On Cuba’s rural western end, the Viñales Valley is an oasis of opulent greenery, centuries-old tobacco farms, and thatched-roof houses, which is what led to its designation as a UNESCO World Heritage site. But climbers come for what looms above: giant overhanging limestone crags that shoot nearly a thousand feet into the sky.
“There is incredible climbing there—limestone, multipitch, single-pitch hard climbing,” says Ozturk. Hundreds of routes line the multihued walls, and famed climbers like Ozturk as well as Timmy O’Neil, Lynn Hill, and Jim Donini have already sussed out the jugs and tufa columns that are iconic in the area.
The bad news? The government of Cuba instituted a ban on rock climbing (and most other outdoor activities) in the western mountains in 2012, though some locals and visitors still circumvent it. And while American travel restrictions to Cuba have eased in recent years, it is still difficult to get to unless you qualify for a special trip. (See the State Department for details.) If travel restrictions ease, however, Viñales could be one of the next great climbing destinations in North America, not only for its crags but its rich cultural heritage.
“It’s a crazy cultural experience,” Ozturk says. “You’re walking through tobacco plantations and buying cigars off old farmers on the way to world-class sport crags.”
Cubaclimbing.com offers information on climbing in the Viñales Valley.
Last year was a big one for Renan Ozturk, a Salt Lake City-based climber, artist, and filmmaker. In 2012 he completed the first successful Tooth Traverse, a five-mile chain of peaks in the Ruth Gorge of Alaska, completed a time-lapse photography project in Nepal, and went to Oman for a story for National Geographic. But perhaps the greatest notch in his belt was Meru, a feature-length film that followed Jimmy Chin, Conrad Anker, and Ozturk on a chilling and dangerous first ascent of Meru’s Shark’s Fin in the Himalaya. Ozturk's next climbing film will be released in late 2014.
Renan Ozturk's Gear Pick: The NorthFace Overhead
“I always bring a paper and a pen for less digitized forms of recreation, like sketching and drawing,” Ozturk says. “Also, some sort of roller bag is pretty key, especially when you’re carrying heavy equipment. I use the North Face Overhead. It’s a really bomber version of the roller bags that most airport travelers have, just a little tougher and slightly bigger.”