Mallorca DWS Climbing Guide for Newbies

All the deep water soloing questions you have, but can’t find answers for. Climbing level, safety, chalk, wet shoes, and more. Read on!

Every year, Rockbusters organise a DWS trip to Mallora. Book yours here. 

Deep water soloing has a long tradition not only in Mallorca, but all over the world. It’s always been a very niche activity, but as pointed out by the father of Mallorcan DWS, Miquel Riera, people have been climbing sea cliffs for as long as there was a climber, a cliff, and hot weather.

Around the same time that Riera and his mates were developing the first DWS routes in Mallorca, British climbers realised that some of the trad lines on the Dorset sea cliffs could be safely soloed above deep water. However, it wasn’t until 2005 when Chris Sharma turned his eyes to the impressive arch of Es Pontas in Mallorca that DWS really caught the world’s attention.

Still, to say that climbers started flocking to Mallorca from far and wide would be an overstatement. Although more and more people are interested in DWS, the cliffs are still far from busy. Despite excellent rock quality, the crystal crear waters of the Med, and the mild weather, climbing 50 feet above the sea still isn’t for everybody. Luckily, there’s no obligation to go high, many excellent lines top out well under the 30 feet mark and buoyancy vests are increasingly popular among those less confident in their swimming. A little bit of common sense goes a long way, and nothing else only some decent swimming skills are needed for a great first DWS trip to Mallorca.

 

It’s all in the name:

The term “deep water soloing”, commonly abbreviated to DWS, is pretty self explanatory. Psicobloc is the Catalan equivalent meaning “psycho-bouldering”. Miquel Riera also mentiones the word fliñar, which is a portmanteau conveying something along the lines of “to shit yourself while being height”. Now at least you know what you’re getting yourself into 😉

 

When to go:

Prime DWS conditions start around late September, when the temperatures drop and the sun stays lower, drying deep holds and tufas. Earlier in the year it can be extremely hot, and the rock, shaded in deep cliff caves, tends to stay slimey. While the conditions are far from perfect, hotter weather suits beginner climbers, who tend to spend most of their time in the water. Once you start seriously thinking about topping out, October is probably the best time to climb. If you’re not bothered about prime conditions, you can visit any time of the year.

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Climbing level:

Deep water soloing is such a particular and at first unfamiliar type of climbing, that it is almost impossible to perform at your regular sport climbing level. Four years ago, around the time of my first DWS trip, I was looking to climb 7a. High above the water, I was unable to go up a downclimb graded 5. (Read more about the experiences of a novice climber in Mallorca here.)

This is not to say that those climbing f6a shouldn’t try psicobloc. There are a few high quality sixes worth seeking out (a list below). Plus, it is very hard to get hung up on grades in Mallorca. You end up way to involved with the rock and the water to care about numbers.

Speaking of water, when it comes to DWS, it is the swimming level that’s of real importance. Very commonly, people believe themselves to be confident swimmers, only to realise that the sea is much different to a swimming pool. If you haven’t swum in waves for a while, spend a day or two just jumping in the water (it’s also a great way to familiarise yourself with the height of cliffs), swimming around, and practising getting out. There’s a certain skill to knowing how to work with the waves, and how not to cut yourself on razor-sharp rock. Chances are, by the end of the day you will be scratched all over anyway. As with the grades, very quickly you stop caring.

 

Chalk beta:

Liquid chalk is the answer. Many routes are not long enough to require additional chalking up, plus you can smear some liquid chalk on your legs or forearms to get a little extra mid-route. If you’re new to DWS, you will be falling a lot – a permanently wet chalkbag and kilograms of wasted powder chalk polluting the sea is a suboptimal idea.

During my last trip to Mallorca, I tried at least six different types of chalk, from completely thick creames to very liquid ones. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that Friction Labs Secret Stuff chalk creame was a cut above, drying faster, staying on my hands longer, and not turning into slime in contact with damp holds. (And yes, even if the folks at FL weren’t giving me their products for free, I’d still buy Secret Stuff for my next DWS trip!:D)

If you’re planning on seriously projecting a longer route, a DIY plastic chalkbag might be nice. Try crafting one out of a cut 1.5l water bottle, or, if you’re the artsy type, sewing one from a vinyl sheet.

 

Shoe beta:

Yes, your shoes will be wet. No, they will never dry during the whole trip. Yes, it’s perfectly ok to climb with wet shoes, as long as you give them 10 minutes break to stop dripping.

Forget about bringing your primo pair. Salty water will have a permanent negative effect on any shoes, especially leather ones. Mallorcan limestone calls for many heel and toehooks, so take that into account, but concern yourself mostly with choosing a pair that’s comfortable. Getting out of the water and walking on sharp rock is easier in shoes that you can actually stand in.

Swimming in climbing shoes is not ideal, but it works. For emergency purposes, you might not want to tie your shoelaces too tight, so that you can easily undo them in the water.

 

Falling and water exits:

Always try to fall with your body in a straight, vertical line. Toes pointed, legs close together, arms alongside the body or crossed on the chest. Tuck your chin and close your mouth firmly. You might want to exhale a little bit upon entering the water. Don’t rid yourself of all the air in your lungs as you will need a litte under the surface. Breath out only as much as necessary to prevent water from getting into your nose.

In reality, it’s impossible to always follow these rules. You will fall with legs spread like a starfish, back first, head first, even belly flop. When falling from under 30 feet it doesn’t really matter that much. You get a harsh slap from the surface, and that’s it.

My worst injury was bursting the inside of my upper lip after falling with my mouth open from just under 45 feet. I also fell upper back first (hands slipped, heel stayed) from about 20 feet. In case of an uncontrolled fall, just relax as much as you can. A limp body is much less likely to get hurt. Smashing on the surface feels like a bit of a shock but don’t panic. Swim to safety and then proceed to panic and babble about your rad fall to everybody in sight.

Always make sure you know your nearest water exit. Some of them are quite tricky. Practice, find the best beta and remember that exiting rough water is completely different to exiting when the water is still. Again, practice!

Here’s a little video from a controlled fall taken from the top of “Metrosexual” at Cala Varques. Taking a plunge was a consequence of not checking for top out jugs. They’re all there, but on the left, not on the right…)

"Metrosexual" | Fall at Cala Varques

Wait for it! 💦 💦 💦 💦When you think it's impossible to mess up, call me. I'll tell you all about messing up at the top out. From long term boulder projects to mellow routes above the sea, you can count on me to drop it at the very end 😂

Posted by Zofia Reych on Wednesday, October 25, 2017

 

Safety:

Never climb alone or out of sight. It is possible to get knocked out from hitting the water. A fast reaction from your crew is essential for a happy ending. Accidents are not entirely uncommon. Hauling an unconscious person, or worse yet, a panicking person, is a tough job. Save yourself some trouble and have a flotation device to hand. A bouoy may look silly, but it can also save a life. Inflatable toys don’t stand a chance in contact with sharp rock.

Rumour has it that most deaths on Mallorcan sea cliffs are a result of reckless jumping, not climbing. Once acclimatised to the DWS environment, it’s very easy to feel safe and complicant above the water. It takes seconds for things to go wrong. As with any type of serious climbing, always have a rescue scenario in mind.

 

Watertight barrel:

Many routes start from ledges accessible either via a downclimb or from the water. Either way, you might want to store a few things on the ledge. Containing them in a watertight barrel is a great way to keep them dry and prevent them from sinking should they fall into the sea. Attach a prusik and a sling to your barrel, so that you hang it off yourself for downclimbs.

Stuff a small travel towel for drying your hands, a tub of chalk, and an action camera into your barrel, and you’re ready to go.

Alternatively, a small dry bag will also do the job.

 

Dress code:

Let me reassure you that in Mallorca everything goes. Choose whatever you feel comfortable in. Quick drying shorts are a good idea. Big breasts might want to be contained in a very supportive sports bra. Otherwise, choose speedos, a bikini, or go naked if you please. Seriously, nobody cares.

 

Where to start:

Gradually familiarising yourself with psicobloc is the best way to have a good experience. Start at a mellow crag, choose short routes or traverses well within your climbing ability. Here’s a list of lines for novices to tackle. Make your way through them, and you will be ready to take on more serious DWS challenges.

 

CRAG: Cala Santanyi

There are three sectors to Cala Santanyi: The Cove, Super Sonic, and Es Pontas. The Cove offers two easy routes:

  • “Naked Germans” 4c / 6m
  • “Wave Machine” 5c / 6m

If you’re feeling adventurous, move on to Super Sonic for a great 6b (“Bird Watching”) and a classic 7a, “Super Sonic”. The latter was my first ever 7a a few years ago – if you like overhanging, bouldery routes, chances are you will love it. If you’re a pro, head over to Es Pontas and tick a classic 9a+ 😉 If you’re not, make sure to admire the arch anyway.

 

CRAG: Cala Mitjana

The Rich Bitch cave in Cala Mitjana offers to easy, juggy, overhanging climbs on either side of the cave (two obvious, easy lines on the right from “Ritch Bitch” are:

  • “Geek” 6a /7m
  • Second line to the right, closer to the ledge, is a slightly easier 6a /7m

On the left from “Geek”  there’s another hugely satisfying route at a slightly harder grade:

  • From a match shelf, make a big move up and behind your head to a small stalactite/tufa and continue up at 6b /7m

Cala Mitjana is a great place to try something a little harder, but is still relatively low above the water. Move leftwards from the tufa 6b to access two great, athletic sevens:

  • “Rich Bitch” 7a / 7m
  • “Balsa Boys” 7a+ / 7m

Both routes have cruxes around mid-height, and the water in Rich Bitch cave is rarely rough.

Another of Cala Mitjana sectors, Midnight Mast, offers a somewhat spicy 6b+, “Midnight Mast”. It’s safe, but requires a committing move close to the top, and the fall is intimidating. Once you reach the jugs after a big, blind move off a right hand layback, you feel like a hero, so it might be worth the fright 😉

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Here’s a video of Erin cruising through the crux on the tufa 6b during our recent Rockbusters trip: 

It was our first day here in Mallorca, and we all got to test the water a bit. We got scared some, sent some, and had an all round awesome day. Here's @erinkatylingle on a beautiful line with a crux match on an amazing little tufa. She cruised the move and topped out in style! After starting mellow at Cala Sa Nau, we're planning on hitting the classic venue of Cala Varquez tomorrow. Check out the stories for more. . . . . . . . . . . . . #climbing #deepwatersolo #deepwatersoloing #DWS #psicobloc #psicocomp #bouldering #sportclimbing #freesolo #rockbusters #andshesdopetoo #outdoorwomen #outdoorwomen #climbgirls #climbing_worldwide #climbing_photos_of_instagram #climbing_is_my_passion #adventuretime #adventuretravel #naturalmovement #movementculture #rad #adventureculture #rockbusters #Mallorca #majorca #escalade #wspinanie #klettern #inspiremyinstagram #sundayfunday

A post shared by Rockbusters Climbing (@rockbusters_climbing) on

 

CRAG: Cala Sa Nau

Mitjana and Sa Nau are located within a short walk from one another.

  • “Virgins are only human” 6a+ / 10m

An easy approach on a rock shelf gains you access to a few athletic moves on huge, satisfying jugs. Very much like V1 indoor boulder problem. Great fun nonetheless! The 7a on the right from “Virgins” is also good fun.

 

CRAG: Porto Colom

Hidden under the lighthouse in Porto Colom, is a large cliff offering both very low traverses and sketchy Chris Sharma routes topping out at 60 feet. All shorter routes end on a ledge, from which the only way down is to jump! Luckily, it’s not too high, and the water exit is aided by some fixed ropes.

To access the crag, park on a residential street, walk past a no entry sign into somebody’s garden, and then descent via a series of concrete staircases which lead to a long scramble traverse. Lose the flipflops and take some decent approach shoes.

Routes can be accessed from the water, or via a 6a traverse.

  • “I live in a cave” 6b+ / 8m

A short roof takes you to a little cave. For a full tick you’re meant to continue upwards toward the jumpoff ledge, without resting in the cave. However, resting in the cave is fun and allows you to divide this great route into two parts.

On the far left hand side of the crag there’s another classic line:

  • “Princess of Transilvania” 7a+ / 12m

If you’re still familiarising yourself with the height, a pumpy traverse of the whole crag (ends under “Princess”) will gain you a 6b tick.

 

CRAG: Cala Varques 

The most picturesque of all Mallorcan DWS locations, Cala Varques is the unquestionable gem of the island. Three stunning caves can be accessed via a short walk left from the beach.

The downclimb in the first cave known as the Cova Sector is a great first route for a DWS beginner (if you can get out of the water 😉 )

  • “Cova Descent” 6a+ / 14m

Tackling the huge “ear” of Cova offers a great, athletic move from a jug to jug quite high above the water:

  • “Genoveses” 6b / 14m

Traversing the stalactites and tufas under the main cave is great fun in itself. Go left to right, or right to left, depending on your mood.

There’s also an epic, nearly 100 metres long right to left traverse of the whole area, known as the “Barques Traverse”, 6b. It’s a fun adventure, but there are a few places where you can’t fall.

The second of Cala Varques’s sectors is known as “Metrosexual”, with an eponymous king line tackling the very middle of the head wall above the cave (video above):

  • “Metrosexual” 7a / 14m

For a full tick start at the very bottom left hand side of the cave. Alternatively, a ledge halfway up the cave offers access to the crimprail halfway up the route. (There seems to be some confusion as to which line is “Metrosexual” and which one is “Bisexual”, with a slight grade difference. At least I can’t figure it out! Either way, the line through the huge holes in the headwall is in my opinion the most esthetic of the routes in this cave.)

A slightly easier and shorter line that’s similar in style can be found in the third of the Varques caves:

  • “Hercules” 6c / 10m

Worth mentioning is also a polished but inviting warm up area on the left hand side of the Metrosexual sector. A few variations and eliminates offer moves from f5 to 6b.


Additional Mallorca DWS beta: 

In the Cala Varques forest there’s a permanent (but illegal) camp known as Beach 4. For full immersion in Mallorcan climbing culture you might want to stay there for a couple of nights, but beware of police riding the camp in the early morning hours (fine is EUR150). Otherwise, there are many rentals available all over the island. For good prices and some peace, avoid all well known tourist destinations. Cheaper accomodation is available at Campsite Hipocampo close to Manacor.

Rockfax seems to be the most comprehensive guidebook to both Mallorcan DWS and sport climbing. If possible, avoid señor Riera’s guidebook. In my experience it’s rather incomplete and unfortunately contains more errors than Rockfax.

Advanced sport climbers confident in their swimming should test their skills and head game at the infamous Cova Del Diablo in Porto Cristo. I’ve not yet mustered the courage (nor the skills) to climb there. As soon as I check it out (hopefully next year!) I will report back.

If you’ve got any questions about deep water soloing in Mallorca (or corrections to this text), hit me up on social media, or send an email to upthatrock@gmail.com 🙂

To book a DWS trip with Rockbusters, click here. They chase sport climbing conditions year round, and usually head to Mallorca for some psicobloc around October.

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