“The best 5.10 in the world”
The best 5.10 in The world — it’s a big claim for a two-pitch sport route in western Cuba. Yet that’s the consensus among those who’ve climbed on the elbow-deep pockets of Mucho Pumpito, in the island’s Valle de Viñales. As the British climber and writer Mikey Robertson effervesced, “Mucho Pumpito is the best 5.10 I’ve ever done, and in the top five of all climbs.” And Lynn Hill called Mucho Pumpito the “juggiest climb I’ve done [anywhere].”
Mucho Pumpito ascends the chiseled, 200-foot overhanging edge of a limestone cathedral, La Bóveda de Las Españolas. The wall is a fantasyland of big-wall-style sport climbing: steep angles, big air, and technical descents. (Without a secondary line to tram into the wall, you could find yourself stranded in space on the rappels.) It’s north facing (read: shaded) and gets a sea breeze, too.
The climb marks a Cinderella story of sorts — for many years, Mucho Pumpito sat in obscurity until, almost by accident, its ex- quisiteness was discovered. Even after this, Mucho Pumpito went unnamed by its first ascentionists, three Americans — Cameron Cross and Craig Luebben, of Colorado; and Dave Ryan, an Exum Mountain Guide, of Wyoming — known for establishing long, classic lines on Cuba’s three-dimensional limestone.
In March 2000, Cross and Luebben climbed a three-pitch route called Pssst. To link its harder faces, they ascended the steep, strik- ing corner of the main wall. To their astonishment, the pitch, which overhung 40 feet in 90, was only 5.10b. Ryan, who later found the direct first pitch (also 5.10b), confirms the grade, saying, “Even after timing out my pump clock three of the five times I’ve climbed [Mucho Pumpito], I’ve got to admit there aren’t any moves harder than 5.10b.” Subsequent climbers quickly linked the two 5.10 pitches.
But the route hadn’t become Mucho Pumpito yet. It was only when a visiting John Middendorf, flamed and gunning for a stalactite rest on pitch two, yelled ”¡Mucho pumpito!” to his belayer, Jim Donini, that the route was christened. After that, the name just stuck. In 2002, a team of talented gritstone climbers including Seb Grieve and Tim Emmett added Cuba’s hardest route to date — Emmett’s The One-Inch Punch (5.14a). After climbing Mucho Pumpito, Grieve could not be restrained. With a Cuban cigar in his teeth and a glass of aged rum before him, he proclaimed, “That climb we did today was world-class. If it was at any of the top climbing areas, it would be the absolute best, without a doubt.”
You’ll currently find no guide services, printed guidebooks, or equipment shops for Viñales (as such, local climbers greatly appreciate gear donations). Your best bet for comprehensive Beta is to visit Cubaclimbing.com.
Psyched to check out Cuba on your next vacation? Also, see “El Castillo Illegal” (p.26 of Climbing No. 267) for a look at Cuba’s “outdoor gym” of El Morro castle, overlooking Havana Bay; check out Climbing No. 248 for Beth Wald’s feature on Viñales.
THE MYSTERY OF LA BÓVEDA DE LAS ESPAÑOLAS
By Armando Menocal
Mucho Pumpito ascends the chiseled edge of La Bóveda de Las Españolas (“The Vault of the Spanish Women”) — a climber’s fantasy cave hung with imposing, sculpted stalactites and capped by a 40 foot vaulted roof. La Bóveda de Las Españolas even has a mysterious, unsolved climbing history.
In 1999, Cameron Cross, Craig Luebben, and I first explored La Bóveda de Las Españolas. We assumed that we (and the Cubans with us) were the first to climb in Cuba’s Viñales Valley. When we reached the top of the first pitch on the initial route up La Bóveda, the five-pitch test-piece Luebben called, Flyin’ Hyena (see “Five More Cuban Classics” on the next page for more on this route), we discovered three rusty pitons, a loop of tied perlon, and a carabiner: an obvious rappel anchor.
Trying to solve the mystery of this aged rap anchor, I eventually unearthed this story from a nearby Cuban farmer: about 15 to 20 years ago, two Spanish women spent two days reaching that point on the wall. He said they got no farther, although Luebben told me he thought he saw pin scars on the next pitch. The first pitch ascends into a cave, and then exits to a 5.8 face and the ledge with the pitons. We protected the exit and face with Big Bros, and later placed two bolts. Climbing that pitch without wide crack gear or bolts would have certainly been bold, but plausible in climbing terms. It does mean, however, that these Españolas came to Cuba equipped with pitons and hammers, and started out by tackling the longest, most intimidating and elegant line that we have yet seen in all of Cuba. Bravo!
Although these women’s identities remain a mystery, the central, arched chamber is now named in their honor.
FIVE MORE CUBAN CLASSICS FROM THE VALLE DE VIÑALES
1. Babalú Ayé (5.10d), 4 pitches, Mogote de los Hoyos. FA: Aníbal Fernández and Craig Luebben (2001)
This route surrounds you with bulging tufas and hanging stalactites, and offers spectacular views of farmlands and forests. A Drago palm growing near the end of the first pitch marks a rough trail to the start. The line starts up a narrow and shallow 20-foot tufa.
2. Cuenta con la Pelona (5.11a), 4 pitches, El Campismo, Mogote del Valle. FA Josué Millo and Reiniel Sosa (2003)
The first two pitches are mellower, both clocking in around 5.9, while the third pitch is the crux. The fourth is steep and sustained, but short.
3. Flyin’ Hyena (5.12b), 5 pitches, Bóveda de las Españolas, La Costanera. FA: Cameron Cross, Craig Luebben, Armando Menocal (1999)
Start Flyin’ Hyena by climbing a 40-foot-long root. Traverse left across a gritty-dirty ledge into an alcove. The second pitch starts right and then straight up. Third pitch follows the diagonal crack up and left to tufa columns and stalactites. The fourth heads up and right to other columns and stalactites at the edge of a roof. The fifth pitch climbs almost horizontally across the roof. Proper taglines are essential on this climb. Pitches 1 and 2, and 4 and 5 can be linked with a 60m rope. From top of P5, the leader must jumar back to belay P4 on the tagline or can pull back into the belay for P3 if tagline has been anchored at belay P3. A leader could easily be stranded in space here, if she blows the descending tactics.
4. Wasp Factory (5.12c), 1 pitch, Cueva Cabeza de la Vaca, Mogote del Valle. FA: Neil Gresham (2002)
Much dedication and trickery was required by this route’s developers (an extremely strong, productive team from Sheffield, England) to wrest this spectacular cavern from the grip of nesting wasps.
5. Malanga Hasta la Muerte (5.12d), 1 pitch, El Rocódromo at Cueva Cabeza de la Vaca, Mogote del Valle. FA: David Brasco, Roas Catalá (2001)
Malanga Hasta La Muerte has become the local testpiece. This route climbs above Taking the Bull by the Horn, a toprope boulder problem abandoned when someone, somehow managed to steal the hangers from the top bolts.
Visit cubaclimbing.com for much more.