by Alex Cameron Smith
As a Mountain Leader and a keen climber, in my time I’ve seen some pretty sweet views from the rocks - from wild camping high in the Glyderau mountains in Snowdonia to hanging off rope and metal in a crack above the Dunkeld valley in Scotland. Hearing stories about people attempting epic routes that were so big they would have to sleep on the job, made my mind boggle… How on earth could someone spend a comfortable night halfway up a rock face?
That’s when I discovered the existence of something called a portaledge - a rectangular metal frame with a rubberised tarpaulin stretched over it. Once they were done for the day, the climbers assembled and tied the portaledges perpendicular to the rock face in order to camp on them. I knew I had to try it - perhaps not in the middle of a crazy multi-pitch climb but definitely for one night. I had a feeling it would be something I’d never forget.
Spotting an online weekend adventure run by the legendary Explorers Connect, I signed myself up and persuaded two friends to come with me. Luckily from the moment we arrived in the wilds of Anglesey for some sea cliff climbing, the weather played ball. We spent a sun-bathed day learning the ropes, literally: how to anchor ourselves, belay each other from the top of the cliff and how to place climbing gear effectively. On more than one occasion I took time to close my eyes and enjoy the refreshing, salty breeze, the cries of wild birds, and the crashing of the waves below.
Towards the evening we finished our climb and sat on the cliff edge, smiles wide and legs dangling, watching the sun begin its slow recession into the horizon. As the sky turned shades of rose and saffron, our amazing guides did a fantastic job of setting up the portaledges and simultaneously serving us a tasty cheese and fruit platter. After being handed flasks of hot tea, we were tied onto ropes and lowered onto our ‘beds’ for the night. We unfurled our sleeping bags, tucked ourselves in and poured ourselves a brew, looking out in silence across a never-ending sea. Just as the stars started to twinkle at us, our guides sent down forks and steaming bowls of ravioli. Munching on some chocolate and gazing into the deepening blue twilight I realised no human-created entertainment could ever beat the spectacle of nature’s sunsets.
The night was calm and still. I wasn’t counting my hours of sleep but how many shooting stars I saw. It was captivating, and I was at peace; at any moment I could reach out and touch the still-warm rock. This was one of the few times in my life when I felt a powerful connection to the earth. Wrapped up in my meditation, I barely noticed when dawn began to lighten the sky and my friends started to stir. Less than half an hour later with coffee in my veins and a croissant in my stomach I was being winched up on a rope to the top of the cliff to face reality again. So much was I still under the spell, if you’d asked me what time it was or what planet we were on, I couldn’t have told you.
Driving back down south with my own thoughts for company, I knew this had been something incredibly special but also accessible to everyone - I needed to tell as many people as possible that this is something they must do for themselves, no matter their adventure experience or climbing ability.
Of all my views from the rocks, this took the biscuit, the pudding and the three-tiered cake. For the memories and the magic, life on the ledge has no price.
Feel the magic yourself - there are still spots available on upcoming cliff camping trips this year: