Walking the Serra Tramuntana in Mallorca

by Christian

The mountains of the Serra de Tramuntana are a splendid area for hill walkers and March is one of the nicest months to go there. The climate is comfortable and cool days with clear sunny skies make for terrific walking weather. The almond trees start blossoming in February and March which is a beautiful sight as well. Rough alpine mountain passes, sweet lush valleys and dramatic views of the ocean when you reach the coast line. Avoiding the hot summer months you still can visit Mallorca almost year around, from September to May.

Walking these mountains is one of the favorite past times of the locals and you will see many of them on weekends or afternoons scrambling swiftly past you with their tiny packs and decathlon wear (almost 80% seem to buy their gear from this european discount store).

Getting there and our planned route

The airport of Palma de Mallorca is a destination of many airlines, including the low fare airlines like Ryanair or Air Berlin. From downtown Palma de Mallorca you can either travel by train or bus to the mountains and the start of your journey. Last March we took a bus from Plaza d’Espagna (there is huge bus station underground below the Plaza) straight to Port de Soller where we would start and end our walk.

Our route took us from Soller to Biniraix through the beautiful Barranc de Biniraix and the Cuber lake – this is the GR 221 by the way – and then continued on to Lluc leaving the Puig des Tossals Verds (1105m) and the Puig de Massanella (1367m) to our right.

The Walking

As we arrived late afternoon in Soller and still had to find alcohol for our Caldera Cone stove plus fill up our water supplies, we hit the track to Biniraix late afternoon. We didn’t really plan for a spot for our first night and my initial hope that we might be able to pass Barranc de Biniraix before night fall did not manifest. Still unsure about the rules of bivvying on private property without permission of the landowners we stopped at a suitable place along the path as it got too dark to see.

The ascent up the Barranc de Biniraix on it’s old stone path is spectacular and due to it’s own microclimate boasts lush green vegetation and mild temperatures. In fact, it was our warmest night during the whole trip.

Early morning we continued our ascent reaching the pass at around 900m as the sun was rising. From there we started seeing day trippers that were on their way to the Puig L’Ofre. The peak at 1090m offers a splendid view of the valleys around Soller on one side and Cuber lake on the other.

When we arrived at Cuber lake we spotted a terrific camp spot right next to the lake sheltered from wind and view by trees and we decided to stay right there for our next night. It was just to perfect to pass by after last nights bivvy to the path.

The next morning we continued on to Sa Font des Noguer, a public picnic ground with a well that is used by locals to fill up their supplies. We filled up our water bottles, too, and after a quick breakfast joined a few of fellow walkers onwards LLuc. This section was exhausting and it took us the whole day to get to Lluc but it was also the highlight of our trip. The landscape was exceptionally beautiful, always changing as we ascended up to the pass Coll d’es Prat and leveling out on an alpine ridge for some time until we reached the dwindling stairs like descent back down to Lluc. I really enjoyed the alpine conditions up there. Also remarkable that we didn’t run into any other walkers for hours and nobody while we were up on the ridge.



It was already dark as we arrived at the campgrounds of Lluc which is free to stay at. In front of every tent a fire was burning. After setting up the Shangri-La and sorting out our gear we also lit a fire and prepared dinner.

Many walkers stay at these grounds, set up a base camp and take off for day trips and to summit the peaks around Lluc. Not surprisingly we slept longer then everybody else the next morning. The weather had turned and it got significantly colder. While we were checking out the monastery, we could see the clouds drifting down the pass. As soon as we were submerged in the clouds it got cold, wet and windy. This happened so fast we were grateful this didn’t happen to us the day before while we were still high up on the ridge.

Actually, this really got me thinking about our whole gear and safety strategy. Our setup was fairly good to begin with: we had primaloft and down jackets, waterproof softshells, a pretty bomber Shangri-La II plus bivvy bags. But we also had a relative fragile caldera cone stove as our only means of heating water, a delicate Therm-a-Rest NeoAir and just a bit more robust POE Ether 6 mat.

When things would go wrong

The day before as we were walking high in the hills towards Lluc we met a German couple that started out in LLuc that morning. They mentioned a shortcut that should save us some unnecessary up and down on our way to Lluc. Always open for an adventure we did look for that shortcut and using our map we later left the established track and diverted on to a little path.

Soon this wasn’t even a path anymore and we had to scramble between thorny bushes and over rocks. Really hard work and not entirely risk free either. Finally we had to admit we were essentially lost. I really couldn’t make out where we were on the map. We had lost our path maybe an 1 hour earlier but still continued onwards with the hope of finding a way around back to the original path. Also I was hoping that I would be able to make out a distinctive feature so we’d be at least be able to pin point our position on the map.

It was late afternoon already, we were thirsty and out of water. This already made for a pretty unsatisfactory situation. Although we came so far down we made the only right decision to retrace our steps back to the original path. In the end it didn’t even take us as long to get back to the point where we had started our diversion.

But all in all it had cost us over two hours. Not much of a shortcut. It also meant that the sun was setting soon and we were still much higher up than I was comfortable with. Wile we were descending which took us two more long hours I was thinking about the common occurrence that most of tragic accidents happen on the way down, not up. Although this was far from a difficult mountaineering expedition I could understand the dynamics that lead to this phenomena. I did stumble a couple of times on my way down because I was tired from the day’s walk which was a good reminder to stay mindful of my steps. It was well after dark when we arrived at Lluc.

How was Lluc?

The little town of LLuc was interesting, a little jewel in the mountains. We stayed a night at the monastery and watched a ceremony in the chapel. The sounds of the choir singing while the winds were blowing outside was unreal. It truly is a special place.

From there we had planed to go down the Torrent de Pareis and climb another near peak but due to the bad weather we did neither and instead took the bus back to Soller where spent the night in one of the Refugis for the hill walkers.

The tourist office in LLuc advised us against doing the Torrent at the moment as there were helicopters rescuing stranded walkers out of it daily. Maybe, next time.

Conclusion

Looking back, I know think, this could have turned into a nasty situation, if for example one of us had injured ourself while scrambling among those rocks or if the weather had turned bad like it had one day later. We could have put up our shelter and sit tight, of course, but we were out of water and were seriously dehydrated by the time we hit camp later that night.

Sitting on top a ridge, tired and dehydrated also doesn’t make for a good combination in bad weather. And I am not entirely convinced that the UL Caldera Cone is what I want to have in such circumstances. I.e. when you want hot water fast, in spite of rain, strong gusts and being tired.
So, what have I changed since then? For one I don’t rely on air mattresses only. If they break you have nothing. I know always bring a Evazote mat, either in addition to a Thermarest Prolite for comfort or as the sole mat like I did in Scotland last year. Such an Evazote mat is virtually indestructible, fairly cheap and light, what’s not to like? Especially since you can whip on the ground in no time during rest stops. Same goes for the RidgeRests from Therm-a-Rest.

Regarding the stove I believe my Edelrid Hexon will be my number one choice for these kinds of trips. It is light, very versatile and powerful enough to guarantee hot water when I need it. Lastly, I have been considering for some time to get an emergency beacon type unit like the Spot 2. I like that it sends “OK” messages to the family back home, who can also track your progress on a map and when things turn sour, you can alert S&R with it. The unit also provides your exact location to make it easy to find you. There are reports of the device failing in the field, not reporting 100% of location updates and the like. I still believe carrying the Spot is better then nothing and a daily “Ok” message delivered to the folks at home gives them a piece of mind which is a huge added benefit.

All in all we loved the Serra de Tramuntana. It is lovely walking albeit quite exhausting at times. The lush valleys and harsh alpine hills contrast beautifully and make for amazing views. I would like to go again some time and perhaps walk the GR221 in a North-South direction. March is a wonderful time to walk although weather can be a bit of a problem. Two weeks before we came there was snow up in the Tramuntana, two weeks later as well.

How did the rest of our gear perform, you wonder? For the gear-aficionados, to which I count myself, I have to say that we were still carrying too much! The lighter the pack, the more enjoyable your walk will be. Believe me on this. There is no way you will enjoy the mountains while carrying 20Kg or even just 15Kg on your back. You do this and don’t abort, I salute you.

We loved the Shangri-La and it’s easy setup. It can be a bit breezy in the mountains, so pairing it with a bivvy bag is essential, though. This shelter is very comfortable for two and still provides ample space for gear and cooking. Great shelter. We also carried a GoLite Jam (she) and a Lightwave Fastpack 50. No problems, good choices and we still use them now.

The Caldera Cone has been since phased out from gear lists, I am afraid. There is nothing inherently wrong with it and I still marvel at the efficiency of it but there is a fiddle factor with it. You have a few parts that need to be assembled and arranged before cooking and you better don’t loose the windscreen in a gust like almost happened to us when it was blown into the ice cold cuber lake. Also, it is a bit delicate.

The new sidewinder series that also sport the wood burning facilities look neat, I admit, but I also have a BushBuddy wood burning stove, that I enjoy a lot. Maybe I just have too many stoves!?

If you have any questions about walking the Tramuntana, let me know!

  • Hendrik

    Hey Chris,
    amazing story. Can’t await to see it myself next week :-)
    Kind regards,
    Hendrik

    • Christian

      Hey, good stuff. Already got a route planned?
      Have a good trip!

  • http://www.solostove.com/ Bushbuddy vs Solo

    If you like the bushbuddy, try the solo stove. You can find it here: http://www.solostove.com

    • Anonymous

      Interesting, though it looks kinda familiar.. If it works as well as the BushBuddy, it is certainly an interesting option.

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