleep.
I woke up full of energy and devoured two hardboiled eggs, banana and a yogurt smoothie. Jeff as well didn’t sleep but was quickly up and moving. We tossed our filled packs on our backs and begin the approach, leaving La Posada at 4:58am. It was cold as the days prior has been colder, cloudy and rainy. The road which normally has cars blasting reggaeton music all day… was… completely silent. I walk on the shoulder of the road, Jeff follows the yellow center line looking down the main road, not seeing a soul.
The dark jagged limestone summits of the canyon walls resembled the lower jaw of a coyote… massive sillouettes under a star filled sky. This was the night of the new moon making the galaxies show even more than ever. At the trailhead leading off the road Jeff searches for his headlamp as I look up at the wall looking for climbers headlamps on Time Wave Zero (TWZ). I saw nothing but did become disoriented in the dark as to the direction we were heading. We hiked this trail a few days earlier to learn the cutoffs and to save time not getting lost. Just past the split in the trail I could have sworn I heard voices down on the road, but Jeff says he heard nothing.
We reached the base at 5:30am… we were the first at the wall. Stoked! I was sweating while I looked up at the wall above, not seeing more than the 10 meters my headlamp lit up. Very quickly my body temperature dropped while I flaked out the rope. Suddenly another party came around the corner, headlamps hitting our tired eyes. This party from New York stashed there gear at the base and were ready before we were, but as it goes, we were first up. They would wait but did add some pressure for us to move.
Jeff took off linking P1 (5.7) and P2 (5.11b). His harness jangled with 28 quickdraw, full heavy pack and a pitch black 5.11 crux ahead. Once through the initial first pitch his headlamp hits the wall searching for holds. The wall had many bulges and when you could see hands, you could not see feet making it intense. He pumped out and yelled “take.” He took a wild fall into the darkness with frozen fingers. The moves were committing, the next bolt out of site and the bolt he was clipped to, almost flat from the number of people whipping onto it over the years. The team waits looking up with baited breath. Jeff locks down a sequence grabbing very poor slippery holds and makes the next clip. He yells “take” and recovers from the committing pitch black sequence. The rope kept moving and I had the feeling he had linked into P3 (5.9). I had my shoes on and was prepared to simul-climb, but just then I heard him say he was Off Belay. We had an 80 meter rope and linking the first three pitches utilized the entire cord.
I began climbing in the dark with the cold pulling the heat from my fingers. The party behind planned to pitch out the lower pitches which gave us a good size lead. At the crux I numbed out, took a whip, pulled back on and finally found the sequence and hidden greasy edge to make it up to a giant hold and next bolt. I could barely hold on, but after a few more moves was on Pitch 3. As soon as I arrived at the belay I grabbed the remaining gear and set off to link P4 (5.9), P5 (5.10a), P6 (5.9), P7 (5.7) in 400’ to the first ledge system covered in jungle with a small footpath leading to the next pitch. As I moved with each hand and foot placement I would periodically peer over my shoulder to see the pink sky of dawn. Bolt after bolt I would pull on giant pockets, yelling to Jeff to see if he could still hear me, we would be 264’ apart when he began climbing. We would simul-climb this section and after reaching the 5th pitch anchor I clipped the micro traction for our safety to the chain and kept moving. This device locks if the follower were to fall as to not pull the leader off. I passed some fixed shredded quickdraws on the Pitch 6 traverse which led to easier ground and Pitch 7 reaching the belay at 7:20am. Was I awake yet?? Sunrise was much appreciated.
Before we left the ground the NY dude said he doesn't believe in wearing a helmet. Who does this these days, especially in an area known for rockfall? Now on top of climbing this unknown terrain, we have to worry about not knocking anything off the wall. Here is a link to the Black Diamond Vapor Helmet I wear and have trusted this past year. Jeff arrived after I’m sure also enjoying the sunrise, but also looking distraught and confused (later I would find out he wanted to bail after the whip into the darkness on P2, understandable). Rope was coiled as we walked across the hillside to P9 (5.9+) and P10 (5.10b). We now have light. The sun is diffused by a thin cloud band which I hoped would stick around all day, keeping the wall from boiling temps and keeping us from drinking all of our water. Jeff set off moving up more fun pockets on pitch 9 as a wild stick bug walked from the wall to the nearest bush. He linked into P10 which angles up a wild crack feature with bolts that had loose nuts that Jeff would tighten by hand. When I made the final moves past the crack, while following, the sharp calcite took some skin from the back of my hand. We drank water, our first breather and looked up at the massive wall we still had to climb above.
I again racked up with the plan to link P11 (5.9+), P12 (5.7), P13 (5.8), P14 (5.9), P15 (5.10a) in a 500’ block. I prepped the micro traction which would be used again and began climbing. At this time I was in go mode and I moved with efficiency, Jeff and I barely spoke, just exchanged gear and moved. The shoes I was wearing, the Unparallel Rise were incredibly sticky and beyond comfortable for this pocket covered route. P12 is the bivy (camping) ledge, where I planned on leaving one pack, but with my psyche, didn’t even notice it and blasted past. I yelled to Jeff and we were now out of earshot, so I kept moving up P13. The angle began to ramp up and become steeper leading to a palm tree somehow attached to the wall. Bolts were spaced and I regularly looked at my gear loops to take inventory making sure I wouldn’t run out of quickdraws. As I locked the mini traction to an anchor I could see Jeff coming up from far below onto the ramped out P12. I now was dragging up a full 80m rope which added to the weight of movement. I looked around the valley to enjoy the view, shook my arms and kept following the line of bolts. Moving past the palm tree, the angle changed again and make me wonder if I was entering the .10+ pitch. I count the draws and kept climbing hoping a fall was not in the cards. P15 moved slightly left up a dihedral to steeper water grooved pinches and the hanging belay with small sloping foot shelf. I tie off using my handy quad anchor, look down 80 meters while belaying Jeff as he moved up the wall giant swatch of limestone. This was a purely wild moment. In my push I didn’t realize the exposure nor size of the wall… standing at this this belay, looking around, far below to the road we walked, the spires and valley behind… now I did. I felt that slight bit of exciting vertigo for a few moments. Gotta love that!
Jeff arrives at the anchor and we consolidated what we needed into Jeffs Deuter pack. We leave our hiking shoes, some water and some food behind. This lightens us up considerably and especially Jeff who would lead the next pitch. P16 (5.10+) climbing like a steep sport route, with brief moments of short pocket pulling, but after climbing the last link up 100’ felt tiny. Jeff was at the belay before I knew it. He only took enough draws for this pitch, but could have linked the next pitch easily. I planned on linking the next three pitches P17 (5.10-), P18 (5.10-), P19 (5.10-). Pitch 17 began with pulling past a large wedged block to enter a giant dihedral eventually passing the first anchor then began traversing left across a blocky face with many exposed corners to the next anchor. I prepped the micro traction here because the beta said each pitch was 30 meters, they surely were not as the beta said and I had just enough rope by stretching the 80m rope to reach the anchor at P19. The wall at this point was much steeper with glorious exposure, the clouds still sticking around and an icy breeze ripping up the wall making it slightly cold. Looking up as I belayed Jeff, I knew were so close to the summit but could feel fatigue and the raw skin on my finger tips was not helping. We drank some water before Jeff worked his way up P20 (5.11-). After the first bolt and potential ledge fall it shifted right to a hidden pocket and sketchy second clip. The pockets in the is area were covered with millipedes that Jeff worked past carefully as to not crush them. The pitch shifted left working up sharp pockets with butt puckering exposure, finally ending at a belay ledge with space for 10 people. Next up… the crux.
I’m sure most climbers jump on this route with the goal to climb it free (no falls) as I had planned. At this point, I will not be one of them, my fingertips are missing so many layers, they were seeping with each move and only one layer from tearing open, which made me happy I had plenty of chalk. I began the crux pitch, moving up another layer of brown crumbly rock, making it about half way before being stumped by the balancey crux moves and decided to french free (pulling on gear) to the roof. This pitch was rated P21 (5.12-), and is no gimme even after pulling through a few bolts. The pull at the roof was razor blade sharp with a solid 5.11 move with full value fall potential. After searching for hidden sharp holds, chalking, hanging, realizing daylight was burning, I burled down crimping the razor blade edge, lifting my left food to a smear under the roof, placing my right foot high over the roof to a secure foothold near my shoulder, somehow I fell upward to a side pull, grabbing the tooth size crimp I though would most certainly snap a suddenly I was through, I had the jug, looked through my feet to see well over 2000’ of exposure and made the final moves to the anchor. One final pitch of climbing above led to the ridge, followed by a ridge traverse to the summit were all we had left.
The final very sharp P22 (5.10-), moved up even sharper flakes with a few more moves up a short headwall to the ridge with a view of the entire canyon to the right, the small town of Hidalgo beyond and El Potrero Chico (The little coral valley) behind us. Jeff led this pitch and after taking in the the insane view I began up the final pitch. Below I could see the 800’ routes we climbed earlier on the trip, they seemed tiny compared to the 2500’ summits that towered above. A thicker cloud band now hit the mountains and was trying to move into the inner valley but heat was keeping it at bay. Never had I seen anything like this. Being on a south facing wall could have been so much warmer, but this day was perfect. The final pitch climbed up a loose blocky ridge using a fixed rope covered in multiple core shots. I opted to lead this pitch and was very careful not to knock off even a pebble as I knew those guys were just below somewhere. The summit block had a single bolt where the fixed rope was connected with a rusty quick link and a memorial plaque to a fallen climber. RIP.
The summit was spacious enough to sit, unrope and relax… it was 1pm. We made it up El Toro! We enjoyed the breeze as vultures flew past, landing on a close summit. They would ride the constant cold breeze across the valley to more uncharted terrain. The surrounding view was unbelievable, peaks in all directions, scattered homes in the valley and rock to climb for a thousand years. All I could think of was what a mission those first ascentionists must have gone through to establish this incredible line. Hauling the drill, bolts, farming tools to clear plants from the path, bivy gear and water must have been quite a challenge. Muchos Gracias to all first ascentionists involved! This has been called the longest sport climb in North America and now we sit here, on the summit, completely worked, knowing that we are only half way done. We enjoyed the summit which we had to ourselves for 45 minutes before beginning our descent. The rappels would be plenty of work and take hours on their own if all went well. We drank the last few ounces of the water, ate an energy bar and i down led the last pitch. Descending can be dangerous due to fatigue, but with over 50 years of combined climbing knowledge we verbally called everything out on the way down. “Knots at the end of the rope, lockers locked, through the anchor, through the device, onward.” Many climbers in Potrero chose to simul rappel (team rappels at the same time on the rope), but I find it safer and more effective to go one at a time and less risky.
I down led from the summit back clipping the rusted ridge bolts, passing the core shot rope fixed rope that I’m sure will blow away in the wind soon. I went first, clearing the line from all of the plants that grabbed it, using a prussik for safety, clipping in a quad and clipped the rope to a carabiner. Loosing the rope on a wall can never happen, having it clipped in keeping it within reach. I get stoked leading the rappels, so I led first on each one. The 80 meter rope didn't help much on the rappels but did help with linking pitches. Down, down, down, one after the other. We finally hit the pack we left hanging on P15 and with painful feet kept going to reach the bivy ledge at P12. There we would recharge, change shoes and drink more much needed liquid. Finding anchors in the light is difficult enough, I can’t imagine missing them in the dark luckily we still had plenty of daylight. Far above I could see the NY team at the crux pitch. I could hear a yell and a fall. They would not get the route clean either, but would summit.
When we rappelled down the traversing pitch with fixed quick draws I noticed the carabiners said “not for climbing” on the thin spine, at least they weren’t plastic. I couldn’t recollect any of these pitches as I climbed them hours before in the dark. We were possessed to move during those early hours. We reached the base with 30 minutes of light left in the day. Goal accomplished! I stashed a liter of pineapple juice near the base that we shared on the hike down, reaching the road at twilight. There we enjoyed a tasty beverage at Edguardos pizza shack and shared our story with other climbers as they shared theirs with us. It was an unreal day that I will not soon forget, I’m sure Jeff won’t either. After reaching complete zombie status (pure exhaustion) we dragged our bodies back down the road to the comfy beds of the La Posada. Thanks for the awesome day Jeff!
What other climbs did we climb while in El Potrero Chico? More trip reports coming in the next few weeks. I hope you enjoyed this write up of a wild day in Mexico climbing Time Wave Zero!