Puerto Rico is an island much revered for its beaches, music, and rum. Rock climbing has never received much, if any, attention by locals or tourists. This has begun to change lately, and articles on Puerto Rico now seem to be somewhat in vogue in major climbing publications. With half of my family being proud Puerto Ricans, I spent a lot of time on the island growing up, however, this past winter was my first visit as a climber.
Unfortunately, I was dealing with a relatively minor case of tendonitis at the time of my arrival. Because of this, I cut out all climbing and climbing related exercises for two weeks before attempting to get on a wall again. This seemed to be sufficient, and I quickly found myself dragging my family along to various crags around the island.
Bayamon, a popular sport crag, was the first place I visited. Being only a 15 minute drive from the heart of San Juan, Bayamon is effectively the gym for locals and an exotic adventure for tourist groups. The rock is a pale grey limestone that is generally littered with pockets, tufas, and stalactites. I first took my brothers there for a day of easy climbing after recovering from my injury, climbing several 5.8-5.9's and a few 5.10's. They seemed to enjoy it very much, as the wall I took them to is ideal for beginners with massive pockets and feet everywhere.
Later, towards the end of my trip, I returned with local climber, Dario, to attempt an area classic called Chocolate Sky (5.11d). My new years resolution this year is to stop being a bitch and climb 5.12 already, so I figured I may as well start by getting on that route. We warmed up on a tricky 5.10 just to the left and a moderate 5.11a to the right, then I took the route by storm. It goes up a thoughtful section of 5.10+ which leads to a big rest, then pushes through a stellar headwall with cool tufas and crimps. I made it to the second clip of the crux sequence before I got the nerves & took. The route was super well protected, so I proceeded to French free the rest of the clips and free the moves afterwards. This at least let me realize that every move was physically easy for me and that it's really not that hard to climb at these more difficult grades- I just need to keep my cool.
Dario on the big rest before the headwall
Apart from the great sport climbs, I began to crave some good bouldering. Bayamon has plenty of boulders, but hardly anybody on the island owns a pad. Out of sheer desperation, I became crafty and fashioned a makeshift pad of my own to take on a short session one afternoon. Complete with durable duct tape shoulder straps, the Trash Pad was born.
It was shitty and dangerous, but better than nothing.
There are a few other sport crags spread out across the island, and the only other one we visited was the walls at San German. This crag is a little less beginner friendly, as you have to climb an approach pitch to reach most of the climbs, which look really good. I led the awesome 5.10a approach pitch, which offers some 80 feet of continuous moderate climbing and great views, before heading down to the wall called the Gym. This wall is overhung at a sustained 30 degrees and boasts dozens of fun jug hauls. A lot of the pro is sketchy webbing tied through holes and jugs, which keeps you pretty attentive too.
The rest of my outings were beach bouldering sessions, which I really enjoyed. The first beach we climbed at was Surfer's Beach in Aguadilla. There is a single 25-30' boulder right by the parking lot, which has dozens of climbs that range from 5.6 to 5.10, with a few V2-V3 boulder problems on the short side. You can exhaust it pretty quickly, but the routes are so fun you'll want to do them over and over again!
Dozens of boulders lie in the forest as well, but they're really dirty and would need a committed crew to clean and maintain.
The last beach we hit was Vacia Talega, which is just outside of Pinones. The seas there are much rougher, and the wind is deafening and constant. The climbs are also more difficult, with not much easier than V3.
I wish I could have climbed more during my stay, but either way I was just glad to be away from school and the bitter cold for a while.
Actually, I was pretty happy to come back to Laramie with its -22 degree weather. With new goals and the usual motivation, I'm super stoked to be where I am when I am, and 2013 is looking like it will be a great year!