What Makes Someone Want to Climb 2,000 Feet Just to Get Arrested?

What Makes Someone Want to Climb 2,000 Feet Just to Get Arrested

A climber lives a life on edge. If we live our lives near the edge, or break taboos, we can be rewarded with some wonderful neurochemical surges. Adrenaline, serotonin and dopamine are some of the “feel good” chemicals that make us seek out thrills, no matter what they might be.

When I was a kid, I loved to climb. Several broken bones into my childhood, my mother officially banned all climbing, yet that didn’t stop me. Jumping from the roof of my neighbor’s house to a tree and then to another tree was addictive because of the inherent danger involved, and because I was breaking one of my mother’s cardinal rules — not to mention the occasional bone.

I don’t climb onto the roofs of buildings or houses anymore, although a nearby construction crane has tempted me of late. I’ll try and resist the urge. Instead, I can relive my daredevil youth through the work of others. Climbing illegally offers up a chance to do something most people will never get to do, as well as an opportunity to gain access to an incredible, and often very exclusive, view. Why should a possible fall and international law get in the way of a natural (and literal) high, and a load of adrenaline-fueled fun?

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Vadim Makhorov and Vitaliy Raskalov, two Russian climbers known as the “Skywalkers,” understand what I’m talking about. These Russkies have surreptitiously tackled some of the most iconic buildings in the world. They’ve trespassed and walked across the roofs of La Sagrada Família in Barcelona, the Eiffel Tower in Paris, Vladivostok Bridge in Eastern Russia, the Pyramids in Egypt and a host of other locations barred to intrepid “tourists.”

Their latest conquest was the successful (and very illegal) climb of the yet-to-be-completed Shanghai Tower in China. The duo broke into the construction site over the Chinese New Year and spent one day and one night working their way up to the top. Apparently not satisfied with the view, the two men climbed out onto a protruding construction crane, perched atop the world’s second-tallest building. When the Chinese government learned about their exploits, the authorities were less than thrilled.

Before Makhorov and Raskalov ever thwarted the powers that be, a lone Frenchman sought gainful employment as a professional urban climber. Alain Robert, aka the “French Spiderman,” has successfully scaled the Sydney Opera House, the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Taipei 101 in Taiwan, and many more structures. Typically he’ll receive a sizable fee for a sanctioned, promotional climb, like he did in Taiwan — or he’ll be arrested upon his descent and have to pay a fee (also known as a fine) himself. Such is the life of a man in search of glory and the rush of a forbidden climb.

Reaching further back, before our Russian friends and Robert took to the skies, Philippe Petit (great name) walked across a tightrope between the World Trade Center towers in New York. Petit used his cunning, skill and six years of meticulous planning, plus a few fake IDs, to gain access to the roofs.

In the summer of 1974, Petit and his accomplices, armed with cables and a bow and arrow, shot fishing line between the towers and used it to string rope and a cable across. Petit walked the tightrope for 45 minutes, to the cheers and awe of the crowd below.

Although arrested for his illegal stunt, Petit was soon released and all charges were dropped. His high-wire act proved to be immensely popular, and something of a publicity coup for the Port Authority.

It seems the thrill and spectacle that comes from illegally gaining access to massive artificial structures often gives climbing transgressors a bit of a pass with the law — as long as they put on a good show. We’ll see if this rule still applies if and when the Chinese authorities catch up with Vadim and Vitaliy.

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