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1,455 stairs in the name of charity: Inside Scale the Strat

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More than a hundred men and women will enter the Stratosphere’s concrete core this weekend as part of the charity climbing event.
Photo: Marc Paulus

It’s not for wimps, couch potatoes or wanna be gym regulars. It’s not for people who are afraid of heights, suffer from vertigo or are claustrophobic.

The challenge: 108 floors and 1,455 stairs inside the Stratosphere. If you have to think twice about whether or not you are fit enough to take on this competitive race, chances are you aren’t ready to Scale the Strat.

The two-day charity climbing competition benefits Nevada’s American Lung Association, raising money to fund lung health research, education and advocacy in Southern Nevada. The scaling begins on Friday, February 20, when competitors will crowd the casino’s small stair well for the marathon climb and continues the following day with the 50 fastest people returning on Saturday to do it all over again.

According to the event guidelines if you are fit enough to run three miles in 30 minutes or climb 1,000 steps on a stair machine then you should be good to go. But, the Web site cautions, there is no exit point except in the case of medical emergency. Once you enter the tower core, you’re stuck.

I’ve always been curious about the layout of the stairs inside the Stratosphere and wondered how anyone could climb and train on them. I’d heard that firefighters did training on the steps with all of their gear on. While I pictured myself tumbling under the weight of their equipment, the Scale the Strat event seemed like the perfect opportunity for me to kill my curiosity about the concrete tower, and I decided to take a peek at the course participants will be climbing this Friday.

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Beyond the Weekly
Scale the Strat
Feb. 20 and 21

As I was escorted into the Stratosphere elevator my heart rate felt fine – pulse was normal, my ears starting to pop with the change in elevation.

Soon I was standing at the 31st floor. As I looked up to an infinite spiral of metal, the theme song to Star Wars played in my head.

On the stairs, I ran into the route’s more regular climbers – a couple of the hooks and ladders men who were just doing their work out for the day. One of them had an oxygen tank on, another was listening to his iPod. Off they went like they were just going up the stairs to their house. I had a momentary thought of training with them then laughed it off. Climbing on all fours to get up to the top wouldn’t be pretty.

Already I could feel the shift in the air pressure. With every flight of stairs you ascend about 15 feet in height. While I was fine going up and down a couple of the stairs, when we went into the white flight of stairs on the top floor, it was all over. My normal heart rate went out the window, replaced by the huffing and puffing of intense exercise.

When you hit the white flight of stairs it means that you’re almost home free. In three-inch stacked heel boots I felt hindered, hobbled. I wanted to take them off and go faster, but it felt like someone was pulling my legs down. I held onto the rail as if playing tug-of-war. I was determined to finish the last flight, to make it to the very top. And soon there I was, but my heart was constricted as if it had hundreds of tight rubber bands wrapped around it. A sharp pain twisted in my lungs.

And then … the payoff.

The view from the Observation Tower was amazing, the Strip in miniature below. I can finally say that I’ve been inside the stairs of the Stratosphere, seen firefighters train and have no desire to wear my favorite boots again anytime soon. To the brave men and women who will be climbing this weekend, I say “good luck” and “may the force be with you.”

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Mytae Carrasco

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