Well we finished week three and four of the training. I honestly never imagined how much work would be involved in this job. I figured we’d do a few climbs to get us used to the whole process, a quick check to see we understood everything we had to do, and off we’d go. I was so wrong. It’s only a six week training course, and I don’t think it’s long enough! There has been so much we’ve had to learn in the last four weeks at times my head is swimming with info. It has been crazy busy, and feels like I have so much more to learn, but I like it.
So, at the start of week three we were all a little (to say the least) stressed because we started tailing climbs on the Tuesday, and leading them on Friday! Eeeekkkk! What was I going to say in my commentary, for two hours on the bridge?? Man oh man, this had come around too quickly!! Well it’s sink or swim time, I’ll just have to see how I go!
Thankfully everything we have to know logistically when we do a climb fell into place for me on Friday of week two. We were up on the bridge again, learning the location of all the emergency access points and what to do during evacuations of the bridge, and it all clicked. So at least I’m not worried about that on top of the commentary!
Now BridgeClimb is a company that runs on time. I’m talking on time to the minute! We have time cards we take out on each climb, telling us what time we have to be arriving and departing certain points around the climb route. And we have to stick to those times. If we don’t, we’ll be holding up the group behind us, or right up the back end of the group in front, and that isn’t fun for anyone. Thankfully I’ve proven I’m quite good with my timings, and it’s pleasing to get your group back, show them the big clock and point out that the time is exactly three hours since their climb experience began – exactly three hours on the dot! You usually get a “wow” from a few people, because it certainly doesn’t feel like three hours, even for me yet!
I’ve also become more aware of the weather since working here. We have a tv in the control area that is purely for the weather channel, and our work is heavily based around the weather. We climb in all sorts of weather, the limiting factors are storms and very strong winds. You’re attached to the safety line all the way around the bridge, however it gets too risky if it’s too windy. The guys who run the show every day check out the weather and recommend what gear is taken out by the climbers (the rain shells or fleece jackets, gloves or hats etc), and they have almost mathematical calculations to complete when they’re deciding if the weather is too poor to climb. I want to be up there in a storm, I reckon I’d get some pretty cool pictures!
We’d learnt all our evacuation procedures and I was hoping I’d see them in practice pretty soon. I got my wish! I was out on my second tail (following a climb leader and climbers around the bridge to see how a climb works from start to finish) and it was pretty stormy. We got the climbers ready and had just left the tunnel (five minutes into the actual climb) when the evacuation code was called. Because the first part of the climb is underneath the road deck we were allowed to proceed until we got to the base of the arch. There is an area there where we wait until control decide if we’re going ahead or if we return to the building and don’t complete the climb. If that happens the climbers get a voucher to re do the climb on another day, but fortunately we got the go ahead, after about 20 minutes. It was a little exciting, but not as much as I wanted. I think it’d be much more so if we had been on the arch when the evacuation was called – I want to see the storm coming in! Apparently the bridge has only ever been struck by lightning twice in its 76 year history, so I’m pretty confident that even when the storms are around we’d be fairly safe. I’m sure during summer we’ll get some good storms, so I’ll let you know what it’s like up there when it happens.
I must add here that I’ve never been breath tested so much before in my life! Not even in the police! We get breath tested before EVERY climb! We have to blow .02 or under or we get an instant week stand-down. And if we register ANYTHING on the machine during training its goodbye to our job! So, I’ve not been out drinking much at all. Mind you, all the climbers get breath tested before they climb too, and they have to be zero or they forfeit their money and back to the pub they go.
I’ve been overwhelmed at times with the amount of information that I have to learn. Being from Melbourne hasn’t helped either, as I’ve had to learn not only about the Bridge, but also about Sydney, and brush up on my First Fleet and convict history knowledge. It has been a really full on four weeks thus far, and I’m still learning new stories and information. Luckily I have a good memory for facts, figures and dates, it makes it a whole lot easier to roll off information about the bridge – although I do have to learn the meters to feet conversions for those American tourists we take up there. 134 meters from the summit to the water doesn’t mean much to them, but 437 feet tends to get a gasp.
To assist myself in learning all this info, and to get some local area knowledge, I booked some tours and had a “tourist day”. I told the others in my group and some wanted to come along, so we had a group outing. We did the Rocks Walking Tour and a boat tour out to Fort Denison. Both were interesting and although I didn’t learn much to add to my commentary I felt good in that I can now tell climbers that I’ve been there and give them a general idea of what each tour is like.
We’d been told that when we booked tours to mention where we worked and that it may get us some form of industry discount. It worked for the walking tour, but when I tried it at the Opera House it caused me some grief. Only slight, but enough to warrant a call to one of the managers desks for a please explain! You can imagine my horror when I got the call late in the afternoon to please report to such and such’s desk when we finished for the day. Man, we were only in week three and I was already getting a name as a feather ruffler! Geez. I trudged up to the nominated desk and tried to appear cool calm and collected. I think I pulled it off, but inside I was concerned you’d all be seeing me in Melbourne earlier than I’d planned. I was soon relieved to hear that they just wanted “clarification” on what had occurred with regard to the Opera House tour. I explained what had happened and got a nod of approval, so was more than happy to finish my day on that note. They wanted to know if I’d been given incorrect information from someone, or if wires had gotten crossed somewhere (which they had). However, I was still aware that I’d now been earmarked as ‘one to watch’. Though really, I didn’t care. It wouldn’t make me do things any differently than before.
One thing I don’t mind being characterised by is the speed with which I climb the ladders out on the bridge. There are two lots of ladders we climb each time we’re out there, and there are four sections for each lot. One lot going up, the other down – obviously (or maybe not for some of you…) I didn’t think I was particularly fast or slow, until we went out on a few group climbs and numerous people commented that I’m up and down so fast it’s like I’m not actually climbing them. I do find that I am always waiting for the person ahead (one ladder rule out there is that only one person is to be on each section at a time), so I guess I do climb a little quicker than the others. I find it gives me some extra time when I’m out with a group, to get my latch set up at the correct position before the climbers arrive at the top of the ladders (which is at the base of the arch). I know this may be hard to understand exactly what I’m talking about unless you’ve done a climb, so therefore, I suggest you ALL should come up and do a climb with me. Yes, ALL of you. I emphasise this point because I had absolutely no idea just how many of my friends were scared of heights until I got this job. Here I was thinking I finally had a job where I could involve friends in my work, but no. No one wants to come up on the bridge because they are scared. Boy oh boy. Someone had better come up and climb before I leave or I’ll be extremely disappointed. We have codes for all you scaredy cats – and certain points on the bridge that we can get you off the line – and I have already taken a few people up who were creeping along the walkways that you can see through (you can’t see through the arch, it’s eight foot wide solid steel, I promise!) and it’s quite an achievement and proud moment when they get up the top and you see the grin because they are so happy they made it!
Now, the reason this email is so long is because I haven’t had time to write in the last two weeks. And when I say I’ve not had time, I mean to the extent that I’ll try to write a text message to someone when I get in bed and I wake up in the morning with a half written message that I haven’t sent because I fell asleep while writing it! There is just so much I’m constantly learning, and we have at least one assessment every week that I’ve simply run out of time each day. However, we have two weeks of training to go and if I finish that and pass all pracs and a three hour written exam, I’m all good to take climbs up by myself! And I’ll have more time to socialise and keep in touch with you all.
My two ‘tail’ climbs, where I followed another climb leader on the bridge, were good, though I would have liked to have a few more to get my head around all the info and get some more stories for commentary under my belt. My tails had 6 and 8 climbers in each group, and considering we have capacity for 14 on each climb I was worried that my first lead would be a full group and I’d not be prepared. I wasn’t feeling ready for my lead because I didn’t have enough commentary prepared. I’d been focusing on the procedural and safety aspects of the climb and felt good with all that, but I couldn’t delay my leads anymore and if I wanted to do this job I’d just have to have a go. I had another climb leader come up with me, so I could still ask questions and get help if needed, but it was time for me to prove myself.
On my first ‘lead’ climb I had eleven climbers and things were off to a bad start when I got down to the section where we get the radios and my group of radios were missing! How was I supposed to demonstrate how to attach the radios when there were no radios to demonstrate with? Ekkk! Fortunately the other climb leader got on the radio and sorted it out so we did walk out the door with radios, however it meant we were now behind time and would have to make it up along the climb. I was nervous and it showed. I didn’t have a good story base for my commentary and I find it difficult to tell a good story when I don’t know all the details. Again, we’d not had much time to work on our commentary, and we’d only received the commentary manuals about a week earlier, so I had facts to tell but not too many stories. It was an ok climb, and I did everything correctly, however I just had to make it more exciting for the climbers on the next one. Plus the climb leader I went up with was not the friendliest so I wasn’t particularly relaxed around her. I went home that day not sure if I’d be able to be a good climb leader. I was also exhausted, and had an early climb the next day so I wasn’t too happy that there wasn’t much time in between the climbs for me to improve.
I was worried that I’d had too many jobs in the past where I’ve had to be serious and sensible, and that I wouldn’t be able to relax enough to joke around and have fun with the climbers and make their experience a memorable one. And there are quite a few climb leaders in their early 20s who are a lot more carefree than me that I began to wonder if I’d chosen something outside my capabilities. However, after some stern yet encouraging messages with a few friends I decided I’d be back the next day to try and enjoy it a little more. Besides, its only a three month contract so if I don’t enjoy it by then I can leave and try something else!
My second lead was a little better than the first, but I had 14 climbers on this one and I still didn’t feel comfortable with my commentary. Using the radio was fine, I just needed to have a bigger store of information to pass on. My third lead was a vast improvement on the first two, and although I had 14 climbers again I felt much better about it overall as did the climb leader who’d been up with me for my second and third leads. I was much more relaxed and had come across some different stories so I was happier about the whole thing. I have only one more lead to complete before I do my competency climb, which is a pass or fail event with no help from anyone. We also have a few more pracs to pass and a three hour exam coming up, but I’m feeling much better about it all.
At the end of week four we all had two assessments. We went out on the bridge as one group and were allocated a section of the bridge where we had to run the climb as if we were the climb leader. I had the second section, early on the climb, and did it well. So for the rest of the climb I got to watch everyone else do their thing, and I realised that my standards of “good” equate to everyone elses “awesome” and that I had nothing to worry about in regards to the quality of my information and my climb. One guy gave a spiel on the Opera House, and told us it opened in 1961 – when in fact it opened in 1973! After lunch we had to do a ten minute talk on a topic they’d allocated us – mine was on shipwrecks in the harbour. None of us had really prepared much, I’d done some research but hadn’t really prepared a speech as such, so I winged it. Most of us did, and it turned out pretty well in the end. I got told I have a commanding presence, a good “chest voice” (rather than a girly “head voice”) and that I tell a good story, so I was happy. The week ended on a good note, however I’m still exhausted.
We’re doing night climbs this week which will be interesting, but more learning as your commentary at night changes since you cant see half the things you can during the day!
I hope you’re all well and enjoying life,