Autumn is the deep water soloing season on Mallorca and, to coincide with the publication by Rockfax of a major new update to the deep water soloing on Mallorca, Daimon Beail has put together this article introducing the main areas of interest on the island.
Mallorca is the Spanish winter sun destination favoured by many Europeans. It has been described in the past as Spain's answer to the Greek island of Kalymnos.
For a long time Mallorca was primarily focused on sport climbing with early cardboard topo sheets creeping into the British bookshops in the mid-90s and Chris Craggs' small but popular Mallorca guide expanding upon this. Subsequent Rockfax guides followed, but all were focused on the island's popular and stunning sport climbing.
But as many of us know, the focus shifted slightly in 2005 when top American climber Chris Sharma made his groundbreaking first ascent of the Deep Water Solo (DWS) line of Es Pontas - rumoured to be 9a+, but unrepeated to date. With this stunning line the spotlight shifted with magazines, DVDs, TV and many websites drawing fresh eyes back to the island.
Deep Water Soloing is one of the purest forms of climbing. Solo climbing above the sea, which is intended to catch you if or when you fall. It's been practiced around the world since the late 70s and has grown increasingly popular especially with the explosion of DWS on the sea cliffs of Mallorca. It's a more advanced form of climbing, having higher demands on the physical and mental side, since it involves soloing even with the safety net of the sea.
Deep Water Solos are generally graded using the French sport climbing grading system with the addition of the S grade. The S grade stands for 'solo' of which four levels are used (S0 S3) to determine items like how clear your water entrance is, depth, heights of which you may fall etc. For an example of how this S grade may come into effect you could look at the UK DWS line of Freeborn Man, F6c, S1/2, a modern test piece for many aspiring UK climbers. The S1/2 translates into: the slight possibility of hitting a ledge low down (a jump back would avoid this) and the crux is higher up the wall, making the fall longer and more care is needed when bailing off and entering the water which needs to be done correctly from such a height. With this knowledge a climber knows what to expect and can adapt accordingly to climb the line safely.
For more information on S grades, check out any Rockfax guide containing DWS such as Mike Robertson's world climbing guide to DWS 'Deep Water' - Mike Robertson was one of the people who helped define the S grade all those years ago.
- You can also read Mikey's UKC Article: Getting in to Deep Water Soloing
Even though the ascent of Es Pontas stood out in most people's minds as to what Mallorca stood for regarding DWS, they couldn't be more wrong.
Prior to 2005, deep water explorers from around the world were unearthing the lost paradises of the east and west coasts. A rich vein of unclimbed lines were quickly picked off one by one. It began in the late 70s under the glare of the bright lights of the city of Palma. Miquel Riera took his bouldering obsession to the nearby sea cliff cave of Porto Pi and continued bouldering with the added safety net of the sea. Miquel Riera soon nicknamed it Psicobloc, a local term that still exists today.
Porto Pi although small became covered in gentle warm ups to powerful and bouldery 8bs. It soon became a great evening venue for city climbers on a warm summer evenings.
You would probably think Miquel's explorations, aided by Pepino Lopez, Xisco Meca, Pepe Link and Miki Palmer, would have flooded the island with epic lines, but sport climbing drew them away leaving the paradises of Mallorca a closely kept secret for years to come.
In 2001 the Brits invaded. Well, guests of Miquel Riera to be fair, who emailed them a photo of him climbing at a then unknown crag in Porto Cristo. Neil Gresham, Tim Emmett, Mike Robinson, Ken Palmer to name but a few, armed themselves with hoards of climbing boots and chalk bags and set off to see for themselves what Diablo was all about. In addition to this army was the Austrian strong man and vocally energised Klem Loskot. They were escorted to what is now one of the most unique and spectacular DWS venues on earth, Cova del Diablo! This DWS jewel of the Mediterranean, with its perfectly placed jugs, crimps, tufas, and glistening warm Mediterranean sea had in the period of a week (under the watchful cameras and pens of the media) a total of twenty-six world class lines despatched.
The team's departure left behind a legacy of lines, chief of which was Loskot's prize possession 'Loskot And Two Smoking Barrels' which became the most sought after 8a+ on the island.
Tim Emmet left the best 7b jug fest, 'Afroman', which takes the steep and juggy terrain to half height where the line traverses left (not easily done) and leads to an easier exit. Ken Palmer's stamina fest, 'Superwoman' takes in the entire cove at various levels and is no easy picking at 7a+. To the far right of the crag is Mike Robertson's popular right-to-left traverse 5+ (originally done left to right) into the cove known as 'White Noise', which can, if one so desires, lead naturally into the jug-tastic 'Dogging Romp' 6a+. Neil Gresham apart from lines such as 'Ejector Seat' 7c and 'Iguanodon' 7b left the exhilarating DWS challenge of 'Calamares' 6b+, a grand line out of the right hand side of the 'Afroman Cave'.
Additionally on the other side of the bay of Porto Cristo lies the Tower of Falcons, a mega cave that originally only saw traverses and easier lines (ish) put up to the left of the cave back in 2001. Now the cave is home to the notorious 'La Hostia' 8a+ thanks to Chris Sharma, who ascended this line five years later in 2006.
A year after the departure of the invasion force that took Diablo by storm, Toni Lamprecht and Klem Loskot arrived on a beautiful sandy beach covered with naked people tanning themselves. "What are we doing here?" they must have asked. But a short walk onwards answered their question. They where greeted by the astonishing DWS playground of Cala Barques. (If Diablo is a bit on the high side then this is for you, being a much lower venue in height that most people can easily get to grips with).
The first cave was dripping, not wet, but with tufas and stalactites. So like excited children on Christmas day Toni and Klem deployed their lines upon this magnificent cave. 'The Might of the Stalactite' 7a became the key to many of the trickier lines including Toni Lamprecht's 'Big XXL' a classic 7a which takes the dominant line through the cave. Today the favourite of most visitors getting to grips with this area is the final part of the 'Barques Traverse' 6b that takes the right hand side of the roof on buckets to the upper section of 'Big XXL'. Toni Lamprecht also added 'Golden Shower' 7a to the right of the cave area that is a fantastic mono crimp test on a slightly overhanging wall, that sees a lot of attention these days, and also a lot of splashdowns when things get tough.
The real secret gems of Cala Barques are just over the hill from this cave. Two additional caves can be found both of which lead to an amazing grotto. Three lines stand out here. Firstly the bucket-filled line of 'Bisexual', a great 7a that crosses the upper face of the cave via some outstanding moves. Secondly the more difficult 'Bandito' 7c, which attacks the cave roof on its right side, great for climbers wanting to push themselves not too high above the water. Finally in the right hand cave is the magical 'Strangers in Paradise' 7b, a great one to try in the evening sun.
This all leads to the grand battlefield of the infamous Tarantino Wall. Not a hugely popular area as the lines are quite intimidating, but should not be ignored if you are the head strong, stamina-efficient and competent soloer. 'Kill Bill' 2, a mighty 7c is the big prize here, along with Chris Sharma's mega roof problem 'Big Mamma' 8a+.
Today, people make themselves at home in the bay of Barques. Well, why not - classic climbing, a beautiful beach and a blue ocean lapping at your feet. But it needs to be said that camping here is not permitted, especially with its popularity increasing year on year. The government has been cracking down on campers and issuing warnings and fines so the best bet for you is to find alternative accommodation and fingers-crossed some local will open a camp site at some point.
Further south from Cala Barques is Cala Sa Nau which is dominated by a large and steep cave, which is also home to Klem Lockots, 'Hupolup Kempf' 8b. This steep and stunning roof climb also brought with it Chris Sharma's 'Weather man' 8a+. Although this cave is an inspiring challenge and draws many a climbers attention it's no longer the draw of the area. The attention has moved to a smaller friendlier venue to the left of the cave. 'The Virgin Area' as it's commonly known is a good beginner's area with lots of lower grades to enjoy (4+ - 6a+). This area also has a small number of impressive harder lines such as 'Captain Black' and 'The attack of the spindly jellyfish', to play with, both of which are all around the 7a mark. If continuing south just over the hill and within easy walking distance from Cala Sa Nau you will find the bay of Cala Mitjana. Its main wall is home to such classics as 'Illuminations' 6b+ and 'New Forms' at the same grade. Additionally, around the corner is another small but excellent cave hosting the line of 'Rich Bitch' 7a, which is a fantastic jug puller.
Many who enjoy The Virgin Area at Cala Sa Nau and who are looking for the next step up tend to enjoy visiting the roadside crag of Cala Marcal. Although not as popular as its neighbouring Porto Colom, it's a great venue to tick some very worthwhile lines. 'Mortal Combat' 6b is a leaning tower of jugs and offers some 3 star climbing. Additional lines in the lower grades such as 'Lady Boys' 5+ and 'Higher than the Sun' 6a give this place a good afternoons worth of climbing.
The Lighthouse Area is a deep water boulderer's paradise! With its treasure trove of problems and micro lines (most of which finish half way up the cliff), this venue gives you the freedom to try the harder more boulder-esque problems closer to the water. Headstrong climbers can continue to climb the upper walls of course but at a grade of 7a+ and not generally done by many. It's a popular hang out and the steep lowdown roof problems and powerful finishes keep many entertained for many trips. The easiest here is 'I Live In A Cave', a juggy (ish) 6b with some fine climbing leading to the ledge. Additionally is the 'Princess of Transylvania', Miquel Riera's classic 7a that tackles the roof in fine style to an exciting and strength-zapping finish.
The magnificent Es Pontas arch stands alone amidst the waves like a petrified sea serpent. The mighty line of Es Pontas (unrepeated to date) crosses the belly of the whale and tops out on the seaward side of the arch. When the first topo of Es Pontas was released in 2007 additional unconfirmed lines were noted of which accuracy could not be determined. Even with Miquel's guide that came out in the same year it did not give the game away as there were some inaccuracies on his topos and a lack of information to make anything clearer. After Toni Lamprecht (who was a great help with DWS info with regards to the 2011 release of the Mallorca Rockfax guide book) and Chris Sharma's help, a new and accurate picture of the arch formed. The results were quite amazing, 8c's and 9a+'s do I need to say more? But on the left side of the arch was a line that caught people's attention. A 7b called 'Baby Sepia' which gives an arch challenge at a much more attainable grade!
Here's a section of the BigUp Productions film King Lines, which focuses on Sharma and Es Pontas... check out the dyno!
Additional DWS Crags
For further information on Mallorcas other DWS climbing area including Cala Serena and the west coast crags, then visit the Mallorca destination page over at DWSworld.com
The Ticklist! 40 Essential Deep Water Solo Routes... Have you done them all?
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When do I go?
If you set your sights on visiting Mallorca for DWS, then September and October are your best opportunities for warm waters and non-blistering sunny days. The later you leave it though the higher the risk of winter storms kicking up rough seas and the likelihood of rain. May and June are also possibilities with the slight disadvantage of cooler waters. July and August are best avoided as it can get desperately hot and the sun higher in the sky means there isn't much sunlight hitting the back of the caves to dry them out too!
Flights, Cars And Accommodation
Palma is the main airport on the island and is the third largest airport in Spain so it accommodates flights from all over the world. The airport is home to a large number of car hire companies on site but it is always advisable to book ahead. There are ample amounts of affordable accommodation on the island, which can be booked online, but note that there are no campsites and beach camping is not allowed.
What are the Alternatives to DWS?
If things get too rough in the sea, condensation on the rock gets the better of you, or you just want a rest then there is an array of things you can do. If you still fancy a climb then grab your draws and check out some of the sport crags on the coast or inland over towards the west side of the island.
And what else is there except the climbing?
The beach bums amongst you may want to slackline at Barques beach and in rough seas you can go surfing. Explore the many beautiful towns, villages and ports, which host many bars, cafs and restaurants. There are also numerous tourist attractions to visit including the caves at Porto Cristo known as Cuevas Del Drach.
Most people find that even though they lug six pairs of boots around on a trip, they only tend to use two pairs, one to climb in that day, and the other drying back at the villa. Liquid chalk is a great weapon in the DWS game, but those longer lines still need powdered chalk, so a few chalk bags and chalk blocks definitely help. A hand towel is ideal for drying your hands for those occasions when working lines that start in shaded caves. A dry bag makes a good addition with a sling and karabiner to attach it to you for dry bagging to areas. Take some basic abseiling gear which is not essential for most areas, but handy for some. Two ropes about 30 metres each should do, one for aided descents and one to create a rope ladder for water exits. Slings and karabiners help with the setup of water exits. Make sure you grab your self a rubber ring. They come in very handy and although should not be relied upon for safety purposes are best being there in the water than not.
Where can I buy gear?
If for some reason you forget or need anything (climbing gear wise) then it's best to head to the Foracorda gear shop located in Palma.
Climbing, as we all know is a dangerous sport and although the addition of water as a safety net is there in the event of a fall, DWS is not without its dangers. Always make sure you have your exit plan covered before you start climbing or enter the water. Sea conditions must be safe before you do anything, even a mild swell can make things tricky. Practise your water landings and try to pencil dive if falling from a height above 5m or so. Take note of the S grade, it's there for a reason and make sure the depth of the water is adequate. Finally, it goes without saying you need to be a good swimmer and use your common sense for everything you do. If you don't have any, then stay at home.
Spain : Mallorca from ROCKFAX
The main guidebook to the climbing on the island for the last 20 years has been published by Rockfax and this 2016 edition adds to this legacy with another blockbusting volume for the sun-seeking climber.
It covers the main sport climbing crags and deep water soloing venues across the island and is the only up-to-date book available. Sample chapter here.
The book is also availble in full (with a few extras) on the Rockfax App.
- A History of Mallorca Deep Water Soloing 8 Mar, 2011