Its lighting fast development and intense popularity for a core of American first-ascentionists suggest that perhaps it isn't hyperbole to assert that Cuba could become one of the finest climbing areas of the world.
The climbing is superlative: Cranking jugs and pockets in chiseled karst limestone on improbable lines through stunning overhangs of stalactites and stufa columns. Picture the rock features and formations of ThailandÕs Railae. Move them off the beach, about 20 miles inland, and place in a valley touted by the Moon Cuba Handbook as a miniature Yosemite, with the most spectacular scenery in all Cuba. Perfect climbing days, mild weather, and everything from beaches to caving and cock-fights on rest days. And add an exciting, sensuous nightlife, and the gregarious, receptive Cuban people. Cuba's Vinales Valley already may be the most fun climbing experiences anywhere.
In three trips squeezed into just over one year, emerging Cuban climbers and American teams, put together by Craig Luebben and Armando Menocal, have made Cuba's Vinales Valley a hard to beat winter climbing destination. In March, 2000, 10 Americans and half a dozen Cubans returned and added another 20, mostly multi-pitched, routes. The main rope guns again were Luebben and Cameron Cross of Colorado; also putting long days hooking and drilling were Exum Guide Dave Ryan and former Yosemite hardman Scott Cole, both from Jackson Hole. Others contributing routes were Cubans Vitalio Echazabal and Carlos Pinelo, Puerto Rican Rossano Boscarino, and Americans Paul Tickner, Fred Zacherl, and Armando Menocal. One of America's best, Mia Axon, visited as well, but much too briefly, and despite the distractions of beaches and music, climbed one of Vinales' classics, the 5-pitch Flying Hyena with its finish, 40 ft. cathedral roof pitch.
The Vinales Valley now has over 30 routes and almost 60 pitches of climbing. Most are bolt-protected; a few are all-gear routes; many require some placements, Tri-cams working particularly well. The multi pitched routes demand trail-lines and other big-wall precautions to get down and off safely.
Although recreational travel to Cuba isn't legal for US residents, Europeans and other Americans already visit Cuba in large numbers, and a few Spanish climbers have put up routes. Ironically, the porous, solitary US Embargo keeps Cuba out-of-bounds only to U.S. climbers. The Americans have been permitted to go to Cuba for environmental education and to bring donations, training, and support for the Cuban community.
Cuba is a country rich in beauty and resources, particularly human resources, with the best education and health care systems in the third world. 41 years of doctrinaire communism, however, have impoverished the Cuban people. A beer would cost a Cuban two-days' salary; buying a rope would consume six-years savings, assuming the climber spent nothing on food, housing, or clothing. US climbers and particularly US climbing companies have responded in a unique turn-around of the usual "expeditionary" sponsorship approach. Instead of providing gear for Americans to climb in another country, these companies have made large donations for the indigenous climbers and to bring them to the point where they can be a self-sustained climbing community.
Four companies have been very supportive, especially for their modest size in the minucular climbing industry: PrAna, Misty Mountain TreadWorks, Boreal, and Sterling Rope. Other generous donors have been Five-Ten, La Sportiva, Mammut, Marmot, Metolius, Nike-ACG, and Pika.
Tax-deductible donations for the Cubans can be made through Social and Environmental Entrepreneurs, 20110 Rockport Way, Malibu, CA 90265, (310) 456-3534; saveourplanet.org. For more information, contact ArmandoMenocal@wyoming.com