Tue, Nov 16, 2010 - Page 7 News List

Urban climbers seeking place on top of the world

The Guardian, LONDON

A small group is perilously perched atop one of New York’s iconic bridges. It’s late at night and they have no support gear — just a camera. However, these are not photographers or adrenaline junkies. Instead they call themselves recreational trespassers — because they climb, crawl and creep along bridges, tunnels and abandoned buildings.

“A city is prettiest to see from the air. You’re insanely high — you have no idea how big it is until you’re up there,” said adventurer Steve Duncan, 32, who began exploring New York when he moved there in 1996.

The non-professional climbers mainly use service ladders to scale bridges, but still risk arrest — or even death.

“It’s not something to be cavalier about,” Moses Gates, 34, said. “It is illegal and something you’ll get in trouble for if you get caught.”

In 1998, for example, 27-year-old Robert Landeta died after falling from the Brooklyn Bridge, while police arrested three men on the Williamsburg Bridge in 2003.

Duncan is currently based in Los Angeles studying for a doctorate in urban history while Gates, an urban planner, lives in Brooklyn, but both travel the world to meet other nocturnal explorers — in sewers and caves.

“It keeps on getting bigger and it has a different character in different places,” said Duncan, who has explored a labyrinth of Victorian-era “lost rivers” beneath London, a tunnel under Moscow’s Red Square and the Paris catacombs.

“People are in love with these cities. That’s what drives you to risk your life or spend a night in a cold, damp tunnel,” he added.

It’s not hard to understand the thrill — when police arrested Duncan and Gates in Paris in 2006, for climbing Notre Dame Cathedral and ringing the bells on the roof, “they understood why [we did it],” he said.

The disparate group records their exploits on blogs such as Duncan’s undercity.org and Gates’ allcitynewyork.com and show no signs of stopping.

“Ninety-eight percent of places are legal, but I want to see 100 percent,” Gates said before heading off to the airport to fly to Egypt, where he plans to climb the pyramids.

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