9 Entrepreneurship Lessons From the Mountains

Set behind the Seattle skyline, standing elegantly at 14,411 feet, Mount Rainer can humble even the most experienced climbers. Several weeks ago, I set out with a group of friends for an unforgettable adventure on Mount Rainer. We hiked to Camp Muir, the main base camp at 10,080 feet, and skied down at night using only headlamps. (Don't try this at home). There's something meditative about skiing in near darkness. Sight is our most dominant sense. Without it we become incredibly in tune with our other senses. In the weeks since, I've reflected a lot on this adventure and have found the lessons from this experience to be extremely relevant to my life as an entrepreneur. Here are several key takeaways.


1. Preparation can mean life or death.
Our journey started long before our boots hit the dirt with careful consideration of every foreseeable scenario. We wanted to have a plan for each. Don't just plan for the best case scenario, plan for everything that could go wrong too. The moment you're forced into a survival situation is not the right time to start developing a plan.

2. Pace yourself.
With all of the adrenaline and excitement of hitting a trailhead, it's common for people to push too hard at the beginning and burn out during the climb. Keep your emotions in check, pace yourself, and maintain a steady pace. This will allow you to conserve energy that will be needed to tackle more difficult terrain later on.

3. Just keep moving
There will be times when it doesn't seem worth it. No one said it'd be easy. Remember that momentum is important. When you stop on a mountain above snow level, it doesn't take long for the cold to set in. Stopping for too long can make it very difficult to start again. When you're tired, just put one foot in front of the other and keep moving forward.

4. Take care of yourself
You will not be able to reach your end goal if you do not take care of yourself. There's a rule on the mountain that if you become thirsty, you're already dehydrated. Treat dehydration by not letting it happen in the first place. Take care of yourself and take time to replenish along the way.

5. Everything looks closer than it is
You get a real sense of just how big Mount Rainier is as you're approaching Camp Muir. As you reach the final snowfield and the base camp comes into sight, it looks like you're just minutes away from relief, but anyone who's made this climb can attest that it's an illusion. From first sight, the base camp is still about an hour away. Don't underestimate the magnitude of your goals and how long it will take to get there. Everything takes longer (and costs more) than you'd expect.

6. Don't underestimate the little things
Surprisingly, of the 400+ fatalities reported on Mount Rainier, only about a quarter of those deaths occurred near the summit. Most fatalities and injuries occur in the seemingly safe terrain well below the base camp. Pay attention to the little things as they may be more dangerous than you realize. Stay alert and be prepared for unforeseen challenges. They will arise. The least you can do is avoid being surprised when they occur.

7. Let others help you
While climbing may not seem like a team sport, it is. This became very clear to me the first time I got altitude sickness. It's not in my nature to let other people take care of me, but when lying in a tent at 12,000 ft. fighting nausea and a severe headache, I needed help from my team. They quickly set up gear, made food, melted snow for water, and got me back on my feet. Almost by definition, entrepreneurs like being self-sufficient, but there will be times when you will need help, and you should take it.

8. Create milestones and re-evaluate your path.
Once we reached Camp Muir, we ate and waited for the sun to set before putting on our skis. With our headlamps on, we headed down the mountain back to our car. Along the way, we set stopping points every 1000 to 2000 ft. These milestones allowed us to reassess our situation and devise a plan through different stages as we moved down the mountain. Our destination never changed, but our path was modified by our present condition and what we could see in front of us.

9. Trust yourself with cautious optimism.
When skiing with limited visibility, it is imperative that you trust yourself. We could only see as far as our headlamps would illuminate, which was not very far. Overthinking was not an option. You have to trust that there is more snow beyond what your headlight can illuminate, have enough confidence in yourself to know that you can handle any terrain in front of you, and be cautious enough that you can quickly turn or stop should an obstacle arise.

When we finally made it off the mountain, we were all exhausted, physically and mentally. And for a brief moment we even wondered why we put ourselves through these climbs. But by the time we reached the park exit on our drive home we were already planning our next trip. By any sane person's measure, starting a company is torture. You really have to love what you're doing and love who you're doing it with to make it worthwhile. In the end, one thing has become clear from these adventures: Not everyone is cut out for them. Some have no interest, others lack the discipline. The best views in the world are the hardest to get to, and I truly believe that is by design. Most people will never experience them. It's up to you to decide whether the view is worth making the climb.

Image: Ingraham Flats, Mount Rainier. Source: Steven Clough