Not Climbing

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For a few years now I’ve had a leaky roof. It has to rain a lot to be an immediate issue (puddle on bathroom floor) but this last winter there were a couple of days with torrential rain, the ceiling is starting to look dodgy. I’ve put it off and put it off, because the only options seemed to have been to pay a company to erect scaffolding, at a cost of €1000s, or to ask a local odd job man to kill himself for about €8 an hour.

Thing is, it’s not, on the face of it, a very big deal at all. The roof here is done in the traditional local style, terracotta tiles held on by gravity alone (aided by a few rocks around the perimeter). The problem area is only a few metres away from easy ladder access.

But…on one side it’s a 5m drop onto a yard paved with flagstones, the other 6m onto a concreted track.


When we got this place there was a lot of work needed doing (it was basically a shell), but we didn’t need to move in immediately. So despite having only minimal skill at woodwork I decided that I’d tackle the bits that seemed manageable myself (stairs, windows…). Spend the money that would have gone to proper craftsmen on equipping a little workshop.

That worked out remarkable well. The results would not win prizes for aesthetics, but I got (mostly) functional bits in place. (Mostly, the window frames are far from perfect, bit gappy, but still adequate). This is an old house in a rural hamlet, rustic is acceptable.

So there’s my Plan C for fixing the roof. Get the necessary gear, do it myself.

I believe I have zero experience of roofing. But years ago I did wind up spending a lot of time in the company of expert climbers in a shared house in Sheffield (entertainingly documented in a short British Mountaineering Council documentary video, Statement of Youth: Hunter House Road and the Dole). I did have a go at climbing myself a few times around that period, only very easy stuff, but enough to get an idea of how it was done.

I am scared of heights, but only much bigger ones than this (that weird compulsion to jump off terrifies me). In this case, I’m scared of hurting myself.

Gear then. Wait, first, the problem…

Biggest problem is, as you can see in the photos above, virtually nothing on top that could serve as anchor points. A very old, crumbling chimney stack, that I doubt a gecko would trust.

Measuring up (taking photos including a tape measure, using Gimp editor to measure other bits) –

I reckon if I put a line over the middle of the section, bolts in the wall lane side, to be decided yard side, that’ll give me an anchor point at the apex with a fair bit of clearance if I was to take a tumble.

Thing is though, this is Not Climbing. There, the typical task for a rope would be to catch you if you fell. Here, main thing is not to fall.

Now gear…

Climbing gear is so sexy. I’m tempted to get loads just to hang on the walls as ornaments, sit on my arse.

Budget is limited, so I want the minimum that will make me feel safe. Proper helmet, natch – that’s a multi-justifiable buy, I’ll be getting the bicycle out of the cantina very soon, seems daft not to wear one.

One the right, a dirt-cheap rope advertised, very irresponsibly, as being for climbing. The aforementioned gecko wouldn’t go fishing with that. The carabiners are truly awful – might be handy to use with dog leads, maybe, not even sure about that. But the rope itself is plenty strong enough to take my weight without a jerk. Will do for the High Line (not that kind). This is Not Climbing.

As a realistic concession to safety, the rope on the left is a proper UIAA-certified dynamic rope. As long as I have a reasonable amount of redundancy in the anchors, their individual strength doesn’t matter too much. Like, I will put a loop on the dodgy chimney, and bolts at the start. Effectively walk-abseil across the roof, Figure-of-8 belay device backed up by at least one Prusik.

I opted for one of the Petzl Figure-of-8s. The ‘rescue’ type, with the horns, I would have preferred, but I want that to be solid beyond question and the reputable brand ones are pricey. Nor do I want to wind up locked on a trad figure-of-8, needing to be rescued. The square-looped Petzl seemed a good compromise. (I will carry an extra loop or two for Prusiks, just in case).

There’s no rush to do this, any time before autumn rain will be be fine. There are some little crags over the back where I can practice abseiling, maybe find an easy route or two. Try and build a bit of confidence. (Also hopefully strength – I’m ultra-weedy at the mo).

It is a recurring problem, so if I have to I’ll get more gear. Not sure I’ll be thinking about this other tile slippage this year though.

PS. Oh yeah, harness. My darling Marinella has her old hang gliding harness on offer. I’ll have to have a look, attaching from the back seems a little kinky. Can get good quality climbing ones <€50, which is still within my woolly budget. Tempting, but for something I may only use 2 or 3 times (hmm, maybe annually thereafter…), hard to justify. This afternoon I had a play (following YouTube instructions) on doing a ‘Swiss Seat’ harness. The video seems to suggest serious genital disfigurement, but it did actually feel quite comfortable, definitely secure. It’s also very easy to make a chest harness with a sling (YouTube again), combined with that Seat I reckon that’ll be fine for occasional use. So have ordered a couple of decent slings, couple more crabs.

PPS. My old mucker Stephen (who tends to know about things like roofs) commented asking whether I could check the roof wood (timber, er…he uses other words I don’t know) from inside. The main beam is open, poked with screwdriver, rock hard. Same beam continues above my bed. I slept there for 5? years before noticing it has a date carved in it, I think says “A 1798 D”.


2 Responses

  1. Can you check the condition of the roof timbers(joists and purlins ) from the inside ? First job if possible

  2. Very good point, thanks. Just stabbed the main timber with a screwdriver from inside, rock solid. The others behind ceiling.
    Heh, the main beam also goes across above my bed. I’d slept under this for 5? years before noticing it had a date carved into it, I think “A 1798 D”. Is chestnut wood, does crack, insects attack the surface, but underneath is like steel.

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