Discovering Sa Fosca
Why must a mountain be climbed? Because it's there. These are the words of mountaineer George Leigh Mallory and they can easily be transposed to other contexts. Why was it necessary to explore Sa Fosca? Because it was there.
Gorg Blau or Sa Fosca torrent begins at Tossals Verds and ends at Entreforc, where it meets Lluc torrent. From this point on, the two torrents converge and become known as Torrent de Pareis, which meets the sea at Sa Calobra. All of them are located in the municipality of Escorca and together they form one of the most breathtaking, mountainous landscapes in Mallorca. Moulded through erosion over millions of years, the whimsical shapes of these karstic rock formations are truly unique items of natural heritage. The final stretch of Gorg Blau torrent is covered over by fallen rocks, preventing any light from filtering through and making it as pitch black as a cave; hence the name Sa Fosca or Darkness.
Sa Fosca is a superb torrent. It is one of the most important in Europe and a reference for canyoning enthusiasts worldwide
In the mid 1960s, more specifically in about July 1965, Sa Fosca was still virgin territory, hitherto unexplored by any known human being. Canyoning came to Mallorca quite late, forty-four years after the death of Lucien Briet, a French photographer, explorer and teacher who manifested his passion for calcareous landscapes by exploring hundreds of kilometres of complicated paths between the Spanish province of Aragón and France, leaving behind an extensive written legacy in his capacity as the forerunner of canyoning. The fact that Sa Fosca had never been explored no doubt only added to its air of mystery, boosting it to almost legendary proportions: "For many years Sa Fosca was a kind of unattainable Everest," in the words of Miquel Tries and Nanda Ramon, the authors of Torrents de Mallorca.
While some potholing groups, like the team headed by Jaume Xaubet, cautiously explored possible entrances and exits, trying to work out the best strategy to follow, three bold yet experienced young enthusiasts beat them to it. Equipped with two forty-metre ropes (one made of nylon and the other of hemp), three pitons, a hammer and two inflatable dinghies from back then, and wearing shorts and men's tennis shoes, Maties Oliver, Tomàs Suárez and Bernadí Morell set off in search of adventure from Turixant power station on Saturday July 24th. As they intended to make the trip in just one day, their food supplies (raisins, condensed milk, dried figs, a lemon etc) were conceived to cover that space of time. Obviously, equipped like that and with no clear knowledge of the terrain, they were taking a huge risk. Fortunately, after forty-seven hours, they emerged from the dark transformed into heroes, having spent two nights tied up and sandwiched between the two boats and having taken one more day than originally anticipated to complete the trip. If there is an apt definition of the Catalan word brusquer, they certainly fitted it. The dictionary defines brusquer as 'someone in irresistible pursuit of a fixed idea'.
With this mixture of drive, bravery and temerity, they introduced canyoning to Mallorca. Over the following months and years, the descent of these torrents and others was technically perfected. Certain intriguing place names can be traced back to those early expeditions, like Bot de S'Acollonament (Freak-You-Out Jump), Plaça des Tremolor (Tremble Square) and Pas des Duro (5 Peseta Pass), originated, in the last case, by the discovery of an old 5-peseta coin, dropped during a previous descent. One evident caution, however, is that canyoning should never be done without the necessary know-how and equipment.
Nowadays Mallorca and the Serra de Tramuntana, in particular, are a magnet for climbers and canyoners. The attraction is not just the technical challenge of the different routes, but the beauty of the surroundings. Sa Fosca is a superb torrent. Indeed it is one of the most important in Europe and a reference for canyoning enthusiasts worldwide. In 2002, the Government of the Balearic Islands declared Sa Fosca and Torrent de Pareis natural monuments.
Text by Gabriel Lacomba
Translated by Rachel Waters
Did you know that...
Canyoning combines potholing and mountaineering techniques. It can be defined as travelling along the bed of a torrent that has carved a channel through the mountains to form a gorge, with all the water-related and rocky features that this might entail: sections with little or no water, others with deep pools or deep gorges, or stretches with waterfalls of differing heights. Canyoning therefore involves travelling along all these different sections: walking, swimming, climbing or using ropes, in particular abseiling in this last case.
For a descent to be considered suitable for canyoning, it must feature at least two of the following characteristics: a certain volume of water, verticality, and a walled-in context. Gorg Blau torrent easily unites them. It has more than 40 waterfalls over a route lasting for more than 6 km, between rock walls that reach a height of 300 metres. It is a very complex descent.
Archduke Ludwig Salvator describes Sa Fosca in volume 8 of his major work Die Balearen. Miquel Costa i Llobera also mentions it in his poem "Torrent de Pareis", a tribute to the rugged, wild natural setting: Va per trist roquissar el Torrent d'Albarca / l'horrenda Fosca abarca / les aigües pures davallant del Gorg / i dels dos torrentals per confluència sa greu magnificència desplega, formidable, l'Entreforc. In addition to Els torrents de Mallorca by Miquel Tries and Nanda Ramon (published by Miquel Font, Palma, 1999), rounding off the few publications on the subject is La llarga ruta de l'excursionisme mallorquí by Gaspar Valero Martí (published by Editorial El Gall, Pollença, 2001), whose first and second volume (the secondly currently in the process of publication) contains these and other references to Sa Fosca. Paco Alburquerque is the screenwriter and director of a film documentary about Sa Fosca made in 1987. IB3 TV also broadcast a programme in 2010 entitled El misteri de sa Fosca, in which the protagonists of the famous expedition were interviewed years after the experience.