HIStory: Signs from God found in the mountains
By GARY FALLESEN
MOUNT OF THE HOLY CROSS, Colo. — Derek Fullerton took time out from his studies at Multnomah Biblical Seminary in Portland, Ore., to pray for direction. He was in the Book of Nehemiah when he read: “I had not told anyone what my God had put in my heart to do for Jerusalem” (Chapter 2, Verse 12). Immediately, he says, a “heart’s desire” was “birthed” in him. He had a vision: Christians climbing each of the Fourteeners on the same day to pray for the church in his land. He dubbed it Prayer Peaks Day.
Fullerton celebrated the first Prayer Peaks Day in 1998 by climbing Notch Mountain, a 13,327-foot peak standing to the east of Mount of the Holy Cross that affords the closest and best view of the cross. Holy Cross had been Fullerton’s first Fourteener in 1989. The 14,005-foot mountain has a storied history of luring Christians to its remote location.
William Henry Jackson put Mount of the Holy Cross on the map when, on Aug. 24, 1873, he photographed it from Notch Mountain. He was at the time working with the Hayden Survey, which was recording the topography for Colorado. Legend has it that Jackson had promised to photograph the mountain as a wedding gift to his bride-to-be, Emilie Painter.
The 11x14 image he made of the mountain showing its natural cross – a 1,500-foot high and 750-foot wide result of snow resting in a couloir – was an award winner at the National Centennial Celebration of 1876. It became one of the most famous photographs of an American mountain. The photo gave many easterners their first view of the Rocky Mountains and inspired painter Thomas Moran and poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. It prompted annual pilgrimages by Christ followers, including three Episcopalian ministers who conducted a service atop Notch Mountain in 1912.
To many the words of Samuel Bowles (from The Switzerland of America, 1869) were true: “It is as if God has set His sign, His seal, His promise there – a beacon upon the very center and height of the Continent to all its people and all its generations…”
Mount of the Holy Cross was made a national monument in 1929 by President Herbert Hoover. That title was abolished, however, in 1950 by President Harry Truman purportedly because of the mountain’s remoteness and, according to House Resolution 73339, the opinion that the “right arm of the cross is not now as sharply defined as it formerly was.” The park superintendent overseeing the Holy Cross Wilderness claimed at the time that fewer than 50 people a year visited the mountain. But a half-century later, 50 visitors a day would be common. The cross still attracts climbers: to look upon it or to try and ascend it.
For Fullerton, it seemed a natural place to go. “Jesus began His ministry by spending a night of prayer on a mountain. The next day He chose His 12 disciples. Also Jesus brought Peter, James and John to a mountaintop, where He was transfigured before them as He met with His Father in heaven.
“The Fourteeners of Colorado provide a spectacular environment that humbles those who have the Spirit of God. Looking out over creation and seeing the apparent insignificance of oneself provides a lesson in humility and ushers believers into an intimacy with God.
“A mountain is an awesome place to ‘seek God’s face’ for our crumbling nation.”
So, on July 3, 1998 and again on June 29, 2001, Fullerton slept at the “stone chapel” on top of Notch Mountain and watched the next day’s sunrise illuminate Mount of the Holy Cross. I met him there with my son, Jesse, for the fourth annual Prayer Peaks Day. It was my 11-year-old son’s first 13,000-foot mountain. Whenever I see Mount of the Holy Cross, I think of Jesse and our blessed trip together.
Jesse needed to overcome altitude sickness to see a natural cross that is bigger in person than in Jackson’s inspiring photograph. When we stopped to eat lunch at 12,100 feet, Jesse burst into tears. His stomach hurt, his legs were tired and his feet were sore. He sat on a large rock with his head on his knees, and covered his face. We talked about how he felt, and about how far he’d come to get here. I suggested 10 minutes of hiking followed by 5 minutes of rest, ascending 100 feet at a time. There were enough distractions – marmots on the trail and beautiful views of His creation – to help us along. Within 90 minutes, the roof of a shelter built in 1924 for the thousands who made the pilgrimage each year came into view. Not long after, Fullerton came bounding up the trail.
We prayed with him, then returned to Half Moon Campground at 10,300 feet.
“I can’t believe I walked that far with my stomach hurting like that,” Jesse said. “Thanks to you.”
“I didn’t do anything,” I said.
“You encouraged me,” Jesse said.
Fullerton stayed at the summit of Notch, praying for his land and asking for healing from our peoples’ wickedness. He would encourage others to do the same. While there, he recited verses from the Bible. He also could have uttered the words that Longfellow penned in The Cross of Snow:
“There is a mountain in the distant West
“That, sun-defying, in its deep ravines
“Displays a cross of snow upon its side.
“Such is the cross I wear upon my breast…” ?