Thursday, March 2, 2023

Sydney Harbour Bridge Climb delivers: steel, scenery, spectacle


Above: Once at the top, Christene "Cookie" Meyers and Bruce Keller pause for a victory pose.
The Sydney Harbour Bridge Climb is world famous for its challenge and spectacle.
Dwarfed by massive steel, climbers at far right make their way
up the side of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Directly in front of the
first climber are the steep ladders one climbs to the top


"It's like climbing a majestic erector set assembled by dozens of three-man rivet teams...."

-- Bruce Keller


ONCE YOU'VE climbed the famous Sydney Harbour Bridge, you'll feel as if you've won an Olympic medal.

Ascending the world-renowned bridge (spelled Harbor to us Yanks) is a test of one's will, determination and courage. 

Our group prepares for the climb, having passed the breath test,
climbed the practice ladders, filled out mounds of paperwork.
Daring the fates, we climbed it a second time a couple weeks ago. It's a fun option if you're cruising. We'd just enjoyed a Celebrity cruise, and could look upon our handsome ship from hundreds of feet on high.
Scared of heights and a lifelong sports neophyte, I had extreme  trepidations. Why bother when I could safely sit on my, er, laurels? Because I simply had to.
I've suffered from vertigo since childhood. I quiver and tremble on high-floor hotel balconies. I have a chart-topping fear of balconies or viewing platforms. 
So climbing it not once, but twice, was an accomplishment  I'm proud of. Forgive my hubris.

SURE I HAVE other talents.  I play piano, sing, conduct an orchestra, arrange a medley, jam on my saxophone and offer up a passable second violin in a string quartet.  But climbing a bridge! "who, me?" I'd never considered it. Not until my partner and travel mate Keller suggested it eight years ago.

From the bridge at night, the city's splendors unfold far below.
"OK. You're afraid of heights, fine," he said. "I get that.  But why not challenge yourself? You're so confident about other things, time to expand your horizons."

In 2015, we were planning a return to Australia, a country we both love, had visited several times before, but never together.  It would be a special time on so many counts, so I surprised him one day with a booking. No turning back.

THE DAY of the climb, I gazed at the imposing bridge as our walk brought us closer.  I was fascinated and terrified by the ant-size figures climbing over its top. That would be us in a few hours. (Pulse acceleration. Slight dizziness.)

The famous Sydney Opera House is far below happy climbers.

Soon we were filling out papers and taking a breath test. Every climber must have a blood-alcohol reading below 0.05. Otherwise, you're rejected from the climb and forfeit your fee.
The "Climb" staff of 100-plus is knowledgeable, amiable and accommodating. Media and marketing director Brock put us at ease when our taxi from the hotel took three times longer than anticipated. He and the able staff kindly rebooked us, thanks to a cancellation.
The protocol included safety videos, then trading our clothes for special light-weight climbing suits, stepping into our harnesses and straps and heading out the door and up, up and away. Emphasis on "up." Earlier, we'd proved we could climb by going up two practice ladders in the preparation room.

WE HAD ALSO learned how to fasten and use our lanyards, sliding them along a practice cable. So once on the bridge, we felt secure because we were literally hooked to it. And, as patient, daring Keller reminded me, "You've already done this once, Cookster. Piece of cake." 

The Sydney Harbour Bridge is bathed in the colors of the
rainbow.  Special lighting celebrates Gay Pride.

The tours are kept small to encourage a congenial feeling. We introduced ourselves with a brief "who and where from" to encourage conversation and camaraderie.  Our group included a couple from Manchester, England, a father-son from New Zealand, a honeymooning couple from Japan and two enthusiastic Swiss travelers who -- like the two of us --  had tackled the bridge before.  Our pleasant and encouraging guide, April, offered commentary and pep talks as we climbed --stories about the bridge, previous climbers and Sydney's grand history. 
The enterprise offers various packages: romance packages are popular as is a first-nations people tour with Aboriginal landmarks and native history told by indigenous storytellers. There are climbs geared to photographers, and others for students. There's a sunset-night time climb and the famous “Coathanger” which traverses the bridge from South to North, and back again and is considered the most challenging.
I STILL TREMBLE when I think about it. But I'm so grateful to have summoned the courage again. The main draws for me were twofold: conquering my fear, and being part of a famous and historic enterprise.We learned that the bridge was built in 1932 in the height of the great worldwide depression, providing work for hundreds and boosting national pride. It cost 10 million to build --1.5 billion Aussie dollars today. The architect lived in a home below where he monitored progress. Unnerving to me during the steep 8-ladder climb was the roar and rumble of trains and cars. They shake the steel as they pass by the thousands (160,000 cars per day and dozens of trains.) One thinks of this bridge as solid and steady. It moves! I am still recovering.

Safely grounded after nearly four hours together,
our excellent guide April presented us with
certificates congratulating us on our climb.
YES, IT WAS a spectacular day. Keller is ready for a third climb. We joined 5,000 couples who have proposed on her, 40 wedding couples and more than 4 million of us slightly crazy climbers.
1,400 helped build her and a remarkably low number -- 16 -- died during the 8-year construction. One worker fell the 462 feet when his drill kicked back. He was an experienced diver and survived by going in feet first. He suffered shattered legs and broke every rib but he survived to return to his job!

I recommend this to fellow cowards, and all of you who wish to do something you've never done. Why not challenge a cliche about yourself? Carpe diem.

For the time of your life:

To book a Celebrity cruise to New Zealand or Australia ports:

Dunedin Railways cars take train lovers and nature buffs
deep into a corner of southern New Zealand that most
folks never see. We highly recommend this Taieri Gorge trip
UP NEXT: While we're Down Under, we're exploring the wonders of both Australia and New Zealand. Come aboard two distinctive Kiwi trains, one out of Picton, the other from Dunedin. Come with us aboard the Marlborough Flyer and Taieri Gorge Railway, both show-stopping train excursions. Let these two distinctive trains whisk you away to beautiful farm land, sheep pastures, mountains, ravines, canyons and more in handsomely maintained  cars. Enjoy the beauty aboard a pair of trains, then visit a koala sanctuary and rest in the spectacular mountain town of Katoomba. Remember to explore, learn and live and catch us weekly for a fresh spin on travel, the arts, nature, family and more. Do share the link:

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