Photo: Shade and silence of the valley
Ooph, that was a hard route (and we missed out the last wee 4km up and down!)
Measuring in at 23.7km, with a Vert+ of 1133m and Vert- of 1133.
We were staying in Santa Ponsa, Mallorca during October 2023, enjoying an unseasonable heatwave of 26-28 degrees C, and decided to check out the route. The race takes place each year in March, I hope it's cooler for the participants then!
We took the 107 bus and 25mins later we were in Es Capdella looking for a pre-run refreshment and pee!
Restaurant Bar Nou, located just around the corner from the village square (and the official race start point), was perfect; an Espresso and Ensaïmada for under 3Euros.
We started our run from there, just before 10am. It was already 23 degrees C. After 0.5km on road we hit the trail head. The first 5.5km is a gentle, runnable climb through forest and valley; mostly out of the sunshine, and pleasantly cool at times. Underfoot it's hard going though; very uneven, bone dry, all tree roots and loose rock. Tip: take the time out to just stop in here for a moment or two. Stand still, control your breathing and let your HR settle. The silence is other-worldly.
Then it dials up a notch for a km of climbing. A steep, tight single track of switchbacks, bigger rocks and more tree roots. It's dusty and slippy (a challenge duly noted for the descent on this out-and-back section). Above the tree line we're now in full sunshine and it's getting bloody hot. This gave us a good excuse to stop fairly regularly though to take on fluids, catch our breath and check out the views beginning to open out across the foothills of the Serra de Tramuntana mountain range and UNESCO World Heritage site.
Photo: Tramuntana foothills coming into view south
Alighting at the top of this long climb we're presented with an opportunity to open up the stride on a nice run across a plateau to the foot of the scramble up Sa Mola de S'Esclop, the main ascent of the race route and the highest point at 927m.
Photo: Scramble route up Sa Mola de S'Esclop
This scramble is not for the faint-hearted. Put it this way...my wife, a casual trail runner was cursing me! Just don't look down and keep an eye out for the very little(!) cairns that mark the route. Took many a wrong route choice before I spotted them.
But the views from the top are absolutely worth it; verdant greens of shrubs and trees mixed in with the rugged Jurassic limestone outcrops that make up the Tramuntana mountain range spreading south to north; the sparkle of the Mediterranean meeting the azure blue sky to the south and west; the dramatic and rugged coastline shaping the island, interrupted by golden sands. Quite stunning.
Photo: View south from top of Sa Mola de S'Esclop
Oh...and then there's the mountain goats. The only signs of life encountered at the top and an indication of just how extreme the environment is; providing the defence they seek from predators.
Photo: The goats seeking sanctuary on Sa Mola de S'Esclop
The initial descent from the top is a little daunting, but just commit to it, slip, slide and leap your way down. It will all be over in a couple of minutes and you can then enjoy a cruisy but fairly technical tour around the back of the Sa Mola de S'Esclop to meet the point you started its climb.
Photo: Descent from Sa Mola de S'Esclop
Photo: Tour around back of Sa Mola de S'Esclop
Just beyond this point we diverged from the race route, to miss out the short climb of Pas des Cossi. A combination of time, spotting the overgrown nature of the route's return path on the way up, the unknown nature of the climb (another scramble!?) and my wife's tested nerves!
So instead, as the race route goes, we headed straight back down the steep, tight single track of switchbacks, rocks, tree roots, dust and loose stones to the valley floor and welcome shade of the trees. As anticipated, it wasn't easy but a huge amount of fun.
We did it! I'm immensely proud of Laura. Most definitely not a seasoned trail runner, she followed me into the unknown and overcame many an obstacle on the way. It's amazing what you can achieve with a little encouragement and a lot of courage!
Photo: Marriage still intact
If you ever find yourself in Mallorca I'd thoroughly recommend it; even if it's just for a leisurely hike of the route. Too many tourists come to this island and never see its true beauty; indulging in nothing but all-day breakfasts, Irish bars and packed beaches. It's times like these I appreciate just how great the sport of trail running is and the rich experiences it affords the brave.
If you fancy racing it or just want to learn more, I've included a link to the website below. Beware though, it must be pretty competitive given the leaders are coming in under 2hrs. Don't know how they manage that on such a difficult route. Hat off.