Have you ever walked past a cliff to see strange tents hanging from the side of the mountain with campers inside them? If so, you’re well aware of the term vertical camping, and it’s not for the faint-hearted.
In this article, we’re going to give you an introduction to vertical camping. We’ll tell you what a portaledge is as well as tell you about the dangers of partaking in this type of outdoor activity.
What Is Vertical Camping?
Vertical camping is a form of extreme outdoor camping combined with rock climbing. People undertake this activity when rock climbing the side of mountains and steep cliffs.
Because these types of climbs can last days, if not weeks, new methods have been invented which involve setting up camp on the side of a vertical cliff face, thus allowing climbers to get some rest after a long day climbing.
The nature of this type of camping is extremely challenging as depending on where you are, you will be subject to harsh weather conditions, falling rocks or ice, and many more adverse environmental factors.
Additionally, vertical camping is usually undertaken in groups for safety reasons. As a team, you secure yourselves together using rope in order to keep each other safe at all times. This technique is called belaying.
While many see this type of camping as a modern invention, the activity has been around since the 1950s. The first time people started camping on the ledge of treacherous mountains was in Yosemite National Park.
While we have more advanced technology today that makes the activity ever so slightly safer and more comfortable, the generations before us used non-collapsible cots or hammocks to spend the night on the cliff side.
Hammocks were first adopted as a sleeping tool in the mountains in the Dolomites, a range South of the Alps. Later, in 1964, the BAT hammock and BAT tent were invented and patented, offering extreme campers a comfortable alternative to fishnet hammocks first used by sailors.
Now, this equipment comes in all shapes and sizes. It also comes with a variety of accessories making vertical camping possible in even the harshest conditions.
Today, this equipment has its own name: the portaledge.
What Is A Portaledge?
Designed for rock climbers, portaledges are hanging tents. They’re specifically designed for vertical camping and are perfect for big wall climbs that last multiple days.
A portaledge comes in the form of a metal frame that hangs from a single point. It is fabric covered thus offering protection to the user against adverse weather conditions. The cover also allows you to cook even when it is windy or raining.
In addition to its fabric cover, the portaledge comes with a separate cover called a stormfly. This offers an additional layer to the entire system which protects you further from bad weather.
While the portaledge was first used in Yosemite in 1980, Mike Graham was the first person credited for creating the collapsible portaledge under his company name, Gramicci.
Later, in 1986, A5 Adventures released a new and improved portaledge made of highly weatherproof fabrics and a strong structure after a near fatal accident due to a weakness in a portaledge.
This portaledge is what opened up new doors for climbers to take on even the most dangerous peaks, including the Himalayas and the Karakorum.
North Face later took over the company, steering the product for another few years. Later the designs were transferred to Black Diamond Equipment, leading to seven new designs from four separate manufacturers.
Recently, in 2017, a new portaledge was invented with rounded curved tubing corners making it lighter and more rigid than traditional models.
In addition to packing smaller than previous portaledges, the D4 Portaledge comes with a single zip opening for quick deployment and full opening between storms.
How Dangerous Is Vertical Camping?
The quick answer is very dangerous. Vertical camping is undertaken by those daring enough to try and tackle some of the most dangerous big wall climbs across the world. In fact, these cliffs can be up to 4,000 feet tall.
Here are some of the key reasons why vertical camping is so dangerous:
People use vertical camping as a way to get some rest during long and hard climbs. The technique is used when climbing big walls for numerous days, if not weeks.
With this in mind, stamina is extremely important. After such a long day climbing, you have to find the energy to put together your portaledge, and you have to do it well.
Fatigue can cause you to forget something about your setup which is critical to your safety. It’s extremely important to rest when you need it so that you have a clear head when setting up your equipment and pushing forward with your climb.
Because vertical camping is most common in places such as the Himalayas, the Alps, and various other unpredictable terrains, you never know what you’re going to get when it comes to the weather.
During colder months, ice and snow can fall from the cliff side and land on your portaledge. On the other hand, during the summer, rocks can fall. You really can’t predict what will happen.
Uneven And Unpredictable Surfaces
In addition to objects falling, the surface of big walls are very uneven. This means that what could be snow one minute could turn to ice the next. Also, what could be ice one minute could melt to water.
The Key Is In The Equipment
Whether you’re vertical camping or just going on a short climb, the key to staying safe lies in your experience and your equipment. You have to have the best quality equipment that you can rely on during your excursion.
If you want to find out about some of the best camping and climbing equipment on the market today, check out our reviews page. On it, you’ll be able to find everything from high-quality harnesses, to comfortable and functional pants specifically designed to help you with your climb.