LONDON — A French extreme free climber who calls himself Spider-Man and who has become famous for scaling buildings around the world climbed Heron Tower, the tallest building in London City’s square mile, on Thursday afternoon.
In images shared on social media, onlookers could be seen stretching their necks to get a glimpse of the climber, Alain Robert, as he ascended the imposing building, which is more than 750 feet tall.
Why Robert decided to scale the tower was not immediately clear, but it was far from the first time the 56-year-old French stuntman has scurried up the side of a skyscraper.
He gained notoriety for high-profile ascents of the Eiffel Tower; the Empire State Building; the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; and the Four Seasons Hotel in Hong Kong, among others.
Ten years ago, on a June morning, he reached the top of the 52-story building that houses The New York Times’ headquarters. He was arrested on the roof, after unfurling a bright green banner near the top that read, “Global warming kills more people than 9/11 every week.”
He pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct, a violation that has no criminal record attached. He paid a $250 fine and served three days of community service at the Gay Men’s Health Crisis, a nonprofit organization based in the city that provides education and support for those with HIV and AIDS.
Robert’s stunts inspire awe, admiration and bewilderment — his official Facebook page has more than 80,000 likes. He also inspires copycats. Hours after he ascended The Times’ building in 2008, a Brooklyn man climbed the Eighth Avenue side. A third man scaled several floors of the building on July 9. The Times later altered the building’s facade.
Astonishingly, Robert says he suffers from vertigo. He has experienced accidents that have left him 66 percent disabled. At the age of 19, he fell from a cliff, and doctors told him he would never climb again, he has said.
But they couldn’t have been more wrong.
“I already knew that climbing was for me as important as eating or breathing,” Robert wrote on his website.
Robert uses nothing but his bare hands and sheer will to climb skyscrapers and cliffs, and he dangles from window edges with his feet pointing to the abyss hundreds of feet beneath him.
About an hour before he started his climb, Robert told the British broadcaster Sky News that until two days ago, he had never heard of the Heron Tower.
“I didn’t even know about this building,” he said. “I only saw some pictures when I came to London two days ago.”
He eventually decided this was a fitting building for a good climb — and not a life-threatening one. The tower, which opened in 2011, has 46 floors.
“For me it seems doable, acceptable in terms of difficulties,” he said. “I’m trying to make something that I just want to make sure I’m not putting my life at risk.”
But even a daring solo climber doesn’t always reach the top. This isn’t Robert’s first London climb. Cold and windy weather stopped him in his tracks as he was climbing the 800-foot No. 1 Canada Square tower at Canary Wharf in 2002. He got stuck close to the 40th floor, and had to be rescued, according to The Guardian.