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Ibiza, Spain, a limestone mini-paradise in the Mediterranean

Aroma de Archidona (5.13a/b), 110 feet of forearm-blasting jugs at Cueva de Egagrópilas, Ibiza. Photo by Sonja Bjornsen

Aroma de Archidona (5.13a/b), 110 feet of forearm-blasting jugs at Cueva de Egagrópilas, Ibiza. Photo by Sonja Bjornsen

Darkness. Cold. Chapped lips, Snot icicles — is anything more miserable for rock jocks than winter? To get you through these black, wretched months, I propose a Mediterranean vacation. Picture yourself on a tiny (220 square miles), user-friendly, pine-covered Spanish isle settled ages ago by the Phoenicians. This island is Ibiza, part of the Balearic Chain (with the more famous Mallorca) and probably best known as a hub for clubbing/beach/party life, teeming with invading raver kids/burned-out Brits/mondo, German-filled tour buses/unctuous hooligans/etc. But we’re not here for Euro-skeev techno debauchery; we’re here to rock-climb.

Step away from the two main cities (Eivissa, Sant Antoni), and it’s all olive groves, vineyards, red-clay soil, sandy beaches, and limestone — lots of limestone, specifically in caves, coves, walls, pillars, and slabs high above a peerless dark-blue sea and sometimes right at wave level.

Es Vedrás: the tip of Atlantis... Photo by Matt Samet

Es Vedrás: the tip of Atlantis... Photo by Matt Samet

Photo by Sonja Bjornsen

Photo by Sonja Bjornsen

Photo by Sonja Bjornsen

Photo by Sonja Bjornsen

Ibiza’s first sport climbs date back to 1989, with the fourpitch Vidas Ejemplares (5.9), at Buda, the island’s tallest cliff, on a spectacular spit of land above the sea. Just across the water from Buda sits a sheer, rocky island, the uninhabited, 1,200-foot Es Vedrás. (This limestone plug is said to be the tip of Atlantis. That a solitary Carmelite monk, Francesc Palau, lived here in the 19th century, having visions of the Virgin Mary, and that UFOs have been spotted only adds to the mystique.) Buda is a welcoming, sunny crag, with about 120 climbs on smooth grey, tan, and orange limestone. Most are one pitch, with a grade span from 5.8 to 5.13 on vertical to gently overhanging stone.

But the bulk of the climbing is along the wild west coast, never more than a halfhour by car from the tourist cities . . . but a universe away in aspect and geology. Here, tiny villages dot a coastal range that crests along ridges of open, airy beauty before plunging to the drink, sometimes as massive sea cliffs. The 10 principal areas lie along calas, or U-shaped bays. Most approaches involve descending seaward, sometimes as much as an hour along piney, obscure tracks. The standout crags are Punta Aubarca, Cueva de Egagrópilas, Santa Agnés, Sol y Sombra, and Penyal de s’Áquila, the latter at sea level. None are mondo-destinations, like Kalymnos’ Grande Grotta, but each is a good, varied cliff in its own right.

Cap des Rubió, Cueva de Egagrópilas high and left, with untapped psicobloc possibilities (?) at the waterline — bring a boat and huevos grandes. Photo by Matt Samet

Cap des Rubió, Cueva de Egagrópilas high and left, with untapped psicobloc possibilities (?) at the waterline — bring a boat and huevos grandes. Photo by Matt Samet

Typical Spanish/Moorish adobe. Photo by Sonja Bjornsen

Typical Spanish/Moorish adobe. Photo by Sonja Bjornsen

Photo by Sonja Bjornsen

Photo by Sonja Bjornsen

A few caveats: it’s best to consider Ibiza an adventure sport-climbing destination, for a few reasons. Firstly, the approaches are rugged, hard-to-find, and remote. Secondly, the sea air has corroded some of the original bolts, so a good chunk of climbs listed in the guidebook are dangerous (though many classics have been updated with stainlesssteel glue-ins). And thirdly, the 1990s “route-sculpting” fad claimed a few lines at certain crags, especially the “hardman’s” atrocity Jolibud, with its bolt-on holds and glued-in rocks.

That said, we made multiple trips to Punta Aubarca and Egagrópilas during our two-week stay in September: the routes were just that good. Aubarca’s imposing white face is studded with smooth, flat crimpers, incipient tufa drips, and sinker pockets, with 22 ropestretchers from 5.9 to 5.13b. And the Cueva is a dream. A 45-minute, gently descending traverse takes you through pines to a hidden balcony a few hundred feet above stratosphere-blue waters. There, you find 14 natural, classically Euro tufa/stalactitefests from 5.11c to 5.13d, the best being the 5.12a El Silencio de los Cordinos, the 5.12b Action Man, and the 5.13a/b Aroma de Archidona. On the latter (a 110- foot run out the cave’s guts), no hold is smaller than a doublepad incut . . . but the business comes at the end and the angle’s an unrelenting 125 degrees. For the grade, this could be the best climb on the planet.

Photo by Sonja Bjornsen

Photo by Sonja Bjornsen

Photo by Sonja Bjornsen

Photo by Sonja Bjornsen

Ibiza 411

Getting There: Short flights from Madrid, Barcelona, and London arrive daily, as do ferries from Barcelona (four to eight hours) and Dénia (two hours).

Getting Around: A rental car is mandatory for climbing. No cliffs are more than a 30-minute drive from Eivissa, Sant Antoni, or Santa Eularia. You can rent a car at the airport.

Where to Stay: If you want to super-fiesta with Euro-undesirables, then Sant Antoni, on the west coast, has hotels for you. Otherwise, your best bet is to cast around at ibizahotelsguide.com. We spent one week in Santa Eularia; its dearth of clubs made for cleaner, quieter accommodations.

Beaches: White-sand heaven at Cala des Hort (across from Es Vedrás and just down the road from Buda); Cala Bassa; Cala Comte; Cala Llonga; and Ses Salines (a bit more developed). Beware: the beach chairs rent for about €6, so don’t plunk down on one unless you’re feeling flush.

Tourist Attractions: The nature preserve at Cala des Hort has great hiking trails, as well as its legendary beach and the Torre del Pirata, a crazy-good sunset vantage. In Eivissa city, check out the Dalt Vila walled sanctum, which has a great (and free) interpretive tour with amazing views. And if you want to disco-dance, then oil your pecs, get your glow sticks, and head for Sant Antoni.

Guidebook: The indispensable Spanish/English Ibiza: Escalada deportiva • Sport climbing, by David Munilla and Toni Bonet. Buy it at casadellibro.com, and they’ll ship it Stateside for a small fee. Season: Best is spring to early summer (through June), and then early to mid-autumn. July and August are hot and tourist-packed, while November and December are by far the rainiest months, with lots of seepage. The water is warm enough for swimming from roughly May through October.

Photo by Sonja Bjornsen

Photo by Sonja Bjornsen

Photo by Sonja Bjornsen

Photo by Sonja Bjornsen

Photo by Sonja Bjornsen

Photo by Sonja Bjornsen

Must-Do Routes:

  • Buda:Uno + Uno (5.6), Tendonetes (5.10a), Kemafisio (5.11), Incredulo (5.11d), Doce Monos (5.13a)

  • Punta Aubarca:Kiticrick (5.9+), Beautiful People (5.10+), Tambores (5.11c), Disorder (5.11d), Kokantrampo (5.12a), Anticristo Superstar (5.12c)

  • Cueva de Egagrópilas:Xibeca (5.11b), El Silencio de los Cordinos (5.12a), Action Man (5.12b), Los Invasores (5.12b), Madre Campo (5.12d), Aroma de Archidona (5.13a/b)

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