Way up high

I was all set to mock the silly arachnophobes who got all squeamish over this morning’s spider picture — how can a mere picture cause that kind of fear, anyway? — and then I saw this article on cleaning the Space Needle in Seattle, with all these photos of people dangling from ropes while wielding pressure sprayers.

Suddenly, I am more sympathetic.


(via Jay Lake)


  1. says

    Scopes Monkey Trial movie – “Inherit the Wind” → http://tinyurl.com/cacu98
    I spent last Saturday night watching this for free on hulu while reading the history behind the real Scopes case simultaneously in a separate window. Amazing how well they capture the image of William Jennings Bryan. To me the most resounding scene is the very last. It reminds me of the last words of Steinbeck’s epic “East of Eden” a lot of commenters here on pharyngula might glean some good by watching this anti-McCarthy era masterpiece.

  2. Michelle R says

    …I’m very arachnophobe AND I got a bad case of vertigo.
    …Oooh my tummy is all squirmy now.

  3. Newfie says

    It’s not the height or fall that you should fear. It’s the sudden deceleration at the end.

  4. ARice says

    The first job I got after the Navy was working for CraneCom. I installed and repaired intercoms inside high-rise tower cranes. It was a lot of fun – until you dropped a part or tool and had to go down 30-50 stories to get another one.

  5. mikespeir says

    I’m sorry; but I’d take one look up the length of that sucker and say, “It just don’t look that dirty to me!”

  6. says

    The spiders don’t bother me, but the slugs make my skin crawl. Have to say, that hanging from the Space Needle picture does scare me but it also sorta makes me want to climb something.

  7. ThirtyFiveUp says

    Posted by: Newfie
    “It’s not the height or fall that you should fear. It’s the sudden deceleration at the end.”

    Only #5 and the winner of the thread.

  8. Strangebrew says

    After due consideration I would rather pet tarantulas before their fangs are drawn!

    Bit of a bugger getting up there then deciding ya need a dump…
    Methinks trying ta get ya pants down to ya ankles at that height and with those ropes and straps is more a challenge then converting the pope!!

  9. says

    Bit of a bugger getting up there then deciding ya need a dump…
    Methinks trying ta get ya pants down to ya ankles at that height and with those ropes and straps is more a challenge then converting the pope!!

    I’ve spent a fair amount of time wall climbing and spending multiple days on a single climb sleeping on the wall (or rather hanging from it). Let me tell you, there is an interesting and not pleasant solution to the conundrum, but it works.

  10. Alverant says

    That is a job that takes nerves of steel stronger than the cables holding them up. Me, I’m scared of falling, even small distances where I won’t get hurt (unless I hit something other than the floor). The only way I would do a job like that is if someone is threatening my family.

  11. phobiad says

    I’m slowly getting over my phobia of spiders. Not too long ago, my son deposited one in my hand and it ran up my arm. I nearly fainted. Since then, I’ve been capturing spiders around the house and yard and taking the time to identify and learn about them (then releasing them outside of course). I’m not completely over the phobia because I still can’t let one crawl on me and I usually break out in a sweat when trying to make the capture.

    Heights, on the other hand, I have no problem with.

  12. Blondin says

    I know a guy who jumped off the roof of the CN Tower with a hang-glider for the filming of a Pepsi commercial (back in the 70’s). I can just barely force myself to stand on the glass floor at the CN Tower.

  13. dreikin says

    I thought he used ink? He’d fall at full speed, but no one would see him.

    What, never heard of an inkjet?

  14. Carlie says

    Please make the scary picture go away. *whimper*

    I never realized how afraid of heights I was until I went to the observation deck at the Stratosphere in Las Vegas and…couldn’t move away from the back wall. Just. Couldn’t. Do. It. I can’t even handle watching this video on my tiny laptop screen.(El Camino Del Rey, for those curious)

  15. Roger says

    When I went to Seattle, I was all geeked to go to the Space Needle…until I saw that their elevator to the top was on the outside. I was then filled with dread and loathing. When I was crammed inside the thing, I unluckily got shoved to the front–all the better to endure the slow ride up to the top. When I got there, I entertained a stupid notion of going outside to the observation deck…I could feel the damn thing tilting at an angle and I rushed back inside as though my ass was on fire.

  16. says

    Ha! I feel better knowing there were other people freaked out about the spider photo. But seriously, I never want a freaky spider showing up in Google Reader, or I’ll be incredibly sad =(

  17. daveau says

    I can fly a tiny little Cessna at a 45 degree bank angle without it bothering me at all, yet my testes retract when I’m on top of a tall building with a safety fence. This is a thrill I don’t need.

  18. Sili says

    Jesus fucking christ! I hate heigths.

    Almost as much as I do slugs.

    I went to London with school in year nine and I recall nothing of St. Paul’s Cathedral. When I see pictures now I’m surprised by the size, but I can remember is wanting – needing to get down. And I had to crab 90 degrees around the gallery, since I couldn’t just turn and go down the same stairs.

    I should try that again sometime … but I seem to have alienated my last fried in London.

    Ah well.

  19. Interrobang says

    daveau — I know just what you mean, except for the testes part, because I’m not anatomically equipped for that. The (I assume) equivalent feeling is…interesting, though.

    Funny, I had thought I was the only one who was spectacularly unbothered by flying but freaked out by being on top of tall buildings and stuff.

    Hey, PZ, if we’re doing a phobia tour, you could post a picture of some other creepy-crawlies!

  20. MrFire says


    I’m the exact opposite of you. I think tarantulas are furry lil’ teddybears, with more limbs. But heights? Took me years to stick my head out of a non-first floor window.

  21. william e emba says

    Come on, these pictures are of a bunch of wimps. You all want to check out Charles C Ebbets’ legendary photographs of NYC skyscraper construction. Guys just hanging out on an I-beam 70 stories up, eating lunch, taking a nap, or just chilling out.

  22. Pierce R. Butler says

    Foxholes schmoxholes – are there atheists under the Space Needle?

  23. Strangebrew says


    Let me tell you, there is an interesting and not pleasant solution to the conundrum, but it works.

    Holy crap Rev….eeewww!

    But if needs must be…beats getting wind chill factor around certain bits hanging out in extremis!

  24. 2-D Man says

    Suddenly, I am more sympathetic.

    I second that (or third, or fourth or whatever… I’m too lazy to read the other comments).

  25. says

    Indeed it is usually very easy to rationalize away someone else’s phobias, while those of your own are somewhat more persistent.

    The combination of strong feelings and irrational thinking, can lead to situations that are extremely difficult to escape – in fact, to make you not even want to escape them (on a more or (typically) less conscious level). Am I the only one who sees a parallel to religion here? ;)

    Anyway, these observations are based on my own experiences with social anxiety and phobia (which still play far too great a part in my life), so I’d like to think I’m not just talking out of my rear.

    To Ponzi: Personally I find The Sketch Show’s Phobias Sketch absolutely hilarious, was I supposed to be insulted? ;)
    (Sorry, couldn’t find the ep online, wikipedia has a short description).

  26. John Phillips, FCD says

    RevBDC, only really ‘interesting’ if you are below someone doing it :) After all, if you have the right trousers and are well fixed to the wall it’s a doddle. Though admittedly, it is not quite so much fun doing it half way up a wall inside the Arctic circle in winter. Gives a whole new meaning to getting a hard on :)

  27. Crudely Wrott says

    One thing to reflect on is just how many of these guys and gals are hanging out up there doing jobs that scare the bejesus out of most earthbound folks and how seldom you hear of one falling. They are good at what they do. Very good. They have to be.

    One other thing reflect on is should you fall while working high your pay ends at the beginning of the fall. You don’t get paid for goofing off on the way down.

    Security is leaning back into a snug harness and a taught line. Doesn’t matter if you can see the ground.

  28. says

    RevBDC, only really ‘interesting’ if you are below someone doing it :)

    Actually the contraptions we built to use on the wall specifically not to make it interesting for those below us and how we cleaned / disposed of them once we came down is the interesting part.

    You have to be conscientious about human waste on the wall because of how much traffic popular climbs get.

    it can get … um… unpleasant.

  29. Crudely Wrott says

    Kal-El, they are wearing helmets because the gods* have declared that if you are actually doing any kind of remotely risky work you must wear a helmet or you can be fined and run off the job.

    Otherwise you would appear to be a slacker and not really trying. Oh, and in violation of OSHA regulations. Besides, the only way to judge rank and authority on the job is to observe the cleanliness of the hat. The dirtier it is, the more indispensable the wearer.


  30. Erp says

    I think the helmets are for things falling off the building while they are cleaning.

    So how many remember Phillipe Petit and his tightrope walk back in 1974?

  31. says


    Speaking of things like this, here’s something that can make me vertiginous while lying safely in bed. A few years ago, Andre Agassi and Roger Federer played a couple of points of tennis on the helipad of the Burj Al Arab hotel…more than 300 meters above the ground. With no fence keeping them from flying off the edge. It still freaks me out to think about it.

    Check out some photos here.

  32. dogmeatib says

    No [expletive] way! I’d rather pet the tarantulas after they’re fangs are out, their back is raised, and they’ve bitten four or five people than go up there.

    Are they wearing helmets — and why?

    To provide for identification after they fall? Seriously, wind blows you around, knock your head against … well anything really, you don’t really want to take a quick nap while hanging up there.

  33. Crudely Wrott says

    So how many remember Phillipe Petit and his tightrope walk back in 1974?

    I do.

    I also remember watching the Walenda family practice in their back yard back in the ’70s. It was just a couple of blocks up Orange Avenue in Sarasota. They were smooth, graceful and strong, like people I’ve been privileged to work with.

    There is a fascination with heights that defies any explanation I can give it. A particular mixture of exhilaration and primal fear can be held in perfect balance with sufficient will. This is demonstrated by those who work, and play, way up high. Must have something to do with the chemicals our brains make when confronted with a situation that demands the utmost scrutiny, care, planning and execution. Like those rare moments when you know that the fate of your life is completely in your hands–you’re about to fall!

    But instead you do what is necessary to do not fall! Such a close thing is, to say the least, enough to provide the exhilaration. The fear is always there. It helps insure that you do what is necessary.

  34. John Phillips, FCD says

    RevBDC, fortunately, with some exceptions early on, I used to do most of my climbing solo in extreme wilderness areas, where you would be lucky to see someone else once every decade, so there was never anybody underneath :)

  35. Lilith says

    Frankly, you couldn’t get me up there at gunpoint. I break out in a cold sweat just standing on a chair to replace a lightbulb.

    Spiders: I don’t like, but they are nothing I can’t handle with a baseball bat :-) Seriously, if they are outdoors, I ignore them and if they are indoors, they’d better start paying rent or they die.

    Snakes: I get body-hair standing on end just looking at a picture of one. It has only been in the last few years that I could touch a photo of a snake. OTOH, I live in Australia where almost all our snakes can be deadly, so the fact they scare the shit out of me is a survival trait. I try to avoid places they live, and if I run into one for real, I freeze like a statue until the slither on their way.

  36. astrounit says

    Eeeeuuww….what are those things hanging off that building??? Do they bite?

  37. says

    Flying vs tall things: it’s the perspective, methinks. I have it too, ever since visiting the top of Symonds Yat (Wales) at 9 yrs, and realizing the piece of sapling on which I was standing was actually angled out away from the edge of the rock. But I had no problems relatively recently piloting a little aerobatic plane as a “Fighter Pilot for a Day” (Marchetti 260) (http://www.aircombat.com/aircraft.php). Boy, what a blast!

    I refuse to take those elevators up the Needle. No way.

    But spiders, now. Here’s one of mine: http://davidwarman.net/Pictures/Animals/slides/O%20Hairy%20Legs.html

  38. says

    My mom used to date one of the guys who cleaned the Space Needle. I couldn’t even be in the same room with him without getting vertigo.

  39. Jereman says

    RevBDC, I had a feeling this post would out the climbers here. I’m even speaking up after lurking through thousands of posts. Are you actively climbing still? Last fall I made an attempt on Tangerine Trip; while roping up for the first pitch my partners wanted to pray. I said ‘You guys go ahead and pray if you want, I’m going to make sure we don’t fall off this thing.’ – or some such thing, then laughed and began the first pitch while they mumbled away to some invisible bearded guy. The climbing world-like the rest of the world-is infested with too many of these magical thinkers!