"It looks more like a leisurely stroll than a climb," my taller half and I joke upon our first glimpse of the walkway leading to the top of London's 02 Arena.
We're here for a "sunset expedition" with Up at the 02, which offers guided excursions along the 02 Arena's domed exterior. Their website promises "a rewarding personal challenge" as you "become an explorer" and "discover a different side of the city." Sounds a little cheesy, but why not!
So what exactly does a sunset expedition consist of? We're about to find out...
Step 1: Prepare to Conquer
After a couple of pre-expedition pints, we arrive at the 02's Base Camp at 6:15pm to fill out the necessary paperwork. Yes, they call it Base Camp. The creators of the Up at the 02 experience really do their best to convince you that what you're about to undertake is a truly harrowing feat, despite the 02 only being 52m high (the equivalent of a 16 story building). I mean, who needs Mt. Everest when you've got the 02?!
Once we've signed on the dotted line, our group is then shuffled into a tiny room where we receive a transmission from a highly-caffeinated guide over at North Camp (yep, there's a North Camp too). He provides us with some basic safety instructions and attempts to pump us up for the grueling yet epic journey we're about to embark upon. By this point it's all getting a bit cheese-tastic and my taller half and I are seriously struggling to keep the giggles at bay.
Next up we're herded into the locker room where we hand over our belongings and get kitted up for the big ascent. We lace up our climbing shoes and strap ourselves into our safety harnesses, which basically make you feel like you've got a big ol' wedgie. Sexy.
Once everyone is properly suited and booted, our guide Chris declares that we're finally ready for the big ascent.
Step 2: Ascend to Glorious Victory
Our grueling climb to the summit begins with, er, a set of glass-enclosed stairs. Okay, so it's not exactly the most rousing way to begin our death-defying expedition, but there you go. However, once up the stairs, things get a bit more interesting as we hook our safety latches onto the guide rail and begin the main part of our climb.
And okay, I'll admit now that it is steeper than it looked from the ground. A fair amount steeper, to be honest, with a maximum incline of 30°. Yet it all feels very safe, as you're securely tethered to the safety rail and there's an automatic lock mechanism on your harness which will prevent you from going anywhere should you happen to slip.
Step 3: Survey Your Kingdom
Once we reach the summit, Chris unhooks us from the safety rail and we're free to roam about the viewing platform.
The view from the top doesn't disappoint. To be fair, there aren't many landmarks to spot from here, but you still get a nice view of the river and it's a lovely place to be at sunset. We're also thankful that the weather has managed to behave during our climb, as they only cancel bookings in extreme cases. This means that if you happen to book on a day when it's raining cats and dogs, you're likely to get a little soggy.
After about 15 minutes of milling around the viewing platform, Chris informs us that it's time to make our descent down to North Camp. This is probably a wise idea, because soon our bodies will begin to struggle with the low oxygen levels at this high altitude (or, er, maybe not). Regardless, we hook ourselves back onto the safety cable and down we go. As we inch our way along the steep slope, I can't help but feel like the creators of this experience have missed a trick. I mean, if ever there was an opportunity for a giant slide, this is clearly it!
Step 4: Reintegrate Back into Society
With my feet back on solid ground, I'm feeling pretty cocky. That wasn't nearly as difficult as they had made it out to be, which obviously must mean that I'm in phenomenal shape. Having nailed this whole climbing malarkey, I begin to ponder what my next conquest should be: Everest? The Matterhorn? World Domination? Instead I opt to settle for dinner and a glass of wine. Being a world-class explorer is exhausting.
• • •
The Verdict: Yes, it all can feel a bit silly at times with their constant use of climbing jargon (it's a medium-sized concert arena, people, not Kilimanjaro) but it's still a fun way to spend an afternoon in London. The climb is suitable for most people and takes approximately 1.5 hours in total. Tickets cost between £28-35 a person depending on what time/day of the week you go and can be booked in advance via the 02's website.