Gannett and Granite
Climbing, Praying for Partners in Climb
By Johnathan Esper
The mountains are unique in that they give us opportunities to share our faith with our fellow climbing partners that we might not otherwise have. There are fewer distractions around-it us just us and nature. I have also found that I can be more open and frank about my faith in these settings as well. I think this is partly because climbers who trust their physical safety with each other respect the other’s views and opinions more, including those on religion.
I had such an opportunity in July 2005 when I climbed Granite and Gannett peaks in Montana and Wyoming, respectively. I am currently working on attaining the highest peak or point in each of the 50 states, and these mountains are state highpoints. While I have hiked and traveled solo on many adventures, these mountains are different in that they are much more difficult and remote than most.
I was blessed to be acquainted with two other hikers from the Adirondack Mountains of New York, where I have lived my whole life. They are Janite Stein and Alain Chevrette, both remarkable hikers in their 50s. They are also working on their own highpointing goal, and planned a trip out west to go to Granite and Gannett peaks along with two other friends of theirs from Quebec, Guy and Eric. I joined their group as the fifth person.
For Granite, I met the others at the East Rosebud trailhead campground the night before we hiked in, on July 23. While Janite flew out to Montana, the others drove out, and I drove out separately, because I had other climbing endeavors afterward. On the first day we backpacked in and set up camp in the treeline just below Froze-to-Death Plateau, in anticipation of climbing Granite the next day. However, these mountains are known for their wild weather, and we were forced to wait out our second day in the drizzling rain and clouds. In the early morning of our third day out, we decided to make a summit attempt. While there were low-lying clouds covering the valley floors, we hiked out of the clouds and into the sunrise on Froze-to-Death Plateau. After five hours of hiking through the rock fields covered with a new layering of snow, we arrived at the col below Granite Peak. Thankfully, by the time we reached the snow bridge, and began our technical rock scrambling and climbing, the snow had melted off, and the rocks were dry. After an additional five hours of tedious lead climbing and belaying, our team made the summit in the early afternoon on July 26. We didn’t return to our tent sites until 10 p.m. that night, after a 17-hour day. On the fourth day of this trip, we headed out.
We took the next two days off, parting ways, and then rejoined at the trailhead for Gannett Peak just south of Dubois, Wyo., on the evening of July 29. The following morning we began a two-day backpack into the Dinwoody Creek Valley, to prepare for a climb of Gannett Peak. Though it was raining most of the second day, the next morning, we left camp before sunrise for a summit attempt. The sun rose and shone on us from the east; however, there were dark clouds over Gannett for most of the morning. However, we pushed on, and ascended the Dinwoody and then Goosneck Glaciers up to the Goosneck Pinnacle rather rapidly. Crossing the burgschrund at the base of the Gooseneck Pinnacle proved to be no problem, and consistent hiking brought our two rope teams to the summit of Gannett Peak by late morning (Aug. 1). Our decent back to camp went quickly, and we were fortunate to be off the glaciated part before a severe thunderstorm enveloped the mountain. We spent day four and five hiking out, and on this last day, I chose, with the group’s permission, to stay behind and climb an unidentified prominent peak in the center of the large cirque above Double Lake. I was still able to make the parking lot before dark on the fifth day, even with this side exploration.
This trip was ideal for me to share and show my faith because of the extended periods of time we spent with each other. None of the other four climbing partners were Christians, which saddened me. While no one was truly searching for where to put their faith, I found Janet to be the most responsive to Christianity. Unfortunately, she has had some bad experiences with other Christians, and also has a hard time understanding how a loving God could let sorrow and harm come to His children.
At the beginning of this trip, I made a personal commitment and a promise to God to pray for each of my climbing partners individually, at least one time every day I was with them. I did succeed in keeping this commitment, and in fact often prayed for my companions in our long hours on the trail. I prayed every day for their salvation, and I also prayed that God would give me some opportunity each day to either share or show my faith. On several different days, I did utilize opportunities given me to praise God for good weather or other blessings in front of the others, and to show my faith in other numerous minor ways. As far as my prayer to at least be able to show my faith on those days I could not actually share it in any way, I shall let God be the judge. I pray He did use me.
However, I did not find any appropriate way to start a lengthy theological discussion with any of my climbing partners except for the fourth day of our Gannett trip, in the late afternoon at camp. During this time of relaxation, I started a longer conversation with Janite about her own beliefs, and reiterated some of mine as I felt led. I especially questioned her about her satisfaction and meaning she has found so far in life through her own beliefs in a supreme being (but for her, not necessarily God, the Creator-Savior), and asked her if the peace and contentment she had in life now would be sufficient if she were to never find more later in life. I asked this because often those in the middle years of their lives are searching, for meaning in life, for love, or other things. Sadly, Janite said yes, that she was content where she was in her life, including spiritually. I then shared with her the meaning and purpose that Christianity brings to my own life, and said I could not imagine a life without my faith in Christ.
During the rest of my time with the group, and afterward, I started praying that if it was God’s will, that at least one person in the group be saved at some point in time, for I realized that if just one person in that circle of friends accepted Jesus, the influence he or she would have on the others and the change he or she would demonstrate in their life, would probably have a much greater impact than my own testimony.
In summary, this trip was an excellent opportunity to relate to people in a totally different life stage, and live out my faith among them, as we pursued common climbing goals. I do not think I have ever prayed more diligently for a particular person’s salvation than I did for this team.