The Good Route: Green Jobs for Dirtbag Climbers


By Mary Catherine O'Connor

Late last month, The New York Times' Kate Galbraith reported on a rising employment trend: jobs maintaining wind turbines. When the blades on turbines get stuck or damaged, they need to be quickly fixed, and what better experience could a candidate possess than rock climbing?

Galbraith talked to Chris Bley, a climber and entrepreneur, who started a company called Rope Partner in Santa Cruz, Calif. Seeing an obvious match, Bley started hiring climbers to perform turbine maintenance. Not only are the job requirements well suited for climbers, so is the schedule: projects are intense but short and not constant, leaving time for recreational climbing trips.

But Galbraith noted that one needs more than a harness and a flexible schedule to fill the position:

“Turbine owners and manufacturers generally demand to see an established safety record. Liability and workers’ compensation insurance can be hard to get, and climbers typically need a certain level of certification from the Society of Professional Rope Access Technicians, a trade group, before they are allowed to work on the turbines.”

And while some of the major hazards to climbing on rock–falling rock or gear from other climbers–are absent in turbine work, the job comes with its own concerns, such as the nightmarish scenario in which the turbine could be left enabled, leaving the blades open to turning while workers are on them.

Wind farms aren't the only firms that are hiring climbers in the cleantech industry. Solar panel installers such as Boulder, Colo.-based Lighthouse Solar  are also keen on recruiting climbers, Galbraith notes in another post.

And while cleantech is an important new job source for skilled, safety-minded climbers–er, make that “rope technicians”–it's by no means the first industry to employ them.  If you think you'd like to split your year between scaling El Capitan and fixing fiberglass and mounting solar panels (or more niche work, such as cleaning out Jefferson's pores on Mount Rushmore) check out the job leads and other info from the International Rope Access Trade Association.

Mary Catherine O'Connor is a freelance writer, covering the environment, sustainability and outdoor recreation. The Good Route, her blog for Outside Online, is focused on the places where the active life and sustainability merge.