Deepwater Solo Climbing in Majorca with Chris Sharma
Credit: Corey Rich / Getty Images
Sharma, Gold, and Miguel Riera hit the bars that night. When they return, Riera is carrying a roadkill rabbit he's salvaged.

"I skin it later and make a paella," he announces in a Latin baritone before stumbling into his tent.

Sharma and Gold wake me as they return to the garage-size beachside cave we've bivouacked in. While Gold has brought a thick inflatable pad and a pillow to go along with his sleeping bag, Sharma, the minimalist, lays his bedroll right on "mother earth" and makes a pillow from his rolled-up sweater. Tucked in, they take up makeshift didgeridoos – chunks of black PVC pipe they found washed up on the beach – and play a tribal chant. A throaty warble echoes around the cave.

Sharma's easygoing demeanor, a mix of funhog and self-described slacker, belies a serious spiritual side that may be the key (even more than his legendary strength) to his current standing as the world's best rock climber. Growing up in laid-back Santa Cruz, California, he inherited a mystical bent from his parents, Gita and Bob, who were students of Baba Hari Das, a yogi who took a vow of silence in 1952 and who still communicates by writing on a chalkboard that hangs on a string around his neck. The yogi married Sharma's parents in a Hindu ceremony, and he gave them their last name. 

It's understandable, then, that rather than talk about training his body, he talks about training his spirit, like the pilgrimage in Japan in 2001 when he spent weeks walking from temple to temple on the island of Shikoku, or his months in a California Zen center in 2003, when he sat in silent meditation for up to 11 hours a day.

"Those retreats were an effort to understand who I am, and to make sense of life," he tells me inside the cave that night.

"Chris probably isn't much stronger than me or Toni," Gold says the next day, while we climb down to the sea cave beside the Tarantino Wall, "but while we have to expend 80 percent of our energy on a move, he only needs to give it 20 percent. He can do that because mentally he's completely in control of the moment." 

It's another day of smooth seas and blue sky as we solo, splash down, and swim around in the cavern containing Sharma's "project," the Big Momma. To complete it he'll have to find a way across a horizontal ceiling for 60 feet. Then he'll have to climb as far again up a severely overhanging wall. 

While we tread water, he tiptoes barefoot along a kelp-covered gangway into the depths of the cave, and then balances on a patch of dry rock to slip on his shoes. With barely a pause he begins lunging between holds with precise movements. After 10 minutes, he is at the elliptical mouth of the cave, his legs wrapped around a stalactite the size and form of a chandelier.

"Resting" there, he lingers, shaking out one arm, then the other, while his eyes map out the remaining holds. Only a sheen of sweat on his bare back hints that he's working hard. Sharma is high above the water, in the zone where splashdowns can end in broken ribs or concussions. We cheer him on, up the last of the hard moves, till he grabs the rim of the summit. 

Climbing is a personal, individualistic experience rather than a spectator sport, but that day on the Mediterranean, watching Sharma waltz and struggle, we are drawn together. It's one of those sporting moments you go on to play over and over in your mind, the way a baseball fan mentally retraces the trajectory of a ball slammed over the Green Monster at Fenway Park.

Sitting on top of the cliff that afternoon, still buzzing from his accomplishment, Sharma is raving about the way DWS has revolutionized climbing. Of his experience on the Big Momma he says, "It doesn't get any better than that." At 5.13d, 120 feet long, she's probably the hardest, longest DWS ever done.

"But you know what the coolest thing is about that climb?" he asks. "I did it without bolts or a rope, and my chalk will wash off with the next big wave. No one will ever be able to tell I was there."

And that's the Zen of climbing.

Rock Festival
Deepwater soloing at Porto Cristo is for experts, but Majorca has a total of 15 crags with a whopping 500 routes for climbers of all abilities. Sa Gubia, nine miles north of Palma, has the most varied terrain, with 10 separate climbing areas.

Deepwater Soloing for Mere Mortals
You don't have to be Chris Sharma to attempt rock climbing's newest offshoot. West Virginia's Summersville Lake, located 20 miles north of Fayetteville, and Dover, Great Britain (one of the sport's birthplaces), are beginner- and intermediate-friendly deepwater soloing spots. 

The diamond-hard sandstone cliffs fringeing Summersville Lake dam are prime for deepwater soloists when water levels are highest, from May to September. The waters here are tranquil, but the usual DWS safety checks still apply: Know how to swim, and inspect your water landings for submerged, hidden rocks. Difficulty levels vary, from modest 5.4 cracks to walls littered with enormous hand grips to searingly difficult 5.13 routes. Rent boats at Summersville Lake Retreat.

Just down the coast from the famed cliffs of Dover, looming above the English Channel, the limestone cliffs of Swanage and Portland are riddled with vertical, overhanging, and horizontal routes. The local climbers here are old hands at DWS, but that doesn't mean you need to be: The easiest solo is Temporary Lifestyle, and the routes at Cave Hole and Stair Hole are novice-friendly. Just be sure to avoid low tide, especially in Portland.