Climbing the Empire State Building

It's a gray, chilly Saturday morning in March, and I'm standing on Fifth Avenue in midtown Manhattan looking straight up at New York's most famous landmark — the Empire State Building.

I've looked up at it dozens of times — but never have I wondered what it's like up above the domed cap and the 200-foot tower that tops the 1,500-foot building.

Until now.

I'm about to accompany the man who is going to repair the heaters that keep ice from building up on the radio and television antennas of the Empire State Building. And to do that means climbing up a single-rung ladder, straight up to the top.

My guide is Tom Silliman, a world-renowned antenna repairman.

We pop our heads out the capped dome of the building. I feel like a prairie dog, craning my neck to take in all the views of the majesty of the New York skyline.

My heart starts pounding as we climb onto the first platform. The view is simply mindboggling.

We're surrounded by steel cage — thin strands of heavy metal, about a foot apart. The openings are large enough to make me feel like I'm suspended in midair, but enclosed enough to feel safe.

Every 10 feet or so there's a giant opening in the cage, and Silliman and his crew make sure to place themselves between me and the opening as I pass.

I'm torn about how to react: Part of me wants to shoo them away, part of me wants to thank them.

We run into an unexpected problem: The radio frequencies are playing havoc with our cameras and microphones. Silliman assures us the radiation from the towers that's fouling up our gear isn't harmful to our bodies. I hope he's right.

Climbing the single-rung ladder is much harder than I expected; pushing with my legs, pulling with my arms, grabbing the rungs tightly with my gloved hands.

The cage gets smaller as we ascend, and we have to shimmy and squirm through tight openings to get to the ladder on each successive platform.

At times, I admit, I think I'm simply too wide to fit, but the camera is rolling and there is no way I'm acknowledging that on national TV. So I push ahead.

"How ya doin?" Tom yells. "Great," I manage to respond between gasps for air.

Finally we reach the ice shield, the metal platform at the base of the last piece of antenna that catches chunks of ice falling from the very top.

There is no more cage around us anymore — nothing between us and the street, a quarter mile straight down. Silliman and his crew are cool as cucumbers. I'm hoping they don't see my heart pounding through my several layers of fleece clothing.

Above us, nothing but an eight-story metal pole. A pole Silliman and his workers will scale to fix the heaters. A pole they will scale without me.

"No mas," I boldly declare. "There's no way I'm climbing that pole."

A 20/20 photographer does go along, though. He's a cameraman and a mountain climber, a convenient combination nearly 1,500 feet above midtown Manhattan.

While I make it clear I'll go no farther, I don't really want to descend, either. The 360 degree view is magnificent. I gaze far beyond the rivers that surround the most famous little island in America.

And I just didn't want to leave.

Bill Ritter is a correspondent for ABCNEWS' 20/20 and WABC anchorman.

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