DUBAI // A Frenchman who has achieved fame by scaling the world's tallest buildings without ropes has begun his attempt to climb the Burj Khalifa with a safety harness.
Alain Robert, who calls himself 'the French Spider-Man' was due to begin his climb up the 828-metre spire at 4.30pm, but the event was delayed amid windy conditions until minutes after 6pm.
He had expected to finish in about six hours. After darkness falls, he will be guided by a spotlight.
The safety harness was a condition for being granted permission to climb the landmark, which has been his ambition long before the building was completed at the start of last year.
"They want me to break a record, but they don't want to take a risk that I may fall and die," he said. "I respect their choice. I'm still willing to climb the building even though I need to compromise myself."
Mr Robert is no stranger to danger. He has climbed all of the world's buildings who had laid claim to the title of the world's tallest, including the 508-metre Taipei 101 and the 450-metre Petronas Twin Towers in Kuala Lumpur. He has also successfully topped several other buildings in the UAE and next aims to scale Dubai's Burj al Arab.
Instead of stopping at the top of the building, he will continue to climb the antenna at the top. However, that feat poses some particular challenges.
"There's nothing to grab," he said. "I want to do it all the way to the top, but there's no other way to do it without using some caving equipment."
In order to practice the last leg of the climb, Mr Robert and his three-man crew drove around Dubai on Sunday looking for an equivalent antenna to practice on. He said he found one in the Jebel Ali area.
"I can't even tell you where it is," he said.
Despite the reputation of Dubai for its desert heat, Mr Robert is more concerned over the temperatures at the top of the tower.
"I'm a bit afraid it will be freezing," he said.
Mr Robert was invited to Dubai by the Education Without Borders conference, which is organised by the Higher Colleges of Technology. A stage has been set up on Burj Park Island for the conference inauguration later this evening. VIPs on the island have been in prime position to watch Mr Robert's ascent on the 'shady side' of the Burj. Elsewhere, crowds were gathering on the Burj steps, where it is still possible to watch the climb from a distance.
The 48-year-old climber, who has been in Dubai for one week, does physical training to prepare for the rigours of the climb. Meditation is one his methods of mental preparation.
The fact that he has to do this climb fettered, he said, would force him to alter somewhat his previous approach to climbing tall buildings.
"Most of the time my idea is to do or die," he said. "This time it is do, or something else - not die."