Climbing the formidable Fremont Bridge  (with Mt. Adams in the background) may be just a matter of taking one step at a time, as in inset photo of the Sydney Harbour Bridge illustrates.

Climbing the formidable Fremont Bridge (with Mt. Adams in the background) may be just a matter of taking one step at a time, as in inset photo of the Sydney Harbour Bridge illustrates.

Allan Classen
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Local businessman borrows idea from “down under”

 

Though Portlanders may be losing their best views of the Fremont Bridge due to impending development, even better vistas may soon be possible from atop the bridge.

Ryan Purdy, a Pearl resident and former Nike marketing manager, has formed a company to let tourists climb to the peak of the bridge’s main arches, have a look in all directions from a height of 381 feet and then climb back down.

The Fremont Bridge, opened in 1973, soars 381 feet above the Willamette River.

The Fremont Bridge, opened in 1973, soars 381 feet above the Willamette River.

The whole experience, including a training session and use of a full-body suit and harness, may take two or three hours and cost $200-$300 for adults.

Sound outlandish? Purdy admits as much, but he’s checked it all out.

A similar bridge climb has been flourishing in Sydney. Since 1998, 3.5 million people have climbed the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Other than a climber who fainted in 2011, no accidents or serious injuries have been reported.

Portland Bridge Climb organizers intend to use a cable and rail system similar to the one used on the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

Portland Bridge Climb organizers intend to use a cable and rail system similar to the one used on the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

Two other cities, also “down under” in Brisbane, Australia, and Auckland, New Zealand, have their own bridge climb attractions.

Purdy, 32, has been working in earnest on the project since at least 2015, when he began having meetings with Oregon Department of Transportation officials, and later with the governor’s office and other elected officials. No one apparently has told him it can’t be done.

ODOT spokesperson Don Hamilton said the agency is aware of Purdy’s plans but will make no decisions until a formal proposal is submitted. Although there are hurdles to overcome in gaining state approval, Hamilton said, “It’s not impossible.”

Endorsements of the concept have been issued by Portland Business Alliance, Prosper Portland, Travel Oregon, Travel Portland, Northwest District Association and Pearl District Neighborhood Association.

Purdy’s corporate board includes former Patagonia and Prana CEO Michael Crooke and Travel Portland CEO Jeff Miller. It also includes Steve Hinks, who was head of operations for the Sydney Bridge Climb for 13 years.

There are still multiple approvals needed to bring this idea to life,” Purdy wrote on a Portland Bridge Climb Facebook page in September. “It will still take a couple more years and support from the local community and government to bring this to life.”

It will also take about $300,000 in investment,” he told the Northwest District Association last month.

Tourists would not be the first individuals to climb the Fremont Bridge. ODOT crews do it every three or four months to replace the wind-tattered flags.

Tourists would not be the first individuals to climb the Fremont Bridge. ODOT crews do it every three or four months to replace the wind-tattered flags.

It’s such an outlandish idea,” he said, he didn’t want press coverage now for fear it might quash the project before it can be fully explained. Because he had already circulated an overview of the scheme on the internet, the NW Examiner decided not to honor the request.

Stairs, railings and walkways at key junctures would need to be added to the bridge. To overcome structural barriers at a few points, climbers would travel inside the arches for brief distances. Safety equipment will include a cord from each climber’s harness attached to a rail during the entire climb.

Purdy said the equipment and training will make it possible for even those with a fear of heights to make the climb, an assessment drawn from the experience of the existing bridge climbs in Australia and New Zealand. He projects more than 25,000 climbers per year, about half of them by visitors to the city.

Private promoters propose building a structure at the base of the west side arches, where climbers would receive equipment and training.

Private promoters propose building a structure at the base of the west side arches, where climbers would receive equipment and training.

Portland Bridge Climb will employ about 40 workers, one-third of them full time.

After hearing the presentation, NWDA Planning Committee member Roger Vrilakas called the project “fabulous.” NWDA President Karen Karlsson dubbed it “incredible,” while adding that she has no intention of making a climb.

The Pearl District Neighborhood Association voted to support the concept,” wrote PDNA Planning and Transportation Committee Co-chair Reza Fahoodi, “but we have questions about the implementation of the project that will need to be addressed if the idea becomes reality.”