The World's Wildest Jobs: 17 Guys Who Dodged Cubicle Life

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The Bridge Swinger: Henning Grentz
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Courtesy Henning Grentz15/17

The Bridge Swinger: Henning Grentz

What I Do:

Henning Grentz, a 43-year-old German ex-pat, lives near the Shawangunks Mountains in upstate New York, where he works off and on as a rock climbing guide on the weekends. But he makes his real living applying those skills to assess and assure the safety of huge industrial structures all around the country, doing what is known as “rope access work" — often on bridges. His main job is setting up the rigging for the bridge engineers to clip into so they can walk the girders without fear of falling. In the case of a recent job on the Brooklyn Bridge, he did the first-pass inspection himself, climbing down one of the bridge tower s and rappelling all the way to the East River, some 277 feet below. After taking photographs of damaged mortar on the way down, he used friction devices called jumar ascenders to haul himself back up the rope to roadway level. Whether he’s a temporary tourist attraction (“you feel like a superstar on the Brooklyn Bridge because you’re being photographed all the time”) or, more often than not, anonymous, the deeper satisfaction of being “in the moment” is the same feeling he gets from rock climbing. “Hormones and neurotransmitters are being shot into your bloodstream the way they have evolved to do over the millennia,” he says. “I love my job.”

Experience Required:

Grentz got into the business when one of his climbing buddies brought him onboard to help out with the equipment for a Bard College dance performance, where the dancers were in harnesses suspended on ropes. His pal then pushed him to get certified from one of two “rope access” industry organizations, the national Society of Professional Rope Access Technicians (SPRAT) or the more internationally recognized Industrial Rope Access Trade Association (IRATA). Grentz is now a SPRAT Level 2, which means he can work without direct supervision. At level 3, you’re the cock of the walk, with access to better-paying jobs. 

Two Wild Rappels:

“When you’re descending a rope, you can get spun around by the wind and that can get a little exciting. Once we had a job at the main tower at JFK Airport, and one of the engineers was this kid just out of college who had probably never been higher than 20 feet. He was rappelling down the tower, and he got picked up by the wind a bit and spun around, and so at some point he just froze. One of us had to go down a rescue rope and guide him down to the bottom. Other jobs are kind of funny. Once we had to rappel down a cliff by Niagara Falls and fish out the flimsy little plastic ponchos they give the tourists that fly around and get stuck in the trees.” –Joseph Hooper

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