by Emmanuel Lacoste
Okinawa is synonymous with white sand beaches and underwater adventures but, high above the deep blue sea, people have discovered another way to push themselves to the limit.
Every parking space has a car parked in it, so we pull off to the side of the road. The scene is pretty much the same every weekend. Men, women and children of various shapes and sizes check and double-check their gear, before they burden their backs with the heavy load.
My wife and son look at me, “Scuba diving is too much work,” one of them will usually say.
I just agree and load my own back. We follow the next herd towards the water but, when they turn left at the entry point, we continue on. Although the emerald-colored ocean appears quite appealing, we came here to climb.
Okinawa has four major climbing areas for visiting climbers: Usa Beach, Zatzun Tunnel, Cape Maeda and Gushichan Village. While all these areas offer excellent climbing, you will never wait in line for any of the routes because, you see, Okinawa only boasts about 100 climbers. This can actually make it-quite hard to find a partner, so plan ahead or bring your own.
Usa Beach, located on the north end of the island, is home to approximately 30 routes ranging from 5.6 to 5.13, with an average length of 20 meters.
The very casual approach to this crag will not warm you up for the steep routes you will encounter. With few holds offering more than fingertips, you had better come here ready to crimp.
Zatzun Tunnel, named because of its location near the tunnel, offers about 20 routes ranging from 5.7 to 5.11. Routes here are roughly 15 meters long and located a stone’s throw from the ocean.
This area has two distinct sides, which makes it easy to follow the shade. Unfortunately, the north side is only accessible at low tide. This black-colored cliff offers square cut holds that could not be better suited for climbing.
Cape Maeda, Okinawa’s most popular diving destination, is home to some superb climbing. The area can be broken into three categories. The first one is Maeda Cave. Routes range from 5. 10d to 5.12+. All routes here can be climbed in the rain. The pocketed overhanging walls of the cave provide ample shelter from the rain.
If it is not raining, make sure to check out White Wall and Red Wall. Both of these offer technical routes from 5.10 to 5.12 on spectacular limestone. Some new routes appear on the main wall, but are not yet documented.
The steep wall here offers routes from 5.8 to 5.13. Don’t let this fool you into thinking you can spend the day here. With only two routes easier than 5.12, your day may end quicker than anticipated. The routes here follow sharp and small crimps on overhanging limestone.
It is not uncommon to be eight to ten meters from the wall when you lower from the anchors here. Development on a new wall here will add about seven new routes ranging from 5.9 to 5.11.
Gushichan Village is located on the south end of the beach near Peace Memorial Park Routes here are short, hard and sharp. Most people who climb here trade in their rope and invest in a crash pad. With hundreds of great boulder problems, it is easy to understand why. Come here on the weekend, and you’re sure to have a spotter for your project.
To climb on Okinawa, you have to keep a few things in mind. Climb static (rope), the rock here is too sharp for the dynamic climbing done elsewhere. Bring water, as the heat here is extreme. Better yet, come in the fall, winter or spring.
Bring all your gear with you — there are not too many places to buy it once you arrive. Finally, plan some rest days. The island has a lot to offer climbers. Come push yourself to new heights in Okinawa.
For more information about rock climbing in Okinawa, check out Coral with Rope, for details e-mail [email protected]