John Middendorf

A portaledge is a deployable hanging tent system designed for rock climbers who spend multiple days and nights on a big wall climb. An assembled portaledge is a fabric-covered platform surrounded by a metal frame that hangs from a single point and has adjustable suspension straps. A separate cover, called a ‘stormfly,’ covers the entire system in the event of bad weather.

The first portaledges used in Yosemite were non-collapsibleĀ cots purloined from Housekeeping Camp, a Yosemite Valley campground that featured primitive metal framed bunks for the campers. These heavy cots were used on multi-day climbs on granite monoliths like El Capitan, and then sometimes tossed off the summit for later retrieval.

Mike Graham is credited with the first collapsible portaledge models available for retail purchase under the name of his company, Gramicci Products based in Ventura California. The Gramicci Portaledge appeared in the very early 1980’s and revolutionized multiday big wall comfort. There were a few minor manufacturers that also dabbled in portaledge design in the early 1980’s but could not get any traction in this niche market and soon faded. In late 1984 a small California based company called Fish Products started to manufacture portaledges, designed by Russ Walling, the company founder. Fish Products is still manufacturing these portaledges some 25 years later and also produces many other items for big wall climbing.

In 1985, A5 Adventures was founded, headed up by Stanford-trained mechanical engineer John Middendorf who was the chief designer and founder. A5 portaledges were constructed of highly weatherproof fabrics and engineered to be structurally stable and strong. The A5 portaledges were the first portaledges that could withstand the severe weather conditions in remote areas such as the Himalayas, enabling climbers to expand their horizons to the largest rock faces in the world. The A5 Portaledge was sold worldwide and was featured. The assets of A5 Adventures, including the A5 portaledge, were acquired by The North Face in 1998. Middendorf continued to steer the product for an additional two years at TNF before moving on to other pursuits outside of the climbing industry. ACE (Anker Climbing Equipment) owned by Conrad Anker, acquired the A5/TNF portaledge design from TNF in 2005 and continued to manufacture this portaledge design under the ACE brand. The ACE Portaledge design was subsequently transferred to Black Diamond LTD of Salt Lake City, Utah. Metolius Mountain Products of Bend Oregon has also launched an innovative portaledge design.

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