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Sport first ascents - Cuba

It seemed like a major gamble to head out to Cuba back in 2002, armed only with drills and a suspicion that there might be some decent rock out there. Sure enough, the Vinales region revealed a tufa-infested limestone paradise that had barely been touched. An American team had picked off some of the easier lines but most of the steepest and best-looking cliffs were up for grabs. My first experience of bolting soon became a baptism of fire as we battled with swarms of wasps, poison ivy-infested jungles and sweltering temperatures. But the hard work paid off and our team ended up climbing a cluster of fantastic lines in the F7s and F8s. Vinales has now come a major global destination and our routes are documented in the excellent guidebook by Armando Menocal. (Team members: Seb Grieve, Tim Emmett, Charlie Woodburn, Grant Farquhar)

Reference: ‘Cuba Climbing’ guidebook by A. Fernandez and A. Menocal 2009

 
 The Wasp Factory 7b, Cabeza de la Vaca, Cuba.  Photo: Mike Robertson

The Wasp Factory 7b, Cabeza de la Vaca, Cuba.

Photo: Mike Robertson

The Wasp Factory 7b  Cabeza de la Vaca, Mogote del Valle, 2002

Guidebook quote: “This route is another work of art  ….a must-do stamina fest for anyone with the right stuff.”  - Fernandez & Menocal, Cuba Climbing, 2009.

The Wasp Factory has become one of the most popular routes in the region. It follows a striking line of small tufas up the centre of the steep wave to finish at the huge hanging stalactite at half height. Major credit and respect to Mike Robertson for his heroic ground-up bolting effort on this one. Mike was attacked twice by wasps and the second time he took a 30ft fall with the drill still whirring in his hand! Fortunately it didn’t take anything like as much effort for me to climb it. 

 The Colony 8a+, Cabeza de la Vaca, Cuba.  Photo: Mike Robertson

The Colony 8a+, Cabeza de la Vaca, Cuba.

Photo: Mike Robertson

The Colony, 8a+  Cabeza de la Vaca, Mogote del Valle, 2002

A full-height extension to the Wasp Factory. From the rest ledge on top of the stalactite, a fierce boulder crux leads to a sustained finish. I chose not to ‘comfortize’ the sharp 2-finger pocket on the crux, so it’s worth taping up. The sequence is probably V7 and as hard as the crux of Tim Emmett’s neighbouring masterpiece, The One Inch Punch 8b+, but the climbing is much less sustained. 

 Have a Cigar 8a (FFA) La Boveda de las Espanolas.  Photo: Mike Robertson

Have a Cigar 8a (FFA) La Boveda de las Espanolas.

Photo: Mike Robertson

Have a Cigar 8a  La Boveda de las Espanolas, La Costanera, 2002 

Guidebook quote: “The original first pitch of Have a Cigar has some of the funkiest moves you will ever do.” - Fernandez & Menocal, Cuba Climbing, 2009.

Craig Leuben used a ladder to bypass the start on this quirky classic on his original ascent, but I placed three extra bolts and managed to do the whole thing free from the back of the cave. The downwards traverse along the hanging ‘bat’s wing’ is not to be missed! 

 

Sport First Ascents - China

The Karst limestone landscape of Yangshuo is one of those global destinations that appears to have been designed for climbing and it surely ranks alongside the best crags in the world in terms of wow-factor. Seb Grieve, Grant Farquhar, Mark Garthwaite and I set out on our first exploratory trip in November 2005 with hardly any information to guide us, and on arrival we were over-awed by the sheer quantity of incredible unclimbed roc. 

 
 Gui Lao 7c, White Mountain, China.

Gui Lao 7c, White Mountain, China.

Gui Lao 7c  White Mountain, Yangshuo 10.05

 

Early in the trip one of our local hosts, Dingo took us out to inspect a crag called White Mountain. ‘I think you guys can find some new stuff to do here,’ were his masterfully understated words. This bullet-hard, leaning, pocketed escarpment stretched for over 100 metres and had only four routes on it with clear scope for at least twenty more. I aided up a vague diagonal ramp line and then started bolting a long route on sloping breaks and slots.  Gui Lao 7c turned out to be a wolf in sheep’s clothes, with most of the holds being slopers. Mark Garthwaite added Gang of Four 7c, just to the left and Seb Grieve put up China White, a burly and now popular 7b.

 Lunar-tick 8a, Moonhill, Yangshuo. China.

Lunar-tick 8a, Moonhill, Yangshuo. China.

Lunar-tick 8a  Moonhill, Yangshuo 10.05

 

There was no ignoring the obvious challenge of bolting a route on the world-renowned arch of Moonhill, even though I knew it would involve a monumental amount of effort. Foolishly, I saved this for the penultimate day, leaving at first light and staggering my way up the hill with an enormous rucksack. A route had been bolted out into the middle from one side of the arch, but an equivalent line from the opposite side was still up for grabs. I aided my way up a 7b on the lower wall and then set to work, underestimating the amount of time and effort it would take by a mile. I was forced to finish by torchlight and the next morning I was so broken I could barely move. But I somehow managed to recover during the day and went up to snatch the redpoint just as the sun was setting over Yangshuo’s famous roller coaster skyline, thus topping off a memorable trip.

 
 The Axeman 8a, White Mountain, Yangshuo, China.  Photo: Mike Robsertson

The Axeman 8a, White Mountain, Yangshuo, China.

Photo: Mike Robsertson

The Axeman 8a  Yangshuo, China, 10.06

 

We ran out of time on our first China trip in 2005, before I had a chance to get my teeth into the obvious major line that I’d spotted up the central hanging prow at White Mountain. On returning to the UK I couldn’t get this piece of rock out of my head and went back the following March to take a look. However, the Monsoon struck and the crag started seeping, so I was forced to return empty handed, wait all through the summer and return again in October to settle the score. This time it was scorching hot and I had to warm up at 5am in the dark with a head-torch in order to attempt the route in the slightly cooler temperatures at first light. This is undoubtedly the most travel time and expense I’ve incurred for any new route but it was worth it! The name was a tribute to my companion on the trip, Mike Robertson who did a stint in the fire brigade. (Team members: Seb Grieve, Mike Robertson, Mark Garthwaite, Joe Piccali) 

 Single Life 8a, Lei Pi Shan, Yangshuo, China.  Photo: Mike Robertson

Single Life 8a, Lei Pi Shan, Yangshuo, China.

Photo: Mike Robertson

Single Life 8a Lei Pi Shan (Single Hill), Yangshuo, 10.06

 

It was a rare treat to be involved in the early development of this great crag and thanks to Alex from X-Climber for making the introduction. Single Life takes the faint groove-line in the centre of the main wall, which can be reached with a wild sideways dyno. Sustained climbing leads onwards to the first anchor or to an extension, which is 8b+. Mike Robertson bolted the extension as a parting gift to a talented young local climber, who sent it the following year and it became China’s hardest route.