Like fresh air? Sweeping vistas? Thrilling heights? For rock climbing fanatics, the clean energy sector has created an exciting new employment niche. “It was what I’d been waiting for my whole life,” says climber Josh Crayton about the moment he found out he could put his rope skills to work.
If you’ve driven across California, you’ve probably seen wind turbines along the freeway. You might have found them a curious sight, or perhaps a reason for optimism about the future of the planet. Maybe they reminded you of a nesting flock of cranes—some pecking madly, others dead still.
Josh Crayton looks at them as if they were luxury cars. “These are Mitsubishi 1.0s—one-megawatt turbines—the cleanest Mitsubishi turbine you will ever see,” he said, pointing them out to me on a recent drive. “But the Cadillacs are these Siemens. They’re sexy as all hell.”
We were on a two-lane county road about 50 miles east of San Francisco, in the rolling grassland of Altamont Pass, which once produced half of the world’s wind-generated electricity.
Crayton, 38, who has close-cropped reddish-brown hair and a laid-back manner, works as the blade-service manager for Rope Partner, a Santa Cruz-based outfit that cleans and maintains wind turbines across North America. I was driving with him and Ryan Gaunt, one of the company’s project managers, to inspect a turbine blade on a 6,100-acre wind farm in the Sacramento Delta.
Both men are serious climbers. Crayton has blazed new climbing routes around Sedona, Arizona, and Gaunt used to spend several months a year living out of his car at various climbing spots around the West. Their morning commute had the feel of a sport-climbing excursion. We’d all met before dawn in the parking lot of a Berkeley climbing gym; the backseat of their four-door pickup was cluttered with helmets, thermoses, salami, crackers, and Luna bars.
Crayton fell into this niche of the wind power industry about eight years ago. At the time, he was in college, planning to become a teacher. After spending a summer guiding rafting trips in the Sierra Nevada, he was driving home to Flagstaff, Arizona, when his car broke down in the mountains. He didn’t have the money to fix it, but he’d heard that Rope Partner was hiring rock climbers to clean and repair turbines. So he signed up for the company’s weeklong training course in Santa Cruz and two weeks later found himself dangling from a wind turbine.