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JJason Recognition
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15 + 142 points

The Highest Place by JJason Recognition

February 3rd, 2009 10:16 PM

INSTRUCTIONS: Go to the highest point of anything.

I decided to go to the highest point in Portland. This turned out to be more complicated than I expected.

First thing, it turns out that there's some disagreement about what building in Portland is the tallest. Some say it's the Wells Fargo tower, while other's say that it's the US Bancorp building. The US Bancorp building was more floors, with 42 vs the Wells Fargo tower's 41, but according to wikipedia the Wells Fargo tower is 10 feet higher. The clincher is that that the Wells Fargo building is up a hill, while the US Bancorp building is at the bottom of that hill. So the Wells Fargo tower was definitely the highest point.

Having done this research online, I went to go find the building. Unfortunately, I have the memory of a squirrel, so this took about an hour and a half of wandering at random around downtown Portland, looking at buildings and trying to remember what the name of the place I was trying to get to was. When I finally came across the building, I had by then convinced myself that I was actually looking for a J. P. Morgan tower (for some unfathonable reason) and only went inside just to check.

I asked the security guard inside if this was the tallest building in Portland, and he said yes. I then asked him if there was any sort of observation platform near the top that I could visit. He said no. Turned out that there wasn't any place for the general public (riff raff like me) to visit near the top, only a crummy museum on the second floor.

I went to the museum anyway. It was pretty crummy. But in one corner of the museum, what did I find but an emergency exit! Given that it wasn't alarmed, I went in. Based on the signs on the other side the door, this stairway lead all the way too the roof. Jackpot!

About twelve stories up, it became perfectly clear that I had drastically underestimated the difficulty of this climb. With more than thirty stories to go, I was already exhausted. I had to give up. There was no way that I was going to make up to the top.

No, I'd have to come back another time. Do some research, gather some supplies. The Wells Fargo tower had challenged me and I was not going to give up.

Needed Supplies

Building Hours: 7 am to 6 pm on weekdays.

After this, several weeks passed as I became lazy and lethargic, bereft of drive. But such a state could not last forever. The morning of Jan 13th found me on the light rail heading into downtown when I decided to climb the tower today. I was already in my disguise, as I'd been going to a job interview earlier, and once I went downtown I purchased my supplies.


-One (1) Bottle of Juice
-One (1) Bag of trail mix
-One (1) copy of Doktor Sleepless #11
-One (1) copy of The Gift by Lewis Hyde
The last two items were for amusement while I rested on the stairs.

I was pretty nervous about doing this - I was all the time sure that some security guard was going to come by and arrest me for being a suspected terrorist. I had a prepared cover story - that I was checking out the fire exits so if a disaster happened I'd know exactly where they were and I wouldn't waste any time. While I felt this story would be sufficient for any office workers I might come across, I worried that it'd fall apart pretty quickly if they started to ask questions like where I worked and on what floor and what I did. Plus, as I noticed when I got in there, there are security cameras pretty much everywhere in the main areas of the Wells Fargo towers - what if somebody was tracking my movements?

But despite these worries I soldiered on. My plan was to first check the elevator, take it up as high as I could and then take the stairs back down (since once you've entered the emergency stairs you can't get back into the main areas without an access card (this detail will become important later in this story)). Based on a recon visit I had done a little while ago, I knew that the elevators were divided into several blocks, with the highest one only going to the 38th floor. So I strolled semi-confidently up to the elevator, entered 38 into the fancy keypad. To my joy and excitement, the elevator didn't prompt me for any additional info and seemed perfectly willing to send me the 38th floor.

The 38th floor brought me some problems. Upon arriving I found that the offices on this floor had taken up more room than was normal, so I couldn't get into the stairs. And to make it worse, it took me about five minutes to figure out how the elevator worked. But I eventually did figure it out and went down two floors (to the 36th floor, for those of you who are following along at home) to see if they were reasonable stairs.

The 36th floor had a much more reasonable layout. I first went left, noticed the entrance to the stairs, and then decided to try the right side, to see if they had a water fountain over there. They did, as well as another entrance to the stairs. After drinking my water, I decided to take these stairs.

This proved to be a mistake. See, as I quickly learned, the building actually has two sets of emergency stairs. But only one of them has roof access. And I wasn't in the one that did. The stairs I was in only went to the 39th floor. And since you can't get access back into the building proper once you're in the emergency stairs, there was only one option - I'd have to go down all 36 floors without even having completed my goal.

Things I noticed about the security stairs, as I went down. First, they're hot. I got pretty sweaty pretty quickly. Second, they're surprisingly clean - almost no dust. I pity the people who have the clean them. Ever floor has ten stairs, then a landing, then another ten stairs. I counted - there's not a lot to do while going down over 720 stairs. That's more or less it. Security stairs are not very interesting. When around the twentieth floor, the walls changed from white to a beige mesh for about four floors, this was very exciting.

Finally, going down all those stairs is tiring. I ended up having to take a break around the 18th floor, where I drank my juice and ate my trail mix and read The Gift. By the time I hit ground level, my legs were too tired and my feet hurt too much to even consider doing it again right then. The tower had bested me again, but I'd be back.

Lessons Learned:
-Go the 36th floor instead the 38th, take the right stairs this time
-Wear light clothing, it's hot in there
-The provisions were very much appreciated, as were the entertainment.
-I should've brought something to leave behind.

My next attempt at climbing the building came on Feb. 3rd. This time I was planning to climb the building from the moment I awoke, so I was sure to bring along a flashlight, which I did not have the time before. My provisions:
2 bottles of water
1 bag of trail mix
1 copy of the Gift
1 flashlight
1 mp3 player
1 camera phone, and not the camera phone I usually use, this one takes better pictures.
With my provisions in hand and dressed like an office worker, I boldly travelled down to the Wells Fargo tower. My previous journey had rendered me a lean, mean, climbing machine and the first stages went off without a hitch. I strode in through the side doors, took the elevator up to the 36th floor, got into the correct security stairs, and up I went. Things continued to be hitchless as I went up past the 37th floor, 38th floor, 39th floor, and even the mysterious 39Mth floor. Before I knew it, I at the top.

The top was sort of disappointing. There was a small room, with wires and some signs and ladder to a locked trapdoor and a door that clearly lead to the roof. This door did not open. In fact, I am baffled to figure out it would open. There was a doorknob, which cleared turned, but that's all it did. You could turn it 360 degrees and it would just keep turning. After messing around with the door for a few minutes, I decided that this was quite likely, as high as I could go. I tore a page out of my notebook, wrote a short message for the ages on it, and left it by the trapdoor, at the highest point that I could get too. I had succeed in my goal.

Shortly afterwords, I realized that I was locked in there. It seems the door between the stairs and room I was in locked automatically behind me, trapped me in that tiny room. There was a communications box, but I wasn't sure what I would say. I was getting a little worried at this point, so I decided to take a break, eat some trail mix, and consider my options. Which was when somebody came to rescue me.

The staff of Wells Fargo building were surprisingly nice about the whole thing. I told them that I was trying to see if I could get on the roof and they told me that no, no I couldn't do that (the guy who escorted me out of the building told me that when the maintenance people needed to get on there they needed to get it unlocked for them, which I supposed explains the door. It strikes me as a fire hazard though). From what I can tell, a security guard saw me on the camera and sent someone to go check it. I adopted my standard dealing-with-security-personell demeanor, which is a combination of apologetic, complentary, honest while avoiding mentioning anything that might trigger more questions, and confirming any assumptions they make that might help me. For example, I told them that I was trying to get to the roof, but didn't mention why, and when the maintenance guy asked if I worked in the area, which I don't, but I said that I did. Then I mentioned that I'd heard that this was the tallest building in Portland, which he seemed to appreciate. The maintance guy took me downstairs on the freight elevator, saving me the time and damage to my legs* of going down myself. He let me out on the first floor and I endeavoured to leave quickly and quietly.

And that is the end of my story.

*After the 2nd attempt to climb the building it hurt to walk for about a week. This is probably the second most pain I've suffered for a task, with Journey to the End of the Night Chicago in 3rd place and Stranded at number one.

+ larger

The Wells Fargo Center
Creepy blackness
Ninth Floor
US Bancorp Tower
My Disguise
What I carried
No Roof Access!
Looking Down
39th Floor
Through the door
Emergency Phone
The way out
Provisions 2
The Correct Stairs
Roof material
Locked Door

32 vote(s)

Favorite of:


5ptvotelater, pdx, votelater

10 comment(s)

posted by Lincøln on February 3rd, 2009 10:51 PM

I consider this a win even though you didn't get to see the view from up there (or think to ask the guard to take you to a window on the top floor).

(no subject)
posted by anna one on February 4th, 2009 12:07 AM

I'm with Lincoln, that's some dedication.

(no subject)
posted by teucer on February 4th, 2009 8:22 AM


(no subject)
posted by JJason Recognition on February 4th, 2009 9:14 PM

Man, I wish I'd thought to ask. I did ask the guard about the view from the roof and he admitted that it was pretty amazing.

(no subject) +2
posted by Fiona on February 4th, 2009 6:44 AM

I got stuck in the stairwell of a super tall building once. I was on vacation in Houston and me and my botfriend at the time went to the observation floor of the tallest building in the city. For some reason he decided to go through a door in the wall, I never did fathom why, something about needing a ciggarette, I couldn't work it out. I followed him, protesting, and before I knew it we were in a stairwell and the door had locked behind us. It was all blank and scary like the ones in these pictures and we really weren't supposed to be ther. We had to walk down lots of floors before we found a door with a buzzer and got let onto a floor or offices and escorted out. Luckily we were English and so, for some reason, that made what we did forgivable (I don't know if they forgave us because we were foreign, and therefore stupid, or if they were just charmed by our accents, which bizzarely seems to happen a lot ). It was really creepy and the way you could see aaallllllllllllll the way down the well in the middle made it much worse. Shudder. Very brave task. I'll go away now and stop boring you.

(no subject)
posted by Jellybean of Thark on February 4th, 2009 7:55 AM

I like the note.

(no subject) +1
posted by Waldo Cheerio on February 4th, 2009 9:01 PM

I like 39M.

Drive and technique and hey, fitness
posted by susy derkins on February 4th, 2009 1:16 PM

The description of your standard dealing-with-security-personell demeanor is an SFØ skill tutorial on its own.

(no subject)
posted by Kyle Westwood on February 10th, 2009 5:29 PM

Awesome. You beat the building. Well almost, it's good enough for 5 point vote anyway. Lots of dedication and detail in this praxis. This is another fine example of fine tasking.

(no subject)
posted by rongo rongo on March 3rd, 2009 12:52 PM

Super persistence, and nice job not getting flustered by having to be rescued by security.