First light. It’s nearly seven in the morning as I slowly make my way through the 15th and 16th pitches (200’, 5.10d) while the sun starts to creep over the horizon. It’s at this moment, as I rest and shake out my arms between moves, that the achievement of a year-long goal starts to finally look like a reality. The culmination of 11 months of planning, five and a half hours of climbing, only three hours of sleeping, my best friend on belay, and the absolute beauty of the sunrise put literal tears in my eyes. This is, hands down, one of the most beautiful moments of my life.

You Boys Like Mexico!?

The journey started in February of 2018 when I saw an opportunity through the AAC to emulate my friends, Jess and Amy, in climbing Time Wave Zero. Time Wave Zero is a 2300’ 23-pitch 5.12a sport line that climbs the south side of El Toro in the Mexican gem of El Potrero Chico. After minimal research, I knew that I absolutely had to stand on the top of that route. So I dug in. Will and I planned, researched, organized, and submitted for the American Alpine Club’s “Live Your Dream” grant and, to my amazement, got it. We were going to Mexico!

Justin Wallace sitting on the top of a climb with a limestone mountain in the background
Sitting at the top of Space Boyz (11-pitches, 10d)

We received the grant in May of 2018 and eight months later, at 3:30 am, were crossing the border with overstuffed bags, giant tic lists, and a ton of stoke. For the first few days we planned to climb other routes to acclimate to the area, learn the rock, and hammer out our systems for linking pitches and simul-rapping. On day one we cruised up Jungle Mountaineering (4 pitches, 5.10a) and Space Boyz (11 pitches, 5.10d) for a total of 15 pitches. Day two we knocked out Yankee Clipper (15 pitches, 5.12a/c) for another fifteen. Now, with some of Potreros’ largest classics ticked off and rain looming in the near future, it was coming time for the push. So, we rested.

A Restless Night and an Early Morning

My arm with a topo of Time Wace Zero
Time Wave Zero Topo

Sleep eluded me. Though we used our rest day to learn the approach and walked a couple miles into town to buy tamales, I still suffered with a surplus of energy. Even though our bags were packed and everything was planned (I even drew the topo on my arm), I was riddled with anxiety. After hours of tossing and turning, my alarm finally trilled, marking the time at 1:30 am. We chugged pre-made lukewarm coffee, shoved carbs in our mouths, forced out some poops, and had our bags donned by 2:00 am. On our backs we carried:

Justin

Will

With the approach previously planned, we efficiently picked our way to the south side of our intended limestone monolith and, ultimately, the base of Time Wave Zero. At 2300 vertical feet (nearly half a mile) from our end goal, we tied in and performed our pre-climbing ritual. The ritual isn’t just safety checks, but a focus of breath and a moment of finality before the climbing begins. It also contains a couple of good luck slaps (or solar plexus punches) for the harder climbs. I marked my arm topo at 2:55 am and started up the wall.

A Vertical Journey into the Night

a plaque rivited to the wall that states time wave zero
This is riveted to the wall at the base of the climb

Climbing at night was a completely different experience. Chalk is all but invisible, handholds are hidden by darkness, and footholds a tricky dance of shadows. I quickly fell into a rhythm and found myself loving the enhanced focus that came with the small beam of light in front of my eyes. With the plan of linking all the pitches, I found myself on the top of pitch two in no time. In other words, before I knew it, I was at the first crux of the climb. The pitch two single move 11b crux is infamous for punting wide-eyed parties and crushing stoke before it ever has a chance to really build. I was no exception.

Falling through the night was absolutely amazing! Since I linked pitches, the large amount of rope stretch contributed to one of the longest (and softest) whips of my life. Nearly six bolts away, I gently landed (slightly bewildered) halfway up pitch two. Of course, I was a little bummed about the fall. However, I was also kind of relieved. Taking a generous fall (my first lead fall of the trip) helped release anxiety that I hadn’t known I was holding. I dropped through the night sky a tense mess and restarted my ascent a grinning fool… a grinning fool ready to crush.

Onward and Upward

One and two, three and four, five and six, we marched our way up the wall. Will and I, having streamlined our systems, spent less than 30 seconds on each belay ledge. It’s surreal. I definitely shared this moment with my best friend. However, in retrospect I was alone most of the time. Other than our short time together between pitches, I was either on a ledge lost in darkness and thoughts, or climbing and hyper focused on a six-foot illuminated circle of rock. The eighth pitch is a third class scramble and probably the first time we held conversation unrelated to our ascent. We laughed and bantered over a couple of Snickers bars as I made a quick video for Instagram before gearing up and setting back to action.  

Pitch ten is a beautiful traversing 10b that follows a roof to a right facing dihedral crack. Sadly, I only had the chance to follow this pitch, but it still stands out as one of the best of the night. The climbing was both intriguing and memorable and, though not even halfway through our ascent, I was already starting to feel some effects of fatigue. While transitioning from a great handjam to an extremely secure mantle, my foot unexpectedly slipped out from under me. Luckily, I was able to catch myself and never weighted the rope, but the exhaustion was real. I think it was more lack of sleep and sloppy footwork than physical fatigue, but it was a quick reminder to keep my head in the game.

Wooah, We’re Halfway There! Wooah, Livin’ on a Prayer!

“Don’t be frightened by us!” A voice rang out into the dark as I topped pitch twelve. There was a party bivouacked on the ledge that, thankfully, didn’t want to startle me off of the wall as I approached. I assumed that we would run into a multi-day group or two, but I didn’t realize how quickly! This marked the halfway point of our climbing. “Good Morning!” I chipperly replied, “What’s the chances that y’all have any coffee?”  Though they were unable to provide caffeine, they had plenty of friendly conversation and stoke. And when caffeine is off the table, stoke is the next best thing.

Overtaken by Beauty

Re-stoked and ready to go, Will and I made quick work of the next few pitches. We moved on steadily through the night until the infamous pitch fourteen palm tree, where (during our second Snickers bar) a quick glance behind us showed the first hints of the sun. It was beyond beautiful. The sunrise was more than just a cascade of colors beginning to roll out from behind a mountain. It was a perfect moment shared with my best friend. The hint of tears in my eyes didn’t affect the next two pitches I lead.

The first bits of sunlight poking up from the horizon a seen from pitch 14 of TWZ
Taken at first light from the belay ledge the top top of 14

Will took the lead on pitch twenty. The twentieth pitch is a tricky 10d that’s well known for spitting off tired parties and destroying any remaining optimism before you have a chance to climb the infamous twenty-first. Well, Will crushed it. He glided through pockets and monos like it was his first climb of the day. Now, all I had to do was follow him and lead the 5.12 after; It was the endgame.

It was also time to switch my shoes. I had zero complaints about my Butora’s and I was confident that I could pull the 10d follow and 12a lead with them in prime conditions. However, I had just climbed nineteen pitches. Nineteen pitches of foot sweat had my shoes feeling slimy and slippery. They performed admirably, but it was time for them to take a rest. I laced up my Katakis, strapped on my pack, dug deep and prepared for the final two pitches.

Endgame

Pitch twenty was a blast! Sustained, technical pocket-pulling around corners and through bulges left me wanting 1000 more feet just like it. By the time I finished it up and reached the ledge under the crux pitch, I was re-energized and my stoke was at an all-time high. It was game time! I moved into pitch 21 with focused breathing and a sense of calm determination. The climbing steadily increased in difficulty as I made my way up the face until it finally hit me. I was sitting under a small roof with smaller crimps and I was damn sure that this wasn’t 5.11 anymore. I was at the crux.

Eleven months of planning, 1125 miles of flying, and 2150 feet of climbing have put me here. I will NOT be shut down by this. The cadence of my breathing increased with the intensity of the moves until I was no longer breathing heavily, but all out yelling. I poured my heart and soul into my every move, digging deep into myself for strength that I didn’t know I possessed. I grunted and yelled all the way. All the way until my hands blew off and I fell through the sky to be suspended by the rope and the weight of my best friend on the other side. “Holy shit! This will go,” is the first thought that went through my head. I wasn’t mad. I didn’t think I would onsight it. But now I knew that I wouldn’t be shut down.

Justin Wallace standing near the top of Yankee Clipper

To Stand on the Top of the World

A couple more falls and a sketchy deadpoint found me standing on the top of pitch 21 with the world’s largest grin plastered on my face. Will told me to go ahead and link so I slowly and proudly made my way up the victory 5.8 to the ridgeline. Did I say “victory 5.8”? I meant world’s hardest 5.8. I was 90% sure that I was not only going to fall, but with rope stretch, I was going to bounce off at least three ledges on my way down. I’m not sure if it was the depletion of adrenal reserves or the climbing itself, but I asked around and apparently this is a well-known anomaly for this climb. After Will and I giddily met up on the ridgeline, it was only a quick 5.3 via ferrata style scramble up fixed lines to the summit.

I marked my arm at 10:05 am. Seven hours. Seven hours of dedicated constant motion moved us half a mile up from the ground to stand on the top of El Toro. As many have done before us, and many will do after, we stood on top of the longest sport route in North America and howled our victory into the canyon below.

Since we were the first to summit for the day and the next party was still at the base of the 12a pitch, this gave us ample time to enjoy the summit in the best way possible: Naked. We stripped our clothes and stood naked above all the eye can see! Shortly after we sat down (clothed) to enjoy our tamales and scotch. Sadly, after about an hour of shenanigans, with our summit traditions out of the way and our water all but gone, it was time to get off of this rock.

Standing naked on the summit of El Toro.
Standing on the summit free as the day I was born!!

What Goes Up Must Come Down

More than in climbing, Will and I have perfected our descent methods. We each have assigned jobs and stay in constant motion. Anchor, untie, thread, knot, pull, coil, throw, catch, knot, test, rap, repeat. Even with our streamlined simul-rappel system, it still took us three and a half hours to rap the entire route. The worst part about being first on the summit is that you have to rappel through every party on the wall. On that particular day, though it was only five parties, all but one were using the rappel rings as their anchor. After the lack of sleep and countless hours on the wall, this drove me absolutely insane! With that in mind, here is a quick public service announcement: If there is ANY chance that somebody might rappel the route you are on, use the ANCHOR BOLTS for your anchor, not the RAPPEL RINGS.

Minus a couple of irritating parties and two traversing pitches (previously noted on the arm topo during the ascent), the rest of the rappelling was uneventful and monotonous. Hours of brain numbing tedium that weren’t improved by the lack of water or blazing sun. After finally touching back down to the horizontal world, we quickly shed our harnesses and made short work of the previously stashed water. In the same spot where we stood merely eleven and a half hours before in tired optimism, we now sat accomplished in exhausted joy. Holy shit.. We did it.

It’s Not Just a Climb, It’s a Lifestyle.

Climbing Time Wave Zero might not be that big of a deal. I know that. But this was the first time in my climbing “career” that I set a long term goal and accomplished it. It showed me so much more than I thought it would have. I learned that I am actually a decent climber (I’ve come a long way since my first lead), that my friends will be there for me no matter what, and (since I recently terminated my career 6 years before retirement to climb and live in a van) that I am making the right life decisions, no matter what people say. Most of all, though, it showed me the beauty of the community that I have decided to dedicate my life to. Thanks to the support, aid, or even just encouragement from organizations like the American Alpine Club and companies like Butora, I was able to literally live my dream.

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