Spider-Man hits new high as he scales Burj summit

Frenchman climbs world's tallest tower, thrilling thousands.

Dubai , United Arab Emirates- March, 28,  2011:  French 'Spiderman' Alain Robert  climbs the world's Tallest building  Burj Khalifa in Dubai . ( Satish Kumar / The National )
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DUBAI // The "French Spider-Man" Alain Robert added another skyscraper to his list of climbing achievements last night conquering the world's tallest tower, the Burj Khalifa.

Dressed in red leggings, white shirt and his trademark utility belt, Mr Robert began his 828 metre climb at 6.03pm, reaching the summit just after midnight.

The entire event was earlier cast into doubt as high winds battered Dubai and delayed his 4.30pm departure by more than an hour.

The Frenchman, who has earned a reputation for scrambling up some of the world's tallest towers, often without a safety harness, began edging his way up a corner crease from his start point on the fourth floor.

After darkness fell, a spotlight traced the 48-year-old's progress up the colossal building.

The safety harness was a condition for being granted permission to climb the landmark, which has been his ambition long before the building was completed at the start of last year.

"They want me to break a record, but they don't want to take a risk that I may fall and die," he said ahead of the climb.

"I respect their choice. I'm still willing to climb the building even though I need to compromise myself."

The Frenchman is certainly no stranger to danger.

He has climbed all of the world's buildings which had previously laid claim to the title of the world's tallest, including the 508metre Taipei 101 and the 450-metre Petronas Twin Towers in Kuala Lumpur. He has also successfully climbed several other buildings in the UAE and next aims to scale Dubai's Burj al Arab.

Instead of stopping at the top of the building, he continued to climb the antenna at the top. However, that feat posed some particular challenges.

"There's nothing to grab," he said. "I want to do it all the way to the top, but there's no other way to do it without using some caving equipment."

At the time The National went to press, Mr Robert was approaching the base of the antenna, and using a rope to assist with the final stages of the ascent.

In order to practise the last leg of the climb, Mr Robert and his three-man crew drove around Dubai on Sunday looking for an equivalent antenna to practise on. He said he found one in the Jebel Ali area.

"I can't even tell you where it is," he said.

Despite the reputation of Dubai for its desert heat, Mr Robert is more concerned over the temperatures at the top of the tower.

"I'm a bit afraid it will be freezing," he said.

Mr Robert was invited to Dubai by the Education Without Borders conference, which is organised by the Higher Colleges of Technology.

A stage was set up on Burj Park Island for the conference inauguration later in the evening.

VIPs on the island were in prime position to watch Mr Robert's ascent on the shaded side of the Burj. Elsewhere, crowds gathered on the Burj steps, where it was possible to watch the climb from a distance.

Outside Dubai Mall thousands of people gathered to crane their necks, hoping to catch a glimpse of Mr Robert on his way up.

One of them was Bruno Dechampirs, a former climber and acquaintance of Mr Robert, who also hails from France.

"I've come here to support a fellow Frenchman," said Mr Dechampirs, who brought along a pair of binoculars to improve his view of the climb.

"He's obviously studied the building well and knows how to climb it. After that, it's just a case of endurance."

Tarika Vara was another of the spectators to follow Mr Robert's progress, but her interest was more than simply curiosity.

Dressed in a dark blazer, with the badge of the Guinness World Records sewed onto the pocket, she is here to adjudicate that Mr Robert is successful in his attempt.

"When we heard about the attempt, we decided to open a new category - the fastest person to climb the Burj Khalifa," said Ms Vara whose official title is Records Manager.

However, whether Mr Robert will have competition remains to be seen. "It will depend on whether the building manager grants permission."

Under rules decided by the adjudication panel, the self-styled French Spider-Man is not allowed to rest for more than 10 minutes and has to finish the climb in less than nine hours.

The climber, who has been in Dubai for one week, completes a programme of physical and mental training to prepare for the rigours of the climb. Meditation is one his methods of mental preparation.

The fact that he has to do this climb fettered, he said, would force him to alter somewhat his previous approach to climbing tall buildings.

"Most of the time my idea is to do or die," he said. "This time it is do, or something else - not die."

• Watch our video of Spider-Man scaling Burj Khalifa in The National's Sound and Vision