For years I would head up to Linville Gorge and see a tower of rock standing against the rim of the gorge. Checking my maps, I would try to figure out if this formation had a name. Time after time I would come to the conclusion that it was a spot on the map called "The Chimneys". This made sense to me, as the rock tower did resemble a chimney. The fact that I could really only see one so-called "chimney" didn't preclude there being another one out of sight, so I figured I had it pegged.
In addition, it went on my bag list. These are peaks that I want to hit, just to say that I'd climbed (hiked) them. The whys of such an undertaking are part of the old tale: because it's there. I love hiking to summits, so I'm always looking for new ones to place on my list so that I can mark them off as having been climbed.
My main problem was that it looked like the formation I wanted to bag was quite difficult. It looked, in fact, that it would involve technical climbing, which I don't do. As I've stated before, I admire folk who are into technical rock climbing, and I think I might even enjoy it. But I don't like the idea of plummeting to my death, so I've avoided technical climbs. However, that doesn't mean that I won't at least look into a peak. I can always back down, if it looks too difficult.
Earlier this year I went to climb Babel Tower, also in the Gorge. Initially, it looked too hard for my skill level and I was ready to give up. But, at the last minute I saw a safer route to the top and was able to take it to the summit. It was worth a try for The Chimneys, too.
When my pal Andy Kunkle suggested that we hike to The Amphitheater, I knew that we would be passing directly beside The Chimneys. This would be my chance to bag the peak(s). I was looking forward to at least standing at the base of the towering rock and getting a good look at the geology up close. Then came the surprise.
What I had thought was The Chimneys was, in fact, a secondary formation a good distance below and to the west of the actual summits on the map. If the formation I'd mistakenly targeted has a name (I'm sure it does--rock climbers love to name stuff), I don't know it. But I did quickly realize that the true summits named on the map were quite a bit larger than the one I'd wrongly identified, and perhaps much easier to climb. As Andy and I got to the base of them I thought that I could give it a go.
Andy had warned me that he had seen a number of people climbing The Chimneys, but that they had all had ropes, helmets, and hardware for making a technical climb. My limits are scrambling, with only slight windows of exposure to falls. I just don't want to take any chances--I enjoy seeing the world. So I told Andy I'd just look around, go up on some shelves and see if I could locate a good, safe way to the top. Andy was good enough to wait at the base of the towers while I did just that.
I finally did see what looked to be a relatively safe route to the top of the southernmost of the two summits, but I just wasn't sure. And we had a lot of hiking yet to do, so I called it off for another day. I stopped about forty or fifty vertical feet from the top--I'll go back on another trip and give it a good try.
The moment that I realized that the actual peaks called "The Chimneys" were, in fact, the pair of rocky peaks to my right in this photo. The tower that I had erroneously identified can be seen lower in the gorge on my left.
This was what I finally figured would have been the safest route to the top. Just follow the notch in the rock and move along the line of vegetation to the summit. But I was making Andy nervous, so I'll try it another day when I have more time.
This was about as close to the actual top as I could get. I took this shot of Andy and Boone at the base of one of The Chimneys.
Map: The red X is the actual location of The Chimneys. The blue X is the rock formation that I initially thought was the peak.