Free climbing a tower higher than the Empire State Building


This video has been making the rounds, but in case you missed it, it's a real thrill. I watched it in full-screen mode, like my friend Jim Leftwich suggested. My palms got sweaty and the soles of my feet ached, like they do whenever I'm on the edge of a cliff or other high place without a barrier between me and a plunge to death.

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  1. Okay, I was just physically sick. After only about 1m 40s, seeing them get onto the outside of the tower was too much! Insane!

  2. Free climbing? OMG, THE BUTTERFLIES IN MY STOMACH! And, of course, sweaty palms, etc.

    Of course, I get vertigo from being atop high places in video games. But I’ve been skydiving and LOVE IT!

    I don’t think I’ll ever be able to reconcile those two feelings.

    1. there’s an easy way to reconcile it.

      in skydiving, what’s the worse that can happen? you’ll just get to your destination faster :)

  3. Nice… A little nerve wracking because I am seeing the height and dangerousness, but I cannot do anything about it. I would be ok climbing this high as a job, that would be fun!

  4. Oh God, and I would probably be stuck with a co-worker who likes to shake the tower a little while I’m climbing…

    DON’T DO THAT!

    1. At that height, the tower is always swaying. At least it looked like a calm day – imagine when the winds pick up…

      And on another thread, someone who does this for a living commented that they usually aren’t allowed to do this during the day because they have to lower the power on the transmitter, so they do all that *at night*.

      I grew up with a 200′ tower in our front yard (for TV reception) and climbed it regularly – but I can’t imagine doing this.

    1. Probably a fear response? I’m wondering about the feet aching- it’s happening to me now. Lack of blood flow because it all went to the heart as a result of the same fear response? Or maybe hypersensitivity so you can know where you’re standing?

  5. “when a storm strikes, there is no quick way down’ … this line made me laugh … as there is a very obvious, very quick, but also very fatal way to go down.

    I recall being on the top floor of the WTC … and we all could feel it move from time to time .. and that was a huge concrete building at 2/3 of that hight … I don;t wanna know what it feels like being on a pole in 1800ft …. scary …

  6. This is absolutely nuts! I got sick watching the clip till the end. Just asking how they did their way back. Man, I´m glad I´m home.

  7. That was horrifying, and to think they have to do it TWICE on each job (up and down). Can’t they just give these guys parachutes so they can BASE jump their way down?

    Amazing video.

  8. I’ve free climbed a 250 foot redwood in the dark – i’d pay money to do this.

    also, dont forget people, once you’re above about 100 feet, it doesn’t matter how high you go – if you fall, you’re going to die, so you might as well keep going.

  9. I just about lost it at the end, where he’s standing on top of the lamp and clipping himself in… HE’S NOT HOLDING ONTO ANYTHING AT ALL!!! He’s just standing there swaying, looking down at the carabiner on his belt. I imagine the winds up there would be pretty severe.

  10. I like how at 5:30 he puts his line around one of the ladder rungs instead of clipping it around the the ladder base. Obviously a pro who’s not actually worrying about falling. Meanwhile, I’m having a panic attack at my desk!

  11. This provokes an intense fear response for me. Yiiiikes. I went up the Space Needle once. In the short time from the bottom to the top of the elevator, my palms were soaked.

  12. Love how that minimal ladder thing they’re climbing at the very top doubles as a lightning conductor D:
    I’d demand a parachute.

  13. This isn’t bad. I felt physically sick after watching these guys do pull ups on a crane hundreds of feet high.

  14. What about the way down?! I’m a climber, and in my experience climbing down is always harder. The exposure on this is insane…

  15. Holy hell. My legs are still tingling 5 minutes after watching that. I feel the need to go downstairs and lay down on the ground for a little while.

    1. I feel the need to do that, and I’m *already* on the ground level! I’d go deeper, but that would involve free-climbing the staircase; not sure I’m up to that right now.

  16. Absolute madness. How do they find the people with the technical skills AND ability to climb to these heights. I’d get stuck part of the way up and be unable to climb back down. Do they have parachutes? Would make a faster descent assuming you could clear the tower and provide a backup for falls.

  17. Awesome, but… why don’t they keep a standard tool bag at the positions on the tower where they are expected to do work? It seems better than lugging 30 pounds of metal on a tether. =)

  18. I recall a guitarist on an online forum focusing on Fender guitars. He plays a shell pink Strat. At one gig some yahoo was teasing him about his masculinity. His quick remark was that it takes a real man to play a pink guitar. His wife showed the yahoo a few photos he had taken on his day job… climbing antenna towers (including the Empire State building, this tower, and others around the world). He shared some of his still photos with us on line. Yet, the view from 1700+ feet gets a lot more intense with the camera giving motion both to the sway of the tower and of the constant head bobbing. Still photos are awsome, but this takes it way over the top in a way that I would never have the courage or confidence that these workers have.

    1. You think they hammered the rebar in after the concrete dried?

      And there’s no way that they built them from the bottom up. These are some of the tallest structures on earth, there’s no crane to hoist those tons of steel. I bet they build it like a self-assembling crane: lift up what’s already been erected, put the next piece underneath, and connect them. Repeat.

    2. Not really. The components are hundreds of kg in weight — no one is lugging those up the tower by hand.

      Not to say that it’s safe or easy; it’s just a different *kind* of bugfuck insane.

  19. I swear I stopped breathing 10 times during this video. The biggest nerve shaking came from the fact that I had no control over the guys movement. So when he leaned one way I was always trying to lean him back again and since he didn’t respond I felt like I was slipping.

    That was a trip.

  20. Duh. How can that be legal? Aren’t there laws that say workers must have proper safety when working above some height?

    Where I live, you can probably put managers into jail for letting employees work in such conditions.

    And I’m also feeling dizzy, sick and weak after watching this. No sweating palms, though.

  21. For the record, ‘free climbing’ does not mean climbing without safety ropes etc. Free climbing is simply not using aid equipment to help you ascend. A “solo” is when you climb with no protection. Climbing with no aid or protection is a ‘free solo’.

  22. that was so awesome to see from that angle. being able to see his steady ahnds while standing up there and everything holy cow what does it take to do that?! no harness on or anything a gust of wind and he’d be dead. they must have parachutes too or something right?

  23. If there was ever an argument for inventing the jet pack, this is it. Also, do these guys go up with parachutes?

  24. Keep in mind that this tower must sway like crazy at that height even with low winds. As a person who has skydived before the heights didn’t really get me until he was standing on the top and wasn’t holding on to anything for a few seconds.

  25. I’ve climbed and worked at the 60 foot level on a ham radio tower, and I have pretty severe acrophobia. I’ve never had less than one safety rope attached. Never. It is damned scary to me.

    The joke is that only dogs can hear you fart when you are tower climbing.

    Tower climbers have the highest fatality rate of any job in the US. “Deadliest Catch” has got nothing on them.

  26. I used to do this (on much smaller towers, nothing over 150′) as a summer job. They wouldn’t let us free climb like this guy, we had to hook on to the towers, which is ball-itch annoying. You’d reach up as high as you could, hang one hook, then stretch down to reach the hook by your feet, then climb up to the hook, rinse, and repeat.

    To address a couple of questions:

    First: Of course you carry your tools up and down the tower. You don’t want to leave 30 pounds of metal just sitting somewhere up there, ready to drop on someone’s head. Also, tools are expensive, and you can’t have a separate set for every tower.

    Second: Yes, you just climb back down. Going down was always more of a pain than going up, because you had to reach down to set your hooks.

    Third: The tech skills for most tower jocks really aren’t that impressive. I mean, no more impressive than any sort of construction job. All the technical crap is done by the ground weenies who program the radios from the home office, or in the shack at the base of the tower. The only thing actually on the tower is the antenna. Think “cable repair guy” or “electrician” not “computer programmer” or “electrical engineer”

    Fourth: As far as proper safety goes, the guy in the video says that OSHA lets ’em get away with free climbing. I guess the assumption is that most falls are caused by getting tired and making a mistake. If you just go, you’re on the tower less time and you don’t get as tired as if you have to hook and climb, pausing every three rungs.

  27. Bloody hell.

    I’d hate to get caught short at that altitude. You wouldn’t want to climb that bugger after eating a thermonuclear-grade vindaloo… and you probably wouldn’t want to be the guy underneath either!

    I so have to go and lie down now…

    =:~)

  28. I could not do that because I would have. to. jump. And I don’t skydive or anything like that. The higher something I am on is, the more I feel the urge to jump…

  29. I guess not too many people on here are climbers. This video does a good job of capturing the exposure of being high up, but doesn’t even slightly compare to how amazing Alex Honnold’s free-solo of Half Dome in Yosemite. A good 1000 feet higher, and much, much harder. Hard enough in fact that tons of roped climbers try and fail. Really blew the whole climbing world away, especially because Alex isn’t an adrenaline junky, just an extremely confident and talented climber.

    There was video of his Half-Dome solo that’s been taken down (due out as part of a DVD soon), so here’s a new story about it.

    Video of his Moonlight Buttress free-solo.

    1. In response to the climbing thing – I am a climber, know rope access, and have climbed towers, so the video didn’t really make me feel that nervous at all, but I can see how “normal” people would find the mast climb much more worrying. You are exposed all round – seeing someone on a piece of rock keeps the connection to the ground going in the mind. I also find most non-climbers don’t realise that the rock is vertical and the holds are tiny. So seeing something that isn’t just a ladder will also make them uncomfortable.

      I’d love to give something this high a go, I’ve done a bit of exposure at 780 ft.

  30. It’s a long climb, so you know that at one point the guy at the top had to release himself, and with such a long climb down … well it’s inevitable. You’re going to have to pee and just hope that most of it won’t be on your partner’s head.

    1. Good question. I noticed that there is a slightly shorter one just adjacent to this tower, and what appears to be several others in the vicinity.

      Wikipedia has a list of masts here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Table_of_masts and if I had the time I’d see if there are a group of masts clustered in a locale. I’d then look that up on google maps and see if I could match the road patterns with with you can glimpse from the video.

  31. Yup, employers putting their workers at risk unnecessarily sure does make for exciting footage. If this was shot in the US, the regulatory violations are just as breathtaking as the vista. If not, there’s still no excuse for endangering someone to this degree just to save a tiny amount of money on protective equipment.

    For whatever it’s worth, this is what OSHA claims to require: “Where the total length of a climb equals or exceeds 24 feet (7.3 m), fixed ladders shall be equipped with one of the following:”

    “Ladder safety devices” defined later in the reg, but basically a fixed rope and an ascender.

    “Self-retracting lifelines (an automatic toprope), and rest platforms at intervals not to exceed 150 feet”

    “A cage or well, and multiple ladder sections, each ladder section not to exceed 50 feet (15.2 m) in length. Ladder sections shall be offset from adjacent sections, and landing platforms shall be provided at maximum intervals of 50 feet.”

    Heck, even the minimal equipment they do provide isn’t up to snuff: non-locking carabiners (the snap hooks) haven’t been allowed for any kind of fall protection in at least 15 years.

    None of this is expensive. Some of it’s darned near free, when compared to the cost of that structure. It’s only a bad bargain if you assume that dead cost nothing.

    I’ve worked for bosses like this. Been told to do things that would make a BASE jumper pause, and if I wouldn’t they’d find someone just a little more desperate who would. There was a time when we had a government, and a legal system, to protect us from people like that. I look at things like this, and it makes me wonder if we still do.

  32. The sheer height is paralyzing. The clouds on the horizon menacing. The watch on his arm is just waiting for its chance to catch on something. Potential rope snags are fraught with peril. Keeping track of potential rope snags with dangling bag has to be mentally exhausting. Naw, I think I’ll pass.

  33. I used to work for a tower construction company and was part of a crew that installed antennas. Climbing up is the easy part, it’s the working environment that makes it difficult.

    Strangely, every single morning I went up the tower I felt fear (probably a good thing) but after maybe 30 minutes I would acclimate and not think any more about how high off the deck I was. Dangerous? Yes. In Atlanta one summer four tower workers died (out of maybe 100 working in and around the Atlanta area). As a job it’s one of the most dangerous out there. It makes those crab fishermen on “Deadliest Catch” seem like pleasure boaters by comparison.

    Thanks for the video. I worked towers in the days before helmet cams. Check out the “World’s Toughest Fixes” episode on replacing a broken antenna for a sense of the insane logistics involved in high angle construction.

  34. Taken down from Youtube. Boo!

    The explanation seems to be here:

    I sent out an email this weekend advertising a new video about tower climbing. It was a great video and I wish I could show it to you but the person I got it from expressed some concerns about how it reflected on the tower industry and ask me to take it down.

  35. Anyone else notice at 3:24 – 3:30 that the sheath of his safety line is frayed in a spot?

    This is … Wow. Working without safety lines pressures your partner to work without them. Having obviously-worn safety lines that are “clipped” onto open rungs is a wink-wink-nudge-nudge to the notion of safety.

    Also, I just watered my tomato plants by flicking my hands at them.

  36. How do you GET a job like this? Doing shit nobody else wants to do because they’re afraid? I am SO there.

    No, really. Someone send me a link to a Help Wanted ad.

    1. @galoot #79:

      Google tower climber jobs and you’ll find plenty of them out there just waiting on the right “applicant”. Must be willing and physically able to climb to extreme heights, and several companies are willing to train with no experience necessary – 14$-22$/hour with pay set to increase after a 90 day “probationary” period (You’re still alive? Give this man a raise!).

      Good news everyone, many of them list life insurance as a job benefit. Sadly, at 30 times the average work-related death rate you might just need it.

      Not my cup-o-tea.

      For the lazy: http://lmgtfy.com/?q=tower+climber+job

  37. That isn’t a safety line that he clips the mast from time to time. That’s the line the the bag of tools. Taking the weight off his harness.

  38. I´m a decent(ish) rock climber.
    This is just stupid. And insane work conditions.

    I’m sure that the engineers who design this and the the build process can figure out a properly usable safety line system. If any of the bosses give a damn, that is.
    After climbing up and working for a while you ARE going to be getting tired and your attention can wander. Not the best conditions for climbing down.

  39. If I lived in the US I would be writing to my political representative to ask them to watch this video, and ask themselves if they can reconcile the non-existant safety standards of this job with its extraordinary death rate. As other commenters have pointed out, it’s not as if it would be impossible to design safety equipment that wouldn’t excessively tire the climbers. (I wonder if the safety standards are as lax in the UK, where I live. It seems hard to find that information.)

  40. Maybe I will get my hands on an old freight parachute. If I have to work in a building as high as the WTC I would keep it under my desk, just in case. It sounds silly and impractical but it might not seem so silly on the way down.

  41. Anyone know the name of that muscle just behind your junk? You know the one, fellas: the one that has just had a massive workout.

    Do ladies have the same reaction? Is watching this is a good pelvic floor exercise?

  42. Eek!

    This makes me nauseous, but damn, I wish I had the courage to do this job.

    I’ve climbed a 120 foot ship’s mast at sea, so I have a tiny fraction of the experience- it was swaying quite a lot more than one would expect, even in moderate winds.

    The thing I found most surprising was that the harness was actually a bigger encumbrance than aid. It snagged on everything, and clipping in was a pain in the ass. Sure, you’re safer when you are clipped in, but as soon as you need to move and have to make the extra effort to unclip, you start wishing you hadn’t bothered. If you were going all the way up to the royal, you likely would not clip in at all. And up there, they would say you ‘clip in to Jesus’ because there was nothing you could attach your harness to.

    However if you were planning to stay in one place for a while, attaching yourself to the mast or yard was a very good idea, simply because you could get too comfortable working there and forget that a bigger wave or gust of wind could send you flying.

    Of course, there was many a time when I misjudged how short my rope was, and nearly fell off because of the jerk when I reached for something that was too far from my clip. You just had to know when.

  43. OMG, what retard designed the tower to require maintenance in this manner??? You couldn’t pay me enough to do what those people in this video do. The tower should have been designed so that the modularised components could be hoisted up and down a supporting tower like a flag on a pole so that they could be maintained at ground level.

  44. Yeeeikes. I could feel the !@#$% rungs in my hands as he was climbing. And got vertigo near the top. I hope these guys have a union, and are paid well. Interesting to watch, though..

  45. Jesus. I thought all you people were just acrophobics. I’m not afraid of heights but even I got weak-kneed by the end.

  46. Easy climbing+extreme height=fatal complacency. There are a lot of ways you could do this safely. Free-soloing most of the climb is not one of them. I couldn’t help notice that at the very top of the tower is where the climber decides to use a locking carabiner-but he uses both hands to attach it, so he’s just standing there with no protection at all, not even a handhold!

  47. So what’s the point of blurring out the face of the other climber? It’s not like these guys are narcotics officers or could somehow be put at risk if their identities were revealed. It’s ridiculous how secretive some companies are becoming about trivial matters.

  48. Another rock climber chiming in: yes, I got sweaty palms watching this. (similar to laying in bed, half asleap, thinking about leading hard routes with sketchy clips…) Also, it’s interesting from a “film theory” point of view, that he pretty much never looks up. I never had a good idea of what’s coming climbing-wise, or how far he had to go to the top.

    Different climbers have different reactions to the idea of unroped soloing. My reaction watching this was that I consciously know that I can make every move that guy made. But… there’s always a chance that I would goof somehow, or that I’d have a fluke tendon pull. Personally, I am not comfortable with that level of risk. A big difference between climbers and non-climbers watching this is that after a few years of climbing, you develop a good sense of what you can do 100% (well, 99.99%) of the time, and what’s “iffy.”

    I’m somewhat surprised that these towers don’t a a “via ferrata” type of safety line – a cable running along side the “ladder” with attachment points every 15 to 20 feet. As the climber ascents, she has two tethers clipped to the cable. When she reaches an attachment point on the cable, she unclips one tether from below the attachment, and re-clips it above, then repeats with the second tether. This way, she is always attached to the cable with at least one tether. If she falls, she’ll drop no more that about 20 feet – enough to be seriously injured, but it’s unlikely to be a fatal fall. One issue with this system: if you fall and are dangling, injured, 1600′ feet off the ground in Bumblefluck County, OK – who, exactly, is going to come get you off the tower? The local sheriff/emt? Only a very small number of responders in the US have the type of training and equipment to deal with someone stuck, injured on a tower like this.

    The end of the video made me suspect that they “topped out” for nothing but the sake of standing on the very top. And, yes, I did freak out a little when he went no-handed to pull the locking biner off his harness…..

  49. As an ex wind-turbine fixer, on nothing like this altitude, but certainly far enough to splat if you fall, I was somewhat surprised there was no fall-arrest track built onto the tower.
    There are several systems available that allow you to lock your safety lanyard onto a ring, which slides up or down a track.
    Like a car seatbelt, so long as you move steadily, it allows movement, but any sudden load (such as a fall)locks it solid.

    That said, most of us didn’t use it. It was a damn nuisance, locking when it shouldn’t, getting in the way etc.

    So you climb without it. If you stop for a breather, you clip on.
    When you get to where you’re working, you use two tethers and never unclip one without the other being secured. Honest. Well, unless the tether’s hampering your ability to work.

    If I’d published a video like this, I’d have expected to lose my job. Some of the commenters seem to have missed the fact that the distance climbed is not the height of the tower, it’s a couple of hundred feet.(they had an elevator for the first 1600ft.)If you can climb a vertical ladder 20 feet, then you’ve got the basic skills to do this. It’s just twenty feet, ten times.

    In this video, it’s a nice day. Imagine doing it on a freezing foggy morning, with frozen hands. These guys, the people most of us never think about, do it all over the world in all conditions, and deserve every penny of their pay.

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