A History of Mallorca Deep Water Soloing

© Daimon Beail
Miquel Riera at ‘Porto Pi’ late 70s; Photo: The Miquel Riera Collection.  © Daimon Beail
Miquel Riera at ‘Porto Pi’ late 70s; Photo: The Miquel Riera Collection.
In 1978, a young Mallorcan called Miquel Riera, frustrated with the aid routes and traditional climbs of his local area, set off to Palma with his friends (Jaume Payeras, Eduardo Moreno and Pau Bover) to find new lines to free climb. The place was Porto Pi and this became Mallorca's first bouldering venue. The bouldering soon moved onto the short sea cliffs in the area and this style became known as "Psicobloc," which when translated into English means - 'psycho bouldering'!

Throughout the 1980s, sport climbing grew in popularity, and bouldering along with Psicobloc faded into the background. Miquel continued his obsession with Psicobloc by opening new areas and putting up new lines. He published many articles with the Spanish climbing press and tried to entice anyone he could to try this new style of climbing.

Miquel Riera on ‘Surfing in the Bar’ late 80’s; Photo: The Miquel Riera Collection.  © Daimon Beail
Miquel Riera on ‘Surfing in the Bar’ late 80’s; Photo: The Miquel Riera Collection.
Towards the end of the 1980s Miquel's explorations, aided by Pepino Lopez, Xisco Meca, Pepe Link and Miki Palmer, had unearthed Cala Barques, Cala Serena and an amazing cliff in Porto Cristo, which was to become known as 'Cova del Diablo'. Three outstanding lines: Surfing in the Bar, Surfer Dead and Surfing Bird were established before things went quiet on the Mallorcan Psicobloc front.

The 1990s saw an explosion for the British equivalent of Psicobloc; Deep Water Soloing (DWS), which began with Nick Buckley's solo ascent of The Conger back in 1983. A wave of development on the UK's southern coast was led by the Cook brothers (including the late Damian Cook), Mike Robertson, Steve Taylor and Pete Oxley.

The original UK DWS team. Back L-R; Joff Cook, Damian Cook, Mike Robertson, Mark Williams, Steve Taylor, Pete Oxley. Front L-R; Tina Huisman, Carol Robertson, Jane Wylie, Jan Rostron

In 1996, the British Climbers' Club released 'Into the Blue:- A guide to Deep Water Soloing in Dorset.' This was the first guidebook of its kind in the world. It introduced an evolved grading system and a whole new approach to climbing in Britain.

In 2001, British climber Tim Emmett received an email from Miquel showing a picture of Cova Del Diablo in all its glory which triggered a major international visit by some strong climbers. Mike Robertson, Tim Emmett, Neil Gresham and friends met with Austrian Klem Loskot and his crew to explore Cova Del Diablo and the surrounding areas. Within one week they had managed to put up over twenty six routes ranging from 4+ to 8a, bringing the total on that crag to twenty-nine. Shortly after in February 2002 Mike Robertson published his article 'Sympathy for the Devil' in British magazine 'Climber' describing the venue along with details of all twenty-nine lines on the cliff.

Toni Lamprecht; Photo by Rasmus Kaessmann;  © Daimon Beail
Toni Lamprecht; Photo by Rasmus Kaessmann;
Climber magazine front cover Feb 2002; Photo by Mike Robertson.  © Daimon Beail
Climber magazine front cover Feb 2002; Photo by Mike Robertson.

Later that year, the international teams returned to add additional lines to Cova del Diablo and explore places further afield such as Cala Sa Nau, Cala Barques, Cala Mitjana and Porto Cristo Novo. This trip also introduced Toni Lamprecht to the island, which resulted in a vast number of new lines being established, chiefly at Cala Barques. A short film was released by Udo Neumann, which artistically portrayed the exploration of the east coast, and additionally Josh Lowell's short film 'Psicobloc', documented Tim Emmett and Klem Loskot's experiences on the first trip to the island in 2001.

Cala Barques; Photo by Daimon Beail

Inspired by the latter film, world-renowned climber Chris Sharma soon took his first trip to Mallorca in 2003. With an on sight flash of 'Loskot and Two Smoking Barrels' under his belt, he began to put up more and more challenging lines at the top end of the grade spectrum. His mega-line 'Big Mama' 8a+ S2 was a landmark in what Mallorca had to offer at that time. A number of other hard lines began to emerge in various locations, of which one of the more impressive was Klem Loskot's 2003 route 'Hupolup Kempf', 8b (S2), which crossed one of the largest roofs to be found at Cala Sa Nau. Further south saw Miquel Riera return to Cala Serena with friends, to establish almost 100 new routes within the space of a month.

In 2003 I took my first DWS focused visits to the island, and in the following years explored Mallorca's potential and helped develop with friends a number of new areas on the island such as Port De Soller, Sa Calobra, Cala Santanyi and Cala Marcal. I started developing a small guide to the island's Deep Water Soloing venues, which at that time was poorly documented and hard to find.

In the early part of 2004, the sad news hit the climbing world that Damian Cook, a well-known and highly-respected figure in the Dorset's climbing community, had been killed whilst soloing alone at Porto Cristo in challenging conditions. This shocked the climbing world and emphasised that Deep Water Soloing could hold fatal consequences.

Josh Lowell released a collection of short films under the banner Dosage Vol 2 in 2004. This included a slightly enhanced version of the 2002 film 'Psicobloc' (now renamed 'Psicobloc Part 1') and also a new film called 'Psicobloc Part 2', which documents some of Chris Sharma's first visit to the island in 2003.

Cala Serena
© Daimon Beail

The spotlight turned to Porto Colom in 2005 as Miquel introduced Chris Sharma, Toni Lamprecht and a number of international climbers to the venue. After a short time, the Porto Colom lighthouse area had a good number of lines and shortly after became a favourite venue for many a soloist who knew of its location.

2005 was also a good year for lesser-known venues around the Santanyi area. Cala Llombards was a favourite hangout for Chris Sharma and Miquel Riera but in that time Chris began to get the hunger for a new project, one that could possibly be as hard as 'Realization' (9a+, Ceuse France) but climbed as a Deep Water Solo.

Porta Colom Lighthouse
© Daimon Beail

In October of that year Chris Sharma was introduced to the famous east coast landmark of Es Pontas. Chris began to work an incredibly steep and imposing line on the underside of the arch which at that time became known as the arch project. Chris made some dramatic progress the following month by catching the dyno and exiting on the seaward side of the arch. Dissatisfied with this, he began working a right hand finish to the line that would exit on the landward side and tackle the very powerful upper lip. Chris soon realized that although this line was possible, it was very much at his limit and if done might push the boundaries of climbing once again.

The stunning arch of Es Pontas
© Rasmus Kaessmann
March 2006 saw the first Deep Water Soloing guide to Mallorca released ('Mallorcan Psicobloc', by Daimon Beail; published by Rockfax publications). The same year, German filmmaker Udo Neumann released the documentary 'Psicobloc 101,' giving viewers an insight into the previous year's developments regarding soloing on Mallorca.

In September of the same year, the world of Deep Water Soloing changed forever. Chris Sharma completed the right hand finish to the line that climbed underside of the Es Pontas arch, and rumours spread of a magical '9b' being associated with its difficulty. Even though this grade has never been confirmed, due to the lack of a repeat (at time of writing) it was certainly the hardest Deep Water Solo in the world.

Mallorca began to receive a vast amount of media interest after Chris's accent of the now named 'Es Pontas', highlighted by Josh Lowell and Peter Mortimer's 2007 film 'King Lines,' which captured Chris Sharma making that first ascent and thrust Deep Water Soloing once again into the spotlight.

2007 also saw the release of Rockfax's ambitious project 'Deep Water' by Mike Robertson. This book being the first of its kind included a chapter on Mallorca, on which Mike Robertson and myself collaborated. In a speedy response Miquel Riera finally released 'Psicobloc Mallorca,' which acted as a 'best of' guide to Psicobloc on the island. The guide also contained information on coastal sport climbs and bouldering.

The third Rockfax publication 'Mallorca - Deep Water Soloing' (by Daimon Beail) acted as a companion to the book 'Deep Water'. It further expanded Mallorca's DWS venues to cover a further eleven areas and was released in July of 2008.

In March 2011 a new and fully comprehensive Rockfax guide was released, expanding and updating all things climbable on Mallorca. It is also the first time all the soloing areas are in one book together with all of Mallorca's sport climbing crags.

What Miquel started all those years ago is now attracting climbers from all over the world, and still today climbers are discovering and expanding what Mallorca has to offer.

Special thanks to: Rasmus Kaessmann for the Es Pontas and Lamprecht photos, Steve Taylor for helping source UK historical photos and Miquel Riera for supplying Mallorca Psicobloc historical photos.


NOW AVAILABLE for Next Day Delivery within the UK

The Mediterranean island of Mallorca is now well-known as a sport climbing destination. Since the last Rockfax in 2006, it has also established itself as the home of Europe's best deep water soloing.

This latest edition of the Mallorca Rockfax (our 6th Mallorca publication in 15 years!) brings together all the sport and DWS into one book. The sport section includes seven crags that haven't appeared in our previous books plus many new routes and sectors at the existing crags, and the DWS section combines the work from the Rockfax book Deep Water, and the Rockfax PDF MiniGuide Mallorca Deep Water Soloing.

The style is in the new glorious full-colour format and features many new crag and action photos. The sport climbing is being written by Alan James and Mark Glaister, and the deep water soloing section is being written by Daimon Beail.

The Mallorca Rockfax is the essential companion to your holiday visit to this wonderful island.

8 Mar, 2011
A great article - thanks! Re the original UK DWS team, Pete Oxley is on the right of the photo. He did a lot. Mick
8 Mar, 2011
Great article! Nice work.
8 Mar, 2011
Caption had cropped. Now extended with all the names. Alan
8 Mar, 2011
Hi Alan, Many thanks. I've always loved that photo from the first Rockfax to Dorset; it seemed to capture a happy, relatively carefree time. Very much in keeping with the spirit of DWS which has now, amazingly, gone all around the world. Mick
8 Mar, 2011
Good read! Looking forward to getting the new guidebook!
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