Peter Metcalf: What I’ve Learned
62; Founder and former CEO of Black Diamond; Conservation activist; Park City, Utah
At 15 I lied about my age to go with Paul Petzoldt to a wilderness mountaineering school over five weeks in the Wind Rivers. Most people are brought up wanting to be very honest, but there are times in life when enthusiasm and belief supersede it if you want to get anywhere … Regulations and restrictions and requirements be damned, if you absolutely know you can do it and want to.
One of the lessons I’ve applied to business from climbing is that nothing can prepare you for a long day in the mountains other than a long day in the mountains.
You need thoughtful intelligence to see what is required. The issue isn’t can I do long days or can I climb vertical ice. The issue is weaving it together into the rich tapestry that the experience of alpinism can be, a whole array of situations. You want to have the component skills and have the right team and the chemistry that you need. If you don’t have those, the chances of getting killed or hurt are really large.
[In] most of these really big things you take on, like a big hard climb … there often comes a moment where the opportunity to retreat is just about gone, and the only way ahead is moving forward, and there’s something really liberating and inspiring about that. In so many ways we spend a lot of time in life spending energy trying to figure out how to exit. It diminishes our capacity to succeed. The moment you give up on the exit and commit 100 percent to success, it’s amazing the additional levels of energy, power, inspiration, and focus that come to you. [You get] an added boost, and that’s what it really requires to achieve the biggest, most audacious challenges.
The Hunter experience [first ascent and first alpine ascent in Alaska Range] was an amalgamation of everything that had come before. Those experiences, in an exponential mega-focused way, brought Glenn [Randall], Peter [Athans] and me as close to the edge as one could be without going over it.
The lessons learned are the power of a team: having total confidence in the competency of your partners so that when they went to lead out they weren’t going to do anything stupid, when they told you to come up that they had something in.
That was melded to an absolutely brutal honesty, and that was critical, so that if somebody didn’t feel up to it or didn’t feel strong or felt intimidated, they could just say it. You didn’t lose any respect from the team. You’re out for 13 days, inevitably somebody’s going to feel strong and somebody’s going to feel weak.
Check in with your partner and take care of your partner.
That applies to business, too, and doing a big, hard project with a lean team. If somebody’s always trying to do someone else’s work or not trusting their work, trying to micromanage them, you’re not going to succeed. Everybody needs to know their roles, and if they can’t [do something], speak up.
Another lesson on Hunter that was really invaluable for starting B.D. was when you take on these really large things it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the complexity, the size and scale of it. The key was not to dwell on the magnitude of the project but to break it down into components and determine what do we need to do today. And as we think about the day, think about, can we do that? … If we could do it today, and we could do it yesterday, we can do it tomorrow.
The level of creativity, vision and tenacity required to create B.D. was no different than what was required to climb Mt. Hunter. Without Mt. Hunter, I don’t think there would have been a B.D.
For 35 years I passionately allowed work to define my life. Today I am committed to having life define my work. [And finding] the appropriate blend of savoring and saving the world … advocating for the magnificent places where we go and ply our craft and make our coffee and have our bivies.
This article appeared in Rock and Ice issue 249 (April 2018)
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