Hi Andy just wondering whether you would consider writing a short piece for your website about the technique for aid climbing on a roof or big overhang. We managed to completely fail up at Thor’s Cave yesterday (although admittedly the hangovers, ice, mud and fog may have had something to do with it). It doesn’t seem to be a technique mentioned much on the web. Our main difficulty was extending far enough to reach the next piece and then transferring from one piece to the other. Any advice on this would be great
Aiding on a roof can be very strenuous and very scary, primarily because you have nothing to brace your feet against, meaning you swing around a lot more, and this gives the impression you’re applying more force to the protection.
The number one aid on roofs are a set of adjustable daisy chains (Yates or Fish make the best), as these give you a mechanical advantage, allowing you to cinch yourself up tight to each piece, rather than locking off on one arm and trying to fiddle in your fifi hook. They also allow you to lower yourself out onto pieces; giving a bit of slack on the piece you’re on, while taking in on the piece you’re going to.
If you don’t have adjustable daisy chains then you’re going to have to do it old school and use tension from your belayer. To do this you ideally need 2 ropes (aiding is best done on one), and it’s best if ones a single rope (so your second has a fat rope to jug), while the other I skinny (you can use your haul/zip line as long as you don’t leave it clipped). To do this you just get tension on the rope that’s clipped to the piece you’re on, clip your other rope through, then using the new gear’s krab as a pulley, pull yourself onto it as your belayer gives you slack. Once close enough they can lock you off on the new piece.
The fifi hook is very useful on this type of climbing, allowing you’re belayer to rest in between tension moves, but make sure its cord is long enough (25cm) and it has a some cord attached to the top hole so you can pull it off quickly.
When leading this kind of pitch make sure you extend all pieces well, so your second can jug and clean easily, and on some pitches you may have to leave some tie offs behind, and so carrying some thick cord to leave behind is recommended. On old UK aid roots there can be a lot of very old tat, and much of it needs cutting off and replacing (don’t look at the bolts of pegs too closely!), and for this you will need a knife. Just be careful when using a knife while climbing with ropes under tension, as they will cut like butter!
Lastly UK limestone aid roofs sometimes have bolts missing (don’t think about it) and so you may find some big gaps. For these take along a ski pole to act as a cheater stick, and for hanging belays don’t forget a belay seat - your bum will thank you for it!
By and large UK limestone aid routes are just clip ups and are dank and dirt and pretty scary, using primarily old fixed gear. If you want to learn how to aid for big wall trips then you’d be better of aiding (without pegs or hooks!) up lines in quarry’s on wet weather days (Milstone is a great venue). This teaches you a lot more skills for big wall climbing and tends to be more fun.
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Andrew Kirkpatrick is a British mountaineer, author, motivational speaker and monologist. He is best known as a big wall climber, having scaled Yosemite's El Capitan 30+ times, including five solo ascents, and two one day ascents, as well as climbing in Patagonia, Africa, Alaska, Antarctica and the Alps.Follow @ Instagram