Empire State Building Secret Observation Deck Tour

It was sure faster than climbing the 1,576 step from the lobby to the observation deck. Once a year, the Empire State Building does open to stairs to runners who climb 1,050 feet, or one fifth of a mile, vertically. Australian Paul Crake made that trip back in 2003 in just 9 minutes and 33 seconds.

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I think I'll stick to the elevator.

On the clearest of days, visibility is from the top of the building is 80 miles. The observatory's operators said that visitors can see five states: New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Connecticut and Massachusetts.

It was muggy and hazy on my day, but I was still able to see most of the city as I jostled with camera-toting tourists pressed against the safety fences.

I probably would have been content with the view from 86. But my hosts assured me more was to come and quickly shuffled me off to yet another elevator. This one was manually operated and instead of floor numbers, it displayed our elevation. I watched as the numbers climbed from 1,050 feet up to 1,250.

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Empire State Building Observation Deck

I was now high inside the building's iconic spire. The 102nd floor was originally designed as a landing platform for dirigibles, with passengers unloading from the airships via a gangplank. High winds and strong updrafts made that impractical and the idea was abandoned after a few attempts.

Today, a tiny indoor observatory rests inside the top of the tower. The elevator ends here. So do the stairs. At last, I had made it to the top. Or so I thought.

Every article I had read about the Empire State Building refers to it as a 102-story building. I had never heard of anything higher.

Then Ghazi led me to an unmarked door and took out a key. Behind it was a ladder going even higher.

At the top was an attic-like space filled with pipes, wires and electrical boxes. A hatch on the ceiling was built to drop in passenger luggage from the dirigibles.

The only thing above me now was the giant TV and radio antenna New York stations use to broadcast their signals.

I was led to a glass door with a big sign warning, "Beyond this point: Radio frequency fields at this site may exceed FCC rules for human exposure."

Oh great. If my fear of heights wasn't enough, now I had to be worried about invisible rays frying me to death. Ghazi pointed to green and red warning lights and assured me that since the green one was on, we were safe.

So I stepped out onto the tiny ledge about three feet wide. And then I hugged the walk, gripping tiny metal hooks bolted into the wall. There were no fences up here, making for a spectacular view. The only protection was a barrier that didn't even come up to my waist.

I have hiked taller mountains and love to go rock climbing. But for some reason, when standing on this tiny ledge all I could think about was a big gust of wind sending me tumbling to my death on Fifth Avenue.

With that thought, I posed for a photograph, snapped a few of my own and rushed back inside.

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