This photo was taken back in September of 2013 in my favorite city, San Francisco. Leading up to this specific climb I was in a mental space of trying to climb the biggest things possible. Some friends and I drove down to the Bay from Ashland Oregon to check out the annual Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival in Golden Gate Park. The whole drive down I had climbing the bridge in the back of my mind but didn’t know if it was actually going to be possible. Being this is one of the most iconic landmarks in the US I was a bit nervous, but ignorant enough to not think that much about it. It’s later on I would find out just how serious they take this bridge.
The night this all went down went as follows. It was late Saturday possibly early Sunday morning and we were at a bar in the Mission. More or less how any great story starts am I right? Anyways, after more shots than I’m going to mention (I had previously decided that death, serious legal implications or success were my only options) I decided my confidence was up and it was go time. My good friend Mike Thompson (legal to drive) drove me to the south side of the bridge and parked the car where I told him to give me 10-15 minutes to check it out to see if it’s even possible. It wasn’t till I was walking up to it did I really start to understand the full scope of what I was about to attempt. As I got close to the start of the bridge I noticed a metal door with a camera and a buzzer. Problem number one, however not enough to deter me as I quickly jumped over the side walk barrier bypassed the door and got back on the sidewalk without incident. Something I’d like to point out about this door is that after 9pm you have to buzz the GGB police to gain access to the bridge and you must be riding a bike, why a bike makes any difference vs walking I don’t think I’ll ever know. Either way problem 1 was over.
Obstacle number 2 was the fence with razor wire. I fucking hate razor wire due to the fact that shits real deal. I stood on the ledge that has a hefty drop and carefully climbed around the razor wire to get on the inside of the fence. This took a considerable amount of time and I managed to only cut my knee to which I still have the scar. As luck would have it I wasn’t spotted and I’m still amazed. After that was completed, the next step was pushing my camera bag and tripod through a small gap between the fence and to the start of the cable. I think this was the biggest struggle I had. I couldn’t seem to get my right hip through and it took what seemed like 10 mins and countless cars passing by, not to mention the huge drop that no doubt would have killed me if I fell. Finally I managed to squeeze through and I was seriously questioning if I’d be able to make it back back down for my exit. Either way I was this far and I wasn’t about to turn back now. It was time for the accent.
Starting up the cable was gradual and very easy. The cable for my feet was very big and I wasn’t too concerned at this point. What worried me was the very top or near it because from at a distance looks unbelievable steep. Also, I was still under the street lights at this point and extremely vulnerable should any traffic or ped traffic come by so I ran up high enough to where I felt comfortable no one would see me since no one actually looks up. round the half way point is when my nervous started to kick in. Half way up is 250ft to the road, and 500ft to the water. Thankfully theres small cables on either side to hold onto so I could maintain 3-4 points of contact the whole way up. It should also be mentioned that this was a free climb. Near 3/4 of the way up it really started to get a lot steeper and my steps got slower, longer, and more calculated. I can’t remember the amount of time it took to get to the top but I’d guess somewhere in the 15-20 min range. At long last I made it to the top only to find two security cameras pointed at one another from either side of the tower. My plan was to try and be as sneaky as I could be around them, and hope that even if they do spot me that theres no one watching. I mean who would really sit there day in and day out watching those 2 cameras? It’s at this point that I called Mike and let him know my dream had become a reality. I also called about 10 other people because I was so stoked that it actually worked. Now it’s time to set up and take some photos.
My favorite one I came away with didn’t turn out to be my favorite visually, but it’s of my camera pointed at one of the 2 security cameras pointed at me sitting off of it. I managed this by setting my camera to take a series of 30 sec exposures while I was on the other side sitting off watching traffic. At the very top the distance to the road is 500ft and 725ft to the water. After I spent 2-3 hours up there It was time to call it a night and I started my decent. I got about 1/4 of the way down and I decided I needed one more photo, one to really claim the event. To this day and I’m pretty sure for the rest of my life this will be the scariest photo I’ll ever take. I turned around to face back up the south tower and let go of the hand cables and slowly got my tripod off my bag and set it up on the cable my feet were on. After that was done I got my camera out of my bag, and mounted it to the tripod. Keep in mind to do all of this I had to crouch down with my ass almost touching the big cable eliminating any chance of me grabbing the hand cables should I lose my balance or a giant gust of wind came by. I composted the shot, took a few frames, slowly stood up and packed everything back in the bag to head back down. To my amazement fitting through the small space and around the razor wire went surprisingly quickly and before I knew it I was 30 or so feet from the metal door when 5-6 GGB Police cars showed up out of nowhere. Obstacle number 3.
My biggest problems were yet to come, or so I thought. Immediately they started questioning me about what I was doing on the bridge after hours to which I apologized and said It was my last night and I just wanted to see it before I left. They saw the tripod hanging off my bag so they asked if I had been taking any pictures and I claimed I hadn’t had time. They asked if they could see my camera anyways and I replied with “absolutely…..NOT.” It was about this time they advanced on me, cuffed me and put me in the back of their SUV. Needless to say I was stressing a bit, so I stepped through the cuffs to get my hands in front of me to get my phone out. They were still outside the truck so I made a call to Mike and let him know I was most likely going to jail. If I had to guess it was 4-5am. He said alright and to keep him updated as best I could. I put the phone back in my pocket and stepped back through the cuffs. The cops must have noticed me moving around because they came and opened the door next to me to see what I was up to. Since everything looked as it was suppose to be they shut the door and drove me to their Security trailer. I was questioned for what seemed like forever. They really had it driven in their heads that I was taking pictures under the bridge since they saw the blood on my leg from the razor wire. I had no problem telling them I was not under it but had no intentions of telling them the full scope of the situation. It wasn’t until one of the officers conducted an illegal search and seizure of my camera did they come to realize of what actually transpired. The look on their faces when they saw the photos is to this day priceless. All of their jaws dropped. This brought in a whole new line of questioning.
During all this questioning I was never sure if the room was wired so my answered had to be crafted in a way to not incriminate myself. They asked how long I had been up there and the only thing I could come up with was “Hypothetically, if I was up there, I’d guess around 2-3 hours.” They looked at each other like “damn, we fucked up” considering there’s 2 cameras and non stop boasts about how secure the site/bridge is. After this the lead officer with his boys in toe walked out of the trailer so I wasn’t sure what was about to happen next. Now I don’t believe in God or anything like that but if there is someone looking out this was the most appropriate time to check in…and they did! I heard the officer talking to his captain on the phone saying that “they have evidence I was up there and they wanted to press me.” Out of nowhere he started yelling saying “NO, WE HAVE HIM!” After some tense moments in my own head he came back in and said that since “they didn’t catch me in the act, they had to let me go.” At which point I started fist pumping in the cuffs. He said he was still going to go after me and charge me with terrorism, and that I was on a terrorist watch list and wouldn’t be able to fly. Also, that I’d be facing a $10k fine and a year in jail. He brought me out of the trailer and put me in the back of the SUV and asked where I was staying. I told him the hotel and we were off in that direction. It was around 6am at this point and he dropped me off a few blocks away on an empty street and I was pretty sure he was gonna beat the shit out of me because I was being an asshole. He uncuffed me and told me what direction my hotel was and to “get the fuck out of here and don’t come back.” I smiled and went to the hotel, laid on the floor and went to sleep with no further incident.