Illegal Ascent of Centre Point

It is very hard to get a good close photo of Centre-Point – because it is so tall. This is the best I could do. The photo shows the nature of our route up the tower.

From 1975 to 1990, I didn’t climb on a regular weekly basis. So my climbing standard dropped a bit. But, one night in 1981 at a Kameruka meeting, Barry Dunnet approached me. (Barry is the guy who led the first descent of Claustral Canyon. He was, in general, the tough bush-walker of the 1960’s. I knew him very well and we had done a lot together). He told me, “Centre-Point has been up for a year now – so how come none of you slack climbers has tried to climb it yet?”
          I thought about this taunt for a while. I had given up my building climbing activities for more than 15 years then because I had been sort of seriously employed. However, I had taken a year off from serious work – so this restriction no longer applied. So, after a taunt like this, I did have to give the climb a go. I went to the next Rockies’ meeting to find a partner for the climb – but I had no luck – the useless buggers. However I knew an extremely keen young guy called Verne, from the folk scene, and he had done a bit of climbing himself. He could be sucked into anything – so Verne agreed to be my partner.

This diagram shows the plan of our route (as seen from above).

In describing this ascent, there is a significant problem – the physical situation is very complex indeed. Centre-point sits on top of a very large building adjoining Pitt St, Market St and Castlereagh St (see diagram and photos at the end of this appendix – but it would be far better if you went there, wandered round and saw everything for yourself). The first problem then is to get to the top of this building to where the tower itself starts. But even getting onto the building itself is terribly difficult because there are awnings absolutely everywhere. And we didn’t want to climb a 3-metre overhang in full view of the public.
          Our general route up the building itself was also determined by our principle desire that we wouldn’t be seen. And here we were lucky. On the Castlereagh side of the building, there is a recess away from the street that is quite well hidden (see photo B). So this would be our general route up the building. We naturally didn’t start till well after midnight when there were fewer people around.

          But our first problem was to find a way to get over the awnings. Now, at a few points, a bus-stop sign or a parking-sign comes close to these awnings. So we could climb up one of these posts and stretch over and step onto the top the awning. However, unfortunately the closest one of these posts was right next to an all-night disco club – with people passing through all the time. So we had to choose a post miles away. Thus our initial route was as is shown in the diagram – up the awing on the west side of Pitt St – across to the east side via the over-head walk-way (as in photo A)– and then crawl along the Centre-point awning, dragging our packs behind us until we got to Castlereagh St. This took us ages, was terribly uncomfortable and we got filthy dirty. But, when we got there, there was a blank wall above us.

However, this wall could be avoided by crossing to the east side of Castlereagh St along the walkway, climb to the top of the roof by a layback movement, and then back to the west side (as shown in photo A). Thus the little blank wall problem was overcome. And then we could walk around to the recess.

This photo shows our route using the bridge.

This photo shows our route up the building.

And then we could start climbing properly (until then we had been unroped). There are 9 stories to the building. If you are strong and fairly tall, these stories are relatively easy because all you do then is to stand on the railing of one story and then reach for a good ledge on the next story. Fortunately Verne was tall and strong so the building was no problem (I, seconding, simply had jump to reach the ledge of the next story).
          And then our real problem was to start – the tower itself. But, by then, daylight was breaking. Fortunately we had come prepared for a two-night ascent. So we hid in a couple of large pipes that were lying around on the top of the building. There we waited until the sun sank again.
          If you look at the photos at the end, you will see that the main part of the tower is divided into two parts by a large platform half way up. So our route could either go up the thick wires on the outside or up the pillar in the centre. But we couldn’t use the central pillar for the first half because the first 10 metres are smoothly concreted over (and besides this there is the problem of the underside of the platform). So we had to go up the wires.

This photo shows the nature of the wires. They cross and this makes it awkward for abseiling.

We had assumed that we would be able to ascend these wires simply by shinning them up free. However this wasn’t possible because the wires were covered with a very smooth plastic type substance. Thus obviously some sort of artificial climbing technique would be needed – and we weren’t prepared for this. So we had to abseil off. We would try again with some suitable artificial gear. {I personally quite like that sort of situation – I like a preview attempt, find out what the real problems are and then try again when these problems have been mulled over. I never like to rush a climb.}
          When we abseiled off, we learnt that there was an emergency fire-stair well from the base of the proper building down to Castlereagh St. So we used this fire-stair because then we would then be well hidden. But naturally, this exit door was locked against entry. However, this meant that, on our next attempt, one of us (without any gear) could climb up the closest sign-post very quickly (see diagram), go up to the base of the building proper and then go down the fire-stairs. There they could let in the second person (who would have all the gear). Thus on our next attempt, we could make an early start and hopefully do the whole climb in just one night.

This photo shows the nature of the pillar above the platform. Although you can’t see the details, it is quite straight forward climbing.

In the intervening time, I investigated possible artificial climbing systems by going up one of the local metal lamp-posts in Stanmore. I found that the best system seemed to wrap a long sling around the post twice (as in a prussic sling). However it was best not to use a prussic knot but rather to just feed the rope back through the open loop. If one used a prussic knot, then the sling would get too tight and then it took too long to loosen it and slide it up. It was also easier to use only two slings (as opposed to the 3 slings we normally used then – this was before the advent of harnesses).

This is what appeared in the papers.

On our next attempt (the Sunday night of the October long week-end, 1981), we followed this new plan. So we managed to arrive at the bottom of the wires at 10:30 in the evening. My new artificial system worked fine on the wires. The only problem was that the wires sloped slightly. Hence there are only two positions in which one could climb the wire – either on the high-side or the low-side of the wire. The high-side was easier but more unstable (and hence I had to be very careful with my balance). I chose the high-side.
It was clearly going to be hard to belay on the wires themselves. So I chose to climb on 300 ft of rope of, what was then called, no. 2 laid rope. This was only 7 mm wide – so it was pretty thin! But this meant I could reach the platform in just one 300 ft pitch. For me this was OK, and I got to the platform before midnight. It was then Verne’s turn to come up. But he was painfully slow (not his fault really – he just wasn’t used to complex rope work). But I had climbed up in just a T-shirt and shorts – and so I got bitterly cold. And Verne took three hours to get up.
From here, we could move over to the central pillar and this turned out to provide relatively straight-forward normal climbing on the metal structure. So we arrived below the restaurant base at about 4 a.m. (this section is about 450 ft long). This was as far as we intended to go. I am told now that a later party has climbed the restaurant section using small rings placed between the windows for window-cleaning purposes. However I didn’t know this at the time and just I just considered it to be impossible. {This later party also did the climb in broad day-light with official permission – not very sporting and not, of course, in the best traditions of building climbing.} We left a pair of old trousers hanging from the outside of the restaurant structure. {These trousers were removed in a few days. But some slings we left on the wires remained there for more than10 years.}
Abseiling down the central pillar was easy – so we arrived back at the platform at about 5 a.m. But now the hard part started because, as the wires are 300 ft long and our doubled ropes only 150 ft long, we would need to construct a hanging belay. Also the abseiling was very hard because I needed to go down with my legs crossed around a wire – otherwise I would be dangling in space. And I had to make a tricky move whenever the wires crossed. But I also made an awful mistake – I forgot to tie a big knot at the end of the ropes. This meant that, as I abseiled down to within 2 ft of the end of the ropes, if I made one small error, then I would have been history. Fortunately I made no such error. So, with difficulty, I set up the hanging belay. Verne could then abseil down easily because I could pull him back into the hanging belay.
And then I suffered hell. As we pulled the ropes down, they fell between sharply crossing wires (a circumstance almost impossible for us to avoid). And there they stuck fast. So I had to climb up the wires again for 80 ft to free them. Then the same thing happened on the next abseil as well. So I had to climb back 60 ft this time. By the time we finished getting off the tower it was broad day light (8 a.m.). And there were plenty of people around down on the streets below. But we had one lucky break. We saw one of the officials of the building going about his business. But he didn’t look up so we disappeared very quickly.
When we abseiled off the building we were bound to be seen. But there nothing else we could do. So we abseiled down into quite a large crowd of people. But fortunately there weren’t any officials present and rest of the people weren’t interested in reporting us. So we completed the climb without being caught.

Building climbing is a great experience and I recommend all climbers to try it sometime in their life. Avoiding being caught is just part of the great challenge.

You might now also like to look back at:
either my “Home Page” (which introduces this whole website and lists all my webpages),
or “My Climbing” (which introduces this major set of webpages),
or Illegal Ascents of Sydney’s most Iconic Buildings, (which introduces this minor set of webpages).

My next normal webpage is First Ascent of Sweet Dreams.

Updated on 14/11/2016.