Get horizontal on these accessible roof climbs
Grunting, groveling, hucking, jamming—all terms typically associated with roof climbs. But more appealing adjectives also fit certain big roofs: airy, exposed, creative, fun, and—surprisingly—moderate. You can find enjoyable, Gunks-like roof climbs all around the country, attainable for the average climber. Here, seven roof routes no harder than 5.10+. Chalk up, sack up, and get ready to charge.
Four Sheets to the Wind (5.9+) Junkyard Wall, New River Gorge, West VirginiaFour Sheets to the Wind is one of the New River Gorge’s finest routes of its grade, and some would say its roof moves were taken right out of the Gunks. “What a terrific route: seriously fine, seriously fun, and a bit pumpy. A real gem,” says NRG guidebook author Rick “Rico” Thompson. Get your fill of crack and corner climbing on this line, which begins with a wide crack in a dihedral. Summon your laybacking skills to pull out the first bulge, and then get fired up for the remaining overhangs, which fortunately are blessed with jugs. Finagle your way through some final awkward moves to the top. “This is one of the best and steepest 5.9s here,” says local photographer Mike Turner. “Four Sheets climbs great, takes lots of gear, and spits off many the good leader.”
Guidebook:New River Gorge Rock Climbs, by Mike Williams
Flying Buttress (5.10b) Nautilus, Vedauwoo, Wyoming “Stupendous.” “Best single pitch at Vedauwoo.” “Involves simultaneously executed crack and face moves synchronized with precise exploitation of the back wall.” How could this guidebook description not draw you in? The crux moves on Flying Buttress require both endurance and creative thinking, and some will find this route sandbagged at 5.10b. The climb is usually broken into two short pitches due to a large ledge in the middle. After a short flared crack, the fun—and rumination— really starts on the second pitch, which ascends an overhanging hand and fist crack through an arched roof. Guidebook author Robert Kelman recommends pasting your feet on the left wall; otherwise “it’s way hard,” he says. But “it requires good judgment to use that wall properly, especially since you’re not looking at it as you concentrate on the crack.” Keep an eye out for stemming opportunities, too. After grunting your way past the roof, follow some easy (read: 5.7) offwidth moves to the anchor; consider bringing a No. 4 Camalot to protect these last few moves.
Guidebook:Rock Climbing at Vedauwoo, Wyoming, by Robert Kelman
Where Lizards Go to Die (5.10a) Tennessee Wall, Chattanooga, Tennessee “It’s an incredible route,” says local climber Kirk Brode. “Photogenic, fun, in a pretty cool setting, and kind of like sport climbing on gear.” Where Lizards Go to Die has two roofs to get your blood pumping. Thirty feet of unprotected fourth- and easy fifth-class climbing gets you to the first roof, where you can place your first piece and pull through using a short, left-facing dihedral. Slightly overhanging but juggy climbing gets you to a stance beneath the second roof. Brode recommends traversing left and getting a no-hands rest on a diving-board-like feature underneath the roof. Crank on good holds past the overhang into another left-facing dihedral. There are options to extend the route into two pitches, but most people stop at the chains beneath a third roof. Lizards was established in 2002 during “a T-Wall renaissance,” says Brode. “It was a phase where the area saw a rebirth of good trad lines that hadn’t been done.”
Guidebook:The Tennessee Wall: A Rockclimber’s Guide, by Rob Robinson
American Dream Roof (5.10d) Bird-foot Buttress, Devil’s Lake, Wisconsin “It’s a great little climb in an out-of-theway area at the Lake,” says Jay Knower, who wrote a feature article about Devil’s Lake for Climbing’s March 2011 edition. Known for sharp features on hard quartzite, climbs at the Lake typically lend themselves to “heinous crimp fests,” according to Knower. But ADR is different: The meat of the climb is a five-foot roof split by a finger crack. Climb easy terrain up a corner and traverse left to the conspicuous roof. Plug your cams while under the roof, and hold your breath while you see how your ape index measures up for the reach to the jugs above the lip. “It’s a special feeling hanging at the lip of the roof with your feet dangling in the air,” Knower says. “It always reminded me of the classic picture I’ve seen of Foops [a classic 5.11 roof in the Gunks], only it’s at an obscure crag at Devil’s Lake.” Once you’ve fired the roof, gratefully pull out a few easier moves to the top.
Guidebook:Climber’s Guide to Devil’s Lake, by Sven Olof Swartling
Fat City (5.10c) Lumpy Ridge, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado “I love the thin moves off the ground and the fact that it’s on beautiful granite below these huge ponderosa trees in an amazing setting,” says local guide Eli Helmuth about this classic route on the Book formation of Lumpy Ridge. Fat City follows a left-leaning, 5.8 thin crack on the first pitch. A 5.10a finger crack traverse heads left from the belay bolts to a short squeeze chimney leading up to the roof crux. “The roof crack is perfectly parallel, a rarity for Lumpy,” says Helmuth. “The roof is just big enough and undercut to make it very strenuous, with a lack of feet below and funky jams to pull on.” Estes Park local Kelly Cordes recommends looking left on the arête for a small crystal foothold: “It doesn’t look like there’s anything, but it’s key for me,” he says. Pitch three takes on slightly easier terrain, a 5.9 leaning flake system, to the Cave at the top of the Book, where you’ll find another—but much easier—roof to climb. Despite the route’s tricky crux roof—“It’s been very rare to see anyone onsight this crux in all the days I’ve been on the Book,” Helmuth says—Fat City is a must-do for anyone in the area. “Excellent protection and the most scenic cragging area in the Front Range,” says Cordes. “No road noise, a bit of a hike to keep the crowds away, and spectacular views of the Park, looking out to the peaks forming the skyline.”
Guidebook:Rocky Mountain National Park, The Climber’s Guide, by Bernard Gillett
Rollerball (5.10b) The Outback, Joshua Tree, California Be sure to tape up for this route’s absolutely locker roof crack. Rollerball starts up a left-leaning thin crack, which may feel harder for some people depending on height and ape index. Summon your balance for a cruxy layback move just below the bolt, and then relax: You’ve only got a body-length-sized roof ahead. Fortunately, a perfect hand crack splits the ceiling: “It’s a really good size for most people,” Joshua Tree local Todd Gordon says. “If you know how to hand jam, your hands are not coming out unless you want them to come out.” With four stars in Randy Vogel’s guide, this J-Tree roof line should not be missed. “The pro is perfect, and it has good climbing before and after the roof,” Gordon says. “It came highly recommended, and when I climbed it, I wasn’t disappointed.”
Guidebook:Rock Climbing Joshua Tree West, by Randy Vogel; Joshua Tree Rock Climbs, by Robert Miramontes
Modern Times (5.8+) The Arrow Wall, The Trapps, Shawangunks, New York Modern Times ticks all the criteria for an outstanding Gunks route: pumpy, airy, exciting, and sandbagged, which 5.8 leaders should take into account. Established in 1964 by Gunks pioneer Dick Williams and party, Modern Times “was an amazing effort and vision at the time,” says frequent Gunks visitor Chris Archer. The long first pitch involves mostly face climbing and a small, warm-up overhang before ending on the Grand Traverse ledge. Walk left a few feet and then climb up a flake system. Above and right are the stacked roofs of Modern Times’ crux—from this vantage, you’ll find it hard to believe it goes at 5.8, and many think the route is harder. But the moves are well-protected, and the holds are big. Local beta is to stay low and traverse right before pulling into the notched ceiling. Crank up a series of roofs, passing a tree that bends around the lip of one overhang, until you can hand-traverse right to the top and finally relax.
Guidebook:The Gunks Select, by Dick Williams
If these roof climbs haven’t burned you out, test your guns on another set of equally fun routes. Watch out—we threw in a harder one!
Shockley’s Ceiling (5.6), Gunks, NY
Hindu Kush (5.8), Ship Rock, NC
Art (5.8), Tennessee Wall, TN
Head Over Heals (5.10a), Joshua Tree, CA
Trinity Roofs (5.10), Oak Creek Canyon, AZ
Number 1 Super Guy (5.11a), Shelf Road, CO