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On February 12th 2018, Bicho and I climbed Timewave Zero (23 pitches, 5.12a/b) for a timed ascent of 2:34.
Bicho had the idea, and at first, I thought it was silly – the last time I’d tried TWZ took 19 hours.
Then I thought, maybe it’s worth a try. Not to mention that this was an opportunity for our friends at Monkey Hands, Exposure Industria and Mad Rock Climbing to give us gear that would benefit the local North Mexico youth climbing program that I work with, Climbing Borders.
Also, given the name, I also think it’s fitting that climbers go for a speed ascent!
With some research at the Buho Cafe, we found that Honnold has a 1:45 solo ascent. One simul team also marked 2:51 on 8a.nu. The next day, I heard that Mexico legend Carlos Mac claimed an impressive 1:30 on simul, soon after the route first went up. For realsies? By pure chance I caught Carlos Mac in El Salto that weekend, a few days before Bicho and I planned the timed ascent. A bit of background: Carlos Mac has many first ascents of his own lines, including the monster El Gigante at 30 pitches, 5.13, so his achievements are nothing to sneeze at. When I asked Carlos about Time Wave Zero, he said: “We climbed like crazy! We started at 4pm and arrived above at like, I don’t know, around 5.30. We had 50 draws!”
Carlos Mac, possible 1:30 time record on TWZ.
Well shit, I thought.
Carlos’ 1:30 on Time Wave Zero is hard to believe: years warp our memories, and stories inevitably exaggerate with each re-telling. Time also moves very strangely when you’re in the flow. As Einstein says, “When you sit with a nice girl for two hours you think it’s only a minute, but when you sit on a hot stove for a minute you think it’s two hours. That’s relativity.”
When we run up TWZ in 2:34, it felt like 30 minutes, and when I give a belay for 30 minutes, it feels like 2 hours.
In my mind Carlos (and his partner) hold a record – it just wasn’t important enough to time, since he’s climbed so many badass adventure routes that require more than knowing how to clip bolts.
I also want to believe this OG Mexico climber’s could kick any millennial, Generation X/Y climber’s nerveless ass – including ours.
Bicho’s Simul Plan
In theory, with a ‘quick clip’, simul can be as fast or faster than soloing. The only issue is when the top climber runs out of draws to protect with – plus the extra weight of draws – plus the seconds wasted to place each draw. My friends at Mad Rock Climbing provided 30 ultralight draws that weigh 2.58 oz each which would be donated after; Bicho never had to stop, except to wait for a party; and he skipped almost 200 bolts to move more quickly.
At 2:35pm on Monday, Bicho had 20 draws and carabiners on him to get him to the pitch 8 ledge, where he grabbed the 30 Mad Rock ultralights for the remaining 15 pitches. I followed the whole way – which isn’t quite as interesting as leading, admittedly, but it was just as important that I didn’t fall and pull Bicho off a run-out.
Just below the summit, we actually lost ~15 to 20 minutes to a party that was doggedly trying the crux. When they spied Bicho’s head popping up at the small ledge under the pitch (21), the leader gave a final successful effort, and the team let us pass. Bicho impressively climbed through the crux without pause, stopping only when he reached the top to wait for me as I scrambled on belay up the ridge. And when punched the clock: 2:34, 4 minutes over our goal. We had mixed feelings. We were fast. We knew also that we could go faster.
About Timewave Zero, 23 pitches, 5.12a
Time Wave Zero (23 pitches, 5.12a) is said to be one of the longest routes in North America – whether this is true, I don’t know, but the line is in my backyard near Monterrey. Mexico. The longest is said to be El Gigante, a monstering 30-pitch 5.13 located in cannabis fields of northern Mexico, and rumored to be accessible by one guide. My friend Maria Fernanda Rodriguez is one of Mexico’s strongest female sport climbers and summited El Gigante with a female partner in 2014 in spite of twisting her knee on the two-day hike in to the base. (She persistently jumar-ed her way to the top, and was in physical therapy for months after.)
The route is named for a crazy theory on time by Terrance McKennan, an ethnobotanist obsessed with a pattern in major events in the last 50 years and who coincidence his theory of the end of the world with the Mayan calendar. Fittingly, Bicho and I talked about Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five and another perspective of seeing time: as a mountain range much like the Rockies stretching endlessly in both directions. On the wall, we agreed that as humans we forget how small we are in the big scheme of things. That the record is be significant, and the act itself of speed climbing was a way for us to be in the present, in the flow.
If you’re going to speed climb a sport route, Time Wave Zero would be the one: the line sits 15 minutes from the car, 20 minutes from a hot coffee and stack of waffles at the climber’s charity Búho Cafe, and an hour’s drive from the third largest and by far most Westernized city in Mexico. A visible white streak running down from the summit like a thin cascade, it pours into an area at the base called the Surf Bowl, and because of TWZ’s popularity, the line is relatively clean until the toothy summit – a fourth-class pitch – and easy to follow. TWZ is a classic hotcake stack of easy climbing, mostly 5.9s, with a few moves of .11a and .10d and topped with a tiny dollop of 5.12a.
According to Magic Ed in one of the original and most popular guidebooks, TWZ was originally bolted to the large ledge (pitch 8) in 2000 by Magic Ed and Dave Benton, and known as “Jambo Bwana”, until the following team pushed the line to the top: Dane Bass, Jimmy Carse, Paul Irby, Will Meinen, Jonathan Robinson, Magic Ed, and Tami.
A few rappels are exactly 30m, so our 65m rope was just enough. We made sure to tie knots in the end of the rope. For double rope raps, the toothy rock, lechuguillas and palm trees can grab the rope, so on the few traverse raps it’s worth coiling and bringing the rope on the way down. On a separate descent, my friends watched from below as I wrestled with a palm tree.
Why simul for speed, when there’s more risk?
Good question, put forth by a friend in El Búho Café.
I actually had an internal conflict doing something considered dangerous, while I mentor with youth.
In short, we’re taking a calculated risk that is minimalized by our experience, and simplify the factors as much as possible to the point that we almost always know what the other is thinking, or should be thinking. Climbers have died and taken trips to the hospital simul-ing in El Potrero Chico, and Bicho skipped 180+ bolts with the same potential consequence, but with more awareness and care. Bicho is technically a stronger grade climber, but we are pretty evenly matched – I’ve climbed 5.13c, competed in world championships for speed, sport and bouldering, and in total have been climbing non-stop for 20 years. Only because of our extensive experience did I accept Bicho’s invitation to try simul-ing for speed. I was even skeptical we would go fast, until our planned two-day test run.
On the test run, we checked the weather, talked logistics and prepared for the worst – rain, dehydration, darkness, other parties. Capable friends knew where we were.
We simul-ed up with heavy packs to the ledge, pitched camp, read a bit, napped about an hour, and watched the clouds pass. Then since the weather looked good, we decide to check out the rest of the route, and topped our two-day test run in 5 hours.
About Our Youth Program “Climbing Borders“
We received some old gear of Magic Ed’s youth climbing efforts as a donation to our youth program Climbing Borders, a kind of passing of the torch: three ancient helmets and seven left climbing shoes. Granted, the gear wasn’t very useful, but the gesture was a nice one, and the gesture motivated our youth leaders to come to Potrero Chico. Like everyone before them, regardless of country and economic class, they are always awestruck at the lines, and explore the walls’ features ravenous eyes.
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