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Freedom and Courage
Alain Robert
"French Spiderman" / Free climber

Perhaps only a few people would immediately recognize the name Alain Robert. They may not recognize the name, but how many have heard of the "French Spiderman" who climbs skyscrapers around the world without a safety rope? What about the "Global Sensation" who climbs without permission or forewarning, and is often arrested by police after his climbs? Surely many people, at least once, have seen video footage or photos of the man using only his hands and feet to climb up the walls of high-rise buildings that would make everyone cringe.

That daredevil free climber is the one and only Alain Robert.

From Faust A.G. Channel on [YouTube]

Watch the digested history of Robert's phenomenal skyscraper climbing!
★ This video can also be found on Faust A. G.’s YouTube channel. (Recommended for smartphone users)

Climbing eight floors at the age of eleven

The mountains were always close, as Robert was born and raised in Valence, located deep in the mountains of southern France. However, those mountains were nothing more than familiar scenery. Robert explained, "I saw those steep mountain slopes all the time, but I never imagined humans could climb it."

His inspiration came from one movie. "It was a story about a plane making an emergency landing near the summit of Mont Blanc, and two brothers with mountaineering knowledge go to search for the survivors," remembered Robert. He continued, "Seeing that movie, I remember being fascinated by the fact that it was possible to climb such steep slopes."

There was another reason the young Robert was enthralled by that movie. "When I was very young, I had no confidence in myself, so I idolized storybook heroes like Zorro and d'Artagnan. I wanted to prove that I, too, am brave. That I, too, can do something. I believe these feelings drew me to that movie."

Robert's first chance to climb came all of a sudden. It was when he was only eleven years old. Robert reminisced, "I came home from school one day and I couldn't get in because I didn't have a key, but I remembered that the kitchen window was open. My apartment was on the eighth floor. Of course, I had never climbed it because I was too scared. But on that day, I climbed up to my balcony on the eighth floor using rain gutters. Now that I think about it, that was my first climb."

Awakened to the world of climbing, he joined the boy scouts at age twelve and began rock climbing with older friends. Robert looked back on those days, "It was so much fun. Mountain climbing is a serious game. Climbing being a matter of life and death made it even more fun."

By junior high, he was more devoted to rock climbing than schoolwork. His days would be spent skipping school about four days a week and heading to the mountains. Robert continued, "In those days, your parents would never find out if you skipped school. Nowadays, they would call you on your cell phone right away. By that time, I knew what I wanted to do with my life, so I thought studying was pointless. That's why I didn't go to school."

By the time he was in high school, Robert had acquired rock climbing skills beyond his age. He matter-of-factly said, "I was already thinking of becoming a professional rock climber." He continued, "At age 17, I was climbing snow-packed 40-degree slopes and near-vertical slopes. Before the season would start, older people would scoff and say, 'No way can you do that'. But by the time one season ended, I gained respect and they would say, 'That's amazing'."

After that, the young boy who idolized his heroes began his career as a rock climber. He tackled intensely steep slopes without the aid of equipment such as safety ropes. In 1993, the International Olympic Committee chairman at the time, Juan Antonio Samaranch, had presented Robert with a special award praising him for his challenges. However, in 1994, the top-level climber who had achieved significant fame reached a major turning point. It was when he was 32 years old.

Fascinated by fully vertical walls not found in nature

At the time, Robert's extreme challenges had been much talked about. He was sometimes featured in magazines. He then received an offer from an Italian watch manufacturer to be part of a documentary on athletes. That was not the only offer he received. The movie director in charge of the production proposed an idea to Robert, "Instead of rock climbing, I want you to climb a building," said the director.

To Robert, it was a shocking yet very appealing idea. By no means was he bored with climbing mountains, but he did feel he accomplished all he could as far as mountain climbing was concerned. Subconsciously, Robert was already looking for a new inspiration.

Robert explained, "The director asked me which building in America I wanted to climb. But you can't tell whether a climb is possible without first seeing the structure. So I went to America to see it with my own eyes. I was impressed. Up to that point, I had done many climbs that were said to be difficult, but buildings don't have natural undulations. They're totally vertical. My gut told me that this would be exciting. I was interested from the first time the idea came up, but once I saw the buildings, I became even more fascinated."

Filming a movie would be a large-scale project. As such, permission would be required. However, despite selecting potential buildings and negotiating through attorneys, we couldn't get any permits. Robert confessed, "There was nothing we could do about it, so I first climbed the Citibank Citicorp Center building (184m) in Chicago without permission. All the buildings in that movie were climbed without permits." This gave birth to Alain Robert, the "French Spiderman". Climbing often times without permission was part of Robert's style from the beginning.

To avoid falling, one must keep climbing…

The number of skyscrapers around the world that Robert successfully conquered has already reached over 130. Now that he is known as an unparalleled free-climber, he says he doesn't rock climb much anymore. Despite both involving the same action of "climbing", there must be many differences between taking on nature and manmade structures. "It's not the same. In rock climbing, even if there are difficult parts, the distance is short compared to a 600 meter building. In the case of buildings, there are no complexities that come with nature; but due to the height involved, how to reach the top must be carefully thought out beforehand," explained Robert.

When Robert stresses that full preparation is needed when climbing buildings, there is a bitter experience behind this. "Oh, that was horrible," remembered Robert when talking about the time he took on the Sears Tower in Chicago in 1999. Robert conducted repeat preliminary inspections to climb the Sears Tower. The first time, he thought the climb wasn't possible. On second inspection, he felt there was some way the climb could be done. On the third, he confirmed what night time conditions would be like. In this way, a total of five inspections were conducted. Robert felt that he took on the climb after gathering every piece of information available.

However, once he actually climbed up, he faced difficulty at around the upper 100 meter mark due to condensation caused by temperature change. What's more, humidity was further exacerbated due to the air conditioning exhaust. Robert revealed, "I tried to stabilize myself by placing my hands in the space between the walls, but the wetness there caused slipping. There was one moment where I really almost fell. Even so, I couldn't get down even if I wanted to. The last 100 meter was a climb of life or death. I even screamed like Tarzan once I safely made it to the top."

Even Robert, who seems to climb any skyscraper with consummate ease, actually conducts careful and repeat preliminary inspections. One may think that there is no building he can't climb, but of course, there are buildings that he thinks are impossible to climb. Robert admitted, "There are actually many buildings I gave up on thinking they can't be climbed. How many? A lot. All over the place."

A hero is kind, yet not bound by law

As he became known around the world as "Spiderman", this fame also brought new problems. "Because I climbed so many different places, I was banned from entering some countries. I'm banned from entering China until next year," he stated. Actually, when he climbed the Shinjuku Center Building in 1998, he was arrested once he reached the top, and then detained for nine days. Even without bringing up that example, it's not unusual that he is caught by the police. When you think about it, it seems natural that there are countries that he is banned from entering.

This banning issue begs the question. Why does he continue to climb, even with subsequent arrest? Does he have no fears about being arrested? Robert admitted, I think of it as a game so I'm not afraid of being arrested. I liked playing tag as a kid." Zorro, who I idolized, was a kind-hearted hero. But he would do things that were against the law, or moreso, things that defy conventional wisdom. I also have that attitude."

Robert's aesthetic consciousness, or one could say his philosophy, is even evident in his clothing. No matter how extreme the challenge, Robert doesn't wear functional clothing, like those that better adhere to his body. His clothing for climbing high-rise buildings is always casual. Robert, who says he hates it when everyone is wearing the same uniform, has attire that is more akin to a rockstar than an athlete. In the past, he would show up in cowboy boots to fool the police into thinking that he wouldn't climb in that outfit, and then climb with those boots on.

"It's not that hard," says Robert. From Robert, you don't get a sense of pushiness where he is imposing that he is doing something special. He also doesn't have a stiff attitude. This is an image of a hero that defies conventional wisdom.

The hero Robert admired since he was a child is Zorro. Perhaps the Japanese equivalent would be "Nezumi Kozo" or "Hissatsu Shigotonin". They can be antisocial and sometimes they can be pursued by the authorities such as police, but there is always a message in their actions. Of course, they do not brave danger for the sole purpose of causing a stir or to attract attention.

The theme that Robert is always mindful of is "humanity". This has been a constant since he first climbed a building in New York. Let's take for example his climb of the Burj Khalifa in Dubai of the United Arab Emirates. He was invited to challenge the world's tallest high-rise building (828m) as part of the 10th anniversary event for "Teachers Without Borders".

From Faust A.G. Channel on [YouTube]

The climb of Burj Khalifa — the reason he received the 2011 Faust Challenger of the Year Award.
★ This video can also be found on Faust A. G.’s YouTube channel. (Recommended for smartphone users)

Robert's actions, in other words, his ability to calmly conquer challenges that would scare most, is also a straightforward message. Namely, that message is "Freedom and courage".

"I want my performances to inspire people. Everyone has a dream, but most people do not follow their dreams because they do not think it is possible. Even so, they should face those challenges as much as they can. This is the message I want to convey to people."

It can be said that the high-rise building that towers over Robert is a symbol of everyone's dream. When imagining how difficult it is to realize a dream, we may think, "How is he going to climb this building? It's impossible." That is exactly why Robert will climb, calmly and matter-of-factly.

Nothing is impossible.

Robert's ability to continuously make dreams come true using just his hands and feet carries an unarguably strong and convincing message.




Alain Robert

"French Spiderman"/ Free climber

Known for climbing skyscrapers, starting with the Citicorp Center building (184m) in 1994. He has climbed over 130 high-rise buildings around the world without the use of safety ropes. He is known for often being arrested at top of the building after his climb, because most of these challenges take place without permission. On March 28, 2011, he challenged free-climbing the Burj Khalifa (828m) in Dubai of the United Arab Emirates. He succeeded in reaching the top in 6 hours and 40 minutes. This was an "official climb" with invitation from the government of Dubai. As such, it was a climb using a safety rope and this record is listed in the Guinness Book of World Records. He is also the 2011 Faust Challenger of the Year Award recipient.

Official Website

See the footage from the 2011 Faust Challenger of the Year Award ceremony.


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