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Last year was the first time we attempted to hike the route known locally as the “Three Peaks”, which is high up in the Tramuntana Mountains. The hike is known for being rather strenuous, my parents had walked it many years before without any younger ones in tow, but we were always keen to try new walks in the area and with Jerome older it seemed a good adventure. The previous year not only did we climb the three mountaintops, we also took the long scenic route home. Instead of heading back to the Cuber water reservoir and the car park there we added the trek down along the famous Barranc de Biniaraix to the ordeal. Jerome had clearly enjoyed the adventurous route a lot. In the time leading up to our trip to Mallorca this year he had constantly asked, “Are we going to do the Three Peaks again?”. I believe part of the motivation is to test his limits and hike the maximum for a boy of his age.
The hike up to the three mountaintops is not very well sign posted, unlike many other walks on the island. However it is one of the most visual stunning hikes, with incredible views over the whole island and the sea beyond. Due to the lack of signposts, the hike must only be attempted on a fine, sunny day with no chance of clouds, fog and rain! Without a clear line of sight finding the right path in mist could be a big problem, if not really dangerous at some points. If you are planning to go anywhere on the upper reaches of the Tramuntana Mountains always check the local weather forecast the day before and on the morning of your planned hike again, to make sure that you will not be surprised by clouds and showers during your day! In most places the path can only be found by spotting the stone cairns ahead on the mountainside and top, or the occasional red dot on a stone. Therefore it is absolutely necessary to have a clear view of your surrounding area. If you do embark on the walk and you can see mist rising or low clouds form turn back to the start to avoid getting lost or even hurt.
The way starts from the car park by the Cuber reservoir. It is a lovely drive from Soller or Lluc direction, with amazing views of the mountains and the sea in the distance. You also have the option to take a taxi or the bus from Soller to the start of the hike if you do not have a car or want to make it a one way walk back to the Soller valley. The hike is usually recommended as a circular tour and therefore using your own car is a good way of reaching the start point.
The drive up into the mountains takes around 30 minutes and we always play a game of counting the cyclists that pass us on the way. Jerome chose to count the cyclists riding up the mountains, while my Mum looked out for the ones coming downhill. When we parked our car on the roadside, next to the entrance to the Cuber lake, Jerome had won with a narrow head count more, and we had passed nearly two hundred bikes! The reservoir, thanks to the heavy rains over the winter months was full again after last year’s drought and makes a beautiful vista. The lake is surrounded by mountains to all sides and a dam was built years ago to serve as a main water reservoir for Palma and the other villages and towns on Mallorca. Lake Cuber is a popular starting point for many other walks in the Serra Tramuntana so the car parks nearby can get busy. It is also a great spot for bird watching and we could see a few bird watchers in the grassy fields with their equipment on their stake out.
We first walked along the gravel road towards the dam, from there we could already see the first of our three mountains, SaRateta, to the right side of the dam on the south side of the Lake. Just before the dam we turned left onto a narrow hiking trail, which runs through the long, scraggly pampas grass. Here, you will not fail to notice the constant humming of the water rushing down the pipeline towards Palma. The pipe has been encased in concrete above ground and you will come across it a short while later. First the path leads you up to the left side of the narrow valley then, once the path drops downhill, you might notice a tunnel to your left. This is one of the tunnels used for the water pipes of the lake. There are a few more, further down the mountain, however you will not pass these on the walk to the three peaks. They are part of a different walk that we can highly recommend as well. The first tunnel to the left is sometimes used as a stable for the sheep and whilst it is accessible to curious hikers the amount of sheep’s poo might scare you off.
After the col near the tunnel you will descend for a few meters, be careful here as part of the rocks and gravel are rather slippery. At the bottom you will notice a pipe running across the mountain stream and the pipeline below. Jerome and I usually balance across this pipe, just for the fun of it. The hiking trail then runs alongside the water pipe, you might even notice a valve on your climb up the next stretch. Close to the valve you need to keep an eye out for the stone men and blue spots that indicate where the trail to the Three Peaks turns off. If you have reached the top of the hill and the trail descends again you have already missed the signs and need to turn around.
Once you are on the trail you will be able to see where other people have trodden on the path before you. It is still advisable to constantly keep an eye out for the signs or the trail ahead as the path cross rocky patches and in places the way can be a little unclear but the foot wear marks from other walks give a good guide, and occasional cairns and blue spots lead you up the steep hillside. From there on you will quite quickly gain on height, walking through a forest of Mediterranean oaks and the rocky mountains of the Serra de Tramuntana. Keep an eye out for the majestic black vultures that circle high above in the sky and are known to nest in the area. Jerome and my Dad always bring their binoculars along to watch these rare birds in flight.
As you approach the end of the oaks at a col watch out for the sign where the hiking path divides, the left leg would lead you to Orient, it is the right trail you want to take heading up hill through the last clump of larger trees. Shortly after you will leave most of the trees behind and you will have the rocky mountainside in front of you. If you concentrate your eyes you will recognise some of the path, winding itself up to the top in a set of zigzag lines. You might wonder why anyone would make trails going up the mountains of this height, so far away from any civilisation with no trees or anything in sight. Men made these tracks to access the snow huts, which were built high up in the mountains, where snow was kept in order to turn it into ice. The ice would then be used to keep food from being spoiled by the hot summer temperatures on the island and to keep the richer folks cool in centuries past.
You will pass the ruin of one of these snow huts on your way to the first mountaintop, also the highest of the three, the Puig de Sa Rateta at 1113m. Be aware that near the hut you might find deep caves, it is important to keep away from these holes as some of them are more than a few meters deep. Stop frequently on your ascent to take in the ever changing, amazing views over the south side of the island. If you know the geography of the region, you will be able to see Mount Alaro, Inca and eventually Palma and Alcudia, plus the sea in the distance. Once you have passed the snow hut to your left you will have to find your way through a plain of pampa grass and rocks before you finally reach the last slopes of Sa Rateta that heads up to a lonely tree and the back right towards the peak across a sea of stones and rocks punctuated by the odd small cairn.
Pick a spot near the highest point and take a break to enjoy the incredible views over the Serra Tramuntana in all directions. We found a comfortable rock for us to sit on, protected from the wind and unpacked our lunch. Down below we could see the Cuber reservoir glistening in the sun, behind to the north the second reservoir Gorg Blau, a much deeper blue and across to Puig Major, the highest mountain on the island. You will not fail to notice the zigzag road leading to the Spanish military base at the top of this biggest peak and the radar on top. Sadly Puig Major is off limits to non-army personnel and cannot be hiked. To our surprise another family with two boys, similar age to Jerome, turned up. They came from of the opposite direction and had already climbed the other two peaks. They did not seem to linger for long and left shortly afterwards.
We packed our backpack and left for the second mountain, Puig de Na Franqesa, 1067m. The descend is an easy one, only 200 meteres downhill where you will pass through a grassy area and you might notice the remains of the occasional log fire. It seems that people spend the night here sometime, wild camping in the mountains. The path up to the second mountaintop is partly protected by the shade of some stunted oak trees and you might encounter some bigger boulders that need to be crossed but none that prove to be of any major difficulty. The climb is not as hard as the way up but it does stretch the muscles again. The hike then leads you along the top of the ridge of Na Franqesa for a while, not for the faint hearted or someone with fear of heights, before descending again. This downhill section is much more difficult than the last one and you should carefully consider your route down the slippery rocks and rubble keeping an eye on the route up marked here and there by cairns.
At the bottom, take notice the wall to your right, with a gap in its midst, this is one of the main ways back to the reservoir. Just to the left is the entry point for the track up to the third and last mountain, the L’Ofre, which peaks at 1091m. This is one of our favourite mountains as it looks like the ideal image of an imaginary mountain of a child, when seen from Soller – an almost perfect rocky triangle surrounded by trees. The path up to the top is easier to spot as there are more hikers climbing L’Ofre on average than the other two, plus the way is less rocky and has more stretches of earth. The first part of the path is fairly easy but as the summit is approached the way leads off the left (south) side and the sharply right and steeply climbs to the last run in to the peak. At this sharp bend another way up from the south side joins. Be aware that the top is very narrow and has drops on three sides. I could imagine if it is very crowded it can get claustrophobic to stay too long but if you are lucky with us it a great place of a pause and a view. The vistas are among the finest on the island, you can see the town of Soller down below and the stunning surrounding landscape.
There are two ways to walk down L”Ofre, either the way you came and then through the gap in the wall, and along the path which ends back at the reservoir. Or instead take the right hand track at the sharp bend just below the summit and walk the route that is slightly longer round the mountain past the Coll de L’Ofre to the reservoir which provides a pretty, if rather steep decent.
We took the right track and descended the steep path down through the trees, then at the col where a path comes up from the Orient valley we walked back right to the Coll de L’Ofre. The col is the joining of several ways, the one up we had just come from, another leads back to Cuber and the third was our planned way forward – and we followed the sign for Barranc de Biniaraix to Soller. Luckily for us my parents had taken the shorter route back skipping L’Ofre so we did not need to worry about getting back to the collect the car.
The Barranc de Biniaraix is an old pilgrim path that leads right across the Serra de Tramuntana from Valldemossa to Lluc. The section down to Biniaraix follows the side of a steep valley, almost a gorge cut by the torrent with hundreds of stony steps through dry stone terraced olive groves. Every hiker should at least once hike up and or down the Barranc. I have followed the route a few times and I am still amazed at the steps, there are so many of them and cannot imagine how long it must have taken for men to build them. You will notice some small casitas and olivars (huts used to gather the crops) among the olive groves, locals come and stay there during the warmer months of the year. Imagine all the food, drinks and other necessities they have to carry up the mountain for just a few days…
I could definitely feel my feet on the way down the many steps, even the best of hiking shoes at some point make your feet ache. The sun was just setting behind the mountains and the light was that magical, early evening light that gave everything around us a golden glow. The three of us were all a bit weary. We had left my parents behind to walk back to the reservoir and to drive the car back to Soller, but at least we knew we would soon be getting a hot meal in front of our noses the minute we walked into the door. Jerome still seemed to have the most energy left and he mostly ran ahead, he would wait for us to catch him up every now and then, even moaning when we were a bit slower.
Eventually we reached the old water channel built between the path and the torrent. It must have once carried the water downhill, past some of the huts, into the valley of Biniaraix below. Jerome and I balanced on it for a while, the curves of the tiles made it quite difficult to walk on though. The torrent next to it was empty except for a few puddles where the sunlight rarely penetrates. We crossed the streambed of the torrent a few times, before we finally reached the old washhouse of Biniaraix. From there it was another 2 kilometers along the road back to Soller, reversing part of the route we had walked as a warm up to Fornalutx earlier in the holiday.
We arrived back at Soller exhausted but happy to have accomplished the hardest walk of our holiday. Jerome was especially very proud of himself to have walked this long hike for a second time in his life. He has already said, that he wants to do it again next year, but we will see…
This strenuous hike has a total length of more than 12 km if walked as the original circular route and takes at least 5 to 6 hours if you are fit. Our addition of the walk down the Barranc de Biniaraix adds a further 8 km or more to the hike. The total ascend and descend is around 700m from Cuber, and if walking back to Soller the descend adds more than a 1000m to the total. The route should only be attempted in good, sunny weather, it is dangerous to hike in bad weather conditions, even with a GPS, there are many sharp drops and the path can be hard to find in good light let alone bad. Never set out without all the critical hiking provisions and a clear plan. Make sure you have a detailed map and description of the route with you. Take plenty of water, food and warm, wind proof clothing, as the temperatures on the mountaintops can be considerably colder than in the valley, plus may change sharply. There are no opportunities along the way where you can buy drinks or food, so take more than you will need just in case. Wear proper hiking boots and carry a mobile and first aid kit with you at all times. It is advisable to do this tour only in groups of two or more in case something happens. Children under the age of 10 should probably not be taken on this hike, it is definitely not a casual walk, being really a route for more experienced mountain walkers.