John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
Precarious handholds on this 919-foot chimney include dangling cords and a ladder that's come loose from the wall.
Here's a chimney even Santa wouldn't get within 100 miles of: a scabrous, rusting, 919-foot smokestack in Pitesti, Romania, reportedly the second-tallest structure in the country—and likely its No. 1 deathtrap.
Yet urban adventurer Flaviu Cernescu didn't appear daunted by the decrepit power-plant prong when he scaled it in November. And that's incredible, given the challenges of the climb: The bottom section of the chimney has lost its ladder, so the only means of ascent is by gripping random, dangling electric cords. ("Is this cable holding? Hope it is....") The middle part does have some semblance of a ladder, though nothing that would get past safety inspectors without a bulging sack of cash, and a bent catwalk that appears as stable as scaffolding woven from brittle fish bones.
Fallen bricks scattered around this precarious bird's nest hint at the final stage above: a 10-foot piece of ladder that has detached from the wall, leaving the daredevil to gently wobble in the wind as he ascends to the crumbling top for some high-altitude gymnastics. From start to finish, every second of this stunt is a screaming endorsement for Cernescu's initial disclaimer: "Please understand that by climbing this chimney you put yourself/others in danger."