ABU DHABI // For the less adventurous members of society, a trip up the Burj Khalifa would take around two minutes in the comfort of a high-speed lift. Not for Spider-man, however. Having already scaled landmark skyscrapers in Chicago and Paris without support cables, safety harnesses or nets, France's nimble-footed "urban free solo climber" Alain Robert is now campaigning to conquer the 828-metre-high tower.
"I have to do it," said Mr Robert, 47, estimating that the climb up to the top spire of the world's tallest building would take between five and six hours. Speaking by telephone from an airport tarmac in Malaysia after recently clambering up Tower 2 of Kuala Lumpur's 452-metre Petronas Towers, the daredevil nicknamed the French "Spider-man" said it was his dream to ascend the Dubai skyscraper with only his hands dusted in climbing chalk.
"I wish I can tell you now my next climb will be the Burj Khalifa," he said over the roar of jet engines. "I wish, [but] I don't think I can say until I have their approval." He said he was looking forward to the Burj Khalifa because "I've climbed the [former] tallest building in the world, Tapei 101, but I think I'll be satisfied when I will be reaching the top of the Burj Khalifa." The Tapei 101, at 509 metres high, was officially overtaken as the tallest skyscraper when Emaar Properties opened the Burj Khalifa on January 4.
A public relations manager with Emaar confirmed that discussions with Mr Robert have been ongoing for several months, but said there were no serious plans to invite him to climb the building "within the coming days or weeks". "I can tell you we know Monsieur Robert very well and we can't say more than that," she said. "This [climb] is obviously requested. He has requested all the towers in the world, so it's normal for him to approach us."
The stuntman said he received an e-mail from Emaar in October exploring the possibility of him climbing the tower as part of its opening celebrations, but that the idea fizzled out. He hopes to have approval for an ascent in 2011, between January and April, when the weather would be cooler. In the meantime, he is eager to hear from Emaar. "I am still patient because you know a lot of people think I'm a naughty boy," he said. Mr Roberts has been arrested for climbing-related incidents more than 100 times in 60 countries.
He said he has strong ties in the Emirates: Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak, the Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research, allowed him to scale the National Bank of Abu Dhabi in 2003. He also legally climbed the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority headquarters in 2007. But the stomach-dropping view from the peak of the Burj Khalifa is peerless, said Mr Robert, who said he suffers from vertigo and was pronounced "60 per cent disabled" by French doctors after two falls in 1982.
"I went up [the Burj Khalifa] more than a year ago and met the chief engineer to plan a possible ascent," he said. "We were up to like 160 storeys. It's nice up there with the surrounding desert and you can see the sea as well." He noted there were enough small grooves and protrusions on the tower to make a climb possible. The hardest part now may be securing permission. "At least for sure the people are knowing that I already climbed five of the tallest buildings in the world," he said. "I want the Burj Khalifa, but now I am not the decision-maker. [Emaar] are the ones."