Winter climbing in Mallorca
For a long time Nathan and I had been dreaming about living in a small village in Spain. Our criteria were that we could walk to a local baker in the morning, drink good coffee and climb on steep limestone tufas.
I hadn’t really thought of Majorca as the obvious sport climbing destination before a friend us showed us photos from his trip. He talked about secret crags, lots of potential, old culture with small villages and good food. It was a little off the beaten path for sport climbers, and we wanted to go somewhere like that. We were sold. We rented a little apartment in a small village called Deia. In the off season we knew it would be really quiet, and we were right. Only a few of the restaurants were open and I’m pretty sure we were the only tourists there. The local baker down the street delivered warm chocolate croissants every morning. Nathan’s smile was worth the trip itself.
On rest days we hiked around in the narrow cobble streets and explored every corner of the island.
And then, the climbing days. We had heard rumors about bad bolts, and unfortunately they’re not just rumors. For the first week we stuck to the crags in the guidebook. Rusty bolts and lack of updated topos made it quite adventurous at times, and at first, I was pretty disappointed. We went to one crag where literally half the sectors didn’t have a single safe bolt. It made me even more proud of people like Josh Lyons, whose Thaianium Project is singlehandedly replacing thousands of old plated steel expansion bolts with titanium glue-ins, and basically allowing Thailand to be climbable. It also made me sad to see whole cliffs falling into disrepair. Plated steel bolts obviously doesn’t cut it in Mallorca, and it seemed like such a waste to put up so many routes that would last for only a couple of years, instead of spending a little extra on stainless hardware.
However, the more we stayed there, the more I came to realize how complicated the situation is for Mallorcan climbers. The preponderance of rusty bolts isn’t a reflection of them being cheap. The problem is that many of the crags and the access to those crags are on private land owned by foreign investors who aren’t tied to the local community. So unfortunately, climbers have some of the most incredible crags I’ve ever seen, but they can’t touch them or even walk to some of them without trespassing. Mallorcans are battling to get freer access to the mountains on their island, which are so beautiful they’ve been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We found amazing crags that had been shut down, or were at least threatened, for many reasons: the landowner wanted to charge a parking fee to access the cliff; someone bought the building on top of the cliff and wanted to keep the parking areas open for tourists; etcetera etcetera. And of course, this is certainly their right: they own the land. But fallout of this is that Mallorcan route developers have taken to developing their own secret crags, and keeping them off the map. These secret crags are truly world class, and form some of the most impressive amphitheaters I’ve ever seen.
They’ve forged good relationships with some landowners, so they’ve invested in better hardware, while they’ve used less expensive hardware in areas where future access looked tenuous. And it’s understandable that no one wants to spend the extra money on stainless bolts when the crag could get closed down next season, or the season after. This isn’t to say that all the cliffs that are in the guidebook are in disrepair. The more popular areas like Santanyi, Soller and S’Estret have been rebolted with quality glue-ins. The inland mountain crags, which were too cold while we were there, look absolutely amazing. And the countryside has so much rock that it’s mind blowing. The potential there seems endless, not just for rock climbing but for mountain biking and other outdoor activities.
It’s not a simple situation, and being there let us experience the importance of environmental nonprofit organizations that work on behalf of climbers to ensure open access. The Access Fund, the American Alpine Club, the local agencies like the Red River Gorge Climbers Coalition. Whatever you have in your area, pick one and join one! They do an amazing job for climbers and climber advocacy, and they are without a doubt a necessary part of our community.