James climbs the Sydney Harbour Bridge....

June 16

The wind whistled past my head as I stared through the night at the breathtaking view before me. There was the Opera House, bathed in golden light. Farther to the right stood the Centrepoint Tower, the Allianz building and the rest of the Sydney skyline. In the darkness I shifted my view to the water below me. A ferry was passing under the bridge. Standing 440 feet above the ferry at the top of the arch of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, it looked to me like a model ship.

Earlier that week I had been sitting at my internship when Claire, a staff member at Macquarie Abroad, asked me if I had had the chance to climb the bridge. After my lame excuse about not enough money she offered me a voucher to climb for free. I was flabbergasted. I couldn’t pass an opportunity like this up. She called and set a time for me to climb. It was for Thursday, around 4 p.m.

When Thursday rolled around I was raring to go. I completed my German exam in the morning, had lunch and then, after waiting an inordinate amount of time for a bus, made my way into the city. I arrived a trite early and got bumped up to an earlier group. They called us into the staging area at 4:05 p.m. to begin preparation. We, a group of 12 (six Queenslanders, five Americans and a polish stewardess), signed papers, took a breathalyser test, donned our coveralls and began training. Oh yes, we had to be trained to climb.

Our guide, John from Texas, got us into our safety gear. That consisted of a belt with a wire that attached to a safety line. We practiced walking with it. It was simple enough except when you reached a joint and had to guide the attachment through. If you hit it wrong it would stop you with a jolt. After we proved competent in the safety department John set us up with radios. Day was turning to night and the wind was becoming stronger every minute so as a precaution, Bridge Climb gave us fleece jackets, gloves and hats to keep warm. By the end of the climb, they were all in use.

We began the climb by walking on a narrow catwalk that led us to a set of ladders, which in turn would bring us to the arch. As I turned my hips to squeeze along the catwalk I looked down through the wire grating to the street some 100 feet below. Not a good time to remember that I was afraid of heights. Quickly looking up I continued until we reached the ladders. Halfway up the ascent, I climbed between lanes seven and eight. It was an awesome feeling being in the middle of eight lanes of traffic on a bridge that dates back to 1932 and whose daily traffic average is 150,000 vehicles. Not awesome enough to wait around, I could have touched them. I quickly climbed the rest of the ladder and met John at the beginning of the arch.

Low and behold John was a fellow cheese-head. Although he was born in Texas he had lived in Wisconsin for a time. Happy that I was in good hands I began ascending the arch. John told us, over the radio, how Bridge Climb started some seven years ago. Since its began, Bridge Climb has led 1.5 million people to the top of the arch for the bridges stunning panoramic. He also regaled us with stories about the 16 lives lost in the bridge’s eight-year construction during the depression. The best story was about a man who lived to tell of his almost certain death.

This particular worker was drilling holes for rivets on the bridge when he lost his balance and fell 196 feet into the harbour below. Any height over 90 feet you are guaranteed to break something. Anything over 120 feet and you don’t live to tell about it. But it was different for this Irishman, he was lucky. As he fell, he pulled his drill after him. The drill broke the plane of the water a split second before he hit. As a result he survived the fall. Besides the soles of his shoes being embedded in his feet, his broken ribs and various other injuries, he had ruptured his eardrums. That is where his luck ran out. He had survived but because he had lost his equilibrium, he was not allowed to work on the bridge.

Not wanting repeat the story I maintained a firm grip on my safety line and concentrated on the ascent. Two hours after we started, the 13 of us reached the summit. The view was worth the climb. The climb was worth itself. It is not often you get to traverse a bridge with equal stature to the Golden Gate Bridge.

We spent a fair bit of time at the top enjoying the fresh air and admiring the surrounding city. We saw it all from our location: Darling Harbour with its’ brilliant lights and festive atmosphere, North Sydney with its’ all business attitude and the Rocks whose culture and history seem to be the foundation of Sydney. It was all very calming and I have added it to the growing list of adventures I won’t soon forget.

I want to thank Claire, Davina and the rest of the Macquarie Abroad Office for this unforgettable experience, I would not have done it without your generosity. Thank You!

- James Brunmeier

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