Ever heard of cliff camping? It’s no gentle night under canvas - sleeping suspended on a cliff edge on a tiny, portable platform called a portaledge is a dizzyingly adrenaline-fuelled yet seriously fun way of spending the night outdoors. Here’s all you need to know about cliff camping – from how sleeping on mountain faces has helped professional climbers to scale new heights to how to give it a go for yourself.
1. Cliff camping is how Yosemite’s infamous Dawn Wall was conquered. When Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson completed their astonishing, never-before-achieved feat of free climbing the Dawn Wall of El Capitan in 2015 their climb took a staggering 19 days. They spent the whole time on the wall, climbing when the weather was cool enough and sleeping on portaledges each night.
2. Portaledges were first developed from army cots. They’re actually a relatively new bit of gear in the climbing world – until the 1980s, big wall climbers would often just string a hammock between two slings fixed to the rock (a terrifying concept). Then Yosemite climbers figured out they could pinch camping cots from bunkhouses and use those for their ascents of El Capitan.
3. Modern (and far safer) portaledges were first developed by A5 Adventures, which was founded after chief designer John Middendorf nearly died due to a portaledge failure during a three-day storm when trying to climb Half Dome in Yosemite in 2000. His design for the modern portaledge used weather-proof fabrics and a strong, stable structure, making cliff camping much safer.
4. You can cliff camp in Britain, and you don’t need any climbing experience to give it a try, just a sense of adventure (and a head for heights!). We joined Eddy Young of Young’s Adventure Solutions, for a night on the edge in Dorset. His trips for two people cost £250 per person and are like an amazing AirBnB experience for the daring or the insane. You climb down to the platform, watch the sun set and even get dinner and breakfast winched down to you by rope. You’ll never eat a bacon sandwich in a more inspiring environment than this.
5. Worried that you’ll roll off in the night or try to sleepwalk off the edge? Not possible – you’re tied onto a rope the entire time. Climbers sleeping on portaledges wear a harness which is clipped onto the tent, and are often also tied onto the wall itself by another rope. So it’s safer than crossing the road (probably).
6. You might see wildlife. Cliffs might seem bare at first glance but the great thing about sleeping on a coastal cliff is that’s you’re at eye-level with seabirds flying in and out of their nests. They quickly get used to their odd new neighbours and will whirl dizzyingly close to cliff campers. Plus, an oceanside front-row seat means you might spot seals and dolphins out in the ocean.
7. Portaledges are brilliant for stargazing. Mountain and cliff sides are guaranteed to have little light pollution, meaning that if you camp on a clear night you’ll have an incredible panoramic view of the sparkling night sky from your bed, with no trees or tent ceiling to get in the way.
8. Just this year a new design of portaledge was introduced. Instead of block corners, the D4 Portaledge has rounded curved corners, which are lighter and provide more rigidity.
9. You do actually sleep! You might think you’d lie awake panicking about the void below you but once night falls you can’t really see where your bed for the night really is, and the calming swell of the sea below will definitely help you drift off in the coolest campsite ever.
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