With U.S.-Cuba diplomatic relations on the mend, Viñales is fast becoming a top international climbing destination. I dare say, up there with the likes of Kalymnos, Greece and Tonsai, Thailand. Navigating Cuba still requires proper research and care, but all in all, it's a fairly accessible spot for North Americans. In this shot, Mikel Evans, belayed by Sarah Steele, cuts his feet on Mucho Pumpito (6a/5.10b)—a Cuban classic.
Enter the visual time machine, Cuba’s iconic cars. Necessity, as they say, is the mother of all invention. Cubans found a way to keep these cars humming, following the embargo, for about 60 years and running. Forged through crisis, the cars are now engrained in culture, in the spirit of the place. We had a fun time riding around the countryside in these cars, hailing cabbies for rides to the various crags scattered about the landscape.
Brooke Rumley finds shade at the Cueva Larga, a hidden slot canyon with a few dozen moderate routes near Viñales. This is an excellent first-day warm-up crag. We lucked out and had the place all to ourselves.
Viñales, as it turns out, is ground zero for Cuban tobacco farmers. Hand-rolled cigars are fifty cents on the farm. I spent a few hours with this gentleman one evening. His farm sits below a fantastic crag, ‘Paredon de Jose’, where we had spent the day climbing. His hands were beefier and more rugged than any climber’s hands I’ve ever seen. The following day, I saw him systematically deconstruct a two-story tobacco leaf-drying house in an afternoon with only a rope and an ox. What a badass!
Mucho Pumpito! Pete Muffoletto flying high in tie-dye. The guidebook claims, “If there is a single must-do route in Viñales, this has to be it”. Imagine a super steep handlebar jug-fest up an overhanging arête that’s about 70 meters to the ground. Pretty rad, and nice views of the ocean from the top!
Brooke Rumley heads up ‘Totisnao,’ and engages with three-dimensional stalactite roof madness at Cueva Cabeza de la Vaca. The route is a warm-up for the crag, which is filled with 7’s and 8’s (5.11d to 5.14c). But even the warm-ups in Cuba are steep and pumpy!
Mikel Evans nears the top of a classic Melodia Celestial (6c/5.11b), which starts in a smooth and pumpy, layback corner system, and then finishes up on sharp holds that are best characterized as somewhere between a battle-axe and jug.
Caribbean afternoon showers begin to pick up in May—more like mini-monsoons. Our crew reveled in the cool-down after hot days at the crag. Temps are fairly consistent year round in Cuba, essentially hot and humid. But with the rains, the typical climbing season is December through March. We were pushing it by arriving in early May, but with so many shady and steep crags, it really wasn’t a problem.
Sarah Steele nears the top of a giant stalactite in Cueva Larga while the rest of our crew looks on. Lots of bear hugging and heel hooking on this one. The limestone in Viñales is of a very high quality. We were all incredibly impressed by the route development. A handful of local Cuban’s have taken the charge and continue to establish new areas every year. If you are planning to make the trip, consider donating to the Bolts 4 Cuba fund. It can be found at www.cubaclimbing.com or directly on the Fundly site by searching “Bolts for Cuba climbing”. There is a long history of American and European climbers donating gear after climbing trips to Cuba, but what the locals need most now is bolts.
Bucking modernity, much of Cuba’s culture remains tied to horses—an animal powered agricultural economy. Caballero commuters trot past all day, going to and fro. It has a certain charm to it all. Check out my feed if you want to see a few more photos of the local culture in Viñales.
Mikel Evans climbing up Oculta Obsesion (6c/5.11b), at Cueva Larga. The light in this cave was wild. It would change every 20 minutes, all day long. I took this photo from a five-by-five inch cave/window opening 20 meters up, which put a natural spot light on Mike, along with some fill light coming in from the canyon’s opening on the upper left side of the frame.
Thanks for following this Cuba climbing image series. Wrapping up the posts with a parting shot from our Airbnb deck in Havana Vieja. I’ll share some more culture shots from the city on my own feed. They may or may not be too sultry for Rock and Ice. To sum up the Cuban experience, borrowed from a statement I read in Havana’s modern art museum, which was written by a photographer who lived in Havana during the 1960s: “Cuba, a fascinating mix of Communism and Cha-Cha-Cha.”