Another rock-climbing milestone (heh)

Another crazy and impossible victory in the eternal battle of man vs. rock has been achieved:

Now, after over 40 days of efforts spread across two years and seven visits to Norway, Ondra has completed what is being claimed as the world’s hardest single rope-length climb, both in terms of physical effort and technical difficulty.

The climb – 45 metres long and forging its improbable way through the cave’s huge grey overlapping roofs – marks the latest achievement by Ondra, who has dominated rock climbing in recent years in the same way Usain Bolt dominated sprinting, consistently setting new levels of difficulty that others have struggled to follow.

I have to admit, I didn’t realize that elite rock climbing involved so much hanging upside down from near-horizontal surfaces.

Not really my thing, but I can admire the purity and determination of people who devote their lives to pushing the limits of human ability.

On that topic, do skyscrapers have their own climbing difficulty scale?

February 17, 2009, 1:10 p.m. As the thousands of bankers, consultants, and accountants who work in the Cheung Kong Center, a sixty-two-story office tower in Hong Kong’s central business district, returned from their lunch breaks, a slight Frenchman named Alain Robert was being questioned in a windowless room on the tower’s first floor. […]

Robert, who is forty-six, had just ascended the eastern face of the Cheung Kong, which is nine hundred and twenty-eight feet high, using nothing but his feet and his hands.

Just don’t ask why he does it, because you won’t get a real answer:

At the press conference, a reporter for the Hong Kong Standard asked why he was making the climb. Robert spoke at length about climate change, and then said, “It shows that I am willing to give a big part of myself for something that I have a strong belief.” (If Robert is retailing environmental responsibility, he’s something of a loss leader, flying all over the world to encourage other people not to.) When I asked Julie Cohen about his motivations, she laughed and said, “He always gives really corny answers: ‘I climb ze mountain because it is zere.’ . . . But it’s actually that. He can’t not.” The necessity of the ordeal, for Robert, is self-evident.

One of the themes of the essay is how society chooses to deal with a mild lawbreaker and entertaining nuisance like Robert. I liked this anecdote about the famous Hong Kong tycoon Li Ka-shing, who owns Cheung Kong Center:

At Cheung Kong, Li Ka-shing, the billionaire landlord, had happened to be on the premises during Robert’s climb. From his private apartment on a low floor, he had called the head guard. Robert was absolutely dying for an audience with the tycoon.

“Please, it would be a privilege,” he said.

The guard announced that Mr. Li had agreed to release Robert, but that he would not be able to see him. Despite having clambered from sea level past the treetops half an hour earlier, and got away with it, Robert seemed crestfallen.

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