A spectacular gorge walk in Mallorca
Gorge walks or 'canyoning' can encompass everything from a stroll down a wide rocky path to negotiating the beautifully coloured and delicately sculptured 'slot canyons' in the sandstone rocks of Arizona and Utah, some of which are only a metre wide and 100m deep. Unlike some Mallorcan canyons such as Torrent D'Almadra, Gorg Blau and Sa Fosca, which require climbing/caving equipment, the Torrent de Pareis (Twin Streams) is accessible to walkers. It is arguably one of the finest walks on the island involving some magnificent limestone scenery and rock scrambling. The gorge takes you from the sea at Sa Calobra to the confluence of the 'twin streams' and then steeply up the hillside to to the road and the Restaurante d'Escorca. A one way trip may take you four or five hours.
The walking guides to Mallorca tend to be filled with rather flowery prose, not least when describing the majestic grandure of the Torrent de Pareis; and the text usually includes a warning that it is an extremely serious undertaking only to be attempted by experienced mountaineers and rock climbers. This is perhaps a bit of an over-statement, but I suppose that popular guidebooks have to err on the side of caution. It would be a tough walk for some, certainly, but anyone capable of scrambling to the top of Sca Fell Pike or Penyghent by one of the rocky routes will probably not be too intimidated. On the other hand, people have died in the gorge so some common sense is called for - you may well require a rope, and you need to be aware of the possibility of flash-flooding.
The popular guide books are helpful for giving general location and navigation information although, once in the gorge itself, route finding is trivial. Because it is inconceivable that you will be in Mallorca without a good walking guide there is no need for me to go into detail of route finding in this article. June Palmer's Walking in Mallorca gives one of the more sensible description of this walk, and it includes some useful navigation tips.
The Torrent de Pareis gorge is formed by the twin streams, Torrent de Lluc and Torrent de Gorg Blau which meet where the Gorg Blau stream emerges from Sa Fosca ('the dark place') at a place called the Entreforc. From here down to the sea at Sa Calobra the route is accessible to walkers. The upstream trip through Sa Fosca - which is not accessible to walkers - is a classic canyonning adventure that requires wetsuits, lights and abseiling gear. It begins in the shadow of the highest peak on the island, Puig Major, where a stream discharges from the Cuber reservoir and begins its descent into the Gorg Blau gorge. Eventually the rocky walls of the Gorg Blau gorge become so narrow and deep that daylight disappears and the route becomes essentially a caving trip. After a total of some 40 abseiling pitches you exit from Sa Fosca to continue down the Torrent de Pareis to the sea.
The Torrent de Pareis gorge is bare and rocky for much of its length, with much climbing over boulders and some walking on a dry, gravelly streambed. There are several places where a certain amount of scrambling is required, but this is not really a rock climbing expedition. If you are not very tall, or you have never done any scrambling, or you are not very strong in your arms then a short rope (and a companion) may be required. None of the walk is very exposed, but there are one or two places where slipping from the top of a 4m boulder could leave you trapped in a hole, not to say injured so, in wet weather, when the rock is slippery, you will need to tread very carefully.
June Palmer suggests, in her guide book, that you do the walk in two halves but, if you have sufficient transport it can be done as an end-to-end walk. If you are not completely confident I would suggest that you do the walk from the coastal end, as scrambling up is probably easier than attempting to climb down. Another point to bear in mind, if you are not completely confident, is that you might want to arrange your transport with the possibility that you might have to turn back.
For much of the year, the gorge is completely dry, but in the winter and in wet periods it takes water. More importantly, the nature of the terrain means there are a number of very long deep pools where it would be necessary to swim. Some people do go equipped for this, but if you are not so equipped (with wet-suits and buoyancy aids) then if you should encounter a pool that cannot be comfortably crossed by wading it would be advisable to turn back. Some friends of mine who, being cavers, were psychologically if not physically equipped for the wet conditions, had a rather unpleasant experience in the Torrent de Pareis a few years ago. On the same day that they found themselves having to strip off and swim long sections in icy cold water it transpired that two Mallorcans had drowned in one of the pools and were on the bottom as my friends swam over them. On the other hand, in April this year, the gorge was bone-dry and we had a fantastic time in the hot sun.
The top end of the walk is a parking place at the Restaurant d'Escorca, close to the 25.1km post on the Pollensa to Soller road. It's about 40 minutes drive from Pollensa. Leave a car here, and take your other car (you did bring two, didnt you?) down to the coast at Sa Calobra. If there are sufficient people in your party you can attempt an 'exchange trip', meeting up in the middle and swapping car keys. The drive down to Sa Calobra will take you a further 30 minutes, first continuing along the C710 and passing under an aqueduct at 29.0km and then turning right at the junction just after. This is an impressive road that rises at first and then winds steeply down the mountainside. At one point the road passes underneath itself; at another point it passes between the cliff and a huge rock pillar. It helps to do this journey early in the day, so that you are travelling with the flow of coaches and not against it. At Sa Calobra, your walking guidebook will direct you to the start of the gorge in a wide sandy bay.
Gradually the sandy beach gives way to gravel, the walls of the gorge close in, the tourists turn back and you are left on your own with the echoes and the goats and birds. The path rises gradually with scrambles over boulders and the occasional place where you need to plan your footholds and handholds as you chimney up crevices and pull yourself over the lip of climbs. In places, there are natural dams and you can see 'tide marks' on the walls showing where the water backs up in wet weather (see photo, left). In gloomy times, wading and swimming in cold water, it must be a rather a forbidding place. But when it is hot and dry is is awe-inspiring. The sheer rock walls rise hundreds of feet and, in places are only twenty feet apart. The limestone is carved into smooth sculptures, the birds wheel overhead and the occasional goat can be heard in the distance, usually halfway up the cliff.
Only in one or two places does the route finding require some thought. When you come to a sheer rock face that looks tricky to climb, retrace your steps until you see an alternative path scrambling up the side of the gorge. When the terrain starts to get distinctly vertical, (see final photo) and you have to hunt around for the way on, this shows that you are nearly at the Entreforc. Suddenly the route flattens out and the gorge widens. We timed our walk as taking three hours to this point, where we stopped for lunch. At the Entreforc the painted signs on a rock have almost faded - they sign you to Sa Calobra, Lluc, Sa Fosca and 'Millor no entri', referring to the unclimbable vertical rock wall of the gorge. We diverted to have a look at Sa Fosca, coming in from the right, where the gorge becomes so deep and narrow that daylight disappears completely and the temperature plummets. Take care here, as the rock is slippery and the scrambling slightly more technical.
The photo below was taken at the exit from Sa Fosca. This was a hand-held time exposure of about 20s, using what little natural light there was. You can see that the camera was shaken. To the eye, this passage was only very dimly lit.
From S'Entreforc to the road at Escorca took us a further hour. It helps to know where you are going here, as once you are out of the gorge, there are the usual route finding difficulties. The important point is to climb out of the stream bed at the right place (cairn and arrow), then its a steep slog up the hillside, zig-zagging back and forth on an old, crumbling path. Im the last person to offer advice about route-finding as I get lost so often myself - we knew the way because we had previously investigated the path down from Escorca to the Entreforc.
If you did not swap car keys at the half way point (or left them in the car, as has been known to happen) it will take an hour of car-shuffling before you can begin the journey home.
This is an excellent walk. It is technically demanding if you are not used to this sort of thing, and it is as well to bear in mind the serious consequences of a fall, or a change in the weather. Neither your mobile phone nor your GPS will work in this area (the gorge is too deep for your GPS to 'see' enough satellites).
For a grim warning of what it can be like in poor weather take a look at a Bad Weather Warning for Torrent de Pareis. Also see: CUCC Guide to Sa Fosca.
Text and photographs copyright David Gibson, September 2001
Update history: 24 May 2012: Photos tweaked, URLs corrected. Page moved to new server.