Climbers show Russians anything they can do, Chinese can do better

By Liu Sheng in Shanghai Source:Global Times Published: 2014-3-21 5:03:01

Safely back down to earth, Gao Yonghui (left) and Zhang Zizhe celebrate scaling the tower. Photo: Courtesy of Gao Yonghu

Dangling their feet from the top of Shanghai Tower, the world's second-tallest building upon completion, Gao Yonghui and Zhang Zizhe seem quite calm in pictures they uploaded online.

In one photo, Zhang stands on one leg atop a crane, hands together in front of his chest, his life depending on a thick steel beam.

Behind and below dotted along the Huangpu River are tiny Lujiazui high-rise buildings.

Without safety equipment, the young men were following in the footsteps of two Russian adventurers who first climbed the 632-meter-tall Shanghai Tower.

The stomach-dropping pictures of them standing on cranes caused a stir online.

Some admired their courage. Others wondered about their identity and experience. Some criticize them for irresponsibly breaking into a construction site.

"Standing on the chilly and slightly shaking crane atop the Shanghai Tower was quite a dizzying experience," Gao told the Global Times. "We felt our hair stand on end, and it was like a dream."

Gao Yonghui sits on the 110th floor of the 632-meter-tall Shanghai Tower at midnight on February 20. Photo: Courtesy of Gao Yonghui

Street artists

Hailing from Henan Province, Gao, 24, and Zhang, 23, worked as street artists in Shanghai. At weekends they painted their body and face and stood motionless in local parks as visitors passed by.

The two never received any professional training before the climb. The idea was all inspired by two crazy Russians.

On January 31, Vadim Makhorov and Vitaliy Raskalov climbed the crane to the top of the 632-meter-tall Shanghai Tower when no one was looking: during Spring Festival holiday. Without safety equipment, the two adrenaline junkies covered their faces with masks and spent 18 hours on top waiting for a good view.

"When I saw the news on television, I found many people admired their courage," Gao said. "I told my friend that we Chinese can also achieve what they did."

Their aim was simple: To prove that Chinese can do what foreigners did. But it was easier said than done.

The two Russians had scaled the Pyramid of Khufu, the Eiffel Tower and Barcelona's Sagrada Familia Church.

Zhang had no climbing experience.

"At first I thought Gao was joking when he mentioned the plan," he said. "But I love adventure, and the climbing seemed fun and I wanted to have a try. So I decided to join him."

Gao likes climbing mountains and had already conquered Chinese high-rise buildings including the 278-meter-high K11 skyscraper in Shanghai.

"I enjoy the scenery from the heights, something that is not easy for ordinary people to see," Gao said. "I had climbed some tall buildings before, and so I thought Shanghai Tower would be no problem.

"All we had to prepare was courage and confidence."

Impulse clamber

When the two Russians climbed, they studied the construction site and its security, and chose Chinese lunar new year.

Gao and Zhang say they acted on impulse on February 20. They grabbed a cigarette lighter-sized flashlight, a bottle of water, biscuits and a rope to tie around their waists. They climbed barehanded.

Without researching the site, the two waited a week until the rain ended and started their adventure on midnight of February 20.

"The rope was to make sure that when one is in danger, the other could help," Zhang said, "but we kept telling ourselves that we won't allow any potential dangers."

Shanghai Tower installed new fences around the site and strengthened its security after the Russians' climb.

Gao and Zhang snuck over the wall at a corner and tiptoed to the building.

"If we were caught by security guards, we could be detained and face a penalty," Zhang said. "We had to keep a low profile and dare not use too bright a flashlight."

To beat the Russians' record, the two sped up climbing the stairs.

"The Russians spent 90 minutes climbing the stairs," Zhang said. "So we ran all the way up the stairs and arrived at the top 10 minutes earlier.

"But it was also at that time that I began to feel scared."

The top was not the end. There are large towering cranes that stretch out from the center.

"The crane was at a nearly 70 degree angle," Gao said. "We crept on hands and knees. I felt dizzy, like my hands and legs were not under my control."

At midnight the temperature dropped below 10 C at the top, and the crane kept shaking. The higher they climbed, the stronger the wind.

Rainwater on the platform had frozen and was icy.

"I thought of my family at that time, imagining what would happen to them if I fell," Zhang said. "The scariest part was once when I slipped on the crane. Without professional equipment, I felt numb at such a low temperature.

"I didn't dare look down, and could only make side glances, but my partner was obviously calmer and kept telling me to control my inner fear and not look down."

To avoid security guards, after the two got down from the crane, they hid more than 12 hours in a 1-square-meter air-exhaust pipe. They finally got out at midnight February 21.

They didn't expect the photos to cause such a stir. "What we did was quite dangerous," Gao said. "When we were on the top, we thought of our parents.

"Different from foreigners who all live on their own after 18 years old, we Chinese still pay a lot of attention to family.

"Out of consideration for family, we don't suggest young people climb buildings like us."

Gao still eyes skyscrapers.

"Climbing Shanghai Tower was accidental," he said. "We happened to be in Shanghai at that time and saw the news on TV.

"There was no planning. Maybe I will climb other buildings next time we go to other cities."

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