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I slowly staggered to the airport on Grand Cayman as the sun began to touch the horizon. I was here in the Caribbean to climb on the limestone sea cliffs of Cayman Brac, a small island of fewer than 2,000 residents just 90 miles east. The previous day, I had left the snow globe that was Denver on a direct flight to Grand Cayman—the first-ever from Denver via Cayman Airways. After an overnight stay, I was checking in for my short flight to the Brac. It was 6:15 a.m. local time, 4:15 a.m. in Denver, I reminded myself as I sat down in front of my gate and rubbed sleep dust from my eyes. Still, I was fired up to climb. This trip had been planned for some time, and I’d been obsessively looking over routes and photos for the past month at climbcaymanbrac.com. Quickly enough, I was walking down the tarmac to the twin-prop plane that would carry me to the island climbing paradise.
Gallery: 11 Photos From Cayman Brac
Angel Robledo bearing down on a characteristic tufa pinch at Dixon’s Wall, Cayman Brac.
Rock Iguana guide Will Verhoeven sussing the beta at Dixon’s Wall.
Rock Iguana guide David Verhoeven making the stem transition onto the massive stalactite of Carpe Stalactite (5.12b), Dixon’s Wall.
One of the many roadside eateries just minutes from the crag.
Robledo eyeing the next sequence on Cayman Brac’s Northeast Point.
Deep-water soloing on amazing limestone pockets above the warm waters of Cayman Brac.
Working on balance and cooling off in the midday heat on Cayman Brac.
The seaside approach to Orange Cave on the south side of the island.
David Verhoeven silhouetted against the sea and sky, climbing out of the Orange Cave.
David Verhoeven making the clip at the lip of the Orange Cave, Cayman Brac.
Catching the golden light of the Caribbean afternoon from the Orange Cave.
Once I landed and was all loaded into my rental car, I was off to meet the Rock Iguana Climbing Guides. The team is comprised of Angel Robledo, an experienced climber and mountaineer from Brazil, and David and Will Verhoeven, two brothers from Grand Cayman who discovered rock climbing six years ago while watching a deep-water-solo session at their favorite cliff-jumping spot. David, Angel, and I headed to the Northeast Point, home to the island’s lighthouse and its namesake 140-foot bluff. We parked and headed to the edge of the cliff to rappel into the start of the route. Together, we rapped over What’s the Point? (5.9+), a blunt arête over the ocean with amazing pockets and the best view I’ve seen on a 5.9. While the weather was a bit on the warm side at 84 F, the sea breeze kept us cool as we all cruised up the limestone pockets and bulges above the ocean spray.
After we topped out, we decided it was time for a shady crag—climbing in the sun in the hot, humid climate is basically sending suicide. The crew piled into my rental car and we headed around the north coast to Dixon’s Wall, which David told me was named for Mr. Dixon. The Crag sits in his backyard. We approached the cliff through his white picket fence, stopping to say hello to Mr. Dixon on our way. This shaded, overhanging wall has some unique features, including pockets, tufas, and even a huge stalactite. David and Angel got on Peaceful Warrior (5.12a), a thuggy climb with long cranks between slots and pockets that transform into larger tufas up high. I was amazed at the quality of the limestone and how more lines seemed to be untouched, waiting to be bolted. When I asked Angel about this, she told me there was so much potential climbing that they just didn’t have the time to bolt it all. We all climbed tufas, columns, pockets, slots, crimps, and saw David climb what must have been a five-foot stalactite, stemming out against its slender length on the powerful Carpe Stalactite (5.12b). At this point it was midday, and we decided to go cool off. We stopped by again to see Mr. Dixon, who was glad we had stayed safe and had fun, then ran across the road to grab lunch and slackline over the sea.
Will set up the line, much to the interest of some local children and their parents. Once the kids saw us attempt to balance our way across, they couldn’t resist the temptation and joined us, trying to balance on the two-inch-wide strap and laughing as they fell into the warm water below. We had our fill of food and laughter, and then headed to the island’s original sport crag, the Orange Cave on the south coast. The Orange Cave is 150 feet from the shore break, featuring a distinctive orange streak through the eponymous cave. We did our last two climbs of the day here as golden light hit the white-capped waves. While the routes were on the short side, they had really nice movement through big holds and heel hooks out the cave into a sequence of slots over the lip. It felt surreal to be climbing in the sunset light, hearing the waves crash against the shore behind us.
My day was ending, though, and before I was ready to leave I was shaking hands and hugging my new friends and heading off to catch my flight. Once checked in, I found that Will was headed back to Grand Cayman as well. Together we waited on the flight, which had been delayed, but nobody seemed to care. We were exchanging climbing tales and beta over beer, and I felt like a part of this small climbing community. The climbers of Cayman Brac have made this island special, and I know I will be back soon.