The Great Chimney is not, as its name might suggest, something Santa shimmies up and down every Christmas Eve. But for visitors to Acadia National Park, it may be the closest thing to walking in the boots — or climbing shoes — of Father Christmas.
Located just off Park Loop Road in the Otter Cliffs climbing area, Great Chimney is a route between two walls of granite that face each other and bottom out just above the Atlantic Ocean.
At first glance, it looks like the type of challenge that could ruin an otherwise perfect vacation.
To climb it, one first rappels down a rope that’s been anchored at the top, while also attached to a separate rope that supports you on the way back up.
In the second half, the two walls get close enough to each other that the best way to ascend is thrusting your back against one while reaching your legs across to the other. From there, you scoot and slide like an inchworm up the remainder of the climb.
What makes the Great Chimney not abjectly terrifying, and in fact pretty fun, is the person “belaying” you from above — or removing the slack in your rope as you climb — ensuring you never fall more than a couple inches, if at all.
If you’re anything like this reporter climbing the Great Chimney, you’ll slip at least once on the way up. Not to worry! The rope holds you, and you simply wiggle your limbs back into a supporting position, then keep climbing.
If you’re inexperienced, the safest option for trying your feet, hands and back at the Great Chimney — or any climb around Mount Desert Island — is to hire an experienced guide from one of two Bar Harbor-based climbing schools: Atlantic Climbing School (ACS) or Acadia Mountain Guides Climbing School.
On a spring afternoon, ACS owner Eli Simon was guiding. The outing began with a tutorial in throwing on the shoes, climbing harness, helmet and chalk bag provided by the school. Then, Simon walked a novice climber through the various steps for tying into ropes, rappelling and climbing.
For anyone unused to being supported by ropes, the first few seconds of rappelling can be nerve-wracking. But like the climb up Great Chimney, that too becomes enjoyable as the safety systems take hold and a guide navigates you through the steps.
Besides the thrill of scaling a granite wall, the climbs also let you take in wildlife like bald eagles, peregrine falcons and seals. In his 16 years climbing from Bar Harbor, Simon said he’s seen two river otters at the cliff that shares their name, as well as red squirrels, porcupines, porpoise, a “really funny looking” sunfish and more.
Such outings also can give the Maine visitor a new perspective on the vistas normally only attained by hiking or driving. For example, you’ll never look at Frenchman Bay the same way you do when dangling off the east face of Champlain Mountain.
What to wear: Sturdy, closed-toed boots or shoes for hiking to climb sites. Loose-fitting clothes that can handle abrasion from rock. If you’ll be spending time in the sun or rain, an appropriate hat, jacket or layer. Temperatures can vary on the exposed areas where climbing occurs.
What to bring: Water, snacks, sunscreen. All climbing equipment is provided by ACS.How much: ACS provides full- and half-day lessons for groups, families or individuals at variable rates. According to the company’s website, a half-day lesson for one climber is $160. For a group of 10 to 12 climbers, a half-day lesson costs $50 per participant.Lessons: ACS offers trips and classes for all levels of climber.
Contact: (207) 288-2521, www.climbacadia.com
“Rock Climbs of Acadia”
For those looking to rock climb on Mount Desert Island, a new guidebook is available in print and interactively through your smartphone.
“Rock Climbs of Acadia” was put together by Grant Simmons, who’s been climbing and guiding (through Atlantic Climbing School) on the island for the last five summers.
The guide is broken up into 15 different climbing areas covering the “big three” areas of Champlain Mountain, Otter Cliffs and Great Head, Simmons explained, as well as more obscure ones such as Canada Cliff on the south side of Echo Lake.
The book goes into greater detail about the history of the island’s climbs, while the app has features like interactive maps and a GPS navigation function.
The company rakkup helped Simmons develop the app. Discussing its interactive maps, Simmons explained, “You’re just tapping those lines and the information on that climb will pop up. The rating on that climb, how to descend, screenshots, other ways to navigate, etc.”
“Rock Climbs of Acadia” can be purchased for $24.95 at Cadillac Mountain Sports in Bar Harbor and Ellsworth. The app can be purchased at rakkup.com, then downloaded through the rakkup app available free on Apple and Android devices. You can pay $7.99 to rent the app for two months or buy it for $15.99.