The birth of rock climbing in Jamaica: a new Climbing Big-Bang in the Caribbean
A guide to the growing rock-climbing scene in Jamaica.
Posted on Mon 29 Nov 2021 · Climbing destinations
March 12, 2021
Although I was expecting Jamaica to have suitable rock formations for climbing I knew developing them would not be easy.
I have been attracted to this beautiful island in the Caribbean for a very long time: its vibrant culture, beautiful sea and lush rainforests were some of the reasons why I decided to move there. Its reggae music and chill lifestyle were the cherry on top. I’m a climber after all, but there’s so much more to live for.
Jamaica is virtually unknown in comparison to other insular rock climbing destinations such as Sardinia, Cuba, Madagascar or Thailand... But this island offers awe-inspiring landscapes © Sheldon Levene
Jamaica is definitely not the first place to come to mind when looking for the next rock climbing destination. However amidst the jungle, crystal clear sea and hilly landscapes, I am discovering many cliffs suitable for rock climbing. I am one of the very first climbers to lay eyes on them, but I hope to spread awareness about this newly-born climbing spot so that many others may follow.
The dawn of sport climbing in Jamaica.
Climbing is a very recent phenomenon in Jamaica. The first person to bolt some sport-climbing routes here was Daniel Oury, a 29 year-old Spanish climber who had been living in Jamaica since 2017.
Soon after arriving, Dani realized that there weren’t any rock climbing areas in the island, apart from a couple of small deep water soloing spots on the western coast of Negril, developed by some tourists. Realizing this, he began looking for potential areas to develop himself. He started to bolt in 2018: having scouted the surrounding areas of Montego Bay he finally spotted a cliff that looked good for climbing on the road to Ocho Rios, not far from Discovery Bay.
The jungle hides many Jamaica's rock climbing crags still waiting to be developed © Sheldon Levene
When he started developing the area he was mostly alone, having to convince friends to help him bolt. None of the people who helped him in these early stages had any experience with rock climbing: he had to teach them how to belay and manage the ropes before they could help him so it was a hard and slow process. Besides, getting material was not easy either. There are no climbing shops in Jamaica, and shipping from neighboring countries such as the US is problematic due to high custom taxes and limited shipping opportunities. He therefore had to bring the drill and bolting gear from Spain in several trips with the help of friends.
The climbing community is definitely growing in Jamaica, thanks to @jamrockclimbing © Juan Luis Toribio Vazquez
Accessing the top of the cliffs wasn’t easy either. Initially, he had to scramble up with no protection, cutting through very dense jungle to clear out some space to bolt the anchors. From the first anchor he bolted a traverse to access the top of some of the other parts of the wall, as well as the two first lines of the crag: ‘War Wound’ (IV) a very easy climb intended to introduce people to the sport, and, with the help of Bogdan Simandan (@brsjamaica) ‘Easy Skanking’ (6a+), a slightly harder route sharing the same top-out.
Unlike in Europe, where the top of the cliffs are normally bare and thus easy to navigate, the jungle in Jamaica is a very tough terrain! So you can imagine that developing this crag was a lot of effort, and with almost no help it was hard to keep motivated to continue with the project. Since Dani didn't know anyone interested in rock climbing in Jamaica at that time, he stopped working on the crag altogether for several months to focus instead on canyoning, for which there is also a lot of potential in the island, helping a group from Kingston to bolt some canyons in the eastern region of Portland.
You may think we are in Indonesia, Italy or Spain, but this is Jamaica! © Juan Luis Toribio Vazquez
However, in January 2021 I moved to Jamaica and was lucky enough to be introduced to Dani. My arrival was a breath of fresh air that motivated him to carry on developing the crag once again: finally someone with experience and keen to continue the work he had started was here to help! With two eager and knowledgeable people at work the task at hand became much easier. As soon as I knew that I would be moving to Jamaica I had been researching online whether there were any rock climbing areas or potential for climbing in the island without any luck, so being introduced to Dani really felt like a heaven-sent miracle!
While I didn’t have any experience bolting routes, I had been sport climbing for almost 10 years when I arrived in Jamaica, and was therefore competent with rope management and all the other necessary skills to put up climbing routes, so it didn’t take Dani too long to show me how to handle the drill and fix bolts in a safe way. In the space of weeks we were able to double the number of routes on the wall. First, we continued to bolt the most obvious lines leading to the anchors that Dani had already placed, and then I added some other anchors on different parts of the wall by trad-climbing up, auto-protecting myself with slings.
Slings all the way to the top! Bolting new sport climbing routes in Jamaica. © Juan Luis Toribio Vazquez
I also developed some other routes under a small cave that Dani had overlooked because the climbing looked above his level. I am particularly proud of these lines: both because they were the first routes that I bolted myself entirely, and because they were bolted ground-up by protecting the climbing with slings. There are currently four routes in the cave, as well as two variants, ranging from 6c to 7c+. There is also the potential to bolt a couple more lines, one of which might possibly be Jamaica’s first 8a!
So far, my friends and I have focused exclusively on developing one crag in the north of Jamaica which we have called CEAP in honour to Dani’s climbing community in Castellón, Spain. The crag now has 16 routes, with potential many more. We have also spotted another wall, very close to CEAP, which we will start developing soon. Another of the most promising spots we found is a sea-cliff in the Coral Springs area, near Falmouth, where you can climb in front of a one-of-a-kind landscape: a pristine turquoise-sea, overflown by black vultures hosting a range of colorful fishes, stingrays, and turtles that can be seen popping out of the water for a breath of fresh air. However, there is still potential for much more, since Jamaica is all limestone and most of the island is unexplored for rock climbing purposes.
Bolting a new sport climbing area in Jamaica: what does it take?
The main reason for taking on the task of developing these areas is to put Jamaica on the map of Rock Climbing! Obviously, we are developing these crags for ourselves, so we have places to climb in the island, but the other main aim is to bring the sport of rock climbing to the country: to share our passion for climbing with the locals and introduce people to the sport. We are therefore also hoping to eventually build a climbing wall and establish Jamaica's first rock climbing club, as a way to develop the climbing community. As of now we have started an Instagram page @jamrockclimbing so if you're interested in joining us or simply visiting Jamaica and would like to climb here… please do get in touch!
Ideally, we would also like to encourage foreign climbers to visit the island and try to make Jamaica an international climbing destination; and who knows, maybe even get a Jamaican rock-climbing team ready for the next Olympic Games!
Speaking of which, at the moment there is unfortunately almost no climbing community at all. Only Dani and I climb on a regular basis every weekend. However, we have been trying our best to encourage people to join us. So far we have been able to introduce around 10 people to the sport, both foreigners and locals, and have seen a growing interest in climbing since we started publishing photos and info online. We’re hoping that a community will start to develop in the coming months, fingers crossed!
CEAP Wall, Jamaica's first rock climbing crag. © Sheldon Levene
Rock climbing in Jamaica: all you need to know
Let’s talk purely about the climbing now, so you can find out what the best season to climb is, and how to help the sport progress in a responsible and sustainable way in the country.
Jamaica is a tropical country so it’s always rather hot. Luckily, all the crags we are developing are in the shade, and if you compare it to other popular climbing destinations in the tropics such as Thailand, Vietnam, South India and so on, the temperature in Jamaica is generally colder than in those places.
The main crag that we have developed, is mostly north-facing so it stays in the shade for most of the day, as well as throughout the year. It is also very close to the sea so it gets a nice cool breeze during the day. During the summer it can get very hot, so the best period to climb here is during the mid-seasons as well as in the winter. The other crags we are planning to develop have the same orientation, so they’ll be good as well. It is definitely important to keep this in mind when choosing what to bolt next!
We have also tried to be very mindful of the environment when developing this crag, only cutting down the bear minimum to be able to access the wall and climb safely. While we have had to clean out some of the vegetation, our impact has been very low, especially considering the density of the jungle. We have also spent quite some time cleaning the trail leading to the crag and the spot where we usually park our car, since the crag is near a road and some people throw garbage out of their cars as they drive by. We have made it a habit to bring a bin bag and clean up the area every so often.
Juan Luis Toribio Vazquez, from La Linea, Cadiz, in the south of Spain, is currently working as a Spanish lecturer in SSTC (Montego Bay),
We aim to protect the wild life as well. One day we found a Jamaican Boa as we were scouting for other potential crags to bolt. We left the area immediately, leaving it untouched: even though the Jamaican Boa is not dangerous at all, it is a protected species. Wild animals are quite rare in Jamaica, so we really need to protect them.
As climbers we always look for holiday destinations where we can enjoy our favourite sport, and Jamaica definitely has the potential for a great all-round vacation destination. That was also one of our aims in developing the area, to make Jamaica a tourist destination for rock climbing, as well as canyoning and other outdoors sports. There is potential to develop businesses related to the sport, but our intention has been purely to share our passion with the locals, rather than to make money from climbing. We also believe that Jamaicans should be the ones to profit from what their country has to offer.
Starting a rock climbing gym would perhaps be the best business for the sport as a whole, since it would help develop the community by serving as a meeting point for climbers and would help to continue spreading the word about rock-climbing amongst Jamaicans.
We really hope to succeed!
If you’d like to know what’s going on with Jamaica's rock-climbing, feel free to follow us and stay updated via @jamrockclimbing!
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Words by Juan Luis Toribio Vazquez
Photos by @jamrockclimbing and Sheldon Levene
Cover photo @jamrockclimbing
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Jamaica is one of the 50 destinations featured in the Climbing Travel Guide. Buy your copy now from the Mapo Tapo shop.