The 240m Columbia Tower in Seattle.
Two southern volunteer firefighters who have raced up the
1103 steps of Auckland's 328m Sky Tower are moving on to
something even tougher.
Next month, Glen Thurston (33), from Wanaka, and Erin Gray
(32), from Queenstown, will join more than 1500 American
firefighters to race up the 1311 steps of the 240m Columbia
Tower in Seattle. Even though the building is not as high as
the Sky Tower, because of the Auckland structure's 100m main
antenna, their climb will be higher.
Both firefighters told the Otago Daily Times this week
they were looking forward to carrying 25kg of breathing
apparatus and firefighting clothing up the extra 208 steps.
They are members of a New Zealand team of 11.
The Seattle event is regarded by stair-climbing
firefighters as their world cup.
While the 550 places in the Sky Tower climb usually fill in a
day, all 1500 places in the Columbia Tower event are gone in
Organiser of the Sky Tower event Tony Scott is an eight-time
veteran of the Columbia Tower event and has a best time of
He believes Thurston is a ''15-minute man'', although the
Columbia Tower record is less than 11 minutes.
Thurston, a Wanaka builder, who has been a volunteer
firefighter for over three years, was sixth in last year's
Sky Tower event.
He is training on steep sections of Mt Iron and Mt Roy
and is also being assisted by multi sport coach Val Burke.
Competitors must wear breathing apparatus throughout the
stair climb and Mr Thurston says that means competitors must
conserve air as best they can.
''If you go too fast, you puff more, you run out of air.''
And, he says, because of the restrictions of the breathing
apparatus, competitors get fatigued very quickly.
''You can never really get a full lung-full, so it affects
your muscle groups. It's a bit of a mind game, once you get
In the Columbia climb, competitors are assisted to change air
bottles on the way up, in a scene Mr Scott likens to Formula
One racing cars pulling into the pits.
Gray, a Queenstown lawyer and volunteer firefighter with five
years' experience, won the women's section of the Sky Tower
event in 2010 - with a back injury.
She has since had a back operation and is taking part in the
Columbia Tower event to gain experience in preparation for
the next Sky Tower event.
Competitors are sent off every 15 seconds and Ms Gray says
overtaking in the narrow stairwell requires a certain
''The approach I adopt is to smack people on the tank because
... you can't hear. All you can hear is your own breath.''
Both the Columbia and Sky events raise money for leukemia
Tower climbs compared
Sky ... 1103
Columbia ... 1311
Sky ... 51
Columbia ... 69
Sky ... 190m
Columbia ... 240m
Sky ... 550
Columbia ... 1550
Sky ... 8min 43sec
Columbia ... 10min 53sec