Dave Goldstein on the ultra-steep Land of the Free
Dave and I decided to climb the 23-pitch Timewave Zero, the longest sport climb in North America, as our final route in Potrero Chico. To prepare, Dave climbed Land of the Free, “the steepest new climbing in the Potrero”, while I made “energy nuggets” (like energy bars, but round. You can make these instead of granola or snack bars; recipe to follow.)
Before the climb, we practiced simul-rappelling. Neither of us had simul-rapped, so we climbed Treasure of the Sierra Madre to practice. I was nervous, but to rappel 23 pitches quickly, we had to do it at the same time. After several rappelling pitches to hone our technique we were ready to try our climb.
Before the climb, we hiked to the base to reconnoiter the trail and the start of the route. We planned to approach in the dark so that we could climb at first light and didn’t want to miss the trail at night. We stashed water and gear at the base, so that we could run up quickly in the morning.
We lacked certain essentials, as neither of us had a watch, and our only functional timepiece was my car’s clock. We borrowed a spare headlamp and camelbacks from Ian and Erin, two Canadian climbers sharing our campground. Dave woke me at 4:00 am, thinking it must be later. We arrived at the base in the dark and organized our camelbacks, stuffing them with energy balls and headlamps.
As it was getting barely light, Dave ran up the first pitch in his usual style, while I put on my shoes and then belayed him on the next 5.11 pitch. Following it, I felt the additional weight of water, food, headlamp, and clothes, as I struggled over the bulge. Our pitches worked out well: I got pitches three and four (both 5.9) and Dave got five and six (5.10 and 5.9). Low down on the wall, we climbed beautiful, clean, mostly less-than-vertical limestone. The rock here had large incut features, almost like handles, and very positive.
Dave charged by without stopping after following my pitches, and crowed, “Zero belay delay!” and continued charging up the cliff.
For pitches nine, ten, and eleven, Dave thought we should run all three together, “We’ll both be belayed on pitch 10, the hardest one,” he explained, “and we’ll be simul-climbing only on the easier pitches.”
Dave led pitch nine (5.9+), placing one draw on the anchor and then placed draws on pitch 10 (5.10b), and we simul-climbed pitches nine (me) and 11 (Dave). I felt tense, as there was a hard traversing move and he had no draws in. Falling here was not an option.
I next led a short pitch to the bivvy ledge. Two Canadian climbers had started up the day before and bivvied here to get an early start on the headwall above. We stopped here briefly to eat a snack and left behind extra clothes and headlamps, to save weight on the steeper climbing on the headwall.
I then climbed pitches 13 and 14,now getting into the sun, and Dave zoomed up pitches 15 and 16, both 5.10 and steeper and more strenuous. As the rock steepened toward the headwall, the large incut buckets disappeared to be replaced by smaller holds. I led pitch 17 (5.9+ to 5.10) and crawled into a deep hole (almost a cave) at the end, out of the blazing sun. My excuse for stopping after climbing only one pitch was that the Canadians were at the next belay.
Dave then led pitches 18 and 19 and caught up with the Canadians. By now, I was running seriously low on energy, and volunteered to let him lead the coming hard pitches. Dave negotiated with the Canadians that we could pass, and forged ahead up pitch 20, a steep 11a that I wished I’d done about 15 pitches ago.
Next was the crux: pitch 21, rated 5.12a. Before going up on the route, we asked who had freed this pitch, and no one knew anyone who had. Dave decided to try it, and I asked him to leave some slings for me. Dave, after much effort, with the Canadians impatiently gritting their teeth next to me, decided on a few aid moves to expedite our journey. I didn’t try to free this pitch - I struggle on 5.12 on the ground, much less after 20 pitches.
After two more pitches we reached a beautiful summit from which we overlooked the valley in all directions. Now we wished for shade in the blazing afternoon sun. After finishing off our remaining food and drinking most of our water, we started the rappels down.
Our descent went smoothly, with us simul-rapping all but one or two wildly traversing pitches. At the bivvy ledge, we retrieved our stuff and wished we’d brought more water. The eighty–degree Mexican sun parched us, but luckily I’d stashed extra water at the base of the route on my exploratory hike.
After a few more rappels, we touched ground, now practiced at unweighting the rope. Our first move was toward the stashed water bottles. Devon was at the base, photographing climbers on the nearby Surf Bowl.
“What, did you guys give up?” he asked. “You didn’t do it?” He sounded surprised that we’d give up so early.
“No, we’re done, I replied. “We already climbed it and got back down.”
Apparently he had not counted on Dave’s simul-climbing enchainment, because no one expected us back down at 4:00. But then, they didn’t know that Dave, the Energizer Bunny, recently led every pitch on Astroman.
I figured that we’d actually climbed 14 pitches, if you counted the number of belays. But 14 pitches or 23, we were both tired and ready for several rest days.
Energy nugget recipe