Working Hard at
Hundreds of feet in the air, Angela VanWiemeersch nears the top of the radio tower she’s been climbing. When she reaches the top, though, that’s when the real work begins.
“It’s just really airy,” she says of the feeling of being up there at the top. “With rock climbing, sometimes you can feel a little closer to the wall, which gives you some perspective and something to frame your vision. But when you're on a tower and there's just a void of space all around you, it feels very airy; it feels very surreal. Sometimes I don't fully realize where I am or what I'm doing until I'm off the tower, and then I look back at it. It’s a very strange place to hold focus. Sometimes you're just dangling and there's nothing to touch or hold onto except for what you're working on with your hands, and it’s just very strange.”
As a rope access technician, Angela works anywhere and everywhere in the vertical world that cannot be accessed without being attached to a rope, from hanging movie posters, to attaching signage to buildings, to working on dams, stadiums, ships, and radio and cell phone towers. With the work being so varied, her job is often a dozen different jobs rolled into one. Sometimes it’s replacing parts with basic tools. Other times, it’s more complex.
“I’ll be wiring an entire box
to a huge antenna, and it’s
pretty nuts to be like, al-
right, I’m an electrician
Let’s do this,” she
Sometimes, poor weather causes work to be postponed, but not always. “It’s almost always windy,” she says. “We do try to go up in good weather when we’re doing electrical work or stuff like that, but if there's an emergency and a station's down or communication is down, then we go up in bad weather. The biggest battle for me is often wind. It's much harder to focus when it's really windy and it's really loud and you're freezing. You really need to hone in what you're doing up there and settle down, calm your mind, and focus on the task at hand.”
Even before her career climbing towers, Angela was no stranger to heights. She was a passionate and well-known ice and rock climber for a decade before getting certified as a rope access technician. She loved the way climbing took her to places she never would have journeyed to otherwise, places vastly different than where she’d grown up in suburban Detroit.
“I always had a travel bug, and I always was really interested in the world around me,” she says. “I loved where climbing brought me in nature and how it allowed me to experience the world through a different lens.”
Wanting to continue pursuing her climbing passion with big trips around the world, she knew that a traditional nine to five job might not make the most sense. That’s where contract work in the vertical world came into play, allowing her to work hard and save money but still take off on extended climbing trips. Much of her career skillset, she already had from climbing: being able to safely ascend and descend, aid climb, and perform rescues high above the ground.
She loves the tactile nature of the work, and the way it’s allowed her to forge her own path into making a living while still stimulating the same parts of her mind and body as her climbing passion.
“I'm a hands-on learner,” she says. “I love learning by doing, and rope access and tower work is all about physically figuring things out with your hands and with the structure itself. We’re often lifting things from 50 to 100 pounds; we're hauling around ropes that are heavy. We're putting things through pulley systems. It's very fun. It reminds me of Tinkertoys. It’s engineering things and strategizing and then making it happen, which is cool. Nothing about it is theoretical; it’s always in application, which I love.”
What she loves most about the job, though, are the places it takes her and the people she’s met along the way. They’re people from many different backgrounds and people who’ve always been encouraging to her, a female in a male-dominated field.
“I've met a lot of incredible human beings through my line of work,” she says. “It's people who chose a different path and chose to make their money in a different way, and it seems to me they're very open-minded and very supportive. I’ve just made a lot of really great friends.”
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