Going camping to me has always meant one thing: a nice and relaxing holiday in the countryside. There are others apparently to whom that idea just doesn’t cut it. Adrenaline lovers around the world are getting more and more into a hobby that is not for the faint-hearted – a windy way of getting a good night’s sleep called ‘high mountain extreme camping’.

For this you attach a so-called portaledge, a tent-like construction you lie on while it dangles from whatever spot you’ve attached it to, usually a cliff hundreds of meters above ground. Anyone who’s gone camping before knows about the horrors of trying to stably attach a tent to the ground, imagine having to do that on just one point! I admire the courage of those who go for it, but as for me I get dizzy just looking at those photos.

So how did it all begin?

Portaledges were first developed in the 1950’s when climbers started to do bigger expeditions and needed a safe place to spend the night while on tour in the mountains. The first options looked a bit like hammocks and had their initial trial run in the Dolomites, a mountain range in the Southern end of the European Alps.

The Americans then came up with different ideas to make the long hours in the darkness more bearable: BAT-tents (Basically Absurd Technology) for example, which were hammocks also, but this time came with an optional roof to protect from rain and other weather conditions.

With the development of the still rather uncomfortable BAT’s eventually emerged the portaledges as we know them today around 1980s: now there was a tent with a robust ground surrounded by a metal frame attached to adjustable suspension straps, hanging down from the cliff at a single point.

photo by Phil Box

The surrounding fabric is called stormfly and is highly weatherproof, very stable and strong in order to provide climbers with security and the opportunity to relax their muscles from exhausting climbing sessions. Tents can be bought in a single or double version which offer space for one to two people. The best-known portaledge supplier at the moment is Black Diamond, offering their tents for around 250-700 USD. Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson, both experienced climbers, explain the function and set-up of such a tent in this video.

Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson in their portaledge tent at El Capitan in Yosemite National Park, photo via ClimbingNT


So why do some people prefer this seemingly crazy way of pitching a tent to the cozy version we know so well? One passionate climber explained the thrill of this new experience this way: “I really found that extreme mountain camping was what I was missing all along. Imagine taking part in an extreme sport. The adrenaline is pumping through your body, you are on the edge and living life to the max. And then the anticlimax: your activity is over and you sit around a campsite toasting chestnuts in the fire. It’s all very nice, and I enjoy a sing along around a fire and a scary story as much as the next person, but it remains an anticlimax. I regularly find myself unable to sleep, as it all seems so mundane. Mountain camping, on the other hand, combines the best of both worlds.” Jolande in Extreme Sports Magazine.

There have been dozens of  big climbing trips in other remote areas, such as the Himalaya or Antarctica. One of the most popular spots in the world for extreme camping is Yosemite National Park in California.

photos by Sandy Ritchie and Klaus Fengler

In Germany, the Waldseilgarten, a resort in German Bavaria offers a variety of unusual camp sites, which are positioned amongst huge cliffs that are up to 2000m high. If the mountain cliff is a bit much for you, but you’d still like to experience some of the thrill of sleeping above ground, there is always the option of staying in portaledges attached to trees. Definately one of the more romantic ways of “hanging out” together.

picture via Enpundit


To check out other amazing tree camping options, also have a look at our previous post about tree camping.

What are your thoughts about sleeping this far above the ground? Would you dare?

Photo via Eblogx