From climbing rocks to climbing towers

With a field boasting as many opportunities as tower climbing, it comes as a surprise that more women are not engaging in active employment within the field. Those that are, assume the role of trail-blazers in a predominately male industry. Out of an approximately 9,000 tower climbers in the USA, only 15 were female. The occupation gets negative representation for being physically demanding and dangerous, but it is only as dangerous as one makes it.

One of these trail blazers is Lauren James, a climber from North Carolina. Her career in tower climbing, which has since become passion, began with her love of rock climbing. This “tower dog,” a pet name climbers use for one another, climbs 500 vertical feet, for up to a months straight, while hauling 30 pounds of gear. She was intrigued by welding as a kid and become interested enough to study welding in college. Some of her family had been in the tower climbing industry and they encouraged her when James decided she wanted to pursue the career. Soon after she was applying for jobs in North Carolina.

Cell tower technicians/tower climbers are the eyes of the tower owners. Each time they climb towers the tower climbers look for bent or bending steel, loose bolts, irregularities, loose wires and ill fitting connections. Climbing some of the towers feels like doing pull-ups for 500+ feet. Not only is it pulling up body weight, but there is 30 or more pounds of harness.

James admits that her background in rock climbing better prepared her for her tower-climbing career. She already possessed the stamina and endurance which is required for tower climbing, once she got used to the gear, whatever remaining fear of climbing she had left her. She does admit that rock climbing is more diverse.

Her routine consists of travelling for three to four weeks, then she is off and at home for a week. All in all about 252 days per year James spends on the road, in hotels with truck stop coffee.She has climbed towers in 35 states. Even working seven days a week, James still gets inspired sometimes upon towers. She explains “I’ve experienced some beautiful scenery and done some cool things.” The views from 500 feet in the air can be almost hypnotic.

Despite her experience, James chooses to stay in North Carolina. She rock climbs in her time off at remote locations such as Linville Gorge and New River Gorge which is always close to her heart. New River Gorge was the site of her first climb. James is not only involved in the tower climber community, she is involved in the rock climbing community as well. For her the experience of climbing is truly a spiritual one.

More women should be encouraged to experience this field. Not only are women an asset, but there is nothing they are incapable of, especially when driven by passion, as Lauren James can attest to.