Mallorca- Sport Climbing

View from the road leading to Gorg Blau, a climbing sector in Mallorca located in the mountains

My four day trip to Mallorca, one of the four Balearic islands off of the eastern coast of Spain, started off with me getting lost in my bright blue Fiat Panda rental car on my way to find my friend Nat. Luckily, this rental car experience didn’t start nearly as badly as the one I had in Portugal, where it took me a good five minutes to figure out how to put the car in reverse (I’m a good stick driver, I swear). This time I hopped in and, feeling like a boss, pulled out onto the freeway with major ganas to eat a bocadillo (“sandwich” in Spanish and quite the popular lunch item) meet my friend Nat at his apartment in Palma and leave as soon as possible to go climbing.  I met Nat almost three years ago at UC Davis, my university, at the climbing wall in our school gym, where my love affair with climbing began. Still, we never really climbed or hung out together too much apart from sometimes climbing together at the gym. When I first arrived in Barcelona some casual facebook browsing led me to the discovery that Nat was living in Mallorca teaching English and, more than anything, climbing overhung limestone tufa.

Fraguel

Most rock-climbers have heard of Mallorca because it is a premier destination to go deep-water soloing. Deep-water soloing is a type of rock climbing that is done directly over the ocean without the use of a rope, so if you fall the water breaks your fall. Going deep-water soloing in Mallorca was definitely on my Spanish bucket-list but though the entire idea of it made me pretty nervous. After talking a bit with Nat, however, I realized that Mallorca offered what seemed like some pretty amazing spot climbing in addition to the DWS. So, when I arrived on a hot (and I mean HOT, around 30-35 Celsius) Friday afternoon in the middle of June we headed immediately to Fraguel, a shaded sport climbing crag only a 15-20 minute drive from Palma de Mallorca, the biggest city in Mallorca where about half the island lives. Well, that’s a lie… before we went climbing at my request we headed immediately to a café where I enjoyed a bocadillo con atún (tuna sandwich). In Spain bocadillos tend to consist of four ingredients : the protein, either tuna or some form of pork, tomato, olive oil and bread. Sometimes, AKA 90% of the time I order a bocadillo I miss the other normal sandwich ingredients a naive American might expect to find on a sandwich, like lettuce and onions (or if you’re from liberal northern california like me..  organic and locally produced bean sprouts, hummus, avocado… etc.) but this bocadillo was served with the typical Spanish accompanying appetizers- café con leche and a plate of aceitunas, so I was quite satisfied. With a stomach full of protein, fat, caffeine, carbohydrates and deficient in any sort of vitamin or mineral we hopped into the Panda on our way to Fraguel, a small hidden crag in  the woods near the town of Bunyola. After hiking uphill for 20 minutes in the heat Nat grabbed some pads that were stashed near the crag and we laid down and admirered the crag for a few minutes. The left hand side of the crag is darker vertical/slabby rock that has a lot of fingery routes in the sixes and low sevens. On the right hand side the rock changes completely into waves of orange limestone lined with huge tufas. After relaxing for a few minutes we warmed up on Pink Panther, a 6a cruiser crack that was quite nice. Afterward we decided to try to climb Jungle Hop, a vertical/slabby 7a+ that was chosen as a top 50 climb in Rockfax’s Mallorca climbing guide. With still no 7a+ under my belt I was definitely down to try, especially because this climb seemed right up my alley- vertical, technical climbing.. not exactly what I was expecting to find in Mallorca but I was not complaining. After Nat onsighted it I went up and fell at a move in the middle trying to figure out a good clipping stance off of a grimey side-pull. Above that there was a section where you pull up into a vertical wall (after coming in from a slight overhang) and every hold you touch seems to be slopey and curved in the wrong direction. I desperately pulled my way over and through it and finished the route. Lowering down I figured out some better clipping beta and some beta to get through the cruxy upper wall. On my second go I sent it, just barely. I felt great- I had just bagged my first 7a+ on my second go the first day into my first trip of summer in a beautiful crag in great conditions, despite the fact that I only had four hours of sleep the night before (muchas gracias para la energía,  café con leche). Huzzah! I had accomplished my climbing goal while in Spain! The inspiration for the title of this blog was my desire to climb 5.12a and it has happened! Whoohoo! Needless to say, it felt awesome and I was excited to see what else Mallorca had in store for me.

Sector Plaques in Gorg Blau
Nat and Alix checking out Sector Es Torrente
in Gorg Blau

The next day we decided to go sport climbing again in order to reserve our energy for trying hard lines since when you go DWS you tend to climb easier than you otherwise would, especially during your first time. Since summer was definitely in full swing in Mallorca the weather limited our options- we would not survive baking in the sun at a winter crag. So, with this in mind, we headed to Gorg Blau, a crag located in the mountains of Mallorca that is at a higher elevation and always has a shaded area. It was evidently one of the further crags but it still only took an hour to get to, which evidently is the
longest time you ever have to spend in a car to get to a crag in Mallorca- I was definitely starting to see the benefits of living on a small island. We arrived around noon and started climbing in Sector Plaques, which was in the shade until 2 or 3. We warmed up on a 6b+, Lisa Simpson, a brilliant 35m vertical route that was also given a top 50 rating by Rockfax. So far I had only climbed veritcal/slightly slabby routes in a place that was known for crazy overhung tufa lines, though this changed quickly enough. We then tried a top 50 7a called Pocket Wall. The beginning of the 7a is V+ until you reach the crux, a hard boulder problem to a pinch. After that it’s sustained 6c, 6c+ climbing until the top where there is another mini-crux. I fell the first time on the lower crux but got it the second time and climbed to the top without falling, essentially red-pointing the climb ( I didn’t repeat the V+ part) Then, just as Sector Plaques was getting in the sun we moved to Sector des Cable, named after a Cable that runs right over the rock that is used for the dam nearby… the only downside to this amazingly beautiful crag. Finally, these routes looked more like what I was expecting to climb, pumpy overhung tufa routes. I got on a short 7a that was the first part of a 7c+ extension. It was a short pumpy route that I fell and rested on.. but that had some fun dynamic moves and was a good mini-introduction to the rest of the climbing I would do at Mallorca. After sector des cable got in the sun as well we crossed the road to Sector Es Torrente, a steep-wall lined with harder routes in the sevens and eights. Nat and his friend Alix got on the sector classic, a 7c called Sa Festa that runs up the small and thin central tufa while I stood around admiring the line and shooting photos. Alix suggested I get on a short 7a+ called Akkupunter that was on the left most side of the crag. The line goes between two twin tufas and then goes out left to a vertical face. I’ve only climbed a few tufa lines , all in Rodellar, and I still found it a bit awkward when I went up Akkupunter the first time. I fell largely because my body positioning was making me use more energy than I had to. I ended up trying Akkupunter three times that day, falling on my third go out of exhaustion more than anything. Still, I left Gorg Blau not with a send but with another accomplishment: I had done 6 climbs that day, 5 of which were 7’s. I had never done that many 7’s in one day and my body definitely felt it.

Nat climbing Sa Festa, 7c in Gorg Blau

After a day of deep water soloing (See the Mallorca DWS blog post I also have up!) we returned to Gorg Blau on my last full day on the island. We were pretty tired after 3 days on but I only had one more day left in Mallorca so we figured we might as well ignore our sore muscles and aprovechar! Before Mallorca I had also climbed for 3 days straight, one day in Montserrat followed by 2 days on in Rodellar, with only 1 day rest before flying to the island, so I was particularly exhausted. (aprovechar= enjoy.. aka live it up) We warmed up again on Lisa Simpson, 6b+ and it felt about 10x harder for me than it was the first time, likely due to my tired body. I knew I only had a few pitches in me so I decided to give a few more goes at Akkupunter again, just to see if maybe I could pull it all together and send the route. On my second go of the day I finally sent the route and it was without a doubt one of the biggest physical battles I have ever had while climbing. Every move felt hard and I reached the anchors shaking. The feeling of having sent it on basically my last energy reserves was amazingly satisfying; it’s a feeling that many athletes share but that can’t be described well with words- a feeling that you put your entire being into one thing and you succeeded, but just barely. It’s quite euphoric and was the perfect way to end the trip. I didn’t climb a single pitch more in Mallorca, I don’t think I could have hauled my body up anything that was worthwhile.

Starting up Akkupunter on our fist
day at the crag.

While waiting for my flight at the Palma airport the next morning I reflected on the progression in climbing that was peaked with my first 5.12a climbs. Before I came to Spain, I had not even climbed 5.11a and here I was, only six months after arriving climbing a full number grade higher. It’s interesting how much my perspective on climbing has changed on what constitutes hard sport-climbing and, most importantly, how hard I think I can climb. I used to dream of doing 5.12a and regraded it as a lifetime goal. 5.12a is considered in the states to be a pretty decent grade to have under one’s belt and is set as a sort of benchmark for more difficult and serious climbing. Here in Spain 5.12a is often what people do to warm-up. In fact, I owe my speedy progression mainly to the community of climbers with whom I have climbed with here in Spain. Though they tend to start ridiculously late (but who can blame them when the sun sets at 10 PM) and enjoy a few more breakfast beers and croissants that I tend to deem necessary (who can blame them when they climb in the 13’s and 14’s…), they never failed to support and encourage me with the usual shouts of “venga!, tu puedes! a muerte!” while I was flailing up 6’s and easy 7’s. Most importnatly, they are all psyched on climbing as hard as they can, both with the motivation of pushing themselves but, I believe they are fueled mostly by the inspiring and beautiful routes that you can enjoy once you can comfortably climb 5.12 and up. There are a lot of things to be said about Spanish climbers, good and bad, but no one could ever accuse them of not trying hard when they do eventually rack up and get on a route. Their psyche and motivation is contagious and has been a catalyst for my development as a climber. If I can climb 5.12a now, after only 6 months of real outdoor sport climbing experience and after a 5 month long break of climbing due to foot surgery, what can I do in a lifetime? What beautiful hard line will I be able to send with 5 years of dedication? Time will only tell, but I can say right now with absolute certainty that I am going to dedicate as much energy as I can to achieve my potential and push my body and mind in ways I never dreamed of, to flow up some of the most beautiful lines that exist in the world and interact with myself and with nature in a truly unique way.  In fact, while I did achieve my goal already, the moment I lowered from the chains of my first 5.12a I felt accomplished but in no way did I feel as if I was done with climbing hard during this trip. My goal has been modified to climb 7b.. and after that it will be 7b+, followed by 7c etc. etc. Time to move on to the next grade, the next line, the next goal… 7a+ was only the benchmark, only the beginning… A muerte!

My introduction to Mallorca was short and sweet but I will definitely return one day.
Seguramente regresaré!

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