Extreme Sleeping: The Most Extreme Places To Sleep

There's nothing nicer than climbing onto a supremely comfortable mattress after a hard day. But for some of us, it's not about being comfortable and relaxed at home. It's about adventure, experience, and the straight up bizarre. It's about extreme sleeping! Whether it's dangling off a sheer cliff face, under the sea with the fish, or deep in the bowels of a silver mine, humans have slept wherever it's possible.

Here are some of the most extreme places people have slept.

Extreme sleeping: dangling from a cliff

A woman lying on a portaledge. Photo by Maria Ly, licensed CC-by-2.0
Photo by Maria Ly, licensed CC-by-2.0

Wherever there has been a tall and imposing lump of rock, there’s been a human who thought, “I want to climb that.”

This brings us to the incredible sights of the Yosemite Valley, California, USA. Featuring a multitude of waterfalls, forest trails, and sheer mountains that rise 3,000+ ft from the valley floor, the valley sees about 5 million tourists a year. Whilst some of those will prefer the gentle hikes around the valley, others come with a strong purpose to climb some very tall rocks.

Yosemite valley in the summer with El Capitan, Half Dome and Bridalveil falls in the background. Photo by Johan Viirok, licensed CC-by-SA-3.0
Photo by Johan Viirok, licensed CC-by-SA-3.0

The Yosemite Valley has been a major world rock climbing attraction since the 1950s, especially the 3,000 ft granite face of El Capitan. The mountain was first climbed in 1958 by Warren Harding and took 47 days to achieve. Harding would often rest on natural ledges in the cliff face to achieve this feat.

In the 1960s climbers tackling the multi-day climb of El Capitan hammered traditional two-point hammocks into the cliff face and slept in those. The problem? They were liable to tipping in storm conditions. Can you imagine! Now that's extreme sleeping.

Photo by Tom Frost (October 1964), licensed CC-3.0
Photo by Tom Frost (October 1964), licensed CC-3.0

Instead, Harding invented a single-point hammock system that he called a B. A. T. Tent, which stands for "Basically Absurd Technology". The basic idea of this tent has been expanded on ever since, but the first few iterations offered no weather resistance and crushed people's shoulders. Not exactly comfortable.

Another two climbers, Billy Westbay and Bruce Hawkins, aimed to improve comfort levels of this single-point hammock system by creating the first “portaledges”, that is “porta” and “ledges”. They reused steel and canvas cots from the Yosemite lodges. These were more comfortable to sleep in, but were rigid, cumbersome, and weighed up to 30kg, 3x more than today's equivalent.

Portaledge technology continued to evolve and in the 1970s brothers Gregg and Jeff Lowe designed a collapsible version. This has been the standard since.

In the 1980’s John Middendorf, a Stanford-trained mechanical engineer, founded A5 Adventures. He designed and sold the world's first commercially successful portaledges.

He was so confident in his designs that he used his own product for the first ever ascent of “The Grand Voyage” on the Great Trango Tower in 1992, the longest vertical big wall (1350m/4,429 ft) in the world.

The technology and availability of portaledges has advanced to such an extent that many companies and tourist destinations now offer “Cliff Camping” experiences, when sleeping on the ground in the great outdoors just isn't enough.

If you're looking for such an extreme sleeping experience in the Lake District, look no further than Honister Cliff Camping, offered by Honister Mines.

Extreme sleeping: underneath a giant boulder

If you're feeling bold, wild and adventurous, and want to completely throw the idea of “comfort” out of the window, then how about this for an extreme sleeping idea.

The Cairngorms, in the north east of Scotland, is one of the UK's "youngest" National Parks, officially formed in 2003. The area is home to numerous lochs, forest parks, and some of the tallest mountains in all the British Isles, including the UK's second highest peak Ben Macdui at 1,309 m/4,295 ft.

Northeast of the mountain is a beautiful, glaciated valley holding the waters of Loch A'an or Loch Avon. The scenes from this freshwater loch are immense, as some of Scotland's highest mountains rise almost vertically from the loch shore.

At the head of the loch, lying amongst the scree below the imposing face of Shelterstone Crag, one can find a massive boulder resting on some smaller rocks. With the angle of the slope, it looks possible that you can just crawl right under the boulder for a kip.

In fact, that's just what people do. This is the Shelter Stone, and it is appropriately named.

You can read Dan Aspel’s fascinating tale of sleeping under the Shelter Stone in this remote glen. Here’s a choice quote from Dan’s article:

“You’ll have to duck to enter, but a stack of stones marks it as a human place, and once within the darkness you’ll see further signs of life. Stones, rocks and old pieces of fabric have been piled up against the various cracks between the Stone and its base in a mostly successful attempt to keep out the wind. There’s about as much room as a double garage, half of it so low that a full-grown adult can’t stand up without stooping. The lower half of the ‘roof’ also collects rainwater and condensation, dripping down onto the least roomy section of the cave when the weather isn’t favourable. For that reason, Dan and I pulled out our roll mats, sleeping bags and bivvy bags and set them up close by one another in the taller, drier half of the shelter. A discarded piece of plastic tarp formed another welcome barrier between us and the ground. The world outside becoming increasingly unwelcoming, we soon had head torches on, stoves fired up and clusters of tea lights flickering in the most wind-protected corners. It almost felt like home: which, for the next 12 hours, spent for the most part huddled in the warmth of our individual beddings, it was.”

Should you decide to venture into this glen for some extreme sleeping under the Shelter Stone, then you can claim that you've “slept between a rock and a hard place”.

Extreme sleeping: inside an ice cave

This is Lauren in an ice cave under the Mendenhall Glacier near Juneau, Alaska. Photo by Andrew Russell, licensed CC-2.0
Photo by Andrew Russell, licensed CC-2.0

If you have grown bored of being toasty and warm in your bed and fancy pushing your body to the extreme how about this for an extreme sleeping experience?

North of Norway, towards the Arctic Circle, an endless expanse of water dotted with ice contains an archipelago completely frozen and covered in mountains and glaciers.

This is Svalbard.

Previously known as Spitzbergen, the Norwegian cluster of islands known as Svalbard is in the Arctic Sea, halfway between the northern coast of Norway and the North Pole. First used as a base by whalers in the 17th and 18th centuries, these days the primary economic activity on the islands is coal mining. This place is pristine, largely untouched by man, and cold. Average temperatures during summer range between 4–7°C, and plunge to between -13 and -9°C in the winter. As a result of its location and cold temperatures Svalbard is known for its glaciers, which cover around 60% of the islands, fjords, and mountains, with the highest peak at Newtontoppen (1,717 m/5,633 ft).

Seen as a wild and pristine winter paradise, tourism is a growing sector on Svalbard where visitors come to embrace the Arctic conditions and enjoy the wildlife, the mountains, and the glaciers. In fact, one such activity tourists can experience is sleeping in an ice cave on a glacier.

Offered by Svalbard Wildlife Expeditions, the experience involves taking advantage of the Polar Night conditions of Svalbard during the winter. Adventurers head out to hike up the glacier away from the lights of Svalbard’s largest settlement, Longyearbyen. Once in the deep darkness of Polar Night, the eye adjusts to see a clear night sky full of stars and galaxies, and perhaps even a display from the aurora borealis!

Photo by Frode Ramone, licensed CC-2.0

The guide then takes hikers into the glacier to reveal tunnels and hallways of ice caves which will be their room for the night, deep inside a glacier.

Sleeping in a silver mine

If hiking out in subzero temperatures during the Polar Night to sleep in an ice cave seems a little too extreme let us take you somewhere more unusual.

Away from the frozen mountains and endless ice of the Svalbard archipeligo, we head south to Sweden, northwest of the capital Stockholm to the municipality of Sala.

RÅDHUSET, SALA. Photo by Einarspetz, licensed CC-by-SA-3.0

The pretty and petite city of Sala might seem unremarkable to most, but it is the home of Sala Silver Mine, or Silvergruva. The mine was in continuous operation from the 15th century until 1908, that’s around 500 years of mining! In total, miners extracted 400 tonnes of silver from the mine, about 3–5 tonnes every year, plus 40,000 tonnes of lead. The silver was economically important to Sweden, and was used as a base in the production of coins.

Today, Sala Silvergruva functions as a tourist attraction, where visitors can enjoy guided tours down the mines. In some of the bigger chambers, there are even concerts arranged. More unusually, you can also sleep in the mines, if you want.

Extreme sleeping: The most extreme places to sleep around the world

At 155 m/508 ft underground, this hotel suite may well be the deepest in the world. It's furnished with a luxurious double bed, champagne, and all the silver trimmings (obviously). Temperatures in most of the tunnels sit at around 2°C, a little chilly, but happily the hotel room enjoys a warm pocket of air, keeping it at about 18°C.

As you would expect, you can't get mobile phone coverage that far underground, so the only way to communicate with the outside world is via an intercom, which you can use to contact an on-call staff member.

Where’s the most extreme place ewe’ve slept?

Where is the most place extreme place you've ever slept? How did you do it? Did you enjoy the experience?

Reply with the hashtag #ExtremeHerdySleepover for a chance to be included in this post. Also, join the flock on our Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram, or you can email us, too.

Your #ExtremeHerdySleepovers

Raonaid Uallas

“In the Umfolozi, South Africa. I did a primitive trail there, 5 days and 4 nights sleeping out in the bush. 8 of us and 2 armed Rangers. We took all we needed in a pack on our backs. Walked 10 km a day, slept at night under the stars, no tents . We all took a turn at night watching to make sure no lions or leopards crept up unawares. It was a most fantastic experience, even getting charged at by rhinos at one point. Enjoyed every minute of it…”

Di Gough

“Underneath the stars in the Namibian Desert (with Barking Geckos all around). We were on a 9-day tour in a small group of different nationalities. We got to the lodge for the night, everyone was assigned their rooms except us and another couple. We were taken on a 20-minute journey to another lodge on a high plateau overlooking the desert. We were allocated our chalets and found out they all had decks and rollout beds, so you rolled your bed out to sleep under the stars! That night we had the only rain shower of the whole trip! The stars above were incredible (before the rain) but a lot of time was spent listening to the scrabbling and scuttling noises on the deck, plus a few grunts (not us!) and the Barking Geckos! Amazing night!”

Diver Derek

“A WW2 German Pillbox. The Chanel Islands, Alderney in particular, have many German Pillbox’s around their shore line. They were built to last, many tons of concrete for even quite a small one. Nowadays they are owned by those that own the land, and are used for storage etc., no way can they be removed. Back in the 60’s our scout group would regularly have our two-week summer camp on the island. We had a minibus which would bring over the tents etc., and the scouts would fly over. One year, the tents had to catch the ferry, and the flights were postponed for a day. A quick ring round the local people and we were offered the use of a completely empty pill box. Our scout group had made many friends over the years, a couple even married local girls, so yes I slept in a very cold, German Pillbox!”

Johnathan Heywood

“In the drying room of the Leeds university mountain hut. I swear my mouth had turned to sandpaper overnight.”