By KAREL JANICEK
DOLNI SMRZOVKA, Czech Republic (AP) — From afar, they look like ants crawling up a tower into the sky.
Dozens of members of the Czech Union of Chimney Climbers scaled the 200-foot chimney of a former textile factory one recent Saturday — a hobby they do for thrills and incomparable views.
A 76-year-old former track-and-field athlete and an 8-year-old boy were among those who clambered up the chimney’s ladder.
“It’s a joy to climb one, to look around from the top on a beautiful sunny day,” said organizer Jiri Chudoba. “It’s also great to see the others smile and be happy.”
The 30-year-old shared a trophy for the best chimney climber last year for scaling a record 23,000 meters over nearly 330 days.
It started as the Soviet-era dream of a teenager — Vladimir Randysek — who gazed out from his home at a 140-meter high Prague chimney for years, thinking how liberating it would be to climb it.
In 1981, he and three other friends decided to make the dream reality. What was supposed to be a single adventure poking fun at Communist authorities turned into a regular pastime.
Gradually, it attracted more enthusiasts who consider their hobby “a way of life.”
Today, more than a thousand members of the union make sure that a chimney is climbed every single day.