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Rock Shelters
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Joseph Reeves

Locale: Southeast Alaska
Rock Shelters on 11/07/2010 15:40:58 MST Print View

We have occasionally found rock shelters on our bushwhacks and, more frequently, on kayak trips. Yesterday's find was well off the trail and offered a welcomed respite from the snain (snow+rain) that had been falling for hours.
Rock Shelter
That got us talking about sleeping under the rock shelter. In Southeast most of these have floors littered with sq foot slabs that have fallen from the roof. There is an obvious risk to sleeping as opposed to a nice spot for lunch.

Anyone use rock shelters for sleeping?

Bob Gross
(--B.G.--) - F

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: Rock Shelters on 11/07/2010 15:47:19 MST Print View

"Anyone use rock shelters for sleeping?"

Early humans did.

The people who understand this more are limestone cave explorers. Their term for it is "roof breakdown."

What are the chances that the roof is going to break and fall on you, just for those few hours that you are there? Probably minimal.


Jay Wilkerson
(Creachen) - MLife

Locale: East Bay
Rock Shelters on 11/07/2010 16:53:34 MST Print View

I did this past summer at Big Pete's Meadow on the JMT. It was just off the trail and was a solid granite over hang-basically a huge bolder with the right shape for weather protection. It had a nice fire pit and just enough room for me to sleep- w/duff..I think a rock shelter would be a excellent choice if the weather really got gnarly! I hope I never have to be in that situation.. Raiders!!!!!

Dan Durston
(dandydan) - F

Rock on 11/07/2010 17:50:06 MST Print View

Supposedly you need to be careful with fires under these rock overhangs. If you build a fire that heats up the rock, it can crack and fall...especially if the rock is heated suddenly by getting a large fire started in a short period of time. I'm not sure how true this is....just what I've heard.

eric chan
(bearbreeder) - F
rock on 11/07/2010 18:05:52 MST Print View

depends what rock it is ...

granite is pretty solid ... limestone can be ok ... sandstone if its dry can be ok

know how to recognize a choss pile from solid rock ...

best way to do that is to rock climb outside ;)

Joseph Reeves

Locale: Southeast Alaska
Re: Rock Shelters on 11/07/2010 18:36:26 MST Print View

Well, we have not slept under them around here because we haven't had the need. I think we would take the risk if it were the drier option.

In the image in the original post there is now a "note" that shows the small wall that was constructed a number of years (decades?) ago. There are no stones on top of the half foot of porcupine pellets that have accumulated inside that walled area. Not sure how much scat (gee, BPL wouldn't let me write a word that rhymes with scoop) a porcupine or two can produce, but this seems like it has been used by them for a while.

There is a well formed cave on an island north of here that has been used a few times on kayak trips. Usually, the cliffs along the fjords provide enough overhang to keep the gear and fires dry even in the most torrential rain.

Most of this area is shale and limestone. There are a few places with erratics large enough to slide under if needed. The big karst formations are a few hundred miles south of here on Prince of Wales Island. There is evidence of their occupation going back more than 10K years.

Bob Gross
(--B.G.--) - F

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: Re: Rock Shelters on 11/07/2010 18:58:24 MST Print View

It's enough to make you want to go re-watch the movie, Quest For Fire.


drowning in spam
(leaftye) - F

Locale: SoCal
Re: Rock Shelters on 11/07/2010 20:14:26 MST Print View

I came across a group of illegals sleeping in a rock shelter within a couple miles of the border. I haven't used one myself yet, although I would. I figure the chance of roof failure while I'm there is low, although I wouldn't do it within a few weeks of a major local earthquake.

non yep
(yep) - F

Locale: sonoran desert
re: Rock Shelters on 11/07/2010 21:48:53 MST Print View

except for tarping during the monsoon seasons, here in the desert i usually just take my tigoat bivy for shelter. when it looks like rain, i spend the extra 15 minutes seeking rock overhangs. pretty easy to find, but often involve either some UL bouldering or 5 minutes of rock work so i don't roll out ;)
roof collapse seems low on my danger list; here the danger seems to be snakes in these rocks.

Edited by yep on 11/07/2010 21:51:50 MST.

/A .
(biointegra) - MLife

Locale: Puget Sound
Re: Rock Shelters on 11/07/2010 22:20:09 MST Print View

I have slept underneath rock overhangs extensively in the SE and Appalachian foothills, solo and while leading larger groups. In fact, I have thusly practiced significantly more than using a tent in that area of the country. Many contain evidence of native American use, which is comforting as far as their longevity and safety is concerned. Some of the best sites are aided in access through the use of ropes. A few areas that can be particularly well-suited to this (although legality needs to be checked in order to preserve archaeological sites) are as follows:

Obed River Gorge, TN
Red River Gorge, KY
Big South Fork, TN
Hiawassee River Valley, TN

The biggest problems are mice, fine dusty sand that gets on everything (using ground sheets is key), and access.

Best hint: Many of the best rock-house camping places are to be found well off trail (or sometimes below).

Once I came upon two parallel ancient burial mounds inside a small, remote and well protected overhang, towards the top of a cliff band. It would have been handy to have a GPS back then, although they were not ubiquitous or even available much at that time.

Erik Danielsen
(er1kksen) - F

Locale: The Western Door
Island of the Sun on 11/08/2010 07:32:44 MST Print View

During last year's Winter Solstice my trekking companion and I were on the Inca Island of the Sun on a particularly sunless day (Solstice, Island of the sun, no sun? What's up with that?) and while we were up on a high ridge exploring it started to rain pretty hard. We got down to where we had stashed our stuff and tried to figure out how to set up camp... we both had bivy sacks that had been advertised as "waterproof" despite being not so, and therefore no tarp. Luckily we stumbled across a little overhang-cave down near the shore, so we squeezed inside and situated ourselves for the night, after making friends with the spiders. Exploring down the shore later we discovered that there were other caves as well, some of them quite a bit bigger and comfier though a bit less accessible.

Along the shore of my native Lake Erie, there are a lot of shale cliffs, many of which have overhangs or almost-sea-caves that you can fit into nicely. Unfortunately, they can be pretty unstable. Once, walking under an overhanging section of cliff along the beach, a piece of shale a bit bigger than my head detached itself from the wall and fell on my shoulder. Fortunately, it was crumbly enough to disintegrate on impact and I got away with scrapes and a bruise. I wouldn't want to sleeping under those overhangs when some of the 10-foot slabs that lie shattered underneath them decide to take their fall!

Don Morris
(hikermor) - F
Rock Shelters on 11/08/2010 07:39:07 MST Print View

Some of my best camps have been in rock shelters, particularly in the Southwest. We camped in one near Rainbow Bridge and it rained during the night - we were perfectly dry. The next morning the stream in front of us had risen, so we had a leisurely breakfast, and I curled up with a Tony Hillerman novel, the perfect accessory. By noon we were on our merry way.

As an archaeologist, I must say do be cautious about disturbing any material the shelter may contain. I had the great pleasure of digging a rockshelter site in Canyon de Chelly years ago, and it was abundantly clear why they were often used for habitation. We had early morning sun, guaranteed shade by noon, and complete protection from rain, a condition that had existed for hundreds of years as shown by the perfect preservation we encountered.

Rock shelters rock!

Nico .
(NickB) - MLife

Locale: Los Padres National Forest
Rock Shelters on 11/09/2010 11:05:31 MST Print View

I visit/use rock shelters regularly on my trips into the local backcountry. Much of our area is sandstone which weathers nicely, leaving lots of caves and overhangs scattered throughout.

Some of the coolest ones for a short break or even an overnighter are located behind small, seasonal waterfalls. Here's a favorite, it's big enough for two or three and after a couple of good rains, there's a small waterfall over the lip that feeds the creeklet in the foreground:


Quite a few of the rock shelters show evidence of past use/occupation by the local native americans. We exercise appropriate caution and respect and don't do anything to upset intact archaeological sites.

David Olsen

Locale: Steptoe Butte
Re: Rock Shelters on 11/09/2010 11:59:13 MST Print View

"As an archaeologist, I must say do be cautious about disturbing any material the shelter may contain. I had the great pleasure of digging a rockshelter site in Canyon de Chelly years ago, and it was abundantly clear why they were often used for habitation. We had early morning sun, guaranteed shade by noon, and complete protection from rain, a condition that had existed for hundreds of years as shown by the perfect preservation we encountered.


I slept in an Indian blind on the JMT. Lots of obsidian
chips nearby. They used it for hunting Big Horns.

Please don't dismantle any rock shelter you
find that you don't know the history of.

Matthew Marasco
(BabyMatty) - F

Locale: Western/Central PA, Adirondacks
Rock Shelters! on 11/24/2010 20:59:36 MST Print View

rock shelter in ANF
Allegheny National Forest

One of my all-time favorite campsites! I grew up camping here! It's only ~.75 mile from the trailhead so it's somewhat abused (always freshly broken beer bottles and such), but it's still a magical place to be.

I imagine it to be the luxury suite of the chief of the Iroquois tribe that once were the sole inhabitants of these old plateaus...

I brought a broom and dust pan once, last fall... left them there for future use by the site's inhabitants. Alas, on my return in the spring, they were nowhere to be seen. Perhaps a hungry bear chewed them to pieces since they had been soaking up the smells of all my culinary adventures for the past few years.

Jay Wilkerson
(Creachen) - MLife

Locale: East Bay
Rock Shelters on 11/24/2010 21:52:30 MST Print View


Room for three at Castle Rock in Mt. Diablo State Park. Me thinks kids enjoy them more then adults.

Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Re: Rock Shelters on 11/24/2010 22:38:40 MST Print View

Rock shelters, or cave camping, is quite common around Sydney (Australia). The local geology has vast horizontal layers of sandstone, of differing hardness, and overhangs are very common in some places.
0819 Pindar Cave
This is Pindar Cave, a bit north of us. It is huge, and moderately well known among walkers. There is water nearby.


. ..
WCT on 11/24/2010 23:35:22 MST Print View

The west coast trail has a few caves scattered throughout plenty big to sleep in. The one below is quite large, probably big enough for 5 or 6 people and had two entrances, but there was quite a bit of evidence that it was being used by a lot of animals and I jumped shipped in favour of my hammock. Other members of the party half hearted it, sort of defeats the point? I imagine some wouldnt be accessible during high tides and cant attest to how dry they stay, we were cheated out of the true WCT experience by 5 straight days of no rain, even had a cloudless night.

the west coast trail on vancouver island

Piper S.
(sbhikes) - F

Locale: Santa Barbara (Name: Diane)
Re: Rock Shelters on 11/25/2010 16:39:30 MST Print View

As I scrolled down the page I saw Nicolas' rock shelter picture and instantly recognized it. That's a very special place! I slept on the ledge inside there. I love that place.

Nico .
(NickB) - MLife

Locale: Los Padres National Forest
Rock Shelters on 12/09/2010 15:58:19 MST Print View

Ha! Piper, I figured you amongst a couple of others might recognize that place. I turned Rik and Paul (the Beeman) onto it a couple of years ago. They had been to the lower camp at the oak growing up against the rock but had never climbed up above into the rocks. You're right, it is a really special place.

Roger, that shelter you posted is huge! I have yet to find anything of that scale here in our local backcountry. I'll keep looking though!