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Here’s What It’s Like to Scale the Outside of a New York City Skyscraper

Acrophobics beware.

I am, by nature, not a thrill-seeker. I’m more apres-ski than black diamond; more Dole Whip than Splash Mountain. And yet, somehow, on a bracingly blustery day this winter, I found myself on a cantilevered platform, peering down at Manhattan from over 1,200 feet in the air. With my face numb from the wind whipping at my cheeks, all I could think of at that moment were the lyrics from Talking Heads’ Once in a Lifetime: “And you may ask yourself, ‘How did I get here?’”

To be honest, I’m still not sure how I decided that scaling the side of the gargantuan 30 Hudson Yards would be an acceptable way to spend a morning. I’m not saying I did it for the ‘gram, but maybe I’m not not saying that either? I suppose as a journalist who writes extensively about New York City and travel, I felt almost a professional duty to be one of the first to experience City Climb.

The adrenaline-inducing experience is the latest addition to Edge, the viewing platform at Hudson Yards that’s also the highest sky deck in the Western Hemisphere. The views alone are knee-wobbling, as well as awe-inducing. The entire city stretches out–seemingly limitless–before you; on a clear day you can see everything from the Statue of Liberty to the top of Central Park. This, by the way, is where you start your journey for City Climb.

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But before I detail the actual ascent, it’s important to know that if you decide to make the climb yourself, you’ll feel incredibly safe, both with your guides and in your protective gear. In fact, the amount of security checks, harness checks, and verbal check-ins makes me wonder how safe any of my previous dinky zipline experiences actually were.

After you meet your guides and your fellow climbers, the process starts with a weigh-in (you either pass or fail; there are no numbers broadcast to the whole group), and a height measurement to determine your correct jumpsuit size. Everyone is then breathalyzed to make sure no one’s indulged in a bit of liquid courage before dangling over the side of a skyscraper (we hadn’t), and then signs release forms. From there, you head to the lockers, where you’re helped into your harness, jumpsuit, and helmet, which are then checked by half a dozen different City Climb instructors before you start your ascent. Don’t be surprised by the stares: The locker area has windows that look onto the Edge’s viewing floor; we got more than a few quizzical looks from visitors as we zipped ourselves into our bright blue suits.

You also have to remove any small objects from your person–watches, phone, earrings–as those could become lethal projectiles if they fall from such a great height. But don’t worry, the guides are equipped with both cameras and GoPros, ensuring you’ll have your pick of holiday card-worthy photos and videos at the end of your experience.

Since there’s over an hour devoted to safety before you begin your climb, you’ll also have the opportunity to get to know the other members of your crew. Mine–and I swear I’m not making this up–included three buddies who met doing ski patrol (one of whom moonlights as a zipline rescuer), an architect who specializes in building facades (in other words, she spends a lot of time on outdoor scaffolding), a deep-sea dive rescuer, and me…the journalist. But regardless of our death-defying skills, or lack thereof, we quickly bonded. Nearly all of my photos from the climb are group shots; all of us grinning wildly with the cityscape behind us.

Juliet Izon

Onto the actual ascent: It was at times both terrifying and invigorating, but I was never worried about tumbling off the side of the building. Your harness is clipped into the rail before you even step outside and you don’t remove it until you’re back indoors. Your first test of heights comes early; your guides direct you to a small platform, fully unencumbered by any sort of railing, and encourage you to peer over the side. At this point, I was gripping my harness rope so tightly I wasn’t sure if I would ever be able to prize my hands apart, but I did manage to sneak a peek over the edge. Manhattan, with its canyons of skyscrapers and scrum of people, looked like little more than an intricate Lego set.

Juliet Izon

But we didn’t have much time to contemplate. Our next task was to mount a steep staircase, one which fully lacked a railing on one side. I’ll admit that being so exposed caused me to grip my rope (even) harder, but by this point, the adrenaline was kicking in. It’s no exaggeration to say you feel like you’re on top of the world, especially with nothing but air in front of you and the wind howling in your ears. Once on top of the second platform, we readied ourselves for our most terrifying stunt: cantilevering ourselves out and over Hudson Yards. When my turn came, my legs were shaking so hard I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to brace myself. But I took a deep breath, placed my heels on the edge of the platform, and flung my arms out to greet the city. It was a rush I won’t soon forget. Behind me, I could hear the hooting of all my new friends as they cheered me on.

Juliet Izon

Once we made our way back down, our guides presented us with medals for our bravery. While I’m not sure I’ll be doing this climb again anytime soon, I’m glad I have a tangible reminder that I actually did it. I suppose there is a bit of a thrill-seeker inside this writer after all.

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