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Climbing Salesforce

Started: 2018-10-23 21:00:00

Submitted: 2018-10-24 23:02:29

Visibility: World-readable

In which the intrepid narrator returns to San Francisco to climb the newest tallest building in the skyline

When I lived in San Francisco, I collected a handful of local blogs to keep track of what was happening in my city. One of these (which my RSS reader Feedly* suggested) was the usually-snarky San Francisco Citizen. I left these in my feed (though supplementing the feed with a couple of Seattle blogs, including neighborhood-specific My Ballard and Wallyhood); which proved fortuitous when I stumbled across the San Francisco Citizen post At Long Last, It Finally Does Something: First Ever Stair Climb at Salesforce Tower -- announcing a charity stair climb to the top of the brand-new Salesforce Tower.

Salesforce tower rises above San Francisco
Salesforce tower rises above San Francisco

When I moved to San Francisco in 2016, Salesforce Tower was climbing above ground level in SoMa; by October, it had passed the spire on the top of the Transamerica Pyramid. From the house we bought in Ingleside, our view of most of downtown was blocked by the hill above Glen Park, but the one thing I could see was Salesforce (and, in the picture above, the crane above 181 Fremont). I watched Salesforce Tower climb inexorably, one floor at a time, to become the tallest building in the city. The gently-curving tower was a comforting beacon of the city visible from most places I went -- from the Marin Headlands to Sausalito and the Tiburon Peninsula and the East Bay and Mount Diablo. I could see it from almost everywhere, it seemed, so I knew the top floor must have an amazing view.

It took me a day and a half to decide that I needed to fly down to San Francisco for the weekend to climb Salesforce.

Salesforce Tower at dusk
Salesforce Tower at dusk

Sunday morning, 21st October, the morning of the climb, found me at an Airbnb in Tiburon. From the window, framed by the hills of Belvedere and Angel Island, I could see across the bay into a narrow sliver of Francisco, looking straight up the streets of Pacific Heights, under cloudy skies.

I drove through the fog across the Golden Gate Bridge, across Golden Gate Park and down 19th Avenue to Daly City BART Station. I took BART to Embarcadero Station, got coffee at a Starbucks on a nearly-deserted Market Street. I was a block from Salesforce and spotted people wearing the Runyonup stair climb t-shirts and finisher's medals around their necks, having presumably participated in the climb in an earlier wave. (It was at this moment that I was also profoundly relieved that this stair climb was in fact a real thing, and not an elaborate hoax, given the site's somewhat-weird URL and the lack of obvious mainstream media coverage.)

Salesforce Tower from the ground
Salesforce Tower from the ground

When I signed up for the climb, I requested a seed in the last time slot, to give me plenty of time to get to San Francisco. I ended up seeded in the wave starting at 10:45. I checked in at the plaza, got my bib number, pinned it to my shirt, applied the timing tag to my foot (not that I really cared about my final time; I didn't expect to have the opportunity to get a new personal record climbing Salesforce Tower any time in the future), dropped my bag off at the bag check, ate a banana, and joined my wave for some pre-climb aerobics. I noticed that almost everyone else was wearing running-appropriate gear; I had shown up in street clothes, since I was planning on climbing the tower at a brisk walk.

Jaeger with Salesforce Tower
Jaeger with Salesforce Tower

I joined my fellow climbers going through a quick security check via hand-held metal detector wands, then we were led to the back of the tower (in the shadow of the now-derelict brand-new transit center -- closed for emergency safety retrofitting after some of the beams cracked) through the exit doors into a concrete corridor leading into the core of the building to the base of one of the three staircases leading all the way up to the top of the tower. A race official with a timer rate-limited admission into the stairway to once every seven seconds, giving me the briefest opportunity to ponder the climb I was about to make, before giving me the go-ahead to begin.

I stepped into the stairway, over the timing mats arranged on the threshold, and into the stairway to begin my climb. The first several floors were irregularly-spaced, with the staircase stretching and contracting to accommodate the extra height of the first floor lobby, and the height restrictions imposed by connecting to the (derelict) transit center on the fifth floor.

I set a pace I thought I could keep up, roughly equivalent to a brisk walk, though I've never done anything quite like this so it was hard to estimate the right intensity. (The only obvious parallels are climbing stairs inside buildings (up to the seventh floor) and hiking up mountains, but neither were entirely applicable to climbing to the 61st floor of a brand-new skyscraper.

Above the fifth floor, the stairs became regular: back and forth up a concrete shaft, with a metal landing half-way between floors and a concrete landing (doubling as the floor slab) at each floor. I watched the numbers count up and marked off obvious fractions: the sixth floor meant I was 10% up, the 12th floor was 20%, on up to the 30th floor. I kept my focus on the stairs in front of me, not thinking about the shaft I was climbing, or how high I was above the ground, or how stable the stair was in the shaft, or whether I could look down the cracks between the stair and the shaft and see to the bottom.

Every floor was identical, except for the sign marking the floor number, and (on some floors) warnings not to enter the floor (possibly those that weren't yet finished or vague references to the tenants -- I'm pretty sure I recognized a WeWork logo next to the badge reader on one or two floors. It was easy to get lost on the monotony of the climb without an external reference point. I picked up water bottles on the landings on two of the floors, and accepted the encouragement of the people giving out water.

I passed people in the stairwell, and got passed by a couple of people. After the 50th floor I started counting down to the 61st floor. When I reached the 61st floor I'd gone as high as I was going to go -- the stairs kept going up, presumably to the mechanical penthouse and onto the roof itself, but we'd reached the 61st and highest floor. I left the stairs and stopped my watch and checked the time -- 20 minutes to climb the entire tower.

I grabbed a bottle of water, caught my breath, and picked up a finisher's medal on a table overlooking the bay. The first thing I noticed was how much of the bay I could see with few buildings in the way -- the base of the tower was five blocks from the waterfront, but I was hundreds of feet above any of the other buildings between me and the water so my view was nearly unobstructed.

Looking down on the Bay Bridge from the top of Salesforce Tower
Looking down on the Bay Bridge from the top of Salesforce Tower

The clouds had given way to a patchy haze under a mostly-sunny sky, cutting visibility to a couple of miles and obscuring my view of the East Bay. I walked clockwise around the top of the building, in the narrow band left between the tower's core and the outer wall at the top of the gently-tapering structure. I crept carefully to the windows at the edge of the building, unwilling to get to close but wanting to get the best view. I could see the spire on the top of 181 Fremont, but I had to look carefully to make it out amongst the other buildings in SoMa.

Looking down on SoMa from the top of Salesforce Tower
Looking down on SoMa from the top of Salesforce Tower

I lingered on the view to the south-west, across the Mission and Bernal Heights over the hills into Ingleside. Somewhere in the haze, at the edge of my perception, I could just barely make out the nameless hill where my house sat. Every night while I still lived there (before moving and selling the house) I'd look out across the city -- and if it was a clear night I'd see Salesforce, lit up in the distance; and now I was on top of the tower looking back.

Looking down on SoMa and the Mission from the top of Salesforce Tower
Looking down on SoMa and the Mission from the top of Salesforce Tower

To the west I could see City Hall surrounded in a sea of buildings; on the horizon Karl the Fog hugged the hills and Sutro Tower. The TV antenna was the only man-made structure I could see that was higher than me; everything else was hundreds of feet below me.

Looking down on Mid-Market from the top of Salseforce Tower
Looking down on Mid-Market from the top of Salseforce Tower

To the north I looked down into the Financial District, where two of the erstwhile tallest buildings in the city sat: 555 California (formerly known as the Bank of America Building) and the Transamerica Pyramid.

Looking down on BofA and Transamerica from the top of Salesforce Tower
Looking down on BofA and Transamerica from the top of Salesforce Tower

I lingered in the last quadrant of the building, looking out over the city I called home until recently.

Jaeger on the top of Salesforce Tower
Jaeger on the top of Salesforce Tower

I took the elevator back to the ground floor, descending 61 floors in 38 seconds, considerably faster than the climb (though the speed of the descent did force me to clear my ears).

Jaeger on the ground in front of Salesforce Tower
Jaeger on the ground in front of Salesforce Tower

I took one more selfie on the sidewalk in front of the tower, clearly thrilled to have had the opportunity to climb Salesforce Tower (and an excuse to visit San Francisco again).

[* R.I.P. Google Reader. ]
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