Sun, 22 Oct 2000

Above it all climbing the Sydney Harbour Bridge

By Primastuti Handayani

SYDNEY (JP): Are you someone who loves a challenge? Are you always up to try a dangerous adventure? Then one waits for you in the urban environment of Sydney, the capital of New South Wales.

Climbing the Sydney Harbour Bridge will answer your need to get your adrenaline pumping. It's an adventure but not one which will have you risking life and limb.

Climbing a bridge may not seem like much of a challenge to some; however, it's something extraordinary it's 141 meters above one of the most famous sights in the world.

The Sydney Harbour Bridge is a steel arch of the two-hinged type which was officially opened on March 19, 1932. It opened its doors for climbers on Oct. 1, 1998, and since then about 350,000 people have tested their guts on top of the bridge.

Prospective climbers only have to reserve for the climbing, which is open from 6 a.m. until 9:30 p.m., with an interval of 10 minutes.

Registration is not an automatic guarantee of going up. Visitors must undergo a breathalyzer test to make sure they are under the 0.05 percent blood alcohol level.

Climbers are given special overalls with the logo of the bridge on the left chest and also waterproof pants in case of rain. They also receive a raincoat, a jacket and a safety belt with a steel wheel connected with steel wiring from the start to the finish line.

Each group of 12 people has its own guide and is equipped with radio communication. Before climbing the bridge, the climbers have to undergo a practice session inside the building on how to use the wheel and the way to climb and get down from the bridge.

After the practice session, climbers walk to reach another door below John Bradfield Street. In the starting line climbers tie their steel wheel to the steel wire.

After walking for about 200 meters, there is another door leading to the main construction of the steel arch bridge. There is a bridge operator's office inside the section but visitors are not allowed to take photographs.

"It is our agreement with them. They work here and they don't want to be exposed," said our climb leader Mick Griffin.

We climbed stairs to reach the lower section of the bridge, known as the deck level, where we could see the Opera House, the Crystal Harmony yacht owned by Microsoft multimillionaire Bill Gates and the tallest ANP tower, better known as Centerpoint, in downtown.

Climbers still have a long way to go as there are four more stairs sections leading to the street. Each climber must finish one stair section before another can follow.

"It is to avoid just in case the first climber falls, so he or she won't fall on another's head," Griffin said.

When a climber's head pops out on the street, it feels as though the vehicle's wheels are running alongside. However, there is no need to worry of being run over as fences separate the road from the climber's path.

Still, there is the inevitable feeling that people on the street are staring at you. Griffin tells climbers to shrug off the uneasiness.

"When you hear wolf whistles or teasing words from people on the street, remember it's not for you. It's for me," he said with a wide smile.

After reaching the height of 50 meters, climbers walk along the bridge's arch to reach the top. There is a pathway crossing the top of the bridge.

From this pathway, the whole of Sydney, including Olympics Park in Homebush Bay -- which hosted the Olympics from Sept. 15 to Oct. 1 -- was visible. We could even see the Olympic flame atop the Olympic stadium.

Unfortunately, when we were enjoying the panorama, rain started falling heavily, accompanied by lightning, and we were forced to sit on the stairs below the steel rail for nearly 10 minutes.

Griffin consoled us by saying that climbing the bridge on a sunny day is usual but a rainy day was special.

On the way down, climbers take the other way from the climbing path. The most horrible feeling came on the stair section where we could see trains passing by us.

The three-hour journey -- starting from preparation to refreshments -- left us with the realization that we not only climbed the bridge itself but also gained a view of the whole history of Sydney.