Proof that anybody can climb the Sydney Harbour Bridge!
“Now, is anyone here afraid of heights?”
I coyly raised my hand. Apparently, I was the only one in our Sydney Harbour Bridge climb group of 14 to feel more anxious than excited at the prospect of climbing Sydney’s oversized coathanger. I shouldn’t have been surprised. Who else in their right mind would sign up to climb some 134m above the ground when it’s much less terrifying to have your feet firmly planted on it?
“Great, I’ll get you up here first in line, right by me”, gestured Alex, our climb leader for the afternoon.
I had agreed to accompany my editor, Julia, with this bucket list adventure to conquer the Sydney Harbour Bridge. It was a big deal for me, given my relationship with heights is very much a love-hate one. I adore the feeling of freedom that comes with being at a high vantage point, but I can’t even make it to the fourth rung of a household ladder without my head spinning and heart racing.
Even with a shaky track record with heights, this climb was going to happen. Nothing was going to stand in my way of standing on top of Sydney’s most iconic structure.
“You’ll be fine, don’t worry”, Alex reassured me. “We have plenty of people come through here who are afraid of heights”.
Getting ready for what lay ahead
There was plenty of prep time to let what I was about to do mentally sink in. Before getting to the main event, we were ushered to a small, circular room where we were instructed to remove any watches, jewellery, and even bobby pins, leave our phones in our locker, and sign a waiver form. Anything and everything could become a high-velocity missile from the top of the bridge, and nothing would be risked.
The bulk of our pre-climb time was taken up by fitting and training; getting into our very flattering grey boilersuits, strapping each other into our harnesses, and going over all the intricate details of our impending journey. If there were any comfort in the fact my feet would be so far off the ground, it was in the sheer number of clips and caribenas we had securing us into our harnesses, and the fail-proof climbing rig we gave a test run on the training floor.
Following an hour of preparing ourselves for the climb of a lifetime, everyone but me was ready to hit the bridge.
As we edged towards the start of the bridge climb, I caught glimpses of the harbour’s blue waters below and the roar of the traffic-filled the stone tunnel. We were already some 40m off the ground, and I was acutely aware. My legs refused to take that first step out onto the bridge. I needed to get in the ‘I can do it’ mentality stat.
There was no backing out now
With some gentle coaxing from Alex in front and Julia from behind, I took a deep breath. I tightened my grip on the guide rails and ventured through the tunnel, arriving underneath the bridge. To my surprise, the five minutes spent slowly making our way across underneath the bridge and the application of my ‘don’t look down’ policy was enough assurance for me to loosen up on the hulk grip I had on the rails. While the harbour, park, and piers below were undoubtedly fascinating, I didn’t dare break my confidence by taking a peek below.
Just as I had found my stride at 40m above ground level, the circumstances changed, and the fear factor dialled right up. Our gentle stroll along the underside of the bridge ended abruptly and made way for a vertical ladder climb, up onto the arch of the bridge. Not just one ladder climb, but four; one after the other. All I could hope was that I didn’t do my usual fourth rung panic.
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Taking my first step onto the first of the four ladders undid any of the hard work I had just done to ease my nerves. Fear gripped me and forced my gaze to my hands and feet, trying my best to avoid any slight misstep that could potentially derail me. Unfortunately, that also meant I was looking straight down.
Below me, cars whizzed over the bridge, and ferries made their way in and out of the harbour. A train rumbled below, sending vibrations up the ladder and rattling my nerves even more so. I could feel the tears of fear brimming. As I put one hand above the other and slowly inched my way up the ladders, my heart was racing. ‘Just keep climbing, don’t look down’ was my mantra the whole way up.
Feeling on top of the world
Certain that the rest of the group was held up by my very slow and measured ascent, an emotional release overwhelmed me when I finally hit the top rung. Relief that the group was no longer hindered by me, relief that I had made it unharmed, and relief that I did it – I conquered my fear of heights and ladders and was now standing atop the Sydney Harbour Bridge.
There was nothing the bridge could throw at me to unhinge me now. Compared to what I had just been through, the gentle incline of the arch ahead seemed a piece of cake. I felt so liberated standing atop of Sydney. The fully covered walkway concealed any view of the road below, and the graduated steps made for easy leg work after the vertical climb. And the views; well, they were just the cherry on top.
There wasn’t one point at the top of the Sydney Harbour Bridge climb that didn’t afford incredible panoramic vistas of Sydney. On the eastern side, boats and ferries were buzzing around with a continual stream of traffic pulling in and out of Circular Quay as busy as peak hour on Pitt St. We watched a cruise ship weave its way up through the waterways and slip out into the open ocean at Manly. We even pinpointed Bondi Junction in the distance thanks to the towering skyline. Marked by the magnificent sails of the Opera House, this harbour view was the highlight of the day.
After a few minutes at the top to take it all in (and a few generous photo stops along the way) it was time to head back down again. Crossing to the western side of the bridge, we stopped to take in the views of Darling Harbour in the late afternoon sun before I descended the ladders with all the confidence of someone who had just conquered her fear in 1002 steps.