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Central Chimney

5.7+, Trad, 400 ft, 4 pitches, Grade II,  Avg: 2.1 from 12 votes
FA: D. Sherman, H. Higgins, T. Hornbein, early 1950s
Colorado > Estes Park Valley > Lumpy Ridge > Twin Owls
Access Issue: Season raptor closures Details


This is an impressive route considering when it was first ascended. However, given the amazing Tom Hornbein was involved, it is a bit less surprising. This line ascends an obvious chimney that is one of the biggest features on the South face of Twin Owls. For those unused to squeeze chimneys, this will feel like a sandbag. Just recall when this was first done & with what equipment they had then. It will give you great respect for those who climbed before you.

Hike up the main Twin Owls trail as for the South & East faces of Twins Owls & Hens & Chickens. Before you reach Hen & Chickens you follow a fainter fork in the trail to the left towards the obvious ramp, Roosting Ramp. Pass the ominous Crack of Fear and continue left or West. This chimney is just past a large boulder lodged near its base.

For lots of beta:

P1. Pull into the chimney past some large flakes. Move to the deep edge of the large block in the chimney. You can place a mediocre medium hex for mental protection. Highstep on the short, slippery, pigeoned arĂȘte without pro until you reach the obvious top of the flake where you can put #1, 2, and/or 3 Camalots. Hand traverse left, step up/flop onto the top of this flat-topped block. Belay. There is a pin at head height left, you can thread a sling through a constriction on the right, and you can clip a fixed wire in a crack to the far right on Autumn Mist. Stiff 5.2 (one guidebook) that feels 5.6s, 50 feet. Not belaying here will likely add excessive rope drag. At one point this belay had 2 pins, not any more.

P2. This is the heart of the route. Pull up into the slippery chimney facing left in, gain the top of the flake, then turn right into the chimney. This will be tight for folks of larger girth, like me. Slither, fight, wedge, grunt, and extrude yourself upward. Use decent right foot jams that at times are your only solid holds. Clip a pin. Fight onwards. At one point, this fissure is tight enough that you won't be able to turn a helmeted head, so face inward so you can see your pro. Grab a more-or-less squared off edge near the top of the offending fissure, and flop your feet out left. Freedom! You can create an optional belay below the next pin if you are pooped. Note, you may be able to reach a chained anchor and Fixe rap ring anchor off to the left of the top of the squeeze chimney, if you need to bail (no more fixed rap anchors above). Continue up, clip an upward-driven pin, lieback, pass another pin, and get a good rest above. Interesting climbing with a mix of awkward lieback, face climbing, chimney, and crack gets you to a tunnel under a chockstone. Find a pin that looks like it is driven in rubble and birth yourself into a slightly sloping alcove. There is an ancient bolt on the right wall without a hanger just above the chockstone. Above, possibly a #10 & #11 hex and a large cam can be used for the belay although there are other alternatives. It's a stiff 5.7+ and is approximately 160 feet. Oddly, the lower half of this pitch is reminiscent of the squeeze chimney section on the Casual Route, minus the altitude and moisture.

P3. This is the nice pitch. Move down & jump onto the left wall of the widening chimney and follow a crack upward. Find pleasant, steeper climbing with smaller pro (#3 Camalot or smaller) with great rests. At the top of the crack, move left, pass an ancient bolt with a rusty smash-link, and finish on low angled slabs to the top, 5.7, 195 feet. You can go up the chimney above and pass the chockstone on the left or right but this looks much, much less inviting.

Descend right down the first gully, 4th class, to the Bowels of the Owls.


Rack up to #5 Camalot, with single set of cams, although this can be done with a rack to #4 Friend and hexes (the way my partner first did it). Knee pads may be useful. Long sleeve shirt may be helpful, as well. RPs not required.

Photos [Hide ALL Photos]

Looking up the first pitch in the chimney.  A tad R'ish.  Stem'O'rama! Photo courtesy of Alan Ream.
[Hide Photo] Looking up the first pitch in the chimney. A tad R'ish. Stem'O'rama! Photo courtesy of Alan Ream.
Mike and Doug on the second pitch.
[Hide Photo] Mike and Doug on the second pitch.
Alan Ream in the second pitch squeeze.  Right-side in makes the exit easier.
[Hide Photo] Alan Ream in the second pitch squeeze. Right-side in makes the exit easier.
Alan Ream just below the chockstone on the second pitch.
[Hide Photo] Alan Ream just below the chockstone on the second pitch.
Beta photo by Chuck Tolton.
[Hide Photo] Beta photo by Chuck Tolton.

Comments [Hide ALL Comments]

[Hide Comment] Does anyone have any comments on the Central Chimney Route of the Twin Owls. I thought is was a tish tough for the 5.8 rating on the first pitch. The rest was of the route was appropriately rated and a lot of fun. Just curious... Jul 7, 2003
John Korfmacher
Fort Collins, CO
[Hide Comment] Patrick, I have a comment on the route...I was going to attempt it on 7/15/06, started up the initial block (as in the route description above) only to find the arete there absolutely saturated with tons of ancient birdsh!t. The next 15 feet or so are unprotected 5.6 with a very nasty-looking landing if one greases off the poop. Needless to say...I turned around. Tetanus shot, anyone?

My hat is off to Hornbein et al. who put this thing up, when, 1950? Egad! Jul 17, 2006
jason seaver
Estes Park, CO
[Hide Comment] Last I heard the Owls were closed until August 1st. Did they open early or did you poach them? Jul 18, 2006
John Korfmacher
Fort Collins, CO
[Hide Comment] The Twin Owls have occasionally been subject to raptor nesting closure. I fully support closure for raptor management, and I wouldn't dream of poaching a closed climb. But, I think they're open at present. If they're closed right now, there's no signage or any other indication, and there were a number of other climbers up there.

Anyone else have any info on this? I'd hate to be climbing there when I'm not supposed to. Jul 27, 2006
jason seaver
Estes Park, CO
[Hide Comment] You're right, John, the Owls ARE open now. A couple months ago they extended the closure until August 1st, but I just checked the Access Fund site and the closure has now been lifted (as of when, I don't know). Alligator (Preacher) Rock is the only formation still closed on Lumpy. Jul 27, 2006
John Korfmacher
Fort Collins, CO
[Hide Comment] Cool man. Have fun up there, watch out for the birdsh!t. Aug 2, 2006
Stubby-Ian Howells
Denver, CO
[Hide Comment] Yeah, I felt like this was a bit hard, but maybe it's 'cause I'm not used to chimneying. The squeeze chimney at the top of the first pitch is rather slick, overhanging, and lacking in good pro...definitely felt insecure in it. Nevertheless, fun for a masochist.

Pitch 3 is definitely fantastic.

We descended the left gully with a rap off some cord and rap rings as an alternate descent. Aug 21, 2006
Eli Helmuth
Ciales, PR
[Hide Comment] Having climbed this many times to set-up ropes on the neighboring Condones and Autumn Mist (aka Monsoon), I'd respectfully disagree with the way LP recommends climbing this route.

The chimney is a solid 5.9 for 2-3 body lengths and a bit more strenuous than the 5.8 chimney pitch on the Casual Route of the Diamond, so good practice and kudos to Mr. Hornbein for being such a crankmaster in the day! Long pants and shirt aren't a bad idea although it's pretty smooth and not too sharp inside this water-worn cleft.

It's easy enough and IMHO better to belay from the ground and the leader climbs w/out pro up the 5.6 right edge of the bird-poo block which is easy considering what's above, and if you want, a #1 or 2 Camalot can be placed before traversing left and manteling onto the ledge. From here, clip the pin and place a 0.3 Camalot just below it before thrutching into the chimney which I agree is easiest facing the left wall- so big cams on rt. hip and nothing on the rear works well. A solid big cam #0.75-2 can be placed every meter before a fixed pin is clipped where you can wiggle left to escape the fissure- or squeeze straight-up if you're small. It's 25m up from the ground to the belay ledge where there are plenty of anchoring options.

From here, a super fun pitch (55m and 5.7) of steep huecos and cracks takes you past the chockstone to the summit for a total of 85m from the ground to the summit. Descending the Bowels of the Owls is an easy downclimb for a 5.9 climber. Aug 10, 2011
[Hide Comment] After all these years finally did this for a rest day while not super motivated. I absolutely loved this route and highly recommend it to any 5.7 crack officiando. I can't spell that word, it's too big for me.

Best pitch of 5.7 on The Ridge.

Eli is spot on, I would take to his advice. Oct 24, 2011