Saturday, 25 November 2017

Mallorca Meet

Another winter draws in and Spanish limestone calls again.  Whenever I do this I’m struck by how easy it is, when you get down to it.  Two hours after landing at Palma we’re gearing up beneath delectable slabs in a quiet mountain valley, climbing high above the tree line to enjoy views across the flat plain that stretches south from the rocky northern spine of the island.  We lark about on hanging belays and confuse locals with our trad-influenced rope technique.  Grade targets are achieved early and the week stretches ahead of us full of hope, promise, and crimpy finger pockets.

Alice on Baba (4c) Kieran on Ses Tres Maries (6a+)

Alice has done a great job finding our villa, a luxurious spreading bungalow nicely hidden down a dusty side road, complete with a population of cats and a pool that we never use (this being a climbing holiday, after all).  It is the perfect base from which to explore, with nowhere more than an hour’s drive away.
            Top of the list of places to visit is the peninsula at the far northern tip of the island, a place of remote rugged beauty with shapely ridges running out into the sea, and home to an excellent collection of routes, clustered together to facilitate enjoyable levels of sociable fun.  Some superb lower-grade routes are topped off by some harder technical wall climbs, and my limestone head is clicking into gear. 
            The next day we head into the mountains, to where a vast scooped-out punchbowl of rock is bounded on its northern edge by a 200 metre high fin jutting out into the valley.  The front arete of this impressive feature forms a classic trad line, while bolted routes scale the faces on either side.  This allows for a pleasing symmetry, with Tom, Kieran and Justin tackling the trad route (Albahida, 4c/HS) with John and Chris on one side (La Ley Del Deseo, 5c) and Dave and Neil on the other (Supernova, 6a).  The latter two teams make short work of the bolts, meeting in the middle, Livingstone/Stanley style, to munch sandwiches in the sunshine.  A pleasant ridge scramble takes us to the top of the mountain and stunning views across the whole island.

John on La Les Del Deseo (5c)

       A pleasant day by the seaside follows, with yet more perfect rock, lapped by the gentle brine below. The routes here are intense and full of character, sometimes steep and gloriously juggy, sometimes fingery and fiercely technical.  We surmount tufa blobs, lie about soaking up the sun, tackle sea-level traverses and take relaxing swims in the sheltered bay.  A sleek-looking sailing boat pays a visit, dropping a dinghy for a brief paddle before departing along the coast.

            The setting for the following day’s climbing is a little less delightful, at an urban crag behind a derelict bodega littered with industrial remains, but the unusual rock quality more than compensates, as does the helpful beta of a local German who appears to have bolted the entire crag himself.  Grades are pushed further with his encouragement, Kieran deserving special mention for his ascent of Que Chulo (6b+).  Contender for route of the week is 3D (6a+), featuring wild bridging up apparently impossible cavities scooped from the rock.
            Our friendly German turns out to be the owner of the boat seen the previous day, onto which we are cordially invited for a taste of Mallorca’s famous deep-water soloing.  So off we motor over the warm (18C) blue Mediterranean to the ‘Rich Bitch cave’, a hidden beauty spot overlooked by a low glazed palace with perfect lawns.  Getting off the boat onto the steep limestone wearing only boots, shorts and a chalk bag was a fantastic feeling, and climbing with a new incentive not to fall resulted in gripping hard and lots of friendly encouragement.  However the inevitable splash-down happened for most of us on our second climb, an improbable 7a jump for a jug.  How refreshing the water was, the fear broken with a desire to do it all again!  The undoubted highlight was Kierans’ brilliant on-sight of Balso Boys(7a +) which had him shaking out nonchalantly with his body horizontal 4m above the sea.  More great climbs and scary splash-downs followed, and sailing back that evening to the setting sun, most felt this was the best day of a brilliant week.
Then it’s back to the mountains for yet more superb routes.  By now our brains are wired into the patterns of the rock and the moves that climbing it necessitates.  Bolting here is generous by any standards, making it safe to tackle lines that would inspire dread done trad.  We pull hard on millimetre-wide crimps and stand on sloping smears, high on exposed vertical faces, soaked in climbing and wanting nothing more.
            Even on the day we leave there is time for some of us to visit one more crag, to tick off a final few delightful clip-ups, to enjoy a beer as the pump finally defeats us, and the journey back to the cold and damp begins to beckon.