Peter J. Torcicollo
Peter J. Torcicollo isa commercial litigator at Gibbons P.C. who specializes in construction cases. That’s a natural fit, since he put himself through college by working in construction. Torcicollo is also a recreational rock climber, a not-so-natural fit, since he’s afraid of heights. Torcicollo, 50, a 1994 graduate of Rutgers School of Law and member of the New Jersey State Bar Association, is also president of USA Climbing, the sport of competition rock climbing’s national governing body.
Q. When did you start climbing?
A. In 1979, when I was in high school in Westfield. I went to the cliffs in Watchung with a group of guys from high school. Someone owned a rope. It was a fun thing to do after class, and I was interested enough to buy climbing gear. Eventually I fell away from it, though. Then I kind of got sucked back into it about 10 years ago, when my son got into rock climbing. I’m not the kind of dad who could sit and read a newspaper, when he was climbing. I have a little bit too much nervous energy to do that.
Q. Is there any similarity between climbing and being a lawyer?
A. In climbing you really have to think very, very carefully about what you’re doing. People die rock climbing, and that’s no joke. If you’re a guy who’s afraid of heights, as I am, you have to pay unbelievable attention to detail and make absolutely sure your strategic approach is bombproof. It’s no different in the law. When you’re formulating strategy in a case, you have to look at it from every conceivable angle.
Q. New Jersey isn’t really a climbing hot spot, is it?
A. In our area, right up in New Paltz, N.Y., you have the Shawangunk Ridge, known among climbers as the Gunks. It’s a fantastic place for lead climbing – traditional climbing, with a rope to catch your fall – and there’s also spectacular bouldering. There’s some bouldering right in New Jersey too, if you know where to look. And there are some really phenomenal first-rate indoor climbing opportunities.
Q. What’s bouldering?
A. Those are short climbs, up to maybe 18 feet. There’s no rope. If you fall, you fall on a crash pad. They can be as few as four moves, but they are technically and physically challenging.
Q. Do you climb on artificial walls indoors as well as outside?
A. Yes. The climbing I do in the gym is to keep me in shape. I love it, and it has a very social vibe. But I have a passion for the outdoors. Climbing brings me to some of the most beautiful places in the country.
Q. Do you have a wish list of places where you’d like to climb?
A. There are hundreds of places on it. My daughter and I have a deal, we’re going to climb together in Kalymnos, in Greece. I’d like to go to Red River Gorge in Kentucky. I’d like to boulder in Squamish, British Columbia.
Q. Have you had one climbing experience that topped all others?
A. One time I was climbing in the Gunks. It was the first week of October, and it was perfect weather. My son was up there already. I hadn’t planned to climb, but I ran into some people I knew from the climbing gym and joined them. I had one of the most amazing days I’ve had climbing. It was the camaraderie, and being in this spectacular, pristine area, 200 and some feet off the ground with nothing between me and the ground but air, and feeling really alive. At the end of the day we went down – it was dark by then – and there was my son waiting for me. A perfect convergence of events. A magical moment in my life that I’ll hold on to forever.
Q. How does your fear of heights figure into all this?
A. Climbing forces me to go outside my comfort zone, which is one of the things I like about it. Going outside your comfort zone is something everyone should do. It’ll help you become a better and more complete person.
Q. Have you told your wife that? You say she’s only non-climber in the family.
A. I’ve challenged her, but she’s not interested. Not at all. She says, “No, that’s your thing with the kids.”
Q. Do you worry about falling?
A. Sure. I’ve fallen a lot while bouldering, on to a crash pad. I’ve fallen on rope. I blew an ankle that took every bit of eight months to heal. And my feet are in pain, pretty much every day, but I’ve never suffered a really bad climbing injury.
Q. How long will you be able to keep this up? Can you climb if you’re, say, 78-years-old?
A. You can always scale it back, and climb stuff that isn’t as physically demanding. There will be plenty of terrain for you. I do see myself at 78 doing this. At least that’s the game plan.