Today we begin the last cow pie that entrepreneurs should keep an eye out for: assessing your environment.

If you can avoid the first three cow pies I’ve shared, you can get your business off to a running start. Once you’re smart about cash flow, net terms, and keeping a stable clientele, you’ve got all the tools to make great things happen—which means you have to start doing the making. Too often, business building gets so involved that the builder forgets to assess the landscape, or believes that there is not enough time to have a look around. Don’t be that kind of builder. If you stay on top of your business environment, it will ensure your safety and reveal which turn in the trail will take you the right way. The long-term success of your endeavor depends on regularly and systematically making this sort of assessment. If you walk through the business world with both eyes wide open, you will be less likely to wind up in financial peril.

Not long ago, I relearned this principle while climbing the Pfeifferhorn, an 11,326-foot peak in northern Utah. I remember the experience well.

The air sparkled with energy in the sharpness of the cold predawn. My skin tingled in that way it only does at high altitudes. I breathed deeply and filled myself with vitality as I gazed up at our goal. A few feet to my left stood my wife. Kneeling to her left was her brother, hunched over his backpack. Our objective for the day was to summit the Pfeifferhorn and be back in camp before sunset revealed the twilight stars of late December.

“Okay, guys, let’s bag this sucker.” I was met with grins. We started forward.

Bearing ice axes and crampons, we set a steady pace for our team of three. My adrenaline pumped, pushing me forward and upward. Six hours into our quest, the brilliant white crown of the Pfiefferhorn jutted heavenward before us. Taking a quick break, we replaced snowshoes with crampons and prepared for what turned out to be a one-hour ascent up a 40-degree slope.

“How does the snow look, Rich?” my brother-in-law asked. I was digging out a small section of snow, blocking it out to get a feel for what lay beneath. It was crucial to know what was underfoot in each direction. Avalanche danger was always present. And this high up, frequent checks would be required for the safety of my team.

“Great! It’s perfect for climbing. This is gonna be easy.” Exuding confidence, I encouraged us forward.

Every season, climbers of the Pfeifferhorn have to face the infamous Knife’s Edge. Soon enough, it stretched out before our team. It is narrower than a sidewalk and flanked on both sides by thousand-foot gutters. This is the path to the summit. The path to victory.

The Knife’s Edge ridge terminated at the final, looming, 400-foot crown of the mountain. Once there, we could see a sharp slope that vanished into seeming eternity. From here on out, one misstep, one unexpected slide, would drop the unlucky climber through a torrent of snow onto the rocky crags that lay hundreds of feet below, dying at best, dead most likely.

The three of us assessed the situation. At nearly 11,000 feet, the view from the ridge was breathtaking. Adding another 400 feet would bring the thrill of victory and an even more unbelievable panorama. This close to our objective, my brother-in-law and I felt our second wind, confident in our ability to summit the peak. My wife wasn’t quite as enthusiastic and expressed some apprehension about the snow- and ice-covered pitch before us.

“Guys, I’m going to wait here. If anything happens to you, someone needs to be in a position to help,” she said.

“Okay.” I looked back up at the peak. “I agree. That’s how we’ll play it.”

Ice axe in hand, I led out. We made good time, soon finishing the last of the Knife’s Edge and attacking the final 400-foot stretch to the crown. Crampons crunched and ice axes sank firmly as we ascended until we were about halfway to the summit. I stopped for a quick breather and turned back to see where my wife stood. Fear grabbed my gut as I looked. My thoughts froze with the sudden realization of what I’d forgotten. I watched chunks of snow that had been kicked loose by our climb as they tumbled to the edge of the cliff and disappeared into nothingness.

We’ll finish the second half of Rich’s story on Thursday and see why it’s important to continually assess your environment, whether in mountain climbing or in small business.