Sure, you’ve been camping in some amazing places—but when was the last time you slept suspended more than 900 feet (300 meters) above the ground? Portaledge cliff camping is one of the latest trends in extreme camping that has to be experienced to be believed.
“Ready?” Will asked.
“Yes.” I turned and rappelled down the edge of the Welsh coast. I reached the ledge that was perched approximately 30 feet (10 meters) from the top of the cliff, perhaps 600 feet (200 meters) from the Irish Sea that crashed below me. This was my spot for dinner … and my camping spot for the night.
I was taking part in one of Gaia Adventures’ extreme cliff camping adventures in North Wales. My guide, Will, had driven us up to the village of Rhoscolyn, off the coast of Anglesey. We tramped through meadows, waving to nonplussed sheep and making our way with a lightweight pack full of gear to the edge of the cliffs. Will set up the portaledge, a metal frame covered with fabric and suspended with straps from a single point, allowing it to be constructed almost anywhere.
After I was trussed up in my climbing harness, safety checks completed, Will helped me rappel over the side; I climbed onto the portaledge, made myself comfortable, and looked around. It was late afternoon and the wind was picking up. Waves crashed on the rocks below and I heard the keening of gulls as they circled. I had 180-degree views from a perspective that was solely mine; I leaned over the edge and stared at the gray water that seethed below me. It was a heady feeling—as close to levitation as I’ve felt—and I didn’t want the experience to end.
Portaledge cliff camping isn't new. Rock climbers and mountaineers have used portaledges for years to sleep when attempting multi-day routes and scaling new heights. Recently, though, camping on a cliff's ledge has become popular with other strong-willed, adventurous travelers.
Where to Go Extreme Camping
The best thing about camping in a portaledge is the unparalleled beauty of your surroundings. You can sleep suspended from mountains in almost every continent (I’m still waiting on Antarctica) and experience a truly unique environment every time. Here are four other places, in addition to Wales, where you can take part in extreme camping by sleeping in a portaledge.
Located on the North Wall of Mt. Buffalo Gorge in Victoria, Australia is the world's highest commercial portaledge cliff camping experience. Guests of Unleashed-Unlimited are treated to spectacular views and dinner before tucking in for the night. Dawn brings a new perspective and, for those who are feeling up to it, an almost 10,000-foot (300-meter) rappel down to the valley floor—best to pack a lightweight daypack for that kind of adventure!
Nestled in the German Alps is the opportunity to not only sleep on a cliff face more than a half-mile (about 0.8 kilometers) above the ground, but also to experience a portaledge suspended from a tree. Waldseilgarten Höllschlucht is an adventure resort, so you can also practice archery or tackle the ropes course, in addition to hiking and climbing.
Colorado is home to some of the best hiking and rock climbing in the country, so it makes sense that you can experience portaledge camping in the heart of the Rocky Mountains. Kent Mountain Adventure Center, located in Estes Park, CO near Rocky Mountain National Park, offers not only overnight options, but also “Just Lunch or Dinner” packages. These extreme excursions allow guests to enjoy a meal on the ledge before returning to their own comfy beds on terra firma.
Peru’s Skylodge Adventure Suites are located in Peru’s stunning Sacred Valley, en route to Machu Picchu. Situated more than 1,300 feet (400 meters) above the valley floor, these camping pods offer a luxury option, complete with plush beds and dry toilets and sinks. They’re not technically portaledges, but they certainly provide a similar experience and incredible views.
Practical Tips for Sleeping in a Portaledge
- Don’t overdo it on the water consumption. Yes, you should hydrate, but you don’t want to hear the call of nature in the middle of the night.
- Pack light. The portaledge is a small space and there’s no room for extraneous items. Use a compression cube for any additional layers; it can also double as a pillow. And be sure to stow and clip in anything you bring to prevent it from falling into the abyss.
- Get creative with your gear. Space is tight, so consider a hanging toiletry kit or shoe sack to get things off the floor of your portaledge.
- Don’t expect an amazing night of sleep. Yes, you’ll have a sleeping bag and no, you won’t fall, but you’re sleeping in a climbing harness while tethered to a rope. You might not get your solid eight hours, but the stars and sunrise are totally worth it.
Meanwhile, back on the ledge, Will rappelled down to me and unpacked treats from his jacket, including a Sol beer.
“I thought it was appropriate,” he said, gesturing to the sun making its way towards the horizon. “Though it’s not a proper Welsh beer.”
I had no complaints. I took a swig as we sat in companionable silence. Night would fall soon and, with the waves crashing below, I prepared for what was surely one of the craziest camping experiences I had—so far.
Planning to sleep on a portaledge hanging off the slide of a cliff? Send us a shot on Instagram.
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By Katie Coakley
Katie Coakley is a Denver-based freelance writer who writes about travel, craft beer, and outdoor adventures. She’s just as happy sleeping on a ledge as in a five-star hotel. You can follow her journeys on Instagram.