Enamorarse de la Escalada en Cuba - Falling in love with climbing in Cuba
By Becca Katz
One of the many perks of working at Verde is representing clients who share a similar passion for the outdoors, and getting to check out the latest and greatest gear they are bringing to market. My recent trip to Cuba gave me an opportunity to check out some new pieces from Verde’s longest client, Metolius (17-years)! Metolius (named after the Metolius River in Bend) made its name in climbing in the early 1980s with the first-ever spring-loaded adjustable nut. Since then, they have been leading the charge in designing and manufacturing award-winning climbing gear. They continue to keep up with their mission to make the strongest, safest climbing gear in the world - and they should know, because they are climbers.
Below is little post on my recent trip to Cuba and a list of recommended climbing gear from Metolius.
The opening line of Cuba Climbing sites a quote from author Jonny Miles, “climbing in Cuba isn’t like climbing in any other place. Climbing in Cuba is as much about Cuba as it is about climbing.”
I couldn't agree more. After just having returned from spending two weeks in the country, Cuba is the ideal paradise for every adventure traveler with world-class climbing, a vibrant, colorful culture, welcoming people, delicious food and cocktails (equally important), and captivating landscapes. I would more than recommend the climbing, but I would also recommend taking the time to soak up the country’s indefinable magic.
Set back in time, Cuba offers 17th century colonial architecture, classic American autos, fine cigars, white-sand beaches with warm, turquoise waters, and a whole lot of soul in the form of Afro-Cuban music, salsa dancing and Cuba Libre’s (rum and coke). And the climbing is just as soulful as the country.
Most of the climbing in Cuba is located in the majestic Valle de Vinales, a three hour taxi ride from Havana (184 km). Vinales is set within the Parque Nacional de Vinales, boasting some of the most spectacular scenery in the country. The valley is scattered with 300-metre tall limestone faces resembling stacks of hay (mogotes) overlooking a luscious farming valley. The jungle-covered crags offer high-quality rock in the form of jugs, pockets, tufas and stalactites. In my humble opinion, this diverse set of features earn the area a top climbing destination in my book, but I’m also a sucker for great limestone sport climbing!
Most of the climbing is super close to the cozy little town of Vinales, where you can find comfortable accommodations, local restaurants and friendly locals who have welcomed the climbing community since the late 1990s, when the first ascents were recorded. Today, there are more than 250-routes (300 pitches) with the potential of many more.
With 250-routes, ranging from 3+ (5.6 US) to 8b+ (5.14a US), there is something for everyone, from the hard-core crushers to the intermediate jug haulers - like myself! We spent most of our time searching out shaded, single pitch moderates in Mogote Del Valle, a good jumping off point as it has the greatest concentration of developed cliffs for pretty much any climbing style and grade. Mogote Del Valle is a 20-minute walk from Vinales and accessed through Raul’s Farm.
Most mornings we were greeted by Raul’s big smile and lively personality. Much of the climbing is accessed through his farm which he graciously allows for. His farm is also home to the largest collection of little baby animals I have ever seen. Most days we were welcomed by friendly (and very curious) baby cows, goats, piglets, puppies and horses. If you didn’t already know, baby animal tourism is a thing, and Raul’s farm is where it is at! His restaurant is also an essential aprés-climbing stop for jugar and papas fritas. He also sells coffee, cigars and rum from his farm, which is worth throwing down for to show Raul some love.
Before I dive into the climbing, I should say that I am by no means a climbing expert. Cuba Climbing is an incredible resource, as are the more experienced climbers who have spent much more time exploring and developing this magical area. This is just my humble experience climbing with three good friends, over three days.
We spent our first day at Ensenada de Raul, which has a short approach and large concentration of moderates. The climbs were a tad short and sharp, and definitely had a jungle vibe with some mid-route exploring, but there were a lot of options - most of which were in the shade - and offered straight up fun climbing. La Yunta and Guajiro Ecologico was another great option for us with an abundance of crags and climbs - technical face climbing, jug hauling, roof clambering, tufa stemming, stalactite scaling, hand jamming and more. Sometimes, all on one climb, no joke. It is worth mentioning that as amazing as the climbing is, I would recommend looking at the bolting before you jump on anything. Some climbs are bolted better than others, and some are missing their first bolt due to thieves.
At the end of our stay, we left our excess gear with Raul. It’s impossible to find gear locally, so most visiting climbers will leave their gear behind. Shoes, harnesses, ropes, chalk bags, draws and packs are welcome. The local climbing community is growing. When not working on the farms, young, fit farmers are learning the ropes from mentors and becoming exceptional climbers, training and crushing some of the hardest routes in Vinales.
For more information on trip planning, transportation, when to go, where to stay, etc., I recommend Lonely Planet Cuba and Climb Cuba. As for gear, Climb Cuba says it best, “sport climbing in the tropics does not require much.” We took a dozen draws, 60-meter rope, a sling and a few extra locking biners for anchors.
HERE IS WHAT WE TOOK:
1/ Bravo II Draws
Redesigned this spring, the Bravo II is lightweight, affordable and easy to clip. A redesigned rope well increases durability and the flared nose helps prevent accidental gate openings. These are my go-to sport draws.
Bravo II Wiregate Quickdraw | $14.95-69.95 USD
2/ Upshot Belay Glasses
The new Upshot Glasses offer a greater field of vision, i.e. aim higher on the wall, increased peripheral vision, and redesigned nose pads that fit better with glasses or sunglasses. Not having to stare up to my climber while belaying is a game changer and my neck is super thankful!
Upshot Belay Glasses | $59.95 USD
3/ Super Chalk
Super Chalk is the #1 selling brand in America and was the original climbing chalk brand - for real! The secret sauce is a safe drying agent added to the highest-quality magnesium carbonate for maximum sweat absorption and friction.
Super Chalk | $2.50 - 11.95 USD
Editor’s note: Becca is one of our account executives here at Verde, in our Jackson, Wyoming office. She works with Metolius and thought a trip Cuba would be a perfect opportunity to check out some of the brand’s newest climbing gear! - Looks like it was fun!