Climbing the Cavall Bernat on Mallorca
The Serra del Cavall Bernat is a scramble that lies between the bay of Cala de Sant Vicenc and the Vall de Boquer in the northeast of the island of Mallorca. Although rising to a mere 353m, it has very steep cliffs, which on the seaward side plunge the full height vertically into the sea for 2km.
The Cavall Bernat was chosen as an ‘active rest day’ by my colleague Ian while we were working on Mallorca for a week in April. Our clients, Malcolm and Tara, had expressed a desire to develop their rock climbing skills as well as sample as much of this beautiful island as possible. So a walk and scramble along this stunning limestone ridge fitted the bill perfectly.
The ridge can be followed as a steep mountain walk, exposed in places. But if you’re tackling the more technical sections you need to be experienced and equipped with a helmet, harness, slings and karabiners, a rope – and, importantly, the ability to use the gear properly.
The Cicerone guidebook gives this route a grade of A+, which makes it the hardest grade in their Mallorca guidebook, and I would be inclined to agree.
In the autumn of 2013 there had been some discussion about access problems and fees on the island but we experienced no such difficulties in parking just off of the MA-2210 or accessing the starting point at Boquer, as clearly recommended in the Cicerone guide. We all agreed that starting in Port de Pollença gave a lovely contrast to the peace and quiet later in the day.
At Boquer, we very soon approached some buildings with a very aggressive dog behind the gate which appeared to be the way we wanted to go but fortunately we quickly found the correct way, further to the right, which soon led us off to a well-established footpath among trees and boulders in the Vall de Boquer.
The walk along the Vall de Boquer is perfectly shaded and provides a great view of the ridge you are about to traverse. Soon you reach the old walls and shelters, reminiscent of a sheep pen, mentioned in the guidebook and know that you are on the right course. Now head to the right hand corner and find the less obvious but cairned path up to the col at 261m.
Touch the limestone rock, make contact and start to get to know the Cavall Bernat!
Watch out for the cairns and get used to seeking them out, as this is important on the two steep sections, as well as the final descent to Cala de Sant Vicenc. When the col is reached the exposure and scale of this ridge becomes fully apparent. The sea is right there beside your right shoulder now and for much of the rest of the day. The rocks seem steep and difficult but there is always a straightforward way through if you stay on route. (When we were there in April we did not see a lot of red flashes on the rock to show the way and were very glad of the clear description in our guidebook. Perhaps they are ‘refreshed’ for the main walking season?)
As the route heads south-west, the first tower is approached left of the crest. Take time and care to get a feel for what is a polished, firm or sharp hold. The vegetation is certainly not suitable to stand on. It is either way too sharp or simply filling a hole for your foot to end up in.
Move up centre and then trend left on the easiest line near the top, which then takes you towards the top of this initial tower. The views of the Vall de Boquer, the sea, Cala de Sant Vicenc and of course the ridge ahead, now begin to dominate. This is a truly amazing situation, with scrambling that is engaging but not too intimidating in a beautiful setting of sea and mountain.
This ridge is famous for its windows, the first of which can be avoided by an exposed ledge on the left. But with some technical scrambling knowledge and simple equipment, a short down-climb on the seaward side can be made. After a few moves down head to the right (looking in) along a ledge to regain the main ridge. (The Cicerone guidebook also describes a way of getting down far enough to see the window without this technical passage.)
Continue along the ridge enjoying the fun of choosing your route, either on the crest or slightly down and to the east to lessen the exposure.
After the big rock tower at 327m look for cairns down and east which take you onto a flat area, before heading along a ledge which ends above a short, exposed wall. Here various anchors from natural threads or blocks can be arranged to protect a down-climb or set up an abseil. The last person down will need to be confident in his or her ability either to down-climb this short wall or safely abseil it. The situation and difficulty here is very similar to a section on the Forcan Ridge in Kintail, Scotland.
Now continue much more easily west, with short avoidable sections of scrambling if you have had enough. Be sure to find the second window on the ridge as well as a great wee hollow to shelter from the sun.
Continue with an eye out for cairns much more closely spaced together, which take a safe and simple route down and off the ridge. There is little point in shortcuts as you will get snarled up in more of the same rough and unpredictable vegetation.
Reach the turning circle of the Cala–Siller road then head south-east to follow a very polished and well marked track to Siller.
Prepare for the return to the bustle of Port de Pollença as you walk back to your starting point. Why not reward yourself with a cool drink and some tapas in one of the quieter tavernas off the main street in Port de Pollença while you share your experiences on the Cavall Bernat and plan your next adventure on this beautiful island?
Jim Sutherland has been guiding in the hills of North West Scotland for a great many years, and has a love of the hills that can only be born out of a lifetime of learning and getting to know them intimately.View Articles and Books by Jim Sutherland