OverviewThis page was transferred to me by Alan Ellis. He is responsible for most of its layout. Thank you Alan for a wonderful contribution. I will try to keep it up to date as best as I can.
In the northwest San Juans resides a lonely tower. Chimney Rock (also sometimes called Chimney Peak) sits among great peaks and formations such as Courthouse Mountain, Precipice Peak, and the spires of Cimarron Ridge. While driving up through the Cimarron Valley, Chimney Rock greets and entices the climber, yet warns of it’s possibilities.
At 11,781 feet, this bastion of stone captures everyone’s immediate attention, including those of movie producers. In True Grit, Chimney Rock served as a backdrop during Rooster Cogburn’s (Wayne) unforgettable horse-riding, double-rifled-slinging match with reins in his teeth against three outlaws. No doubt the imagination of the ambitious technical climber is captured as well, yet very few take on the challenge. The towering Chimney Rock spire was first climbed in 1934 by Melvin Griffiths and Robert Ormes. (This paragraph courtesy of Aaron Johnson)
The standard and only established route is rated 5.6 and follows the South Face Crack. Do not be fooled by the very moderate rating. Chimney Rock has dangers that make this peak a solid grade III climb. These dangers include extreme rock fall, poor rock quality, and long unprotectable pitches (run-outs). And....all of these factors exist at the same time on almost every pitch. In addition, the approach includes a steep bushwhack through interminable downfall and loose, unprotectable class 4 and 5 which much be negotiated just to reach the base of the tower. Chimney Rock is climbable, but take heart and take care. It is not for the timid or the inexperienced. But for the ones who are looking for a true adventure climbing challenge, then Chimney Rock offers a great opportunity to test your mettle. Good luck in your endeavor.
Getting ThereChimney Rock is located in the northwestern San Juan mountains near the little town of Ridgway, Colorado. From Ridgway (at the intersection of Colorado Highway 62), drive north on U.S. Highway 550 for approximately 2 miles. At approximately 2 miles, turn right (east) on Colorado Road 10 (dirt road) and note the sign for Owl Creek Pass. Follow CO Road 10 for approximately 4 miles as it turns to the north and reaches a “T” intersection at Colorado Road 8. Turn right (west) on CO Road 8, following the sign to Owl Creek Pass. Drive approximately 10 miles to Owl Creek pass as the dirt road climbs up through the Cimarron Valley. Once Owl Creek pass is reached, continue for almost a half a mile until reaching the intersection of West Fork Road. Turn right (south) at this intersection and go 1.3 miles until reaching a narrow Jeep road to the right. If you reach the Courthouse Mountain trailhead and sign which is .2 miles farther, you’ve gone too far. Parking is available after turning right on the Jeep road. From the parking area, the approach follows the Jeep road for one mile towards Chimney Rock. However, this Jeep road must be done on foot because the beginning of the road is blocked by a huge boulder. To continue, see the left side-bar for the approach and South Face Crack route.
Red TapeChimney Rock is located in the Uncompahgre Wilderness of the Uncompahgre National Forest. The wilderness area begins at the end of the Jeep road during the approach. No permits required to camp, hike, or climb.
Tammy Randall-Parker, District Ranger
2505 S. Townsend
Montrose, CO 81401
CampingThere are several unofficial campgrounds along CO Road 8 as you near Owl Creek Pass. Camping is available near the parking area after turning onto the Jeep road. Great campsites are also available across the road to the east of the Jeep road near the river.
Mountain ConditionsThe rock quality on Chimney Rock is considered poor at best. Most of the mountain is similar to the knobby conglomerate which you might find in the Crestones. However, that is where the similarity ends. In a nutshell, the rock is crumbly, chossy, loose, and unreliable. There are sections that appear to be solid, then it will suddenly change again for the worse. Crumbly, loose sections appear directly next to, above, or below solid sections. Use extreme care in all holds and gear placements. Rock fall is a constant danger.
When To Climb
As with most Colorado high peaks, June through September is considered the summer climbing season. Violent thunderstorms are a daily occurence in summer. Perfect weather is esssential for a safe and successful climb of this mountain. Plan to be off the mountain by early afternoon to avoid lightning danger.Chimney Rock is an all-day endeavor so plan your start accordingly.
The route is described in the "Ouray's Rock Climbing Guide by Jason Nelson". The book is available at Ouray Mountain Sports. The guide recommends to use Big Bros, which I found not necessary. The rock is conglomerate, so you will be climbing on cobbles.
Guidebooks and Maps“Guide to the Colorado Mountains 9th Edition” (CMC)
“The San Juan Mountains: A Climbing and Hiking Guide” by Robert F. Rosebrough
"Roof of the Rockies: A History of Colorado Mountaineering" by William M. Bueler.
USGS 1/24 Quadrangle: Courthouse Mountain
Trails Illustrated #141: Silverton, Ouray, Telluride, Lake City
U.S. Forest Service: Gunnison Basin Area