Post-marathon, I headed to Mallorca with my mum to visit my sister. Jilli had a fantastic long weekend planned for us, filled with beautiful hikes and incredible meals. We had a brilliant time, but things didn’t go quite to plan…
Mallorca is an incredible place for outdoor activities. It is a cycling paradise, attracting droves of UK cycle clubs every spring, escaping England’s rain for steep climbs, blue skies and smooth roads. It has an Ironman, and if you can think of a watersport, you can do it in Mallorca. Its sheltered bays are perfect for sailing. It is also brilliant for hiking, especially in the winter when it’s not too hot. We went at the beginning of November, and although it did cool down slightly, we were perfectly happy in shorts and t-shirts.
My sister has a book setting out in detail 70 different hikes you can do on the island, rating them all in terms of difficulty, with length and ascent detail so you can decide how energetic you’re feeling before deciding to set out. She picked one for us that she had done before, that was marked “difficult” and that would take us around four hours – so we planned to take a picnic lunch and make a day out of it.
An hours drive out of Palma, we pulled into a layby by the entrance to Mortix vineyard, shouldered our rucksacks and headed out to start the hike, following a gravel road initially through the vineyard, watched only by goats and sheep. It wasn’t too long until we turned off the path, climbing over a high wooden style and then through the vineyard. At the end of the vineyard we crossed another track and climbed another style over a fence.
Jilli promised us though that the sign was referring to a different route, not the one we were doing, so we didn’t really have to worry about the imminent risk of death.
We soon started descending, clambering down into an almost flat plain, with long, sharp grass. We followed cairns, little piles of stones, to know which goat track to follow, not a single person around. It was nice walking – a bit of a challenge due to the rough surface and the boulders we were climbing up and around, but nothing too tricky.
Eventually we reached a fork in the path, one track leading steeply downhill, the other steeply up. Despite the fact we were headed to the sea, our path was uphill and so on we went, to be greeted with stunning views at the top.
Then we began to climb down, watching our step, stomachs starting to growl as we approached lunch. Mum kept reminding us that she had just run a marathon so her legs were stiffer than they would usually be! I’d had a lot of pain in my foot post-marathon but had taken some painkillers in the morning and could only feel a faint twinge so all was good.
As we reached the bottom of the valley, we came across an abandoned, ruined house, and marvelled at those who had decided to build here, so far from any roads or tracks. Not necessarily surprising that it was abandoned!
From the house we continued to go downhill until we reached the cliffs overlooking the sea, a sheer drop down. There was a completely flat patch of rock right by the cliff-edge and it was here that we stopped for lunch.
Jilli had made chicken wraps so we sat and enjoyed the view before setting off on the second half of the walk – so far, so good – except for the fact that I realised as we got up from lunch that we didn’t have a huge amount of water left…
We walked back up to the abandoned house, and then turned right and walked along the bottom of the valley until we reached a dried up river bed. Jilli read in the guidebook that experienced climbers abseil down the ravine, then drop into the sea and swim to the nearest town to avoid the “arduous climb back up”. She reassured us we weren’t going that way and we merrily continued on.
Can you see where this is going?
Off we went, following the dried up river bed. According to Jilli, it would involve a bit of scrambling but we just had to follow it to the top where we would come out into a beautiful amphitheatre of grass and wild flowers. We picked our way along the rocks, gradually starting to scramble up them, gradually, so gradually we didn’t really notice, the hike became less like walking and more like climbing.
We kept going. Jilli had done the walk two years ago, so figured there had maybe been more rainfall this year, or movement in the rocks that was making the hike more difficult than she remembered. Then we came to a bit where there was actually a pool of water blocking our way through the river bed. Jilli climbed up the rocks beside it and worked out a way to get past; mum took one look at where Jilli had gone and said “there’s no way I can do that”. So she took off her clothes and swum through the pool in her underwear and trainers!
I tried to go Jilli’s way. I had to put my right foot on a tiny ledge of rock almost at hip-height, and then leverage myself up, with no real handholds and a sheer drop below me. I tried it once and didn’t think I could do it. Jilli climbed back up and came to help me, offering me her hand so she would pull me up. But the ledge my foot was on was so tiny, and the grip was rubbish, and I was so worried I was just going to slip off and fall. But she pulled me up and over, and then I was sat on a slightly larger tiny ledge of rock and I was safe…. But I couldn’t breathe. Doing it had scared me so much I think I had a panic attack, or at least as close to it as I’ve ever been, shaking and hyperventilating. I knew I was okay, and I knew in my rational brain that I was being silly – I kept apologising – but I just cannot tell you the terror I felt. Then, of course, I had to get down.
Jilli had gotten down so easily, turning around and feeling her way backwards for footholds. I tried twice and both times panicked and ended up back on that ledge, shaking like a leaf. Honestly, it was so strange for me as I have never been that scared in all my life. In fact, it made me realise I had never really been scared before. Finally, Jilli came back up and talked me down every step of the way, guiding my feet with her hands and telling me exactly what to do.
So we were safe – but we didn’t think we might have taken a wrong turning. We just kept walking / climbing / clambering. At one point, Jilli dropped the guidebook and said “I’ve been holding it all this way and we haven’t even looked at it for ages!”. We laughed and she put it in her rucksack. With hindsight – WHY DIDN’T WE LOOK AT THE GUIDEBOOK?!
Jilli kept telling us how eventually we would come out into this amphitheatre, how it happened quite suddenly. Mum said “where’s the fucking amphitheatre?!” as she climbed up another particularly vertical section. I looked up ahead of us at the narrowing walls of the ravine, towering high above us, and figured we still had quite some way to go. I was beginning to wonder if it was going to be possible.
Increasingly, we were having to be creative with picking a possible route across and over the rocks – basically a dried up waterfall. At one point, I squeezed through a gap where the huge boulders had made a tunnel – and realised we could go no further. Huge vertical boulders, 3, 4 times our height, towered above us. In some cases they bulged outwards. Easy, I am sure, if you were an experienced boulderer or a climber with equipment. Not so for us! We were stuck. And by now we were out of water, with no idea what lay ahead of us.
We backtracked slightly, looking for an alternative route. To one side of us, huge, sheer cliffs. To the other, a steep grassy bank. So that’s the way we went, at times grabbing on to the sharp grasses to pull ourselves up, still watched over by the goats. Up and up we went, and everytime we thought we were nearing the top, we realised we weren’t.
Eventually of course we made it, looking down into the next valley. We would get there by way of a steep descent across several slabs of rock. There was a high stone wall winding it’s way through the valley, with goats running along the top. There was some kind of structure on the opposite side – Jilli thought it was a roof, a house. I didn’t think so but kept my mouth closed for the moment – I’d expressed concerns earlier and basically been told to shut up so in the spirit of preventing an argument I decided (for once!) to keep quiet. There was also another dried river-bed. Mum seemed to think this was the original river-bed that we were meant to be on, but had perhaps gotten diverted from due to rockfall since Jilli had last been on the route. I’d completely forgotten my thirst, and the pain in my foot I’d had in the morning had completely disappeared – I think my mind was just focussing on trying to get me home the best possible and there was so much to stress about there was no space for thirst! And if my foot had still been as sore as it had been the previous day, I would basically have been completely stuck.
We headed down towards the river bed. By this point, it was 4.30pm and the sun was beginning to disappear from the valley. We knew it would get dark about 6pm so we really didn’t have long. I quietly told mum that if we were still nowhere in half an hour, we would have to have a serious re-think about what to do and where to go. The river bed was great at first – we could actually walk! Upright! Without using our hands! But of course, gradually it narrowed, and soon we were climbing again.
Jilli set off ahead the fastest off us to see if there was a way out. She quickly disappeared above us and we climbed slowly on into the growing dusk. She told us afterwards that she was practically running, desperate to find a way out. She got so far ahead that when we called for her, all we could hear was our voices echoing back on ourselves and no reply from Jilli. Eventually I hauled myself up onto a flat bit of rock only to find her rucksack but no Jilli. This time she heard my rather panicked call and shouted back. Should we keep climbing? I asked. No! I’m coming back! She shouted, sounding rather defeated.
We now had less than an hour until sunset and so decided to make our way to the roof we had seen. Jilli was hoping it might be a cottage, with people, or with a road out. Mum was getting pretty resigned to having to stay the night out in the open, with no food, no water, no warm clothes. I was having another panic attack as we had to climb down backwards. How do you see where to put your feet? I whimpered.
Lean your body out from the rock Jilli said, then you can look down and see the footholds.
I caaaaaaan’t I whimpered, basically hugging the rock with my whole body. Essentially, I was pathetic – and really surprised at just how pathetic because I am not usually scared by very much! I made it down, but I was concerned about ever finding a safe way home as I knew there were some bits we’d climbed up that I didn’t think I could ever get down.
We fought our way through the long grass towards the building we’d seen. It was sharp and in some places towered above us, making the walking difficult going and painful. I ended up with smears of blood all over me from small cuts to my legs, arms and hands.
We reached the wall, twice our height, and Jilli scampered up it. Again, she disappeared. Again, she came back disappointed – the building was only a rough roof over a pool of dirty and stagnant water, no shelter, no water we could drink. I felt so bad for Jilli at this point. It was her hike that she had planned to give us a great day out, she’d chosen her favourite restaurant for dinner and instead we were going to be huddled together in the dark in an empty valley.
She pulled mum and I up the wall and we began looking not just for a way out, but now for shelter. Then we heard bells, and spotted sheep, which we hadn’t seen before. Sheep are less nimble than goats, and these were clearly owned… We weren’t sure if we were clutching at straws but started getting hopeful that where sheep had got in, we could get out. We walked up through the strange shelter area, to where a sheer cliff towered over us, noting that it’s slight overhang meant it could be the best place to shelter overnight. We decided to keep walking, as long as we could safely walk, until it got dark.
Then Jilli said I think there’s a path! We followed after her quickly, trying not to get our hopes up, but it’s definitely a path! We knew it could still disappear, it might not go anywhere, but we followed it nonetheless… And then it turned into a slightly wider path. We walked faster, trying to get as far down it as possible before it got dark. And then, finally, it turned into a track!!! We knew we could keep going by the light of our phones even if it was dark so we knew we were getting home and the relief was immense.
We got back to the car at 6pm, about 10 minutes before it was pitch black, over 7 hours since we’d left the car and over 4 hours without any water. The first thing we did was go to the first shop we came to and buy huge bottles of water and apple juice and diet coke! Back in Palma, we ate our bodyweight in food and then were all absolutely sound asleep by 10pm.
So what did I learn?
1) my little sister is fantastic in a crisis.
She kept calm, really became the leader, pushing herself on to try to find the way out, never complaining, still with a joke and a smile, dealing so patiently with me being pathetic.
2) when uncontrollable fear takes over, its really scary
I’d never had that before, but I just couldn’t do anything other than sit on the ledge and shake. My rational brain was completely overruled.
3) always take more water than you think you’ll need
4) take a space blanket
We had no warm clothes, only shorts and t-shirts, and it was the beginning of November. Obviously, we hadn’t been on planning spending the night outside. But if we’d had a space blanket folded away inside one of our rucksacks, if we had had to spend the night out, it would have made everything just that little bit more comfortable and safe!
So that’s what its like when Jilli takes you on a hike 😀
Ps. A few weeks later Jilli went canyoning with a guide. They didn’t canyon down the ravine we climbed up because “that’s only for experienced climbers”, and they used safety lines for climbs much smaller and easier than we had had to do, in our trainers with no safety lines whatsoever!