Get access to everything we publish when you sign up for Outside+.
French free soloist Alain Robert climbed the 614-foot Total Coupole tower in Paris last week to protest France’s new COVID health pass. The initiative requires carrying a pass showing that the holder is either vaccinated, has tested negative for COVID-19, or recently recovered from the virus in order to access bars, restaurants, museums, and other public venues, in addition to large-scale events and some public transport.
“In addition to being vaccinated, it’s completely heavy. It’s an attack on fundamental freedoms,” Robert told Al Jazeera. “This health pass is a bit of a disgrace.”
The 60-year-old Robert, who normally climbs alone, scaled Total Coupole in the company of three other soloists, Marcin Banot (33), Leo Urban (28), and Alexis Landot (21). It was Robert’s eleventh time climbing the building. “Athos, portos, dartagnan, [and] aramis on a mission against the sanitarian passport,” Robert wrote on Instagram after the climb, paying homage to Dumas’ The Three Musketeers.
While he typically carries a chalk bag and wears rock shoes, Robert often climbs in costumes or outrageous attire. He climbed the 545-foot Silver Tower in Frankfurt last year wearing a silver suit and cowboy boots. In his typical flamboyant fashion, Robert climbed Total Coupole clad in a bright purple and pink jumpsuit promoting Dead Man’s Fingers rum.Known as the “French Spider-Man,” Robert is, without doubt, the most prolific urban free soloist in history. The Frenchman has scaled over 160 skyscrapers and monuments around the world (en-route to a career goal of 200), including the Petronas Twin Towers (1,483 ft), the Empire State Building (1,250 ft), Sears Tower (1,450 ft), Taipei 101 Tower (1,667 ft), and the Burj Khalifa (2,717 ft). He has also climbed a number of iconic landmarks, such as the Sydney Opera House and the Eiffel Tower.“[The] four of us decided to join our effort together by climbing [Total Coupole] yesterday at 12 o’clock and it took us [one hour] before reaching the top tired as it was really hot and all of us really happy … On my side, I’m really [happy] that we met each other and it is definitely the beginning of a long friendship and I would like to [thank] them all for that amazing day we had yesterday although we spent [eight hours] in custody having a lot of fun.” All four were arrested following the climb, and Banot, in particular, was detained for several days and has since been banned from entering the country for one year.
Robert’s stunts vary between legal and illegal (the latter more often than not), and the 60-year-old has been arrested numerous times. He often tacks various causes onto his building solos. In 2008, he scaled the 748-foot New York Times Building in New York City, unfurling a banner raising awareness of global warming, which stated “Global warming kills more people than 9/11 every week.” He was subsequently arrested.
His 40-year-career has seen a number of promotional stunts, as well, including an ascent of the 509-foot Metropolis Residences in Auckland, New Zealand promoting the Samsung Galaxy Gear smartwatch and a climb of the 300-foot Phoenicia Hotel in Beirut, Lebanon as an advertisement for the shaving brand Gilette. He also climbed Lloyd’s building (312 ft) in London to promote a Spider-Man movie in 2003, among other sponsored climbs.
Robert has also suffered a number of falls in his career, most notably a 49-foot fall in 1982, after a rappelling accident. He was in a coma for five days and fractured both forearms as well as an elbow, pelvis, and nose.
The Total Coupole climb wasn’t the first COVID stunt Robert has performed, either. He scaled Barcelona’s Torre Agbar (472 ft) in March of 2020, reportedly to get people to stop “panicking” about the coronavirus. His climb of the Silver Tower a few months later was with “asking the governments to stop spreading fears [about COVID-19] as definitely fear is far more contagious than the virus itself who is no longer the killer it used to be,” stated Robert on Instagram.
This article is free. Sign up with a Climbing membership, now just $2 a month for a limited time, and you get unlimited access to thousands of stories and articles by world-class authors on climbing.com plus a print subscription to Climbing and our annual coffee-table edition of Ascent. Please join the Climbing team today.