London, England

Standing on the shoulder of a giant

Date July 2008
Posted January 2012
Climbing the Battersea stack
From my new position I looked up through blurring vision at my accomplices. They looked worried about more than just my fall, and they seemed to be trying to say something. Writhing with the onset of the pain, which reached from my left elbow all the way down past my left knee, I rolled over only to see the object (which I'd apparently landed against) of my friends' concern: a goddamn third rail. Whether it was live or not I had no idea - our interaction had been separated by wooden shuttering running the length of this particular section. Sometimes it's there, sometimes it isn't. Sometimes people don't fall.

Still cursing myself for being hasty climbing down to the track I enlisted the help of my two buddies and together we took refuge under a railway arch further down the line. One of many ways of entering Battersea Power Station (because, let's face it, short of wrapping it in a concrete sarcophagus, it's never going to be 'sealed' in any reasonable interpretation of the word), this one would deliver us as close to the 'A Station' stairs as possible.

Battersea Power Station, London, England (2008) courtesy of

When the time was right we snaked across the brightly-lit wasteland separating the railway line from the huge brick power station. Our careful watching of the guards' routine ensured that we didn't bump into them, instead slithering under a section of Heras fencing and reaching the inside of the building in less than a minute, dragging with us bags full of rope and climbing metal. By now the circulation in my battered limbs and the rising adrenaline levels seemed to be keeping the pain down, but maybe that fall had been an indication that things were just not going to be straightforward. This visit differed from other adventures at BPS both prior and since in that reaching the bottom of the white concrete stack of choice was going to be a little tricky.

An hours' careful investigation revealed that since we had neither the tools or, at this stage, the inclination to go busting doors or walls down, there was no option but to take to the structure itself. A climbing frame in the form of huge steel girders reaching upward towards the ceiling would permit the security measures to be bypassed, and from an upper-level walkway the main stairs would be accessible.

By the time we stood at the base of the chimney, ropes flaked, kitted-up and ready to go, the eastern sky was becoming distinctly lighter. It was probably gone 3am, with the theatrics below claiming the better part of the night, but cancelling the operation at this stage was completely out of the question. SL checked his harness once more and began to climb. This was happening.

Battersea Power Station, London, England (2008) courtesy of

After what seemed an age, SL reached the top, improved the rigging as best he good (with the help of some rusty anchors, a bit of old wire and a skyhook) and returned down. Now it was my turn. Pushing the pain in my leg from my head I began working my way upward, shutting out also, as much as I could, the fear. This wasn't like the ladder-climbed chimneys of earlier adventures: here it was faith only in the woven nylon and the aged and weary concrete to which it was attached. Finding a rhythm allowed progress upwards began to gather pace, and then there was the slight overhang of the rim. Stepping up above the anchors and there it was: the top of the concrete and behind it the frightening void falling back down inside.

From this unique and rare-visited vantage point I scanned London's impressive skyline with a feeling of satisfaction greater than that at the top of any urban climb I'd done before, and probably most of those since.

Two minutes later, having regained the ability to think, and a familiar sound nudged its way into my consciousness. How long it'd been there I didn't know, but the 'Police' marked chopper was certainly making a slow pass, and then just as quickly it was gone, thudding away with presumably more interesting sights to see.

Fifteen minutes later, just as dsankt was preparing to descend from the top, it all changed.

Battersea Power Station, London, England (2008) courtesy of

A loud yell (why would they do that?) from below alerted us to the two yellow and black figures running as best they could from the main gate towards the power station. Hastily dsankt rappelled down to the platform and SL began pulling the rope down. Together we worked fast to stuff all of the kit back into the bags but it was no bother: we'd just find an alternative exit from the station and disappear along the river. As if on cue to meet such bold ideas, that heavy thudding returned, the shape of the helicopter unmissable as it arced steeply in the dawn sun, turning to face us as we clambered down the scaffolding to the stairs below.

Were we to know at this point about one of BPS's little secrets, then perhaps we'd have made an unexplainable getaway, but devoid of this knowledge, the game was up. Downstairs I banged on the big red door, which seemed to confuse the voices audible on the other side. A minute or so passed and then there was the sound of chains or bolts being moved followed by the door swinging open. One of the Met's finest did his best to fill the doorway, instructing us clearly to get back against the wall, drop our bags, and not move. Behind him a sea of hi-vis swarmed fighting for a glannce as us: "Who were these people?".

One hour later, convinced that we weren't either terrorists or protesters (and with dsankt's request for a ride in the chopper denied), the cops had our sorry forms ejected from the site. But not before one of the WPCs had indicated the elevator doors and, face a picture of seriousness, asked why we "hadn't taken the lift instead".

The three of us looked at each other and tried not to laugh before hobbling off in the direction of the gates.
Tell your mum...