Adventurer’s Bucket List: Cliff CampingDoes your idea of a peaceful evening under the stars involve sleeping clipped to the side of a sheer-rock wall hundreds of feet above the ground? If so, cliff camping in Estes Park, Colorado is for you.
What used to be domain reserved for only the most intrepid big-wall climbers — who frequently found themselves sleeping suspended on a cliff face out of necessity — is a little more accessible these days. It all began in 2013, when Kent Mountain Adventure Center set up cliff camping for Charley Boorman’s “Extreme Frontiers” TV show. KMAC’s guides never previously slept on a portaledge “just for fun” but they quickly adapted the climber-only experience for non-climbers. And all of a sudden, a new business venture emerged allowing the masses to pay for a quick shot of adrenaline without climbing the Dawn Wall in Yosemite.
“Camp on a cliff?” says KMAC guide Dustin Dyer, who’s been climbing for 13 years and thoroughly enjoys sharing the cliff with non-climbers. “That’s one of my favorite parts about big-wall climbing — when you finally stop at the end of the day and set up your camp and hang out in the vertical world.”
The portaledge — a bomber metal cot setup wide enough to sleep two — is your bed for the night. And if you don’t want the open-air experience, you can even pitch a tent on one. But from in there, there’s a chance you might forget you’re suspended in the air. Although, that harness clipped into the rock will quickly remind you of your situation.
While climbing up to the portaledge is an option for a more realistic experience, adventure campers often just rappel down for their overnight. A quick 20-minute hike followed by an exhilarating rappel down a 400-foot cliff freshly lands campers on their cot in the sky. The KMAC operation allows guests to skip the exhaustion that climbers endure and focuses instead on consuming high-quality food and drinks while taking in views once reserved only for serious climbers.
In fact, KMAC’s guides take all the hard work out of the cliff camping experience. They haul up the equipment in aptly-named “haul bags,” set up the portaledge and even cook and clean up. And rest assured, they’re sleeping about 15 feet away in case you decide to chicken out, where they will provide an emergency escape if the exposure becomes too much.
The only technical reason to pull the plug is lightning, but the portaledge setup is sturdy enough to withstand wind, rain and even some jostling around. Potty breaks are the only personal skill that must be mastered. Everything is carried out, so there are tubes for pooping and the “Lady J” allows girls to pee like a guy without squatting over the side.
Whether it’s for a honeymoon, birthday or a one-and-done bucket list item, cliff camping is all about becoming a tiny speck on a lichen covered wall and enjoying the surrounding views. And KMAC is the only place for amateur adventurers to cliff camp in America. Rocky Mountain National Park will be your playground, with remote, unnamed walls or more established climbing areas available for your overnight.
So swaddle up, dangle your feet over the edge and experience the excitement of a 180-degree view of the night sky. This is a place where Milky Way soars over the continental divide, and the 14,000-foot Longs Peak looms in the distance. Experience all of this while hovering in the cozy comfort of your sleeping bag with no solid earth below you for a long, long ways away.