If you’re spending US$600 a night, the least you would expect is a comfortable room with a view. In terms of the latter, I can’t complain: It’s witching hour in the Rocky Mountains and I’m 18 storeys up, enjoying an incredible vista. On the comfort front however, it’s a bit more iffy: My bed for the night is a rickety portaledge – a hanging cot – attached to a sheer rock face.
This is cliff camping, the latest and possibly most extreme adventure sports craze to date. Previously a means for elite climbers to sleep during long vertical ascents, it’s now on offer to the general public here in Estes Park, Colorado. And, according to the man behind it, people have been queuing in large numbers for a taste of life on the edge.
“People seem to love the intensity of it; of pushing their limits and seeing life from a different perspective,” says Harry Kent, founder of Kent Mountain Adventure Center, which offers the service. “Folks think, ‘Holy mackerel, I can sleep on a ledge 200 feet off the ground! I have to try that!’”
“Holy mackerel” doesn’t even begin to do justice to it. After scrambling, hiking and climbing to the summit of the 400ft Deville III rock, we abseil off the top, swooping down until our boots tap the flimsy fabric of our portaledges.
My stretcher-like bed grates against the rock as it takes my weight, lurching sickeningly to one side. I carefully feel my way to a seated position, ledge wobbling and tipping as I do so. A few seconds later, Kent has me locked – by an ingenious assortment of gravity-defying gadgetry – to both the cliff face and the flimsy portaledge. It’s time to enjoy the sunset before settling in for the night.
Soon, we’re left with just the stars, moon and a bubbling river somewhere beneath us for company. By 10pm, my right foot, wedged between the rock face and my rucksack, has gone to sleep, but the rest of me obstinately refuses to follow. My heart is racing and I’m counting the minutes till sunrise.
Don’t get me wrong: The night sky is spectacular. It’s a night for soul-searching and self-reflection, but also for trying to stay as warm as possible and avoiding the need for the toilet – a plastic fruit-juice bottle dangling worryingly close to my head.
Finally, my endeavours are rewarded. The sunrise starts off to our right; a distant spark on the horizon. Then it ignites, racing across the sky like wildfire, evaporating the mists beneath us and illuminating a forest I’d almost forgotten. Morning rises around us and, with it, any sense of fear seeps away. I swing my legs over the lip of my ledge and revel in the roaring blaze of colours.
Cliff camping is all about “pushing your limits and finding a new perspective”, Kent told me the previous day. And what a perspective it is from up here. Yes, that was a night I will always remember. But more importantly, this is a morning I will never forget.
Where else you can sleep in extreme situations
Jules’ Undersea Lodge, Florida
There’s no need to head 20,000 leagues under the sea for the ultimate subaquatic adventure. Dive 6.4m beneath the surface to reach this underwater hotel (below), named in honour of author Jules Verne. It’s hidden beneath a mangrove lagoon and can sleep up to six people
Crane Hotel Faralda, Amsterdam
This specially adapted crane (below) contains three luxury suites stacked up to 50m in the air. A spa pool on the top deck boasts extraordinary views of the Dutch capital.
Kokopelli’s Cave Bed and Breakfast, New Mexico
A one-bedroom cave dwelling (below) 21m below the surface, Kokopelli’s is accessed via an entrance carved into the cliff face. You won’t have to live like a caveman once you’re down there though: There’s a jacuzzi, waterfall-style shower and flagstone hot tub, among other comforts carved into the cliff face.
– TEXT BY JONATHAN THOMPSON
PHOTO: MARK CHILVERS, JULES’ UNDERSEA LODGE, CRANE HOTEL FARALDA FACEBOOK, KOKOPELLI’S CAVE BED AND BREAKFAST
This article was originally published by Singapore Press Holdings.