The Chimney Climbing Wall

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.The Chimney Climbing Wall

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?

The Significance of The Dawn Wall Project

Since December 27th, professional climbers Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson have been living 1,000 feet in the air as they try to free climb The Dawn Wall, their 6+ year project on El Capitan in Yosemite National Park. If/When they manage to send The Dawn Wall, it’ll be the hardest big wall free route in the world with the easiest pitches being rated 5.12b and the crux pitches being rated 5.14d.Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson on The Dawn Wall Project

Photo: Tommy Caldwell

Aside from this being a monumental route that’s shut down this adept team for so many years, what’s making The Dawn Wall so special is that onlookers are getting daily updates into their life on the wall. Not only are Kevin and Tommy updating their Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram accounts during their rest time, but we’re also getting video updates on the regular. I mean, Kevin even took us inside his portaledge to show us what his sleeping arrangement looks like, how he stores everything 1,000 feet in the air, and what it’s like to see chunks of ice falling and tapping on his portaledge.

Video: Rock and Ice Magazine

Until now, the common practice has been to project a route for a long time, like years. Once the pro climber (or climbing team) thinks they can finally make the send, they get a film crew on scene to film interviews, more attempts, and the eventual send. Then the film crew turns all that footage into a documentary type film and in a few months, the onlookers have a 5 minute to 30 minute video to watch.

The problem with this is that onlookers might get an update or two from these climbers talking about the progression of their project and forget about it in a couple minutes. One day we’ll see an update from that climber saying they sent their project and we’ll think–Sweet!–and then we continue with our lives.

Kevin and Tommy are inviting us into their daily lives on The Dawn Wall through social media. They’re making it feel like we’re on the wall with them without smelling disgusting and having to go through the boredom of rest days. We’re wondering what they’re doing at certain times of a day, we’re waiting for that next update, that next video, that announcement from Kevin saying he sent pitch 15. Heck, Kevin even hosted a Twitter Chat on January 2nd and both have been answering calls and doing interviews since they’ve been up there.

These guys are raising the bar in climbing with the difficulty of The Dawn Wall and are setting a new standard for how professional athletes and Weekend Warrior’s should be using social media in their endeavors.

What’s the best use of social media you’ve seen from professional athletes, or Weekend Warriors?

Follow Tommy on:

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Free Climbing: A style of climbing where climbers use ropes and harnesses, only to catch them in the event of a fall. Not to be confused with Free Soloing.