Alain Robert (France) is also known as "the Human Spider" – and for good reason.
While most climbers find their calling on the peak of a mountain, Alain found his path by dominating the cityscape, topping skyscrapers using no equipment except for chalk and rubber shoes.
In 2015, the urban climber broke the record for most buildings climbed, with the incredible amount of 121 and secured himself a spot in the annals of Guinness World Records.
The cornerstone that completed this record-breaking streak was the successful ascent of the 306 m (1,003 ft) tall Cayan Tower in Dubai.
The so-called "French Spider-Man" started climbing monuments and skyscrapers almost thirty years ago: in 1994, after several years of traditional climbing, he kicked off his adventures in Chicago, where he scaled through the 42 stories of the Citigroup Centre.
Followed by a cameraman to film his quest, Alain discovered that the silent giants that formed the skyline of the city concealed a whole new, thrilling universe – not rock and snow, but steel and glass.
"The city of Chicago had just opened a door to a whole new universe, a range of mountains of steel and glass, he writes in his autobiography, With Bare Hands.
Among others, he has climbed:
- The Eiffel Tower
- The record-breaking Burj Khalifa (the tallest building in the world)
- Warsaw’s Marriot Hotel
- San Francisco's Golden Gate bridge
- Sydney’s Opera House
Alain’s training and technique allow him to use the small protrusions of building walls, like window ledges and frames, but he is often under immense physical stress for several hours in a row.
The most obvious question would be: why? Is Alain "The French Spider-Man" Robert immune to fear?
Does anxiety play any role pre, during and post his ascents? How does he mentally prepare and cope with the challenge?
After soloing for the greatest part of his life, Alain confesses that being mentally ready is simple.
"I can be afraid before an ascent, but I know myself actually very well," he admits during an interview with The Creative Process.
"And I know that once I am starting to climb, I feel fine. I put my fear aside, and I'm just climbing."
Besides picking his objective carefully and training every day, he also confessed to The Disruptive Entrepreneur podcast that willpower is pivotal.
Alain’s passion for this sport bloomed when he was around eight, after watching the 1956 movie The Mountain (United States, 1956).
The adventure drama, inspired by Henri Troyat’s best-selling novel, fascinated the young Alain and encouraged him to start rock climbing.
But it wasn’t always an easy journey.
"When I was young, I was afraid of everything," the record holder said.
"I was lacking self-confidence and just wanted to be like my heroes Zorro, Robin Hood, or D'Artagnan, and I had to find a way. I had to work on it. And, actually, this is what I did."
This journey of searching for courage brought the French athlete to tackle rock climbing when he was 11.
His first adventures began on rock, where he soloed hard grades and pushed himself to the very extreme of traditional rock-climbing.
Soon, he knocked every challenge out of the park and, in 1994, he moved on to buildings and skyscrapers.
There, Alain found a whole new universe.
Alain has been arrested on several occasions for trespassing and has fallen seven times.
The worst incident happened in 1982, when he plunged 15 metres (49 ft) after a rope became undone. He underwent six operations and was in a coma for 5 days.
But the Alain is not only the record holder for most buildings climbed.
The athlete also holds two titles for the fastest time to scale two of the highest towers in the world - a one-two of records that Alain smashed with jaw-dropping performances in 2011 and 2012.
Fastest time to climb Burj Khalifa Tower unassisted (solo)
In only 6 hours 13 minutes 55 seconds, Alain topped the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, UAE, on 29 March 2011.
The attempt was organized as part of the tenth annual Education Without Borders conference and he summited the 829.8 m (2,722 ft) tower - the tallest in the world - under the awed eyes of some of the conference's key speakers.
Alain began at 6.03 pm on Monday 28th and summited the 163rd and top floor at 12.17 am on Tuesday 29th March.
Beforehand, he sought permission from Emaar properties to ensure he was not arrested during the ascent (as had previously happened in other countries). They convinced the record-breaking athlete to wear safety equipment, although Alain used his famous climbing style: just his bare hands and rubber shoes.
However, another challenge was waiting for Alain: the weather risked getting in the way of the attempt, and mid-ascent he was forced to use a pulling mechanism due to extreme weather conditions.
Luckily, that didn’t interfere with the attempt nor put Alain’s life at risk.
Fastest time to climb The Torch Doha unassisted (solo)
The year 2012 saw Alain once again deceiving gravity by scaling a 5-star hotel in Doha, Qatar.
On this occasion, he broke the record for the fastest time to climb The Torch Doha unassisted (solo) with a total time of 1 hr 33 min 47 sec.
The urban climber didn’t wear a safety harnesses for the attempt, relying only on chalk and rubber shoes. That made the record-breaking ascent even more dangerous.
Every misstep could end in tragedy, but Alain knew what he was doing and could rely on mental fortitude, countless hours of preparation and years of experience.
While being filmed for an ITV documentary, the French athlete swarmed up the mesh structure of the building using his bare hands, chalk and rubber shoes to maximize the grip.
The ascent started at the main entrance of the building and finished 180 degrees from that position, at the highest point of the tower.
Although the spectacle of Alain Robert conquering huge buildings is indeed breathtaking, it’s always important to remember that Alain is a professional.
"Some people don’t need to be close to the limit of life but I do, I need to be close to my limit," he said during The Disruptive Entrepreneur podcast.
However, he’s a renowned climber with plenty of experience and a thrill-seeker aware of the many risks of these attempts.
He trains to reach such results, putting his life on the line.
Albeit visually stunning, Alain’s adrenaline-filled records are not to be taken lightly, and they absolutely require an enormous amount of mental and physical preparation.