I think that anyone who’s ever climbed at all in their life has later on looked at the side of a house or building that has a stone decoration or a stone column and thought to her/himself “I wonder if I could climb that?” That thought has crossed my mind numerous times and has even been at the center of a few conversations. Now it might be climbable, but hardly is it ever meant to be climbed.
When I was in Pennsylvania visiting a friend, his friend invited us over to his family’s farm. Bill and his brothers inherited this farm in northeast Pennsylvania and it’s been in the family for almost 80 years. There’s a farmhouse surrounded by over 100 acres of property and the farmhouse was small. Years ago Bill and his brothers decided to make an addition to the farmhouse that includes a few more bedrooms, bathrooms, living/dining area, and a fireplace to heat the entire house. Now Bill is a climber, so when it came time to build the chimney, he made sure it was climbable.
It took Bill and his brothers a couple of years to build this chimney, by hand. They’d meticulously place massive stones atop each other to form the chimney and reinforced it with rebar and concrete. And when it came time for the last layer of this, Bill made sure to place stones with positive edges facing out in a certain way, so that it was climbable. At the top he welded anchor to the rebar, so he could climb out a window onto the roof and clip a couple of quickdraws to the anchors to set up a top rope.
The weather was cold when I climbed, it was in the 20’s and lightly snowing. Bill claims there’s about a dozen options for routes that fall anywhere from 5.7-5.11. My out of shape climbing butt only made it up the center face and left arete’ before I couldn’t feel my fingers anymore.
At first glance this looks like an ordinary chimney. Look a little closer and you’ll start to see some routes. Look even closer and you’ll see some character to this chimney. While most of the holds are positive edges of stones that Bill found around the property and off I 81, you’ll notice some bomber fist sized stones up there. Throughout his climbing travels Bill has been collecting fallen rocks from places he’s gone. Start climbing up the main face and your first incredible hold is going to be from the top of Devil’s Tower in Wyoming. Keep going and you’ll find a hold from Joshua Tree National Park, Yosemite National Park, and so many others. Bill thinks there’s about 25 holds from tons of different climbing destinations throughout the country. He just needs to look at the photos he took as he was constructing the chimney to figure out where all of these unique holds now live.
In climbing terms, a chimney route is where you wedge yourself into an area and climb up. Often times you’ll brace your feet on one side and back against the other to work your way up. This chimney’s a little different. The heat from inside the chimney may not radiate out to keep your hands warm climbing in the winter, but then again, how often can you say that you climbed a chimney; that’s part of someone’s farmhouse?