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‘French Spiderman’ Free Solos Skyscraper to Celebrate 60th Birthday

Alain Robert may be at retirement age, but the French climber won’t hang up his work tools anytime soon.

If Robert did want to put the tools of his trade on the hook, it wouldn’t be a heavy lift. Robert’s kit just consists of a pair of climbing shoes.

Well, that and the excessive amounts of climbing tape he wears on his fingers and hands. The 60-year-old deals with much sharper surfaces than many climbers: namely, steel window frames and fixtures on skyscrapers.

And he always does it free solo. Robert’s used to climbing human-made walls in no-fall situations, above throngs of onlookers and often into the clutches of law enforcement waiting to arrest him overhead.

“The French Spiderman” just turned 60 years old. That’s the traditional age of retirement in France, and to celebrate it, Robert soloed Tour Total — France’s third-tallest building at 190 metres.

“I want to send people the message that being 60 is nothing. You can still do sport, be active, do fabulous things,” Robert told Reuters.

The veteran free soloist appears to have chosen the word “fabulous” to describe his approach to life. Anyone who follows him on social media quickly becomes acquainted with his penchant for metallic snakeskin-patterned clothing, cowboy boots, and private jet travel.

But don’t take him as a vapid jet setter. Robert spent his younger years free soloing hard rock climbs and became a staple in French climbing culture before a serious fall left him in a coma. Since then, Robert has recovered to solo iconic buildings like Dubai’s Burj Khalifa and the Sydney Opera House, among hundreds of lifetime ascents.

Watching him put the finishing touches on the Sears Tower in Chicago is, frankly, horrifying. Cracks thinner than hand size afforded the only purchase on most of the tower, and condensation from air conditioning units on the roof made the last several metres dicey.

Robert has characterized climbs like the Sears Tower as “fighting for my life”.

It’s unclear what fuel keeps Robert’s high-output engine running. It can’t be all daiquiris in Bali, Indonesia, where he often vacations or champagne in luxury hotel rooms.

Possibly, it’s getting arrested. Climbing buildings is illegal in many jurisdictions, and every time Robert tapes up on the sidewalk below, he knows he’s about to ascend straight to jail.

Where Robert’s apparently robust financial resources come from remains equally murky. The Frenchman is famously glib.

“Until now my life has been quite a movie,” he captioned one arrest video. “On top of being a badass, nothing really unusual.”

Nothing unusual at all.

Sam Anderson

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