First ascent, anyone?? – Five untapped climbing destinations

In this day and age, it’s all too easy to feel like there are no stones left unturned on our small planet. Even Roald Amundsen felt this way, despite going on to achieve two of modern exploration’s greatest feats – the successful navigation of the Northwest Passage and the first expedition to reach the South Pole. This was in an age before GPS, Sonar and Google Earth. However these days, with the rise of such technology, it seems like all the blank spots on the map truly have been filled.

When visiting popular climbing areas, it appears at first (and possibly even fifteenth) glance that every square inch of rock has been explored and subsequently bolted, heel-hooked, hand-jammed, urinated upon or otherwise exploited. But one need only wander a modest distance from the well-trodden paths to discover virgin rock. Many potential routes remain unclimbed for several reasons. Quite often, this is due to the fact that the rock quality appears suspect, but in other cases it happens to be for the simple fact that no-one has gotten around to it yet.

If popular destinations contain vast potential for first ascents, imagine how comprehensively untapped the under-developed crags around the globe are. Today, we’ll take a look at five areas that have boundless potential for development. If you’re hungry to leave your mark on the climbing universe with a first ascent of your own, here’s some food for thought…

  1. Cochamo Valley, Chile

Hailed as “The Yosemite of South America”, Cochamo is a granite playground with plenty of options for anything from big wall to bouldering. There are plenty of existing routes, but vast potential for many, many more. A friend of mine, Canadian Jordan Lamarch, together with Sean Post and Gabe Kelley, made a first ascent of their own route, “Send it like Santa” (5.10+, 11 pitches) in April 2012.

The pictures of the valley are amazing, but I’m sure it needs to be seen to be believed. Bonus points for the ability to shack up at Refugio Cochamo while you scout for new lines.

  1. Hindu Kush, Afghanistan

Ok, so this location currently doesn’t come highly recommended, but there’s no arguing the possibilities of first ascents (and descents) in the region.

Back before the Russian War in the 80’s, mountaineering in the Afghan panhandle was quite popular, especially among those of an Eastern European persuasion. Being a sub-set of Himalaya, there are countless high-altitude peaks in the range with the tallest, Tirich Mir, clocking in at 7,690 m (25,230 ft).

With years of conflict making the prospect of recreation in Afghanistan somewhat unpalatable, there has been a notable dearth of activity in the region. However, the 2012 documentary White Silk Road, tells the tale of three Australian snowboarders who travel to a remote region of Afghanistan to carve out some new lines. So it can be done, providing you have the cajones…

  1. Cuba

Washington just restored diplomatic relations with Cuba, and while there are still restrictions on travelling there for US citizens, the writing is clearly on the wall. Pretty soon, the flood gates will open. If you’re not from the US, now would probably be a good time to fill your boots at one of many untapped areas around the island.

Cubaclimbing.com has a short list of newly discovered and undeveloped locations such as Imias, Maisi, Sierra del Infierno, Sierra de Galeras and Caburni. Rock varies from limestone to sandstone and some conglomerate. Even the most popular climbing destination, Viñales, apparently has huge scope for development. Given the political climate in Cuba, I’m not sure I’d personally run around with a power drill and bolt everything that stayed still long enough, however all reports are that this is what locals and visitors alike are doing with a surprising amount of freedom.

  1. Eastern Europe (The Balkans, Greece, Turkey)

In 2014, the Petzl Roctrip visited Romania, Bulgaria, Macedonia, Greece and Turkey, commenting on the “amazing potential for climbing in this region, mostly untapped and still developing. Everywhere to be found are crags, boulders, and mountains where the culture of mountaineering and climbing is central and where talented individuals energize each community.”

Far (relatively speaking) from the Western strongholds of climbing in Spain, France, Italy, Germany and the like, these areas beg to be explored. What’s more, travelling in these regions is generally cheaper than their western counterparts. There exists a vast array of environments, from deserts to sea-side cliffs, offering boulders, big walls and deep water soloing. Get after it.

  1. China

Getu and Yangshuo are currently experiencing a climbing boom, featuring insane cave structures and towering karst pillars. While many of these have been developed (sometimes to the chagrin of the international community in light of the unfavourable nature by which this is being achieved), countless areas remain untouched by virtue of their remoteness. It seems that there are so many lines within shouting distance of nearby villages that many more have gone without examination in the pursuit of convenience.

Add to the mix Keketuohai Geological National Park, located on the tip of northwest China’s Xinjiang province, near the border of Mongolia, and it’s clear that this country has a huge amount of untapped potential. Touted as “China’s little Yosemite” (because no valley of granite survives comparison with its North American cousin), Keketuohai appears to be somewhat overdeveloped in terms of roads and other infrastructure, though apparently remains relatively unclimbed.

If all these options fail to float your proverbial boat, check out Peakware’s list of Highest Unclimbed Peaks and start dreaming. The fact that they’ve remained unclimbed for this long probably indicates that they’re not for the faint of heart.

Ryan Siacci, Esq.
Originally published in July 2015

Thoughts? Opinions? Cries of dissent?