Monday, 10 September 2012

The Cayman Islands - By Alistair MacDonald

The Cayman Islands are renowned for their magnificent beaches, seas and diving.  Less well known, but equally impressive, are the magnificent limestone sea cliffs of Cayman Brac - and to a lesser degree, Grand Cayman.

Cayman Brac was first developed as a sport climbing venue in the early 90s, led by Skip Harper and John Byrnes.  There now exist approaching 100 routes on superb rock (see skipharper for the early history, and for the most up to date guide).  However, deep water soloing remains in its infancy, with a handful of routes currently accessible only by boat.

Cayman Brac is roughly shaped like a door stop:  rising gently out of the Caribbean sea on the southwest shore up to 120ft along the northeast end of the island.  It is around this northeastern quarter of the island where the sea cliff sport routes are found.  Captain Shelby is the ideal local fisherman to take a group out to the rocks.  There is enormous room for development, as many of the cliffs rise sheer out of the water; most of the sport routes start between 10-20 feet from sea level.  This however is because of the fiercesome swells that crash unimpeded into the rocks in rough conditions - which can develop frighteningly quickly.  A further impediment to DWS development is the height of the cliffs - at over 100ft topping out is not an option without a rope.  The only official route (The Inaugural, 6c, FA Saagar Kadiyala, Alistair MacDonald 2010) is primarily a traverse.

But when the conditions are right the climbing is magnificent.  The water temperature rarely dips below 80f even in the depths of winter (when air temperatures may dip to 75f on a cold day!) making it perfect for a long day in the water.  There is ample scope to place in situ ropes / rope ladders along the base of the existing sport routes to aid starting the routes (much of the lower 10 feet of the cliffs is impossible sharp and undercut by wave action).

And at the end of the day a fire on the beach under the stars, some rum and a cigar is the perfect way to recharge and get psyched for the next day.