Cambridge Underground 1992 pp 8-9

Cambridge go Holidaymaking in Majorca

Chris Densham

A well balanced mix of nearly a dozen ExCS and CUCC members decided to escape pre-Christmas tension, and seek the winter sun. We set off for Majorca the week before Christmas, making it the second trip in '91, and the fourth winter visit in a row. Safely cosetted from the harsh realities of foreign travel by our package holiday company, we were transported from a miserable Gatwick to sunshine, blue skies and a hotel in Palma full of English OAPs. Having sorted out our random room selection, we hired cars via the hotel, and thrashed them to the hills...

Most spent the first day doing the standard descent, or in some cases ascent, of the Torrent de Pareis. This is a generally dry gorge that cuts down from the northern mountains at Escorca to the sea. Andy Waddington, Mark Fearon, Pete Swain and I decided to go for a shorter drive to Gubia instead. Our idea was to inspect La Gubia Normal, an 800ft climb 'Holiday Graded' at VS *** by our Chris Craggs guidebook, with the possibility of making a full attempt at it later in the week. We climbed over a few dry stone walls enclosing large expanses of rocks, which we decided were meant to be fields, although it was not clear what they were supposed to grow. We stopped for a picnic, after all, this was a holiday, at a point where the 800ft cliffs on either side of the gorge were only a few yards apart. After admiring the impressiveness of it all, it was time to do some climbing. Fortunately, when we were only 2/3 pitches up, the sun went down. We went down as well, feeling that this route would need an early, if not Alpine, start.

The next day dawned with caving urges (for me and Wookey anyway). During Majorca 1991 Part I in January, a lot of time had been spent looking for Cova des Rhodes on the wrong bit of hillside (cova is Mallorquin for cueva). Not surprisingly, it took a while to find the entrance. The problem had been one of co-ordination - cartographical co-ordination that is, rather than any other kind. We had a list of caves, with length, depth, altitude and entrance co-ordinates. We had also found some decent maps. Unfortunately the cave and map co-ordinates did not tally. After a few hard earned finds, Julian Todd had been able to come up with a magic formula to convert cave co-ords to map co-ords. Something to do with a misconception about where the middle of the world is, ie. Madrid as opposed to Greenwich. The formula wasn't exact, but at least it got us looking on the right bit of hillside. Cova des Rhodes is situated at the back of a refuse tip. Not only were there the usual dead refrigerators etc., there were also mounds of scrap cactus. Well, I suppose there aren't many things you can do with a dead cactus. Wookey led me into the steamy entrance - he had been down the cave when the club found it in January. A short pitch leads to a confidence boosting sump (ie. v.v.short), followed by lots of intersecting, Barnes loop style overhead passages. Wookey, ever imaginative, reckoned we could free-climb the second pitch, so we hadn't brought a second rope. Well, we couldn't, so a retreat was the order of the day. We did find 15ft of new passage somewhere else in the cave though.

Another cave I didn't get to the bottom of, together with Tony, Olly and Tess (her first SRT trip) was Campana, the second longest cave on the island. This time we took plenty of rope, and left the entrance pitch as a free climb on the way out to be even more economical. On the way down we admired the fine formations, the erotic mud sculptures, and, surprisingly, a plastic Nativity Scene (Majorcan cavers seem to believe in an afterlife). After all the interesting bits, in the interests of getting back in time for dinner, we woke up a snoring Tony from the head of the third pitch and carried all our rope back out again. The Gods showed their approval by sending down a couple of candles (unfortunately unlit) for the way out.

Lacking sufficient faith to make a serious attempt on La Gubia ridge without another check on our guidebook's grades, Adam Cooper, Andy, Pete and I hacked our hire car over to the Boca valley. With thoughts of lazy bouldering in the sunshine, we walked up the valley to the crag, carrying plentiful supplies of bread, cheese, and water (mineral for three of us, and tap water for Adam.) Our guide book directed us to a 2 pitch route, claiming it to be VS 4b ***. Andy, Pete & I took it in turns to conclude that this was in no way our idea of a "Holiday Grade", and it would be a good idea to retrieve the gear and do something else. Adam was in no position to conclude anything other than that drinking Majorcan tap water was a bad idea. Clearing the route from the top involved me spending a lot of time hanging off Majorcan (wobbly) bolts and soaking up the sun, due to a discrepancy between our estimate of the crag height, and the actual crag height. Meanwhile, sounds of Adam clearing his guts out rolled up from below. Andy and Pete tied enough rope together to allow me to reach the ground, and I abbed quickly down. I had to come to an emergency stop to avoid abseiling into a large pool of vomit. We concluded that attempting La Gubia on the basis of Chris Craggs' grading would be reckless and foolhardy, and buggered off back to the hotel for dinner, wine and beer.

The next day I regretted having taken a mouthful out of Adam's bottle of water. While everyone else went walking, I stayed in the company of my hotel room toilet, wondering which end to point at it. The high point of my day was being re-united with my caving shreddies. I had left them on my balcony rail to dry off, and they had been blown onto the dining room roof four floors below. I didn't want to get evicted for trying to rescue them, but fortunately they were eventually blown onto the hotel foyer steps. Adam spotted them as he walked up to the hotel, and guessed that they probably didn't belong to any of the other residents - I got them back as if by magic.

On our last full day, Adam, Pete and I went to do 'Sa Fosca', 'the Darkness', simply the most spectacular gorge through trip in Majorca. The gorge starts out a few miles away from the Escorca café, as a fairly average valley with a small (polluted) stream in it. The stream has failed to find any fault lines to turn into a cave, so it has simply carved itself a gorge that gets progressively deeper and narrower as it gets down the mountain. The last part is so deep and so narrow that it is totally dark - it is just like a cave, but without a roof. Starting in the open river valley at the top, an hour of scrambling, wading, sliding and swimming across pools brought us to the first pitch, about 15m. Standing on a shingle bed at the bottom, we wondered where all the water was. During Majorca '91 Part I, we had had to abort a trip after someone had discovered how to do Sinking Rope Technique in the deep pool that wasn't here. We found the water at the bottom of the next pitch, and soon got into the distinctive rhythm of a Sa Fosca trip: Abseil down a waterfall from a (usually dubious) belay, tread water in the pool at the bottom while taking your descender off, then swim off to rig the next pitch while the last person pulls down the rope. It is a weird and beautiful place - after the first ten pitches or so, not much light gets down there. The few bits of greenery that hang down, and the odd bird that flies across way above your head, seem out of place. I began to feel the worse for continuously jumping in and out of cold water. I almost certainly hadn't replenished my glycogen supplies after my Day with the Toilet, & wished I had had a chance to get some more chocolate before the trip. Adam & Pete kindly allowed me to hog Wookey's lifejacket for the entire trip. After about another 10 pitches, we were really caving - the light gave up completely. The canals got longer, deeper, and narrower - down to only a few feet across in places. Fortunately, the pitches got shorter and most could now be free-climbed or dive bombed. I decided to peg it for the end, having to rely more on memory from the year before than on judgement, as my vision was now frighteningly squiffy. At last we got back into daylight, and after a few short pitches reached the junction with the Pareis gorge. We started what is normally an easy trudge up to the Escorca café with the last light of day. Adam was very heroic and brought his warm body and some oranges to get my energy-deprived and exposed self up the last half of the hillside. On the last half day, two days before Christmas, Jared and Olly went off to try and find a cave, while Wookey hung from underneath a cliff beside a beach. The rest of us sat on the beach - after all, that's what you are supposed to do on a package holiday week in Majorca.

An adjunct-


Although not a lot of caving went on on this trip, we (Wook, MarkF, Tess & Tony) did find a couple of new holes. A day spent wandering about, dodging farmers & running away from dogs whilst trying to look suave, produced few results. We were looking for Sa Teulada, Can Bordils & S'onix. Looked long and hard for Teulada and found nothing but fields. Can Bordils appears to be in someone's field and also invisible. Eventually found something which probably isn't S'onix but did make a fun poke.

The only new cave found was Avenc de Corbera, by Wookey, Tony & MarkF. This is a huge hole, surrounded by trees and a wall, in exactly the right place on the map & it still took us about 2 hours of arsing about in the car to get to the right spot & another 15 mins of wandering about to find it. The original location exercise was severely hampered by the fact that the maps are ten years out of date. The road we were following has had all its distance markers moved along by just over a kilometer to make life difficult, and the road to the cave is barely more than a stream bed, although after getting there once by a sensible route and not believing it, we did it again along said road, proving yet again that Marbella's are ace gear.

The cave itself is a huge dome that just intersects the surface off to one side, giving an impressive 15m pitch in. At the far side of the dome is a tiny crawl which leads into a second large chamber with an incredible citadel of stal at one end that must almost reach the surface. There is also some cave off on the opposite side of the entrance chamber. All in all, thoroughly worth doing.

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