Climbing Sydney Harbour Bridge

August 17, 2013 in Australia, Oceania, Travelogue

Sydney BridgeClimb

The view from the top of the Sydney Harbour Bridge is spectacular.

Climbing it was an unexpected adventure on our second afternoon in Sydney. The invitation from BridgeClimb, arranged by the manager of our wonderful hotel Holiday Inn Old Sydney, to take a 1.8 km walk on the edge of the Sydney skyline was not one I could refuse, and the kids insisted that I go, “As a late birthday present to yourself, Mama!” And so, I did!

I’ve taken a lot of walks in my life, but clipping myself to the steel frame of a bridge and climbing up the enormous exterior arch of the biggest single arch span bridge in the world was a first! It’s not as simple as it sounds. The Bridge Climb is the classic route, right up the scary exterior of the biggest outer span; it takes about three and a half hours to complete. A good hour was spent signing safety wavers, taking a breathalyzer test, suiting up in layers of gear: jumpsuit, hat, climbing harness, fleece jacket, hat, radio, and more; everything attached with cords and clips to the suit, lest something fall into the harbour. Instructions and practice climbs reminded everyone that we weren’t off for a walk in the park!

Sydney Harbour Bridge is an icon, and the engineering feat of the city. It’s 134 meters to the top of the arch, 1149 meters in total length, and has a total weight of 52,800 tonnes, supported by four foundations crafted of 122,000 cubic meters of stone. It’s crazy big. It was built by about 5000 men, and boys as young as 13. Amazingly enough, only 16 lives were lost in construction, with no safety equipment, and no safety requirements in place!

Our guide pointed out the enormous blocks of stone in the foundation, “One of those blocks would have taken a single man 2 weeks to cut.” I looked up, and down, and remembered that another 13 meters of stone was hidden below the surface level, times four big towers… that’s a lot of man hours.

Sydney BridgeClimb

The scale of the project is breath-taking.

Eighty one years ago the bridge was conjured out of the blood, sweat and tears of a generation of courageous and hard working men who, over a period of nine years, did what naysayers said was impossible. When the bridge was built, our guide told us, only three people on the eastern side of the harbour owned vehicles to drive across it. It was legal to push 1500 head of cattle at a time across the span (between midnight and 5 a.m. on any given day) and one section of the bridge was used by the trolley line. Today, it’s a six lane highway, the busiest in Australia, and two lanes of train tracks for the Sydney metro line. I shuddered as a train rushed by me as I descended, within arms reach, and I wondered if the men who built it could have imagined the scene of Sydney Harbour today.

Standing at the top of the arch, under a big, beautiful Australian flag and looking out over the Opera House and downtown was one of those moments in life when I realize I’m alive, I’m exactly where I want to be, and I appreciate the gift of time, the determination and struggle to get here is infinitely worth it, and I remember why we’re doing this. I studied the ground, looking for my family, wanting to wave hard at them and yell, “THANK YOU!” for one more birthday present and for being the kind of kids who want adventures for their parents as much as they do for themselves. The time, and the climb, were good gifts!