Story by Jesse Wood
Aug. 20, 2012. In 2008, Misty Mountain Threadworks, a renowned climbing-gear company based in Valle Crucis, was struggling.
Not only was the economy spiraling to the bottom but climbing gear manufacturers from such places as China and Vietnam were sending a cheaper line of products to the U.S. – harnesses, bouldering crash pads and other climbing accessories which were specialties of Misty Mountain.
It wasn’t until after Goose Kearse, co-owner of Misty Mountain, went to a class reunion and talked to Sally McCoy – an old classmate and CEO of CamelBak, which developed hydration packs for the U.S. military – about her company’s success contracting with the U.S. military that things began to turnaround.
“Our business wasn’t doing as well as we would have liked it to, and we tried to figure out, what do we need to do to grow our business,” Kearse said.
Kearse said Misty Mountain had sold some gear to the military but never actually sought contracts from them until after speaking with McCoy.
So, in early 2009, Kearse began talking with military officials, in particular U.S. Army engineer Darren Bean out of Massachusetts, to find out what products were needed. Bean told Kearse that the U.S. Army needed harnesses, and together Misty Mountain and Bean developed the Milroc Harness, which is designed for safe travel over mountainous terrain.
A 2011-12 magazine article in Ability One about numerous outdoor-recreation companies supplying products for the military stated that Misty Mountain was faced with double-digit losses before collaborating with the military.
“In only two years working with the Army, military sales now account for one-third of Misty Mountain’s total sales … Kearse predicts military sales will account for as much as one-half of total sales in 2012,” according to the article.
Misty Mountain Threadworks was founded nearly 30 years ago – when only a few harnesses were on the market. In 1996, it started making bouldering crash pads as the art of bouldering was taking off in the climbing community, in part, because of the simplicity of the sport, where only chalk, climbing shoes and, perhaps, a crash pad were needed. Misty Mountain still makes high-quality pads but the demand isn’t nearly what it once was.
Mike Grimm, co-owner of the Misty Mountain, said his company has averaged about 10 employees, most of whom are local seamstresses who have worked nearly a decade or more at the company’s headquarters in Valle Crucis.
Hanging around the crags and workshop years ago, Kearse didn’t imagine that Misty Mountain would be manufacturing gear for the New York Police Department Emergency Services Unit and Special Weapons and Tactical (SWAT), U.S. Special Operation Forces or the Air Force Special Operations Command, which releases its pararescue jumpers (PJs) in harrowing spaces during emergency situations.
“Early on, there was not a lot of interest to design with or for the military,” Kearse said.
“Here’s the reality. The guys and women wearing our gear in the military, they are not the ones who decide if we are going to Afghanistan or Iraq. They just do what they are told … Those guys are trying to do a job and hope to not be killed while doing it. We feel a strong sense of responsibility and duty and care for them. My customer is not a four-star general working with politicians. My customer is a sergeant, a private and a corporal.”
Misty Mountain is essentially doing what it always has done; some of its clientele is just different than in the past.
In the beginning, the company was originally defined as a maker of harnesses for recreational climbers, and then to its customer base, it added “programmatic climbing customers,” as Kearse said, for zip lines, climbing courses and gyms.
“Now we have military, tactical and law enforcement,” Kearse said.
“For a company to survive, it has to be willing to be flexible and look at what opportunities are [presented],” he said. “We’re staying very busy, growing and having a good time.”
For more information, click to www.mistymountain.com.