Every mountain I’ve ever climbed has taught me at least one enduring lesson. The most memorable I learned in the Serra de Tramuntana, looking from my map to a mountain ridge, lost under a glaring Mediterranean sun.
Last July, I packed a 50-litre backpack and boarded a plane to hike the G221, a 135km trail spanning the Northern coast of Mallorca. From the ancient port of Andratx, the trail weaves a crumbling stone pathway through the mountains, climbing steeply towards Pollença on the North Eastern tip of the island. I’d planned to hike three sections of the route- one, my guidebook warned, more sensibly done with a mountain guide. It was this stretch I’d hike alone on July 12th.
I arranged my gear on the porch of a backpacking hostel in Esporles early, swatting lazily at the clouds of midges already gathered in the cool morning. Hiking from the sloped amphitheater of town towards a dense cluster of pine, I took stock of my surroundings: the mountains stretching as far North as I could make out, the gnarled olive trees and abandoned lime kilns nestled on their rugged slopes, the last vestiges of Majorca’s agricultural history.
For six gruelling miles, I lumbered up the trail, following my map and a questionably reliable GPS app. With time, the path tapered to a shallow trench barely thicker than my pack, then disappeared altogether along with the battery on my GPS tracker.
Now navigating largely by dead reckoning, I began the ‘ten-minute steep scramble’ outlined in my route notes, from the top of which I’d dip in gently to the coastal village of Deià. Pulling at the baked rocks and heaving my pack up behind me, I wheezed upwards, trying not to think about the height I’d reached or the difficulty of reversing. I pulled over the final ridge and squinted at the ill-defined trail twisting ahead of me through a tangle of hostile scrub. My face burned with the first traces of panic. I was lost.
‘I’m ok’ I mumbled. A pause. Tears.
I looped back on myself in that maze of rock and pine for the bulk of the afternoon, scanning hopelessly for a way-marker. With the light fading to the soft bronze of early evening, I stumbled into a clearing under the wary observation of a goat. It trampled nervously, bleating a high pitched ‘maa’ as I dropped my pack onto the tyre track. Relief dawned slowly then all at once. Tyre tracks meant vehicles as surely as vehicles meant roads and I pulled my crumpled map from its netting to confirm, tears of relief dropping onto the thick yellow line I now knew to be the MA-10.
Sipping on a beer in Deià hours later, I took pause to reflect on my misadventures. The lessons of Tramuntana would dull in time. The white noise of cicadas would be replaced by the sounds of people laughing in bars and dogs barking in the street. I let the overwhelming awareness of the value of quiet gratitude settle. The cool can of beer in my hand, the faint smell of salt blowing in from the coastal path, the steady buzz of insects rising to a crescendo in the bush to my right; the smells, sights and simple rhythms of life going on.