Roof Climbing Technique – Explained Thoroughly

Rocks are unpredictable and cunning. Your next obstacle could be an overhang or a chimney or even a flat wall, who knows? You require acute preparedness and courage to challenge natural rocks that aren’t routes until you get through.

What is roof climbing?

If the rock you’re supposed to climb is not a vertical ascend but a horizontal roof, your back is parallel to the ground and your climbing technique is entirely different from the vertical climbs. This will not require you to push your legs downward while standing on your feet, or about giving your arms a rest. This will land you straight on your back and often on your head if there occurs a mistake.

While this picture may look intimidating, roof climbing can be learned with expertise if practiced enough.

Apart from battling the force of gravity, horizontal climbing techniques also require a minute study of the wall’s expressions and intimate features so that you don’t just reach for the chalked hangs overused by previous climbers, but also look out for easier spots that might not have been noticed before. Your body’s ability to get stuck will keep you afloat in such a pattern.

Roof climbing technique

At lower grades of difficulty, there’ll be ephemeral roof patterns on your toilsome rocky path and the punishing effort will be consistent even though it will last for a small amount of time so you can catch adequate rest at the end of the labour. 

But you often don’t get through a difficult portion in one go. You need to return like karma to right where you began while chalking your explored holds on your way back so that you conquer the pattern only at the end of a repeated consistent learning of its structure.

On a brief roofy eminence, you can choose to swiftly scur across and reach the other side. But like all other portions and techniques of rock climbing, it is important to be patient in this one too. 

Making a plan

It is important to have every eminence analyzed, every hold noticed and every move discussed with your belayer. The sharp angles on overhangs will make it difficult to verbally communicate while being at the task and anyone can get scared or anxious in the face of a punishing climb, making it difficult to follow immediate instructions. 

Lay down a signal system to follow on the route before attempting the go and plan your prevention, mitigation, or aversion strategies in case a fall occurs.

Mark the easy and accessible holds first in your head and then on the rock. When you have climbed the path in your mind, only then attempt to transcend it.

Starting the horizontal ascend

Warm up all your muscles before you start this attempt. The holds and tugs will appear different from the on ground perspective. Climb up the roof and observe the holds, horizontal shelves, heel hooks, heel-toe cams, toeholds, and kneebars. It is good to keep notice of the holds marked by rubber or powdered by previous climbers but always remember it is possible that unmarked and undiscovered supports may offer an easier climb. Hang on and analyze the tread.

You also need to spot corners for rest and gearing up. 

It is common for climbers to get anxious after noticing that the Zombie roof has been named Zombie roof for a reason. Master your grounding techniques and calm your mind before attempting the trail. A peaceful and focussed mind is a prerequisite for any challenge. Take seven slow and solid deep breaths and exhale all the tension in your head. You can do this! 

Placing the gear

Roof climbers need to be extra cautious and prepared for falls. Zippering can be prevented by using extra lengths of slings while setting up gear under the roof and utilizing long runner limits. This will reduce the rope drag along with reducing outward-pull forces. 

Most climbers use a unidirectional pro cam that provides protection in a single direction. Roof climbing will require a multidirectional pro setup under the roof to maintain extra caution.

Analyze the land area that will sustain the fall. If there are trees, ramps, ledges, crag dogs, the extra lengths can be reduced. Keep all possibilities and accidents in consideration when setting up the gear.

Climbing on the roof

On a horizontal ascend, your arms and legs both do the work and support all your weight. It requires ample core strength to maintain your body balanced upon supports while exerting effort with your limbs. 

The supports on a roof that will help you stick to its undersurface are heel hooks, toe hooks, kneebars, shoulder scums, and hip scums. These rocky features will let you lodge into them so that some weight can be lifted off your arms. Like all other climbing techniques, you need to keep your center of gravity as close to your body as possible. Maybe attain a frog crouching position while being lodged on the roof or replace your feet on better holds while shifting your hips from one side to another.

Remember that you are battling against the force of gravity. Your body needs to remain clung under the roof in order to complete the path. Make your core and your hips tense so that you are stable and far from losing footing. 

Your legs will be as stable as the central muscles of your body. Keep your abdominal, lower back, and oblique muscles firm and tight because stability is only obtained by engagement of more muscles. Your entire lower body’s function here is to maintain balance and stability, which was done by the upper body in vertical ascends.

All the energy and effort for this task will be provided by your legs and lower body and your arms will be the guide.

Finding rests and resting

At the end of the day, you are a human being. Not a machine. You cannot let your muscles drain off their last ounce of power on this arduous slope. Tired muscles could result in weakened holds and an accidental fall. 

One way to rest is by letting the legs put all the effort while the arms take rest. Push hard on heel hooks and heel toe clams and kneebars while powering up the climb and maintaining stability. Your arms can hold loose while your legs put in extra effort. 

Another way to rest could be available if you are lucky. It is called a bat hang. All that’s needed is an uncut hold in which you can bury your toes and work into a hand-foot match while being upside down and untense your spine.

You need to keep your feet tense and in position by flexing your heel and calf muscles so that the rest of your body can hang on and rest. It is advised to avoid using this technique on large slabs and ledges as an unfathomed fall could result in a grave head injury. 

The third way to relax is by focussing on your breath and staying calm until you reach a good rest position.

Turning the lip to ascend the roof

After reaching the edge of the roof, you need to get over to the other side. This final portion of a roof climb is known as the lip. 

  • One way of turning the lip is by using a heel hook placed close to your body. One leg’s heel placed above the hip level can be used to pull the entire body upward. Engage the flexor muscles of your hip and exert force into the heel hook so that this powers your pull up
  • Another way is to campus your way through by using just your upper body while hanging from your arms. Your feet should be in a cut position as your arms you pull and press hard with your hands to turn over the roof edge.
  • In a beached whale approach, you bend your legs to pull your lower body over the lip. This will lower your center of gravity and pull you up as a transaction between your body and the rock.

Make your escape swiftly and stick to your planned sequence of moves. If there are less holds available and the turn is dangerous, keep your upper body really close to the roof and maintain stability. Keep going. You’ll get there.

Be cautious of potential falls

roof climbing

When you turn over the lip, be careful to place an emergency handhold just above the lip or the crux so that your follower can derive support by pulling on that hold and clean while having her rope clipped to the gear. There should be enough gear that if a follower falls, the fall is shortened and they are able to reach the rock again.

You can even slingshot your belay so that your follower pulls up when you are positioned at the lip. Your anchor should be built high up in case the roof is heady. There should be enough slack left to lower you down the roof. 

You can gather the follower’s end of slack and redirect it through the master point and then the follower can act as a counterweight for the belay device as the tension is downed.

If there is a fall, be prepared to rescue your follower. Lower the cord by fixing it’s leading end to the anchor. They can climb up the fixed rope and remain free of their own rope while you pull back the slack. The follower can also do a quick pull up or ‘walk the rope’ on the fixed rope and the leader can swiftly gather the slack. 

You must use our advice while climbing a rocky roof so that you can lodge yourself against gravity and ascend.

Keep your arms straight: This will conserve energy on your climbs. Your moves require you to bend and utilize your arms in other positions but whenever possible, under the roof, you must straighten your arms and let your tense back and core do the work of stabilization. Straight arms can also let you rest by hanging on holds.

Use Knee drops and Knee bars: Knee drop/Egyptian move is wherein you turn one knee inward and downward while pressing its foot against a hold. The opposite foot should be pressing another opposing hold. With this, your reach on the side of the knee drop is enhanced in a static motion.

Knee bar is when your knee and your foot face opposing forces while your shin-length is the width of the gap between them. Rocks with protruding natural features offer numerous opportunities to make this move.

Use Toe-hooks, Bicycles, and Heel-hooks: Toe hook is done by placing the top of your foot behind a hold and flexing your shin so that you pull away from that point. This move can be enhanced by using more surface area of your foot, if available.

Bicycle is when one foot lies on the top of the foothold and pushes down while the other foot hooks the toes on the same hold. This technique uses compression between your two feet to maintain stability. 

In heel-hook, the heel portion of your foot is placed against a hold and angled to a side so that you are able to pull in this position. Your toes are turned downward to fix your heel firmly into the hold. This utilizes effort from the muscles of your hip and hamstrings. You shouldn’t rely just on the knee to support all your weight in this move as it could lead to injury.

Standing sideways while letting either of your hips support can be an efficient way of conserving energy.


As you complete your next great challenge of climbing the rocky roof, remember to make swift moves and rest at every opportunity. When this ascend feels like you have lifted the whole structure upon your arms, do remember Najwa Zebian’s saying, ‘These mountains you are carrying, you were only supposed to climb.’

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