If you’re a climber who thinks the cold and snow of winter is something to be avoided, then you are in luck. Many of the world’s premier climbing destinations are in season right now.
Whether your passion is granite boulders, super-hard single-pitch sport routes, or 23-pitch bolted adventures, there is a sunny, dry place with your name on it.
At these warm winter climbing destinations, from Cuba to Turkey to Texas, there is not a snowflake in sight. Yet, the stone stretches as far as the eye can see.
Cuba is the Caribbean’s best climbing area – and some say among the best, and most beautiful, in the world. The trouble is, few climbers have ever sampled the white and grey karst limestone cliffs.
Like many things in Cuba, climbing is officially banned. It’s considered a danger to the state and can result in imprisonment.
The ban has been strong enough to suppress the climbing scene in Cuba, where a truly small handful of locals pursue the sport with harnesses and shoes donated by foreign visitors.
Climbers, though, have considered it a paradise since the first visits, and first ascents, decades ago.
Those who are brave and wily enough to climb in Cuba will find rewards in abundance.
Three hours west of Havana, in the Sierra de Los Organos, is the Valle de Vinales. This is Cuba’s Yosemite Valley, a UNESCO World Heritage Site of unparalleled beauty in a national park.
There, freestanding cliffs called mogotes rise 1,000 feet from the red soil and tobacco farms on the valley floor. The mogotes have tufas, pockets and every other feature that makes for ideal limestone climbing. Overhangs and roofs abound.
Yes, winter is the best time to go, and though the sun can be avoided, moisture is harder to dodge. Bungalows can be rented cheaply.
Several guidebooks document the developed routes, but the potential for more is staggering – and for those with a taste for adventure, Cuba is tempting in the extreme.
Hueco Tanks – Texas
Texas is not renowned for its rock climbing – with one gigantic exception: Hueco Tanks State Historical Park. This wonderland of rust colored granite boulders is one of the premier bouldering destinations in the world.
Each winter, hordes of boulderers make the pilgrimage to the bleek rolling hills outside El Paso. The winters are mild, sunny and dry – stunning desert conditions that rarely deviate from perfection.
Hueco gets cold at night, and temperatures can drop well below freezing during the day. But the cool weather is overwhelmingly flawless and is ideal for hard bouldering.
Alongside a lifetime’s worth of moderates, Hueco houses countless problems in the double digits of the V-scale.
The place is named for the natural cisterns and pockets or “huecos.” These cavities in the rock, which captured water for indigenous people 10,000 years ago, are also what brings climbers there today.
Along with bullet-hard, razor sharp crimpers, the boulders and caves are riddled with pockets, some big enough for fingertips, others that could swallow a climber whole.
Hueco Tanks was the epicenter of the bouldering boom in the 1990s. Its continued popularity has caused some friction between the legions of climbers and those who want to protect the pictographs and archaeological sites scattered about the area.
Because of that, climbers no longer have free reign to go where they please. Guided tours give access to some coveted areas of the park.
Hassle or no, Hueco is among the best climbing areas in the world. Just make sure to get there before the Texas heat takes hold.
Turkey is rock climbing’s newest crush. How could you not fall for this place? With seaside crags of bright orange and red limestone, steep, wildly featured walls, ideal weather conditions and cheap campgrounds within spitting distance of the cliffs.
Turkey’s climbing history stretches back only to the early 90s, but in recent years development has brought more climbs, including some lines of world-class difficulty pioneered by elite climbers from all over the world.
The draw here is steep, single pitch sport climbing, usually with stalactites dripping from the sweeping walls and cave roofs.
Today, Turkey has thousands of routes, scattered across more than a dozen climbing areas. The region around Antalya, on the Mediterranean Sea, is home to the biggest selection.
Turkey is good for winter climbing, but in truth, conditions are near perfect in virtually every month outside of the summer, though December and January can be rainy. Depending on the steepness of what you’re climbing, that may not be a problem at all.
El Potrero Chico – Mexico
El Potrero Chico, or “Little Coral,” is a not-so-little, coral-shaped ring of limestome cliffs soaring 2,000 feet above the dry landscape of Nuevo Leon, Mexico. The slate-colored walls, replete with finger pockets, crimpy edges, even tufas and stalactites, make for sublime climbing.
Better still, while a handful of traditional climbs exist, the potrero is awash in multi-pitch sport climbs. Amid the cacti and vegetation that pepper the cliffs are thousands of bolts and numerous strong, convenient anchors.
The vegetation adds to the aesthetics, but occasionally does cause problems, as when ropes get stuck on descent. The tallest, and among the most notable of the climbs, is the 23-pitch Timewave Zero, a behemoth line that tops out at the highest point on the potrero.
With a short section of aid, the route is enjoyably doable for most moderate climbers.
The potrero’s dreamy walls serve as a backdrop for a scruffy cement town, Hidalgo, one hour outside Monterrey.
Yes, the drug cartels have recently overrun Monterrey, which used to be one of the safest cities in Latin America, but international climbers still flock to the Potrero, and many will tell you its perfectly safe; thousands of climbers have had pleasantly uneventful travels.
Of course, the weather is absolutely perfect for climbing, though, like a lot of desert destinations, it can get too hot or too cold.
The area’s popularity among climbers has generated a plethora of options for accommodations, ranging from primitive camping (equipped with stoves, toilets, and protection from the elements) to hotel rooms.
There are even restaurants just a short walk from the cliffs. Rather than a once-in-a-lifetime trip, the potrero is the kind of place that many climbers make a yearly tradition.
As a whole, Spain inarguably has the world’s best single pitch sport climbing. Crags dot the whole country, and each area has its own flavor.
The theme, though, is steep, bulging limestone near idyllic small towns and villages, down gorgeous canyons or topping dusty hillsides.
Much of the country’s Mediterranean coast, including the islands of Mallorca and Ibiza, provides phenomenal climbing of a different sort: psicobloc, or deep water soloing.
The limestone walls – and arches – rise out of the cobalt sea, often at a height that is tall enough to provide a good thrill, but not too high to make topping out dangerous.
At least one world-class climber, Chris Sharma, has made his home in Spain, where opportunities for roped climbing and deep water soloing of the highest difficulty are limitless.
The universe of climbing in Spain provides opportunities to travel and climb in virtually any part of the country. And with conditions good so many months of the year, the only obstacle is choosing where to go.