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All About Climbing Chimneys

Learn How to Climb Chimneys


Brian Shelton with Front Range Climbing Company climbs a chimney on Carson's Tower near Moab, Utah.

Back and foot chimneys are the easiest chimneys to climb. Use press with your legs and palms and scoot your back up.

Photograph © Stewart M. Green

Chimneys are cracks or fissures in cliffs that are wide enough for you to fit your body inside. Chimneys range in width from body-width chimneys, which are just wide enough for you to squeeze into, to wide gaping chimneys that you climb by bridging and stemming your arms and legs on opposite walls.

Two Basic Types of Chimneys

Chimneys are often the easiest cracks to climb on routes. You will encounter two basic chimneys—squeeze chimneys and full-body chimneys, ranging in width from two to six or more feet wide. How you climb a chimney depends on its width.

Learn to Climb Chimneys

Climbing a chimney usually requires a straight-forward technique, but it takes a lot of practice to develop the necessary skills to efficiently climb chimneys and to assess how best to climb the chimney above you. To become a well-rounded climber, you need to learn how to climb chimneys, because, like off-width cracks, most long routes in places like Yosemite Valley or the desert towers around Moab have chimneys that you have to climb to get up the route.

Places to Practice Chimney Climbing

It is difficult to find cliffs with enough different-sized chimneys to get lots of chimney-climbing practice. If you find a good chimney at your local cliff, use it to practice as many techniques as you can. Granite cliffs tend to have more chimneys than cliffs formed from other rock types, although chimneys are common on some sandstone cliffs like those in Utah. Some climbing areas with good chimney climbs include Lumpy Ridge and Turkey Rocks in Colorado; Little Cottonwood Canyon, Indian Creek Canyon, and cliffs around Moab, Utah; Yosemite Valley and Joshua Tree in California; and the crags at Vedauwoo near Cheyenne, Wyoming.

Use Opposing Pressure to Climb Chimneys

Chimneys are climbed by using opposing pressures with your hands, knees, feet, and back on the sidewalls of the chimney. Advance upward by pushing and pulling against the walls, moving in short spurts rather than big moves. Use both sides of the chimney to climb it and make progress by pushing and pulling against the opposing sidewalls. Chimney climbing is a game of inches, not feet. Make small movements, especially in squeeze chimneys, to conserve energy. Don’t make big moves upward unless your feet are planted on big holds.

Chimneys are Hard to Protect

Most chimneys are difficult to protect with gear. Look inside the chimney for smaller cracks that will take gear like nuts and cams. It can be scary climbing chimneys because there usually isn’t much gear but the good thing is that the lack of protection is often not a big deal because it can be hard to fall out of a chimney.

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