It would be a new circle of hell for most people, but for some, it's a paradise. Many aren't even aware that it's possible, but, yes, people do in fact sleep overnight, sometimes multiple nights, on a cliff face suspended hundreds of feet in the air. What does it feel like to sleep on the side of a cliff? What is the experience like? Well, some say you feel small, but they say it's in the best way possible.
Most people go about their whole lives worried about things they can't control. They need a degree so they can get a job. They need a job so they can buy a house. They need a house so they have a place to live before they retire. But by the time they retire, their lives are over. You could lose your house. Your field of work could be made obsolete by new technology. When you're hanging on the edge of the world, you realize how powerless you really are. It's frightening, but it can be absolutely life changing.
There are different approaches to trying to explore this awe of the infinite, but sleeping on a cliff wall allows you to actually experience the concept.
Here you are, suspended thousands of feet in the air. You allow yourself to be in the most vulnerable state of consciousness while you sleep, giving over complete faith in the hardware that you bound to the rock. During a climb, your mind is active. You're thinking ten steps ahead about what route to take. You're in the moment, placing one hand and one foot in front of the other. You may get a glimpse of what's beyond you as you're climbing. You may appreciate the view during your victory moment at the summit in relative safety. But you never get to meditate on the experience as you're doing it. It's a completely different state of mind.
What most people underestimate while spending the night on a cliff face is the amount of wind. You're probably familiar with the intensity of the wind on a day climb; however, the bulk of the tent creates a surface perpendicular to the wall that the gusts are determined to pummel through. It's had hundreds of feet to gain momentum, so the shaking can be pretty violent. It depends on the location of where you're camping, but some have reported winds at hurricane speeds suspending their tents up into the air and then slamming them back into the rock.
Some would question the sanity of putting oneself at such risk. But the risk is how we see and experience things no one else ever gets to see. Real risk gives you something that no class can teach. It's empowering.
Of course, we wouldn't want to leave out the practicalities of such a daring sport. We assume, safely, that you already climb (or you're seriously considering it). How do you avoid those unpleasant surprises in this new territory? Here is how cliff camping differs from a day climb:
Let's Just Get This Out of the Way ...
The comical logistics of vertical camping can't possibly go unsaid. You can't exactly throw your waste off the edge; however, urine and toothpaste is generally forgivable. Let's do an experiment. Go ahead and type "where do climbers..." in Google, and you'll probably get a good laugh. Ideally you would want to do number two before or after a climb in a bathroom. But where do you go when you're climbing overnight?
Clean Waste Go Anywhere Toilet kits are unequivocally the best solution. The kits use a NASA-engineered gelling agent to encapsulate waste in a reliably well-sealed bag. You can find them at any outdoor sports store. As a pro tip, TheStoneMind recommends putting kitty litter in the bags to absorb the smell.
What to Eat
You're going to need to pack light so it will last for a few days. Remember, you also have to pack your tent and related gear. We may suggest something similar to army rations. You'll need food that is incredibly nutrition-dense for its weight, so you don't need to eat as much at one time.
Rock and Ice Magazine suggests consuming around 100 to 120 calories of carbs and protein before you start your climb. Grain and fruit, such as oatmeal and apples, will give your muscles a fresh supply of glucose; and easily digestible protein, such as hard boiled eggs, will help sustain your energy throughout the day. During your climb, you'll want to keep your food in fast-open packaging and eat about 100 to 200 calories per hour. Eating often delays the muscle damage associated with fatigue, and eating light keeps your body focused on supplying energy to your muscles rather than to your digestive system.
Examples of quick foods include string cheese, dried fruit, tortilla wraps, energy bars, caffeinated gel packs, and nuts. You should be packing foods familiar to you, and it's recommended that you eat whole food over bars and gels whenever possible. Jerky would be a good protein supplement in the morning to keep sustainable sugar levels.
Carrying Enough Water
Many climbers swear by Nalgene bottles; however, MSR DromeLite bags are an even better solution for a weight-conscious sport like climbing. They use 200 denier fabric and weigh only five ounces when empty.
Explorer Mike Libecki has used these bags during vertical rock ascents in Greenland and expeditions across harsh landscapes all over the world. On occasion, he has brought enough water to last him two weeks on particularly long excursions. He emphasizes the point that his water is his life source, and without it, his ability to climb and survive would be severely impaired. He trusts in the durability of the bags, which can be scraped along the rock wall without tearing and frozen and thawed without weakening. Many of these bags can be securely clipped to anchors along the way to make transportation easier.
What Do You Think?
Cliff camping is sort of the untouched gem in outdoor sports. There's not much to be said about this subculture of climbing yet, and we need your help to help other climbers prepare! Comment below if you know of any pro climbing tips that others would find totally essential for camping off a cliff.