Climbing the Sydney Harbour Bridge, a Favourite on Countless Bucket Lists — My Unforgettable Experience Ascending the Iconic Landmark

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After having visited Sydney some two dozen times over the years, I realised that many of my fellow travellers have scaling the Sydney Harbour Bridge on their Things-To-Do-Before-I-Die list. After all, ‘The Coat Hanger’, as it is nicknamed, has become a symbol of modern-day Sydney, renowned globally as the backdrop for the city’s annual, sensational New Year’s Eve fireworks displays (I was even there for the Millennium celebrations, which were unsurpassed). Given that is the largest steel-arch span in the world and the only one whereby you can hike to the top, I decided to embark on this unique Sydney challenge.

The Iconic Opera House Meets the Sydney Harbour Bridge
The Sydney Harbour Bridge

BridgeClimb Sydney holds the monopoly for accessing the highest point of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. I chose a daytime permit to be able to marvel at the unparalleled vistas of Sydney’s skyline – overflowing with state-of-the-art skyscrapers, the expansive majestic harbour, and the ubiquitous Opera House – from a bird’s-eye perspective.

What a Day to Climb the Sydney Harbour Bridge

To its credit, the operator has a precise indoctrination process, wherein all our belongings (including cameras and phones) are stored at the base, requiring me to wear their over-sized, unfashionable jumpsuits. It seemed overzealous, though common sense told me that they cannot afford for paraphernalia to fall onto the jam-packed rail lines, vehicular lanes, bicycle paths and pedestrian corridors. The 45-minute safety briefing was meticulous, equipping me with all the necessary gear, securely tied to my onesie. The final process was to pass a breathalyser test, making sure I was not tipsy.

I latched my harness onto the safety cable – anchored every 3 metres (10 feet) for the length of the course – and set off under the Bradfield Highway. The initial series of raised iron-mesh catwalks led to the solid-granite South pylon, with its skinny passages and uneven surfaces. There, I met the trickiest part of the circuit, involving ascending an array of four vertical, narrow ladders of 25 steps each, connected by platforms. It took some skill to become proficient in maneuvering the crossovers between the ladders and slipping across the anchors. Grateful for not suffering from fear of heights or looking down onto open water, the latticework revealed the currents surging 88 m (289 ft) below. I took it one rung at a time – gripping the handrails and endeavouring to not be distracted by the pummelling wind and the bustling traffic whizzing by beneath me on one of Australia’s busiest expressways.

A Group of Climbers Heading Out
The Sydney Bridge at the South Pylon

As I popped up on the last deck, I found myself outside again underneath the main arc, with the apex in sight – gifted with unobstructed sightings of the Opera House. When I summitted, 134 m (440 ft) above the gleaming, azure waters of Sydney Harbour, I had the opportunity to admire the legendary engineering triumph spanning 503 m (1635 ft), held together by more than 6 million rivets, that had required almost eight years to build, ending in 1932. Then I took a quiet moment to breathe in the feat from my lofty, tranquil perch.

Ascending on the East Side of the Bridge

The unobstructed, panoramic eastern views were rewarding, stretching from the Pacific Ocean to the stunning beaches of Bondi and Manly, as well as the chic shopping and dining havens of Double Bay and Rose Bay. The picture-perfect afternoon offered breath-taking scenery to the west also, extending from Darling Harbour to the Parramatta River, and all the way to the World Heritage-listed Blue Mountains. For tourists, it would be a dream come true to have all the notable landmarks at your fingertips. With a myriad of ferries and sailboats zigzagging across the natural, deep-water harbour and the city bursting with colourful life, it cemented for me that Sydney, is, indeed, the most gorgeous metropolis on the planet.

Mission Accomplished on Top of the Sydney Harbour Bridge
Celebrating on Top of the Sydney Harbour Bridge

Following the obligatory, commemorative photos and videos topside, I traversed the impressive arch to the west for the 1,332-step descent. It was a leisurely 90-minute backtrack, with the highpoint being inching down the network of ladders exactly when a commuter train roared by, shaking the entire 53-ton metal structure and adding a little thrill to my day.

Steel-Framed Views of Sydney
The Sydney Opera House from the West Arch

Albeit quite different from other climbs that I have done in the mountains, scaling this magnificent architectural wonder was a once-in-a-lifetime experience and perfect for globetrotters seeking a not-too-demanding, urban outing.

The Sydney Harbour Bridge at Night from the Opera House

Trekking in the Indian Himalayas: Part 1 of a 4-Part Series

Yearning to explore the majestic Himalayas’ lofty peaks, vast glaciers and thundering rivers, renowned for their sheer beauty, ruggedness and spiritual serenity?

Are you willing to forego the world’s highest summits and live without abundant trekking infrastructure – including well-marked hiking paths, regularly spaced villages with tea houses offering home-cooked food, warm beds and Wi-Fi services?

If so, then forget about touristy and crowded Nepal and set your sights on northern India, where the air is crystal clear, the flora and fauna are highly diverse, the trails are relatively unknown, and the power of nature has a mystical essence that has attracted sages, babas, yogis and sadhus for eons.

I chose a 10-day itinerary far off the beaten path in the western Garhwal Himalayas, knowing from the start that this one was not for the faint hearted. It would take a full day to just reach the trailhead from Delhi – involving a domestic flight and a perilous nine-hour car ride on narrow roads clinging precariously to rocky cliffs. Then, I would need two days to acclimatise at Gangotri village, anchored on a lushly wooded mountainside at 3,100 meters (10,200 feet), before heading up the Bhagirathi valley. All of this would precede an arduous 27-kilometre (17-mile) schlepp enroute to Tapovan, a most gorgeous high-alpine meadow at 4,463 m (14,640 ft). Admittedly, the allure was the remoteness, the diversity of the challenging terrain, and the unobstructed views of the extremely strenuous expedition-climbing faces of Shivling, Thalay Sagar, Meru, Sudarshan Parbat and Bhagirathi I/II/III.

The Perilous Road to Gangotri
Gangotri Temple
Gangotri Village
2 Days Acclimatising at Gangotri Village

The route follows the raging Bhagirathi River valley to Gaumukh Glacier – one of the largest ice masses in the Himalayas and a primary source of the sacred Ganges River. Dense forests of silver birch, blue pine and juniper will keep you company for two days, with twisting tracks that constantly reveal surprises: no shortage of waterfalls, gushing tributaries, vertical rock walls, crags, gullies, and snow-clad peaks towering overhead. Along the way, you will see Hindu devotees making a once-in-a-lifetime pilgrimage to the glacier spewing the first drops of what quickly becomes the mighty Ganges.

Our Porters Leaving Gangotri
Meeting a Pilgrim Enroute to Gaumukh Glacier
The Landslide That Destroyed the Trail Before Gaumukh Glacier
Crossing the Landslide That Destroyed the Trail Before Gaumukh Glacier

Crossing the glacier is exceptionally difficult as the black ice and its crevasses are mostly covered by a thick layer of supraglacial moraine comprised of a jumble of granite, schist and gneiss rubble, countless enormous boulders and mud dragged down from the mountains by the perpetual icecap. The final 2 km (1.25 mi) pitched at 70 degrees is nothing short of a scrimmage, with next to no trail at all, forcing you to claw your way up the scree-based incline. However, once you are over the crest, Tapovan greets you with a kaleidoscope of flowering plants, meandering streams, blue-mountain goats (Bharal), and unimpeded vistas of a number of snow-capped pinnacles soaring to more than 6,400 m (21,000 ft).

The Mouth of Gaumukh Glacier with Mt. Shivling in the Background
Bouldering Across Gaumukh Glacier
Halfway Across Gaumukh Glacier
Final 90-Minute Scramble Up to Tapovan Meadow
Mts. Shivling and Meru
Blue-Mountain Sheep Skull in Front of Mt. Shivling
Prayer Flags in Front of Mt. Meru and Its Glacier

You don’t have to be a seasoned mountaineer to venture out of the comforts of your home into this wilderness. Yet, you do have to be in tip-top shape – prepared for long days of hiking and bouldering in oxygen-thin air – and equipped for the possibility of four-season weather any day of the year. You should also invest in an experienced guide or highly reputed trekking outfit familiar with the geography to ensure safe passage across treacherous topography riddled with active landslides, ever-changing glacial debris and super-steep and slippery gravelly slopes.

Stay tuned for 3 additional articles providing in-depth insights into this unforgettable odyssey.