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Sport Climbing in Caliche Puerto Rico

Approach to Caliche – A Short Film about Sport Climbing in Puerto Rico

Nicole Vidal stars in a short film about sport climbing in Caliche, Puerto Rico called “Approach to Caliche”. Shot, edited and created by Isabela Zawistowska.

In January 2020, Nicole Vidal and I decided to collaborate on a short film, Approach to Caliche about a popular rock climbing crag in Puerto Rico called Caliche.

The Location: Caliche is a Sport Climbing Crag in Puerto Rico

The crag is located in the central mountain range of Puerto Rico, in a municipality called Ciales. Despite the crag being well-known among the island’s climbing community, you will often find the area empty.

“Even though there’s so much good climbing here, it’s still kind of underground. So imagine ten years ago, how few climbers there were… I would say that the group was ten to thirty, fluctuating, and even now what we consider to be a big community is like 100-200 people.”

– Nicole Vidal on the climbing community in Caliche, Puerto Rico

As we approached Caliche, we drove through several rural neighborhoods. With the windows down, we observed a lush green forest on either side of the road; the air was filled with the familiar smell of local fritters and lively music filled the valley.

We crossed a rustic bridge, overlooking El Río Manatí, and the limestone cliffs of Caliche came into view.

The Film: Isabela Captures Nicole Vidal Sport Climbing in Caliche

The parking space at Caliche is sparse, consisting of a grassy pull-off adjacent to a natural spring. With only the daylight to spare, we quickly packed our things and headed toward the trail entrance leading to a 5-minute trail to the base of our desired route.

“Basically the nice thing about this area is that the cliff is so exposed, so no matter what you’re climbing on, you have really good views”

– Nicole Vidal on sport climbing in Caliche, Puerto Rico

Together, with the help of my uncle as an additional cameraman, we filmed Nicole climbing a classic route called “My Right Foot (11b).” 

Nicole Vidal sport climbing in Caliche, Puerto Rico

My Right Foot involves a steep, overhanging roof and big tufas right above it. Due to the tropical climate, the tufas are often mossy and wet, making it difficult to pull the roof move at times.

Vidal had attempted to onsight the route two years before but fell at the crux. Just when she was ready to give it a second go, a torrential downpour occurred, leaving her with unfinished business. The day that we filmed her, Vidal had attempted the route once again, but she fell at the crux on her first try.

The Film: Nicole Discusses Overcoming Challenges in Climbing

Having climbed for seven years, Vidal has learned the importance of a growth mindset.

Even though she was not able to pull the roof on her first try that day, she embraced “failure” as an opportunity to learn and grow.

“If you just stick to climbing what you’re gonna be successful at, you don’t grow. So like, I could have avoided a climb like this, because I knew it was gonna challenge me, and the grade made me feel like I should be able to do it, but it’s all about, instead of fearing failure just seeing it as part of a learning process,”

– Nicole Vida @nicolemvidal_

Vidal has made it her life’s work to not only climb but to teach others how to climb.

Nicole is currently the only female climbing guide in Puerto Rico. I first met her in 2019, when she guided me around Las Tetas de Cayey, another popular climbing spot. I had just started climbing at that point and was totally impressed by her ability to put up routes so gracefully. I still remember, to this day, trying a route called “Lizard the Wizard,“ and not even being able to make the second move on it. Meanwhile, Vidal patiently belayed me, offering up beta when I asked.

Fast forward to the day that we filmed, it was amazing to see her project My Right Foot, and then share her mental approach to us as we garnered more audio for the film. 

While I didn’t include her entire life’s journey within the 5-minute-35-second duration of Approach to Caliche, I hope that you will get to know at least some semblance of her personality and approach to climbing. She is uniquely selfless and patient, two character traits, which are hard to come by these days. 

If you want to learn more about her, follow her story on Instagram @nicolemvidal_. And If you have the chance to visit Puerto Rico, I encourage you to let her guide you around the many incredible climbing areas on the Island. She and her husband, Leo, run a guiding service called Moca Climbing, named after their 5-pound crag dog.

About the Author

Isabela Zawistowska is an ad-woman turned filmmaker based in the Eastern Sierra. She recently started a collaborative film group called Chayo Films. Her work aims to unveil common human truths that unite us all. Always open to collaborating on projects, you can find Isabela on Instagram at @isabelazawist

Bridget Kilgallon

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