The French Spiderman


Click for video

Climbing...? It's mountains, isn't it? Or it's rock faces, or boulders? Yes? No, not always. Sometimes it's ...




... buildings, it's tall buildings - it's skyscrapers!


Who does this? Well, Spiderman does, the self-styled French Spiderman to be precise, a french free-climber named Alain Robert who in the last 20 years has made more than 70 or 80 ascents of skyscrapers the world over, including several that were the tallest buildings at the time of the ascent such as Taipei 101 in Taiwan and subsequently the Burj Khalifa in Dubai. He is still climbing, and has made five ascents since having passed his 50th birthday in 2012.



Alain Robert climbing Tour Total in Paris in 2014


His climbing career started off in a more conventional direction, as a rock-climber, the fulfillment of a childhood ambition. Despite having to overcome his childhood fear of heights, he did become a world class free climber, and in 1993, he was awarded the world record for the most extreme solo climb, in the Gorge of Verdon, a climb rated as 8b, which in the world of climbing is difficult - very difficult, very, very difficult. On top of that, another difficulty he has to overcome is that he is now 66% disabled as a result of several climbing accidents - but still he climbs.


The ascents of the skyscrapers was not something that he came up with himself, nor was he the first to do it. Harry H Gardiner was an American who climbed many buildings, in the early 20th century. The idea was proposed to him as a commercial enterprise, a suggestion for a marketing promotion by the watch manufacturer Sector, then heavily involved in sponsoring extreme sports. The first event was in 1994 and he instantly became hooked. Since then he has climbed more than 85 buildings, all over the world. See here for a list of climbs.


Many of the climbs are now officially sanctioned as part of marketing events, but often in the early days he had no official permission, and the threat of arrest or expulsion only added to any anxiety he might have felt about the climb. However, he says that the most important thing is to maintain 100% concentration until the climb is finished, not to lose focus for an instant despite anything that might be going on around him. And since many of the 'unofficial' climbs have been ended before the top by the actions of security guards, one can only imagine what maintaining that focus involves.


While the threat from the security people might increase the risk and the insecurity, it is this willingness to confront authority - as well as his adoption of the nickname French Spiderman - which has made him a favourite with the public.


Since 2012, the year in which he turned 50, he has climbed the Aspire Tower in Doha, the Tour First in Paris, Mauritius Telecom Tower in Port Louis Mauritius, the office Tower in Moscow, the Metropolis Residences in Aukland New Zealand, the Ariane Tower - the headquarters of oil company Total in Paris - and the Vysotsky skyscraper in Yekaterinburg, Russia.


And how does he relax when he's at home?





One of our recent interviewees, Lew Hollander, says "If you want to be functional at 80, you better start thinking about it at 40". Well, at 52, French Spiderman is certainly an illustration of just how high you can aim (no pun intended!).