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, 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, 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 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!