Lessons from “Goat Knob”


Early in 2004, Jennie and I bought a wonderful little cabin in Highlands N.C.  Over the past 17+ years (hard to believe!!) we have enjoyed numerous gatherings with family and friends across all seasons and I have had the privilege to share the cabin with quite a number of work groups as part of leadership retreats that I have held there over the years.  The cabin, while only 2+ hours north of Atlanta, feels completely like a “world apart;”  with Highlands at over 4000 ft of elevation the climate, topography, flora and fauna  ( replete with black bears) is entirely different than our home in Georgia! 

In that part of North Carolina, the mountains are beautiful and filled with wonderful hiking trails, waterfalls, state parks, etc.  We have enjoyed hiking all across the region and I have taken many of my “work groups” on hikes on trails at Whiteside Mountain, a local favorite in Highlands.  Most of the hikes we do are classified as easy-moderate, and usually take just a few hours…. a nice morning or afternoon activity for all.  One hike is an exception to this rule…. for me the “big hike of the year” that pushes me and my physical capability to the edge…. the infamous Yellow Mountain hike!  With such an innocent name, this hike is quite a challenge…. 12 miles, with over 5000 ft of elevation change and no available water…. and it usually takes me six to seven hours to complete… a real all-day adventure! The specific section of the hike that I reference in this essays title has to do with the challenge of “Goat Knob.”  A North Carolina hiking website comments about this:

            From the Shortoff summit, the trail descends and then climbs to Goat Knob at 4,955 feet, and then plunges nearly 900 feet into Yellow Mountain Gap. On the descent into the gap, the trail passes a major trail intersection, denoted by a sign indicating the return route to Cole Gap and the direction to head for Yellow Mountain.

The gap marks the approximate halfway point to the summit – and 1/4 of the total hike. The route veers to the left here, being mindful of the steep descent – as the return hike of this section is punishing.

That phrase… “as the return hike of this section is punishing” is the lesson of this story.  The first time I did this hike, I had no idea what was ahead us on the trail…. no idea of the elevation changes, the time required, the necessary water to bring, etc. Quite simply, I was ill-prepared!  While I was walking DOWN the 900 ft. from the peak of Goat Knob to the valley floor of Yellow Mountain Gap, it all seemed so easy… until I realized that we had been walking DOWNHILL for over 20 minutes and that the return route back to the car came back this same trail and we would be walking UPHILL to go over Goat Knob for who knows how long!  

That first Yellow Mountain hike was a mess, and yes we did make it back over Goat Knob ( after almost an hour for that section alone) but what a learning about challenges and preparedness.  I have been thinking back to Goat Knob a lot lately as I look ahead at the challenges of my business.  At our company, the business is thriving and accelerating but filled with incredible challenges exacerbated by Covid.  In our normal rhythm of work, this time of year… the holiday season, is always a challenge because the months of November, December and January ( good old N/D/J!) are the busiest and hardest for us every year…. it is our annual Goat Knob!  While no one from my team has taken the Yellow Mountain hike (YET!!) I have shared that we can’t be surprised by the difficulty and challenges on the trail ahead in N/D/J.  A key to succeeding in the challenges that lie ahead is not being surprised by them …. it IS going to be hard….. there will be unexpected barriers ….. it WILL test our strength and capabilities….. don’t be surprised,  anticipate the challenges, anticipate YOUR Goat Knob and harbor your strength for the key moments that lie ahead.

As you look forward in our organizations, work to help our team “see” that challenges and roadblocks are a normal part of business, just as Goat Knob is a normal ( and devilish) part of the Yellow Mountain hike, and help them take their time, garner their strength and overcome those challenges and find a path to successful though challenging outcomes.