Mr. Mogote

Cuba Libre, 5.12a/7a+. © Mike Robertson

In 1999 four North American climbers were the first foreigners to come to Cuba to climb — and with bolts, drills, and gear for any Cuban climbers they could find. Craig Luebben from Colorado, fell in love with Cuba and its vast virgin stone, and returned to the Viñales Valley again and again. His novel idea, to bring shoes and harnesses for Cubans who wanted to climb, grew into the tradition of foreign climbers leaving their gear. This led to a full-fledged donation program supported by a dozen climbing companies that permitted the Cuban climbers to take the lead in exploring routes in their own country.

Craig Luebben tempts a Viñales to climb with one of his poster.

Craig Luebben was tragically killed climbing in the Cascade range, Washington, USA, on August 9, 2009. Craig was a globe-trotter, endlessly searching for new climbing areas from the Caribbean to Africa and China. Craig was one of climbings’ best ambassadors, always seeking locals to include in his explorations, teach them to climb and eventually take over. Craig authored seven instructional book, and invented Big Bros, the first expandable chock designed for wide cracks. At heart he was a teacher who could inspire an infectious passion for climbing. A teacher, author, loving husband, and father. Craig was all of those.

In Cuba, he will always be just “Mr. Mogote.” “Mogotes” is the unique Cuban name for its mountainous karst landscape; rounded, jungle-cover hummocks, packed with jagged rocky formations and carved-out vaults and caverns that drip with stalactites and bulge with tufas.

From his first visit, Craig demonstrated an eye and ardor for the biggest walls of Viñales. Craig pioneered walls and routes that, decades later, remain Cuba’s longest, and perhaps finest routes. It earned him the apt nickname, “Mr. Mogote”. In Cuba, the name essentially links Craig’s name with climbing itself.

Craig on Mr. Mogote, 4th pitch, named Tufa Paradise. Craig Luebben Collection

In probably the last article he wrote before his death, an essay written for the Cuba Climbing guidebook, he reflected, “climbing in Cuba was like a dream for me . . . I have often said, if I could only keep one set of my climbing adventures over the past three decades, it would be my trips to Cuba. I can’t wait for my daughter Giulia to grow older . . . so I can return and share with her the magic that I found in this Caribbean paradise.”

Craig Luebben remains Cuba’s Mr. Mogote.

To honor Craig and in remembrance of his dedication to the guiding community, the American Mountain Guides Association has established a scholarship named in his name. AMGA, Craig Luebben Memorial Scholarship Fund, PO Box 1739, Boulder, CO 80306.

To read a loving tribute to Craig by Cameron Cross, one of his frequent climbing partners in Cuba, click on CamObit Luebben 279