The Battersea Adventure
Climbing the most famous chimney in the world
"Pick you up in 1 hour. Be ready" the message demanded. No idle invitation or social call this message, mysterious and stern, was a call to arms.
An hour early I'd arrived from a gallivanting weekend across England, sleeping cramped up in the front seat of a Nissan Micra. My bones ached, my muscles throbbed and all I wanted was some goddamn sleep. Sleep not involving a handbrake jammed into the conclusion of my digestive bits. Exasperated I dialled snappel's, curious what madness inspired a four hour drive to London.
"Stepping Lightly and I are going to Battersea powerstation". I thought I wanted sleep but the devious bastard knew me too well. I wanted in.
Battersea Powerstation is the elder statesmen of the south London skyline. There are newer, shinier buildings dotted along the water to satiate the salivating tourists but Battersea stands aged and unfazed like the veteran who's seen it all. London has reinvented itself time and time again and others come and go but Battersea is the stalwart of a dynamic skyline. She's famous for being upon the cover of Pink Floyd's "Animals". Four gleaming white smokestacks rising against a vibrant red sky. These are the most famous chimneys in the world.
We divied up our minimalist kit - just a dynamic rope, a static rope, bunch of quickdraws and a couple of those death taunting skyhooks aid climbers seem to love. Skyhooks are oversized fishing hooks for gaining purchase on small ledges and cracks. They scare me shitless but SL, our resident aid climber loves them. Lastly I tucked a small 35mm rangefinder loaded up with velvia into a pocket.
Being the UK a large intimidating fence separated us from the fun, on which snappel slipped, tumbled and slammed hip first on the rocky ground. Naught broken but pride he grimaced every bloody step towards the hulking powerstation. To his luck we avoided the wandering security patrols, crept inside and slinked skyways. Finally sitting on the scaffolding wrapped around the chimney's base we stared up at the clouds streaking across the sky. The stacks seemed almost to lean out over us. Fear, excitement, adrenaline all surged - could we really do this? The doubts withered away as SL clipped into the first bolt and begin to climb.
Like a dark caterpillar upon a giant white bole he inched his way up in an efficient, choreographed dance. Anyone could tell he'd done a hundred times before. Clip above and stand, clip above and stand. With every few meters gained he lazily reached back, took a quickdraw between his rough fingers and clipped to the old metal rings.
With the route now protected Snappel followed, grinding his teeth and swearing like a sailor as he hauled his arse upwards. Once he found his rhythm nothing short of collapse would stop him. While taking some photos up top a helicopter passed overhead, seemingly oblivious to our antics. For those brief few moments we all froze up but it continued on its way to business elsewhere and we got on with ours. He dropped back down and I clipped my ascenders straight on. Looking up the chimney I noticed the sun beginning to leak across the sky. It was late, we'd lost a lot of time somewhere along. Not good.
I easily staplegunned up the rope, occasionally decrimping my hands and placing them against the white surface of the stack. Old old stacks, the faint texture of cracked paint beneath my fingers. Reaching the top I finally turned back to check the view. A gorgeous clear dawn had cracked like a giant wave over the landmarks of Lonon. St Pauls, the gherkin, London Eye, Big Ben, the 2 solemn stacks of Lotts Road powerstation far in the distance and the ziggurat of the powerstation below. Mesmerising. Resting the rangerfinder on an old eyelet sticking from between the bricks I snapped a quick bracket without even stopping to frame. Sun was cresting the horizon, really really time to leave
The devilishly simple skyhook and rigging unclipped, I detached the static line and ripped down the chimeny. Halfway to saftey a noise distracted me. Two yellow suited security guards shambled onto the site pointing upwards and yelling at the top of their voices. Dangerous thing that, distracting someone skimming down a chimeny. What was I supposed to do, stop and offer them tea?
Stashing and stowing quick as could be that familiar whub-whub-whub-whub echoed in over us, joined in duet by the wail of a siren rapidly approaching. We shared a wry smile. This was a rare treat. With the deed done and little left to say we were ejected from the site with a slam of the gate behind. We sauntered off down the quiet industrial street as around us London woke for the day. Too late to sleep I rolled home, freshened up and bombed along the canal on my bike to work. Digging through my backpack I found my phone chirping away. Just like the start of this whole debacle I received a text from Snappel.
The message simply read "Did that really happen or did I dream it?" In that sleep deprived, dopamine saturated derilerium anyone could all be mistaken for wondering the very same.