Beyond the Edge is the highest commercial cliff camping experience in the world. Your rock-star moment comes when you look down from your portaledge attached to the side of a sheer 1,000-foot cliff face in Australia’s Mount Buffalo National Park.
What’s A Portaledge?
A portaledge is a raft-like deployable platform that juts out from a cliff face. The invention of this lightweight but robust structure enabled professional climbers to scale new heights. I know this because my son is interested in rock climbing and encouraged me to watch The Dawn Wall, the documentary of how Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson free-climb Yosemite’s 3,000-foot Dawn Wall of El Capitan. Their 19-day climb was possible because they could use a portaledge as a base camp.
Adventure tourism companies offer the public less extreme but thrilling portaledge experiences. Tourists can enjoy a Cliffnic (lunch or dinner on a sheer rock face) in Colorado. In Germany, adults can experience rock-a-bye-baby cradle sleeps hanging from tree-tops, and in Wales, they can balance on cliff tops over the Irish Sea looking like teabags ready for dunking. But the Beyond the Edge experience ranks as the world’s highest portaledge tourist cliff-face stay.
How To Reach Your Cliff Camping Portaledge
Participants rappel down around 100 feet to the portaledge. Not all guests have climbing experience, so instructors train people in roping and give them plenty of practice until they're comfortable enough to descend. Guides are at the portaledge to help guests settle in and remain camped at the top, where they are contactable at all times. They equip guests with radios and a whistle and check that their phones are working before the descent.
Who Is This Experience For?
Unleashed Unlimited's Andrew Dawson, who founded the company with his brother, Howie, has 25 years of experience as a mountain climber. I contacted him to find out about any age restrictions. He said, “The experience requires only a moderate level of fitness and physical ability. Most commonly, participants are in their 30s, but we cater for all age groups.”
Room With A View
One participant described the experience as the “perfect balance of adrenaline rush and total bliss out.” There are phenomenal views of dramatic rock formations, imposing granite tors, and of the Ovens Valley floodplains, where you can sometimes see the Victorian Alps, the southernmost point of Australia’s Great Dividing Range. It’s common to see native birds, and you might even see a wedge-tailed eagle, Australia’s largest bird of prey, swoop past.
The sunset is behind the cliff and often creates a beautiful ambiance with the light it casts across the gorge after dinner.
Portaledges are perfect for stargazing because you’re way out in nature. With little light pollution, you can really appreciate the sparkling night sky. And the portaledges’ fly ceilings are optional. Dawson says most people choose not to have one. Without the fly, they can fully immerse themselves in the view.
“The sunrise is usually one of the highlights,” Dawson says, “as participants are treated to an unobstructed view as the sun pops out over the mountains on the horizon while they enjoy their morning coffee.”
Snap the ultimate photos of all this beauty, but don't, whatever you do, drop your phone!
Don’t argue too much about who gets to sleep on which side of the bed. You have two choices: against the wall or the fall. Initially, it seems like sleepwalkers or those who easily roll out of bed need not apply, but participants are harnessed in and tethered to a rope. In some ways, you are safer here than sleeping on the top of a double bunk -- if you could just get the thought of the drop beneath out of your head.
Get Your Life In Perspective
There's an enormous sense of achievement and a feeling that you can accomplish anything if you can do this. Dawson says the experience is unique as it combines a mix of adrenaline with a peaceful time for reflection and contemplation. The setting offers a silent, private world and has resulted in at least one wedding proposal on high.
Yes, nature may call. There are toilets at the top of the cliff and devices on the portaledge.
How To Get Out Of There
It’s back up in the morning, but for those wishing to continue the adventure, there’s an optional descent where you rappel almost 1,000 feet down to the valley floor. This extreme drop is one of the world’s highest commercial abseils. This adrenalin rush is followed by a strenuous, multi-hour scramble through challenging terrain.
Know Before You Go
The Beyond the Edge cliff camping experience runs from November through to May and is weather-dependent. The cost is $620 per person and includes meals. Should you dare to take on The Descent, the experience costs an additional $345 per person with all equipment supplied.
Mount Buffalo National Park is a four-hour drive from Melbourne. The park offers miles of hiking through stunning scenery, wildlife such as wombats and lyrebirds, and flora, including snow gums and wildflowers. Besides rock climbing, rappelling, and hang gliding, the area is a family-friendly snow play, toboggan, and cross country ski area in winter. There’s also plenty of accommodation that doesn’t involve sleeping on a ledge. For more grounded stays with views overlooking wilderness areas, see my picks for Australia’s seven best luxury lodges.