Climbing the Sydney Harbour Bridge in Australia

Here’s an adrenaline-rush adventure for this week’s Try-it Tuesday! Have you ever climbed a bridge? How about across the top of the largest steel arch bridge in the world? I’m currently in Sydney, Australia and had the incredible experience of doing a bridge climb across the Sydney Harbour Bridge, with BridgeClimb Sydney.

This is definitely one of those once-in-a-lifetime, can’t be done anywhere else, experiences to try!
Editor’s Note added 6/15/18: It was recently announced that the Bridge Climb did not receive its new bid, and will not be leading climbs after September 2018. So if you want to do it, you better do it now!

The Preparation

After arriving and being issued our jumpsuits and other gear, we were taken into a practice area that had ladders going up to a catwalk, across and then down again. Here, we were able to practice clipping our steel cable to the bridge cable, climbing up the ladder and across walkways, and back down. Our guide, Max, was patient, instructive, knowledgeable, fun and funny. Well, maybe not so funny when he first clipped our jacket shells onto the backs of our suits and told us they were parachutes.

“If you fall off, you’ll have 5.4 seconds of freefall to figure out how to pull the chute, before you hit the water. If you make that, then you’ll just have to watch out for the sharks,” Max said with a straight face. I was nervous enough that for about that 5.4 seconds I bought it. My boyfriend, Keith, assured me he was joking and it was just a jacket. Hey, maybe I wanted a parachute after all.

Fully prepared, with radio headsets in place, we set out. This was our first full day in Sydney – and it was WINDY! Gusts were up to 23-plus miles per hour; earlier in the day as we visited the Opera House and ate lunch on the decks facing the bridge, I was a little unsure of how it would feel like up there in that wind. I could see the little antlike lines of BridgeClimb groups along the top of the bridge’s arch. Gulp.

The Climb

The first area we entered was a tunnel, which stretched out to connect with the first catwalk and then ladders to get up to the base of the bridge. This was a nice, easy practice to calm the nerves and realize that, hey, it’s a lot like just walking. Geared up, clipped on with steel cables, dozens of feet above the ground and about to climb up nearly 450 feet above Sydney Harbour to stand at the very top of the arch. Double Gulp.

Along the way, Max regaled us with interesting information about the bridge’s construction, pointed out some important landmarks around the harbour, and told a few more jokes. Completed in 1932, the construction of the bridge – known locally as “The Coathanger” – was an economic feat as well as an engineering triumph. Along with the Opera House, it’s  is a world-renowned symbol of Australia.

After we climbed the first set of ladders, we began making our way single-file along the steps and walkway at the top of the arch. Yes, the wind was strong, but the headsets meant we could hear every word and instruction that Max gave, and I felt completely secure. It really wasn’t scary at all, once we were up there (unless you have a thing about heights, though, in which case you might have some problems!)

The Summit

We really took our time along the way, stopping for Max to take photographs of us and to rest and admire the views. Which are, as you would imagine, jaw-droppingly spectacular. This is the main highlight of this climb – there is simply no other viewpoint of Sydney city and harbour as dramatic as this.

Finally we hit the summit: the very top where the two sides of the steel arch met for the fist time on August 19, 1930. There an Australian flag and a New South Wales state flag fly (those flags looked so small from the bottom!). Max took photos and a video of us at the summit, and then we crossed the bridge along a catwalk with the cars and trains speeding by, hundreds of feet beneath our feet….and the water below that; and began the descent on the other side, back the way we had come.

We went on a climb that started at 3 pm, so the sun was setting just as we were finishing – a gorgeous sight indeed.

Tour Info

All in all, we were there for about three and a half hours, and on the bridge itself for two hours. BridgeClimb Sydney takes dozens of groups out per day, 12-15 people in a group (but will do far fewer depending on the bookings). On a busy day, they will take 2,200 people across the bridge. The entire outfit was much bigger than I thought, and it’s extremely professional, well-run like clockwork, and everyone is knowledgeable and highly trained. I was thoroughly impressed with the entire operation.

A few good things to know: they do a breathalyzer on everyone before the climb, so you cannot have anything alcoholic to drink anytime on that day before you do the climb. Nothing is allowed with you on the climb except glasses (sunglasses or prescription, they will give you a neck cord that attaches to your jumpsuit to keep them secure), and any medication needed for the climb (the guide will carry this for you). They take plenty of photos and a video if you want it, but they don’t want anyone messing with their own while up there (and trust me, you don’t want to drop your camera or phone from there!)

There are other great ways to see the bridge and Sydney Harbour, as well. You can walk and cycle across the bridge or climb to the top for stunning views. The bridge walk is on the eastern side. You’ll find the stairs up to the bridge walk next to the pedestrian crossing near the Australian Heritage Hotel, on Cumberland Street in the historic Rocks. (The historic hotel is also a great stop; this is where we had a tipple just after our bridge climb). Along the walk is the south-eastern Pylon Lookout, which offers a spectacular panorama. The cycleway is on the western side of the bridge, and another memorable way to marvel at the bridge is on a public ferry that you can catch from Circular Quay, using the Opal Card public transit card that’s also good on the trains, light rail and buses.

All photos provided by BridgeClimb Sydney

Editor’s Note added 6/15/18: It was recently announced that the Bridge Climb did not receive its new bid, and will not be leading climbs after September 2018. So if you want to do it, you better do it now!

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