Adventures across Spain Part I – Climbing Mallorca

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn 2009 I planned a trip to Spain, not totally sure what shape my two month holiday there would take. I’d see the normal sights- Sevilla, Barcelona, Madrid, Cordoba, and a real highlight, a trip to deep water solo in Mallorca. I also knew I’d spend three weeks learning to take care of horses in Barbate, Andalucía, which sounded like an extremely romantic start to my summer vacation, and what I saw as my first step to eventually getting my own horse.

Four days before boarding a flight bound for Malaga, a climbing acquaintance mentioned a hike called El Camino de Santiago, or The Way of St. James, a medieval pilgrimage from the Pyrenees Mountains to the town of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, the far northwestern corner of Spain. It was a 500 mile hike to see the remains of the Apostle James, and one of the most important Christian pilgrimages in history. I didn’t know anything about it, wasn’t interested in the religious aspect per se except as a historical and cultural experience, but I had an inkling I’d found my newest adventure.

That same evening, I went to see my parents. When my mother said it was something she’d always wanted to do herself, it was a done deal, and I immediately set out packing the necessary gear (and researching what exactly I was getting into!).

The first month in Spain was a little rough. The romantic horse adventure I had booked at a place called Fantasia Adventure Holidays turned out to be terrible; the acting manager was a psycho OCD control freak who treated her paying clients like teenage delinquents being forced into community service. This wasn’t an internship- I paid close to $1,000USD for this experience. I didn’t mind the hard work that came with it, but the way she treated the three young women, myself included, was an outrage. She was the owner’s girlfriend, filling in for the regular manager who was, to our detriment, on holiday. Riding the horses through the local pine forest nature reserve called Parque Natural la Breña y Marismas, galloping down the fire breaks, was real joy. I enjoyed learning how to feed and clean the horses, and take care of the tack. I didn’t enjoy not being “allowed” to go for morning trail runs because, “who knows what kind of people are out there?! If you were a boy, then fine!”, at 7am in a small, quaint, safe town in Andalusia. She was British, and a total control freak. None of us liked being yelled at for picking up a bucket with our left hand, instead of our right – a requirement of hers – or being pushed to the side if we happened to be standing in the path of that nut. After a week, I tried discussing this with her and her partner. He admitted she could be out of hand at times, and made her apologize for the rude treatment and the ban on morning runs. After a couple more days, it was obvious she wasn’t able to control her temper or be more diplomatic. I told them I was leaving, and asked for a partial refund, which they refused to give. He did threaten to sue me if I left a bad review online about the experience, so let’s keep this a secret ;)

It was a total wash, but I did get to spend the next couple of weeks visiting Sevilla and surrounding towns, before meeting up with a friend from middle school, on holiday from a job in London. After exploring Barcelona and the famous Boqueria market, the biggest and most famous market in Europe, we caught a freight ship to the island of Mallorca. It was a massive cargo ship, with one deck reserved for passengers. A few dozen people claimed their pushed-together couches for the night, enjoyed the fresh Mediterranean sea air, and picnicked on the vinyl red seats for the next 12 hours. Upon arriving in Mallorca, we caught a lift from a local to a nearby town, rented a car, and spent a couple nights camping next to the beach under the stars, with a harmonica for company. On the first scouting trip above the massive cliffs of the area called Cala Sa Nau I had come to climb, I was fortunate enough to meet a German carpenter and climber who invited us to stay in her beautiful house. She showed us the best local climbs, and introduced us to her climber friends, including the author of the guidebook we were using. This new friend had done the Camino de Santiago just a few months before, and had loved every step of The Way. I was giddy with anticipation.

Mallorca was full of German tourists and expats, and not overly friendly locals. The landscape had a rough and rugged beauty to it thought, with idyllic sandy inlets and beaches surrounded by the steep, sharp cliffs and forests above. The climbing was dangerous, and I had read that an average of one person drowns a year attempting to deep water solo the jagged walls, plummeting back into the ocean on failed attempts. The danger was the undercut rock, where the ocean waves had spent millennia eating away at the cliffs, leaving a roughly 5’ undercut shelf between the water and the rock face. If you didn’t have the strength or technique to get up the cliff, it was a long swim back to the beach. Some days the waves were very rough, threatening to smash and grind you into the razor-edged rock.

To climb, you had to first find an easy route down to the water, jump in, and swim to your intended route, or traverse over directly. You also had to make damn sure you were strong enough to climb back out of the water, which was exceptionally difficult. Some routes were far too difficult for the average climber, but even the easy routes were too difficult for most non climbers.

Mallorca, Spain Got to the top of this 60 foot rou
60′ climb on the eastern side of the island. After ascending, I down climbed half way and jumped from about 30 feet, which still hurt like hell.

Once in the water, it was necessary to wait for a wave to come in, bringing you up closer to the ledge. At the crest of the wave, you had to quickly grab the razor sharp rock ledge, do a pull up out of the water, hook your heel or toe at head-height, and haul your ass up onto the main part of the wall! It was brutally hard, often harder than the climb itself. Some walls were equipped with a dinky little knotted rope, which I found to be almost more difficult than anything else.

Check out this video of world famous climber Alex Honnold to see what it looked like. At minute 4:42, you’ll see Cala Sa Nau where I met my German climber friends, and the same dinky little rope as mentioned above.

Climbing 60 foot walls was exhilarating, but falling from anything above that could be very dangerous, even lethal. A fall from even 30 feet was often extremely painful, if done improperly (which is often the case when winging off a tough climb!). I preferred the shorter, more difficult routes that required more strength and precision to navigate overhanging roof sections, but with shorter falls into the ocean below. You would sometimes fall 10 times and only make a few moves’ progress.

After a week in Mallorca, including a road-trip around the entire island, it was time to fly to Madrid. Two days was sufficient to do some walking tours and see the Museo Nacional del Prado, and then I was on a train bound for the start of my next adventure: a 500 mile hike across Spain!

More on El Camino de Santiago in part dos!


To pack for hiking/climbing:

  • Hiking (yoga) pants

  • Hiking shorts

  • 3 pairs hiking socks

  • 3 undies

  • 1 t shirt, 2 tank tops, 1 sports bra

  • Lightweight fleece

  • Wide brimmed hat

  • Hiking shoes (I used trail runners) and climbing shoes

  • Lightweight flip flops

  • Ibuprofen

  • First aid: bandages, alcohol wipes, neosporin, sore muscle ointment, gauze

  • Pancho

  • Lightweight sleeping bag, lightweight sleeping pad

  • Lightweight towel

  • Headlamp

  • Waterproof baggies for books/money/passport (lunch baggies are fine)

  • Waterproof pack cover

  • Swimsuit
  • Shampoo/conditioner/Dr. Bronner’s soap in small travel bottles for body and clothing

  • Sunglasses

  • Toothbrush/small toothpaste

  • SPF 50 Sunblock- one large bottle and one small refillable bottle for hiking portion
  • 1 Chapstick, 3 pairs earplugs, fingernail clippers

  • Blister relief

    • TONS of blister pads

    • needle thread

  • Food Stuff

    • Spork/knife

    • tupperware with lid

    • 2 water bottles

  • Small waterproof pouch for money
  • Book, small notepad, pen

  • Camera

    • Charger

    • Extra memory card


For cities:

  • 1 skirt outfit

  • 1 pair shorts

  • Extra ID, copy of passport, (small amount) emergency money stashed somewhere.

  • Extra emergency credit card and phone numbers written down for bank
  • Locker lock for hostels

5 thoughts on “Adventures across Spain Part I – Climbing Mallorca”

  1. Oh my god Beads! I can’t believe you climbed that, I am very impressed. Those videos were watching with bulging eyes and my hands clasped over my mouth. So intense, I’d love to see video of you doing it. I will not guarantee I can watch a beloved cousin climb something like that though! Thank you for doing this blog, it’s great! I check it every day!

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