We had a recent holiday in lovely Mallorca and for a couple of days of that I headed into the mountains, to walk two days / two sections of the Serra de Tramuntana, along the GR221 ‘Dry Stone Route’.
It was really hot for both days. That probably sounds obvious but it was actually hotter than usual, according to a couple of folks I talked to on the trip: around 36 degrees or so on both hikes.
Pretty hard work on the long stretches above the tree line. That lone spotted vulture riding the thermals above me just added to the sense of adventure.
This first day was guided, as I had no time to plan the two days before I headed off on holiday, having lots of work on before we left. I used Mallorca Hiking and the owner, Nina, was really helpful and friendly on our email exchanges. If I’d have had more time I could have figured out a 2 day route, looked at bus timetables, booked into the hostel etc. But having people on the ground who knew all of that worked well.
Sam – the guide who met me on the first morning and walked with me as far as the hostel / refugio at the end of the first day – was equally as friendly. And clearly an outdoors enthusiast, having a degree in such things and having been in Nepal recently. He managed to make me feel not too much the out of shape middle-aged ‘rambler’ to his 20 something mountain man 😉
We talked a lot about blogging, kit selection and falling in bogs, alone in the middle of nowhere (a shared experience), as much as the beautiful fauna and flora that we walked amongst.
Day 1 on the GR221: Santuari des Lluc to Tossals Verds hostel
Day 1 summary:
– Planned as 6 hours walking + breaks
– A distance of approximately 15km, with ascent/descent of approximately 800m/700m
– The guide-book grade: challenging
– Temperature: bread oven hot (my grade)
The day started by getting the bus from Port de Soller where Anita and I were staying, up the winding mountain roads to the monastery of Lluc.
I had a quick mooch around the Santuari / monastery in Lluc. I think you can stay there as part of a tourist visit but it is still a ‘working monastery’ if that’s the right expression. There was not surprisingly a quiet feel to the place and lots of shady spots to sit and contemplate the universe.
I did some of that too during my two days walking under the palpable presence of our local star. Finding a tree to hide under for a few minutes and sipping water, whilst watching a bird hopping about in the dust a couple of feet away.
Anyway, Lluc was an impressive setting and if I’d have had more time I would have explored some more. But we were heading for Tossals Verds, the hostel / refugio some 15km away with a longish walk ahead of us.
Below are some photos from the day showing both the type of path I encountered and some of the great views. The Tossals Verds refugio is a delight, a lovely place to spend the night, with its nature garden and attendant cheeky (room raiding) pine martens.
Day 2: Tossals verds to Port de Soller
Day 2 summary:
– Planned as 6.5-7 hours + breaks (it took about 8.5 due to frequent photo breaks, heat, one very long and steep descent + sore knee..)
– A distance of approximately 17km, with ascent/descent of approximately 847m/1369m
– The guide book grade: challenging
– Temperature: pizza oven hot (my grade)
There were two routes from Tossals Verds refugio back to Port de Soller: one would be in sunshine from the start and (as Sam had mentioned with air quotes the day before) it had a short ‘Via Ferrata’ (clearly not hazardous enough for him. kids today eh?). The other would be in the tree line for the first hour or more and more of straight path. I actually liked the idea of the airquotes-via-ferrata but not the heat right from the start of the day.
So route two it was: going back on myself for the first hour or so around Puig dels Tossals Verds and Puig de la Font. I had looked at the map the night before and considered diverting off the GR221 to climb up one of the peaks (Puigs). But when it came to it the 60+ minute round trip diversion didn’t seem that appealing.
There were plenty of great views to be had on the slightly lower elevation path, plenty of birds to spot and sounds and smells to take in. By sounds I mean the all-encompassing cicada cacophony on some stretches.
So I stayed on the GR221. It wasn’t the ‘danger – big game / rifles here’ signs I saw a couple of times that put me off, honest. Actually I guessed it wasn’t the hunting season. But that was just a guess.
That first stretch of the walk was in proximity to but not walking with a couple of young german women that had been in the hostel the night before. We did that unspoken thing of being sociable but not cramping each other’s walking experience. There had been three other folks in the hostel the night before, all german, all friendly (despite some alarm at my woeful schoolboy german).
The girls (I’m old. okay, .. the young women) walked on ahead of me as I stopped to get some shots of ‘valley of the vultures’. And I didn’t see them again until nearly in Soller, sheltering in a small cafe from the warm drizzle of a grumbling thunderstorm. By that stage they had endured a seemingly endless descent as I had and were just as red-faced as me. And then I saw them again with Anita a day later in beautiful Valldemossa but we’d all caught the bus there.. that’s not a quick walk from Port de Soller.
Back to the GR221: various birds were spotted, some we have in the back garden, some not. The decidedly ‘not’ would have been vultures or eagles. But I only spotted one vulture and it was too high for the camera, even with a zoom lens. And something that looked liked a vulture that I think (on checking the image on the computer), was a raven or carrion crow or some kind of large corvid.
I’ll let the photos tell the rest of the day’s long, hot but excellent walk.
It may not look like it but I was still at a pretty high elevation at around 750m on the shores of lake Cuber.
Then there was to be a gradual ascent back to around 800m, before a knee-thumping big drop of around 600m of cobbled mountain switchbacks from Es Cornador, down to the small town of Biniaraix.
The sound of the crickets, the sight of small alpine flowers on the path and the smell of the wild rosemary that I brushed past in a couple of places combined to almost cliche level: intoxicating, overwhelming, euphoric, orchestral. An aching achilles and sore knee kept me grounded though. Discordant and staccato strings to the melody of the mountains.
I wasn’t sure exactly what the cross cemented atop a cairn was about but I liked the obvious craft that had gone in to it. A pathside shrine for sure – but why here? There was a dirt service road nearby(for the lake, I think), so people may well drive here for occasions.
It had a nautical theme to my eyes albeit this was still the interior high ground.
Below me and out of shot was a sharp fall away down to a gorge – Torrent de L’ofre. “Glad I’m not heading down that track” I thought, reassuring both sore knee and vertigo mind.
A check of the map showed I would be and it was a continuation of the GR221. And the tightly packed contours told their tale of a rapid shedding of height.
The path itself was excellent, what had looked like a dirt track in the first few metres became an excellent cobbled path with dozens of tight switchbacks for the next hour and half.
From around 800m down to 100m in the town of Biniaraix below. Before that I walked close to some big drops in some places, with upturned stones on the path edge acting a visual reminders to hug the other side of the path (for me, anyway). But probably more to act as channelers of rain water – so it ran down the path rather than wash away the mountain side.
At around the 450m mark I entered olive groves, passing a few locked up huts / houses that I’m guessing are used when families move up the mountain for the harvest season.
Still with the sound of the cicada chorus. And conducting the chorus (or guarding the ol’ family homestead) on two occasions: goats on roofs. Strange times.
Some of the trees I passed must be ancient, hundreds of years old in some cases, judging by the width of the trunks
I joined the intersecting Torrent des Verger amongst the olive plantations, a dry river bed that I crossed over back and forth 3 or 4 times. You could see where fast flowing water had gouged deeply into the rock when in spate.
I was contemplating flash floods (ever the health and safety officer) when the first rumble of thunder started and drizzle appeared. The humidity level jumped and the sky darkened to the north-west. Time to stow the camera.
The Torrent des Verger on the photo above is below and to my left. I was musing about how long it would take the river bed below me to fill and then for the path to flood and wash me away (cheery, I know) if the heavens truly opened. Luckily for me the rain never really came to much but the rolling thunder and occasional flash of sheet lightning added some drama to the descent.
After what seemed like a never-ending descent (I was glad I was heading down not up in the heat though), I arrived in Biniaraix, a small town on the edge of Soller. I said hello the german hikers, had a very welcome cold cola then walked down to Soller, looking back up to the mountains I had spent two days in.
After negotiating some side streets I exited out onto the central square in Soller, packed with tourists enjoying a coffee or beer under the shade of the cafe parasols. Something Anita and I had done a few days before.
From here I could have carried on with the GR221 for another hour or more, gaining elevation before dropping down onto the western end of Port de Soller. But I’d actually done that short part with Anita a few days before. So I took the civilized option to get back to the apartment we were staying in..