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The Granite Obsession

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About three years a go, I started a quest to explore potential bouldering areas in Cuba. Rock climbing in this Caribbean under-dictatorship paradise, is not a new subject among worldwide climbers. It has been mentioned in several climbing Magazines and some visiting rock' stars have already cut their teeth on the islands rock; Tim Emmett, Neil Gresham, Mike Robertson, to mention. Mostly known for Castro's contagious rhythm and his historical world famous long lasting revolutionary cigar, this surreal island has a lot to offer in terms of climbing and especially bouldering.

On the West of Cuba, the Vinales valley (National Park) is loaded with Limestone formations very similar to the ones in Thailand but without the poisonous creatures and without the pirates. To make it even easier, the first Cuban Climbing guidebook recently came out with very in depth information and amazing colour shots and topo-maps. There are so far over 370 sport climbing routes in this stunning valley which is visited all year round mainly for Eco-tourists, climbers and cavers.

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Back in 2007, in one of my climbing trips to Vinales, a Cuban climber mentioned about some granite boulders recently spotted on the Cuban South Eastern coast at only few kilometres away from Santiago de Cuba, the second capital of the island. Unfortunately at the time I didn't have time to check them out, as much as I want it to, but I was very involved with some limestone walls I found along the North East coast of Habana.

The year after, and 12 months of money saving, I headed to Vinales once again with the intention of organising a team to conquer the "granite dream area", but sadly our initial plans failed thanks to nature's will. Our trip was blown away by two of the nastiest hurricanes reported in Cuba for the last 10 years. Lucky I brought a rope with me! It was used straight away on tree surgery (machete style) that always follows a hurricane, helping in the small refuge village. Armed with rope and Grigri, I helped the locals to clear away roofs, or what was left of them, pull fallen trees and even to lift some houses back up. Sometimes I wonder how much publicity climbing equipment manufactures miss out. Out of two weeks in Cuba, I left the island having climbed only 1 day, no bouldering, no granite, no fun. I felt even worse, a few months later I found out that some Cuban friends managed to get there and conquered some of the blocks. I was frustrated.

 

Last December 2009 I decided to head home again to Cuba. This time on my own and determined to find those granite boulders, I now had a couple of photographs sent by my friends along with some references about the exact location. The whole area is beautiful and quiet, with an ideal base camp (Siboney town) with all the bouldering action nearby. A perfect small, natural beach, ideal for relaxing the biceps after a full days climbing. Accommodation and a full range of sea food are also available and at lower cost than in Vinales. The only obstacle I found was the scarcity of public transportation around the area. Luckily scooters can be hired from any mayor hotel in Satiago. Problem solved.

The first area on the target was Prado de las esculturas which translates "The Meadow of the Sculptures" and is located at 4 km from Siboney. With over 30 round granite blocks this area offers a good range of potential problems and projects, most of them very hard. The boulders are surrounded by giant metal sculptures made by Cuban and foreign artists in the 80's, a very crazy scene but some how it all harmonizes with the incredible mixed subtropical vegetation, colourful fauna and the boulders !  Ever been bouldering in an open air art gallery?

 

Bouldering on your own is a complete different experience, especially as you finally make those last hard top out mantling moves, about to fall but can't see or remember exactly where the matt is... It does required a lot more of commitment and concentration. But the good thing I found, is that brings out the serious feeling of serenity, focus and self believe away from the competitiveness of bouldering with other people.

I spent the first day mainly topo-mapping the area and doing some -hard to find- easy stuff, just to get in tune with the rock. The texture of the granite is incredible coarse, although offers the best friction imaginable, your fingers pay the price for a good session. The area is awash with typical Buttermilks style boulders; rounded shapes, overhanging sit starts, small crimps, flakes and sloppy tops all make for a great blend of techniques, including some amazing jaw-dropping slabs. Landings are very good almost always flat and sandy, and some of the exits can be done by using the nearest trees that grow beside the boulders. What else can you ask for...

The next day I came out with a few first ascents and I finished on the beach with very red sore finger tips but also with a huge happy grim on my face. At last, the mission, the dream, the obsession of climb on tropical virgin rock was under way. No words for that... The greatest fun was the first ascent of "El Pequenio Cid" v3, Guayaba Verde" v2 and "Guayaba con Queso" v3 which I recommend to anyone who visit the area. Other warm-up problems (but no less fun) were "Bajandole el Calientico" v0 and "Subiendole el Calientico" v1, both on the same block.

Another significant area I briefly explored was "Sector Prehistorico" located inside of "El Valle de la Prehistoria" (Pre-historical Valley) which with only a few good blocks offers very unique scenery, completely different to any other areas. A weird mixture of desert and subtropical landscape with their respective fauna. I highly recommend this place with very interesting boulder problems, some juicy futuristic projects and lots of wacky coloured lizards, insects and birds. From this area was born "Super Glue" v5, "El cochero de Dracula" v2 and "The Matrix" v5, these last two from the block "transatlantico".

Other promising bouldering areas are Oasis and Puerto Ventura but I will write about them another day. For more reference and details of these areas, please check for further updates coming soon on Cuba Bouldering website.

 

Now the adverts!

One good thing about bouldering trips is that you don't required much gear apart from a crash mat, rock shoes, chalk and cigars. A bulky mat when travelling can be a pain, that is where the BD Satellite comes in, with minimum bulk factor and at only 2.8 kg, it can perfectly fit across a scooter or less knackering on those long walks cross-country looking for new lines. I worked out most of the problems this time with a pair of Red Chili Matador which handled the granite's coarseness very well and for the extra tenuous moves the 5.10 Dragon. Lots of finger tape, High Sports Finger Tape did a great job, and the important recovery repair Climb On bar that does exactly what it says on the tin. That's all you really need. The rest is there just waiting for you, as it's always been.

and the credits:

Many thanks to High Sports for providing the gear for this trip and specially to Stuart "the legend" Cathcart for all his inspiring advises.  Thanks Sean for covering at work while I was away and to the Cuban climbing community for all their help and enthusiasm.

Isra.


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