For the remainder of the trip the blue skies graced us only briefly with their presence. Most mornings were damp from thunderstorms during the previous night, some of which were so bad that Em declared she thought she was going to die, when one of the bolts exploded a little too close for comfort. This left the rock a little out of prime condition until mid to late afternoon, but no-one complained too much as it was the perfect excuse for a lay start.
After a few days we decided to venture to less familiar territory and explore Cala Sa Nau. This slightly lesser known area is actually home to two incredible features of which both played a major role in the rest of the trip. The first is the Hupolup Kempf cave – a rather intimidating place with a selection of the islands hardest and highest routes. The second is the Cala Sa Nau beach bar, which is a significantly less intimidating place, full of some of the islands friendliest and nicest people.
Hupolup Kempf Is described in the guide as “Showing the way of things to come... Prepare for some serious air-time!” and was first climbed at by Klem Loscot and Chris Sharma during 2003. Whilst the full cliff is not as “tall” as the actual top of Porto Colom, the hard sections of the main routes all climb a completely horizontal roof, way, way up in the air and are a little intimidating to say the least. Climbing that sort of terrain at that sort of height is scary enough on jugs, but throw in some small holds and some heel hooks for good measure and you have a recipe for a bit of spice.
Vadage was the first route to go down and was a pleasant introduction to the cliff. The upper crux is at a similar level to the roof of the harder routes and so gives you a bit of an idea of what to expect. After a brief look at The Weather Man, and a long drop to the ocean when I got too scared, a thunderstorm put an end to the antics and we retreated to the bar for some well earned Sangria. We returned a few days later to tick the route and Tim shot some amazing pictures as the sun just started to set.
The bar at Cala Sa Nau is a great place to hang out after a day’s climbing and had some of the tastiest food I ate on the Island, especially the calamari and the goats cheese salad. They also hold fairly regular parties there and we were lucky enough to catch two of the electro and funky house varieties. One of the best things about these parties is due to local restrictions, the music can’t go on much past 12am, but to make up for this the party normally starts in the afternoon. I really like this way – you get your full quota of dancing, yet still get a good enough sleep to feel fresh the next day. Next time you are on the Island, pay them a visit and you won’t be disappointed.
We took a little break from Cala Sa Nau to check out Balam at Cala Llombards. This massive roof is fortunately only 8 or 9 meters above the waves, meaning the 10m+ of upside down, heel toe, bobble slapping action is not too intimidating. I had tried this route on my last trip, but not faired too well, getting super pumped as I struggled to find the right holds in the upside down labyrinth. Miguel originally graded this 7c and so I figured I was just having a bad day, but on speaking with Miguel later that night he told me “When I climb this I try many times. I climb and feel the holds, tap tap tap with the chalk, fall in, then try again. When you know where is the right holds, it’s easy, but if not, it’s very difficult. I try so many times, eventually I know all the good holds and when I climb I think it’s not so bad, maybe 8a/+ but I think others will find it easier so I write 7c”.
It seemed like the key to this route would be in watching someone with the beta, or taking part in a group attempt, so the good holds get chalked leading to (hopefully) an eventual ascent. Alex, Matt and Cedar seemed like good company for this and we systematically set out in turn from the back of the cave, aiming for the light.
It looked like once you reached an obvious jug at the lip the main difficulties would be over but after both Alex and I failed after reaching this point it was clear there was a sting in the tail. The sea was getting pretty rough, making swimming to the exit a little worrying but I got psyched and chalked up for what I thought might be THE go. Through the roof everything felt great and I arrived at the lip surprised at how fresh I felt. Maybe it was the over confidence that made me careless. I pulled too hard on one of the bobbles in an attempt to skip some holds, my left hand gave, and I hit the ocean square on my back, shortly after the piece of broken rock.
Under the water I knew something was wrong. My chest felt all wrong and as I kicked back to the surface, panic took over, and visions of being tossed about in heavy seas unable to breath filled my mind. With what I feared might be my last breath I shouted (well, mumbled/garbled) “help” as I broke the surface and immediately swam for the rope with all I had left. In only a second or so my head had cleared enough to know what had happened. The wind had been knocked out of me, but I could still force a breath if I tried really hard and so wasn’t going to die anytime soon. I reached the rope and signalled to my friends that all was OK. Feeling like a bit of a wimp, I hung on to the knots as the waves crashed over, waiting for the strength to climb out.
Everything in my torso felt tight, a strange un-placeable feeling unlike any other injury I can remember. I was surprised at how the sea could cause this from such little height, and thankful that the hold had broken hear and not at Cala Sa Nau. I sat on the side to watch Alex try again. He seemed a little more nervous, just like the rest of the team, but pushed on and after another couple of falls from the top wall he topped out.
I was torn; I wanted to climb the route, but I didn’t want to hurt any worse. Back and forth, back and forth. I didn’t know what I would do until I was putting my shoes back on and chalking my palms. It felt like someone had stolen some of the magic of Psicobloc and I began to worry that if I left today still feeling like this, I may never get it back. I needed to crush this daemon before it crushed me.
I felt worried the whole way, paranoid a hold would break. Because I was worried, I found it hard to control the panic, and the panic made me get pumped faster, which in turn made me panic more. It’s a vicious circle I know all too well from previous adventures, and as I arrived at the jug on the lip I felt pretty spent. A few scrunched shakes allowed for a few breaths before pushing on into the groove. Suddenly the climbing changed from thuggy horizontal jugs, to techy vertical slopers. Alex was shouting beta at the top of his lungs, I knew what to do but just couldn’t imagine myself doing it. Fighting the urge to quit (which is a strange kind of urge, wouldn’t you agree?) I grabbed a hold I didn’t think I could pull on, and stood up on footholds that seemed way too high. All I could think of was the relatively comfy position I thought was coming next – stood up tall with a fingerlock/undercut in your right hand. As I started to fall, I pushed more with my legs, slapped with my hand and miraculously I stayed on.
One more tricky move found me on the home stretch, and I cautiously followed the positive edges to the top of the wall, watching the little daemon on my shoulder grow smaller and smaller. He is still there, but I can only hear him if I listen well. Whilst it was a ball-ache at the time, I can look back on the breakage as a positive event – one that I feel better for. It forced me to realise just how serious this game can be, without actually being in a super cereal situation. Whilst Psicobloc may seem like a perfect game, we must never stop respecting it – just like the other disciplines of climbing.
Where better to test your head after a bit of a scare than at one of the hardest and highest roofs on the island. Back to Cala Sa Nau we went, with eyes on the prize of Hupolup Itself. I was really nervous, and Alex confessed to me he felt the same which made me feel a little happier in a strange sort of way - maybe there is still strength in numbers even if the individual numbers feel weak?
The day was overcast at best and descending into the shadows of the cave did nothing to brighten the mood. The easy option at times like these is definitely to run away, but just like before a run, you need man up and get on with it. I put on my boots, filled up my chalk and started climbing. At the rest before the roof I felt ok, but the thought of questing out into horizontal blankness wasn’t that appealing. I decided to just feel the first hold, which turned out to be pretty good, so I reached for the next and before I knew it, I was halfway through the roof looking at a big slap. The fear took hold and I let go... Splash
I needed that first fall to remind me all would most likely be cool. On the next go I made it 2 moves further but dropped from an awkward cross handed position. By this point, Alex was also trying the roof moves which gave me a little more encouragement and some ideas for the next try. Arriving at the roof for go number three, I messed up the sequence a little but still made it to the cross position. I adjusted my feet, un-crossed my arms and began to stare at the unknown. I knew it would be a big slap, crossing over yourself from an undercut sidepull to a slopey pocket way above your head. The wild nature meant failure could cause an uncontrolled fall, but giving up would cause failure indefinitely.
The hold on the lip was shit, I tried to adjust, adjusted some more and then splash. Tim shouts down from his ab line that I had missed the hold by one hand width. It’s comforting to know the bad hold is not the one to use, but also frustrating to have to do it all again. I tell Alex all I know and he sets off. He slaps the lip and spends what seems like an age adjusting his left hand. Everyone holds their breath; he does an awkward looking match before reaching a good looking hold he can shake on. A few more spicy moves find him at a jug where as long as you can stay chilled, it’s in the bag – not a problem for Mr Cool!
Alex comes down from the summit and I tag his fist. All that remains is to emulate, which suddenly seems a little harder than before as Alex tells me “the only hard move is matching the lip, all the rest are piss in comparison”. I smile at his honest good will, whilst kind of wishing I hadn’t heard him. Thankfully The hold on the lip is fairly good, and a marginal bicycle makes it even better. I make it to the “thank God” jug and after a prolonged shake and a few words with myself to calm down, eventually to the top.
With everyone’s projects in the bag (Matt also bagged “The Weather Man” after a massive lob of the top jugs!) what better way to celebrate than at the end of season party at the bar on the beach. Good friends, groovy tunes and great Sangria.
My time in Mallorca is over again, so now is probably a good time to repeat something I wrote a year ago, after my very first trip... The week has been nothing but a pleasure and has introduced me to the wonders of psicobloc which I can see playing a big part in my future climbing!