Earth & Conservation

Trump Tower Climber: What's With the Suction Cups?

For something as crazy as an illegal, ropeless climb up a skyscraper, suction cups offer a surprisingly safe approach.

On Wednesday, a 19-year-old man, later identified as Stephen Rogata from Virginia, climbed Trump tower in Midtown Manhattan in a daring two-and-a-half hour stunt that culminated in police yanking him back to safety on the 21st floor of the building, where he was taken into custody.

According to a video posted by Rogata, the climber's motive for scaling the building with the namesake of the Republican presidential candidate was to eventually meet Donald Trump after reaching the top of the 58-story high-rise.

No matter how bizarre the stunt or potentially unhinged its organizer, there's no denying that Rogata had some skill and interesting equipment that aided his illegal climb. Specifically, the climber scaled the tower using a set of five high-grade suction cups.

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Despite the apparent dangers of the stunt, the suction cups made the effort considerably less risky for Rogata. He used multiple points of contact to support his body weight in case he lost his balance or needed to rest, and the suction cups provided enough surface area to hold his weight and then some.

In fact, in an interview with CBS News, Outside magazine editor and climbing expert Grayson Schaffer explains how the climber could have gotten away with two suction cups. Typically, no one actually uses this kind of equipment in a climb, according to Schaffer, who described the Trump tower performance as "entirely in like stuntman territory."

The suction cups aren't typically used in climbing because they would only work on a smooth, vertical surface. The sort of suction cups used by the stunt climber aren't even designed (or recommended) for climbing. Instead, they typically are used in glass handling rather than scaling windowpanes of skyscrapers.

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There are, however, vacuum-powered suction cups designed specifically for climbing. Take the Gekkomat, for example, a German-engineered wall-climbing apparatus with four large suction cups hooked up to two compressed air tanks strapped to a climber's back.

The name Gekkomat of course is derived from the lizard, the gecko, whose feet provided a "biological role model" for the design of the climbing equipment. The Gekkomat has about a half hour of operating time, per the designer's website, and works on a range of surfaces, including "concrete, sandstone, plaster, wood and naturally smooth surfaces such as glass and metal."

Although there's no right way to do an illegal, ropeless climb up a skyscraper in the middle of Manhattan on a Wednesday afternoon, at least with the right equipment and the power of suction, there's a safer way to risk life and limb for the sake of a stunt.

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