The birth of rock climbing in Jamaica: a new Climbing Big-Bang in the Caribbean 

Climbing destination
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 so long: its culture, beautiful sea and chill lifestyle were among top-3 reasons why I decided to move there. Reggae music and Rasta culture were the cherry on top. I’m a climber after all, but there’s so much more to live for out there.

The coral reefs in Jamaica
Jamaica is less known compared to other rock climbing destinations such as Sardinia, Cuba, Madagascar, Thailand...
But this Island can really offer unexpected landscapes. © Sheldon Levene

 

Jamaica is definitely not the first place to come to my mind when looking for the next rock climbing destination. But I could be wrong. Amidst the jungle, very rare animal species, crystal clear sea and hilly landscapes, I am discovering many cliffs suitable for climbing. I am only the second climber to lay eyes on them, but I definitely hope to become the first  to spread some awareness around the planet about this newly-born climbing spot.

 

The beginning 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 has 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. After many failed attempts at looking for other climbers, he began scouting 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.

Aerial photo at the cliffs near discovery bay, Jamaica
The jungle hides many 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 with the bolting 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 shops that sell any climbing gear in Jamaica, and shipping from neighbouring countries such as the US is problematic due to high custom taxes and limited shipping opportunities. He had to bring the drill and bolting gear from Spain in several trips with the help of friends.

A person smiles at the camera while rock climbing in Jamaica
The climbing community is definitely rising in Jamaica, thanks to Jamrock! © Juan Luis Toribio Vazquez

Accessing the top of the cliff 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 ‘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 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 nobody really had much interested in rock climbing in Jamaica at that time, Dani stopped working on the crag altogether for several months to focus instead on canyoning, for which there is also a lot of potential here in the island, helping a group from Kingston to bolt some canyons in the eastern region of Portland.

Climber the cliffs of Discovery Bay, the first rock climbing area in Jamaica
You may say we are in Indonesia, Italy or Spain, but this is what you get once you travel out to Jamaica © Juan Luis Toribio Vazquez

However, in January this year I moved to Jamaica and was lucky enough to be introduced to Dani by the person who was doing my job before me. My arrival was a breath of fresh air that motivated Dani to continue 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 manoeuvres, so it didn’t take Dani too long to show me how to handle the drill and fix bolts in a safe way, and 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.

Juan trad climbing in Jamaica, protecting himself with slings
Slings all the way to the top! Setting up new routes in Jamaica. © Juan Luis Toribio Vazquez

I also developed some routes under a small cave that Dani had overlooked because the climbing looked… well, above his level. I am particularly proud of these lines: both because they were the first routes that I bolted myself entirely, and especially 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+. I think there’s the potential to bolt a couple of more lines, one of which might possibly be Jamaica’s first 8a! Very bouldery, very fun!

 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. At present, we have bolted 16 routes, with potential for at least 4 more. That's more than enough for a long climbing day, or even a few days. If you’re eager to experience more rock climbing, you’ll have to wait a little bit – or you can come over and help us out! We spotted another wall, very close to the CEAP Wall, which we will start developing soon. We have named that crag GESAP, in honour to Dani’s Spelunking community in Spain.

Luckily there’s much more, even though as of now we've invested very little time into scouting for new crags. Work and life still need attention, no matter how much climbing potential we have on the Island: I’m pretty sure rocks won’t walk away overnight. One 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. However, there is definitely 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: what does it take?

Someone of you, who have maybe just started climbing or have no experience bolting and cleaning a wall may ask yourselves “Why the hell is Juan doing this? It’s so much work, and he could travel somewhere else when he needs to go climbing”.

Well, the main reason for taking on this task and continuing to work on it is to put Jamaica on the map of Rock Climbing! Obviously, we are also developing the crag for ourselves, so that we have a place to climb on the weekends, but the main aim is to bring the rock climbing phenomenon to this country. By doing that, we can share our passion for climbing with the locals and try and get people into the sport. We are therefore also hoping to eventually build a climbing wall and to 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 to try and 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!

Discovery Bay, where Jamaica's rock climbing is currently concentrated
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 it takes to climb there, which is the best season, 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 destinations.

The CEAP Wall, 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 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 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 on Jamaica's first potential 8a rock climb
Juan Luis Toribio Vazquez, from La Linea, Cadiz, in the south of Spain, is currently working as a Spanish lecturer in SSTC (Montego Bay),
and during his free time he works hard to give life to a new climbing phenomenon on the Island

We aim to protect wild life as well: we are all foreigners when we step into a wild animal’s home. One day we found a Jamaican Boa as we were scouting for other potential areas 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, anyway you’d better ask to the locals or get information from trusted sources on the web: those are the best ways not to panic and know what to do when you meet the Jamaican wildlife!

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 a lot of 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 develop the community by serving as a meeting place 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 in Jamaica, feel free to follow us and stay updated via @jamrockclimbing!

 

 

Words by Juan Luis Toribio Vazquez

Photos by @jamrockclimbing and Sheldon Levene

Cover photo @jamrockclimbing

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