In June 2005 my boys and I along with a few others hiked into the Beartooth Wilderness in Montana to do some fishing and climb Granite Peak. We camped at Lake at Falls, where we enjoyed some really good cutthroat trout fishing. Little did we know the trials that we would soon face.
The day of our attempted climb, things went awry from the get go. We got a late start out of camp and began our five-mile approach hike — ninety percent of it rugged hiking off trail — nearly two hours after the time we should have departed. Then we picked a poor route across the boulder field and lost a a couple more hours. By midafternoon, we were still a mile from the base of Granite Peak and ugly clouds had started to roll in. We crossed to the east side of the drainage and began hiking back down.
About two miles down the drainage, the wind and the rain picked up, and we had to make a choice. Bivouac or hike back to camp. We didn’t want to hike all the way back down only to hike back up the next day, so we decided to bivouac. We made a makeshift shelter out of a few rain ponchos, a few space blankets, and some parachute cord. We were wet and cold by the time we finished our shelter and crawled in. Shivering, we put on all our warm clothes and made hot ramen noodles and coffee. The wind whipped our shelter terribly, and we feared that it would tear or blow down. Thankfully, it didn’t.
It rained most of the night. Between the noise of the storm and the discomfort of the rocky ground, no one slept well. I slept in a puddle by the door, shivering like crazy, and didn’t get a wink of sleep all night. When the grayness of dawn alerted us to the arrival of a new day, we got up, started a fire, dried our clothes, and tried to get warm. After eating a granola-bar breakfast and breaking camp, my boys and I decided to try Granite Peak again, while the other three decided to head back down to Lake at Falls. We were all low on food, so the three that were going back down to main camp gave us most of the meager supplies they had left.
That day we tried a different route, staying fairly high on the east side of the drainage, and made good time. By midmorning we were working our way up the east face of Granite Peak, aiming for the saddle where we would catch the guide route. Shortly after noon, we reached the saddle, but now we faced three enemies: snow, wind, and sleet. We often sank to mid thigh in the snow patches that remained, the wind was fierce enough that it knocked us all down a few times, and the wind blasted us with bursts of sleet that froze on our glacier goggles so we couldn’t see. Thankfully, the nastiest weather only lasted for about half an hour. When we got to the chimney, we were forced to turn back because it was glazed over with a thin coat of ice, probably from the freezing rain.
Disappointed, we turned around and headed back. When we got to the east face, we decided to save time by glissading down the snow field instead of walking. The thousand-foot elevation drop was fun and fast, but by the time we reached the bottom, we were all soaking wet from waist to toes.
The next five miles easily ranks in the top five miserable hikes of my life (including a few bad ones in the Rangers). We were wet, cold, tired, and weak. We were low on water and almost out of food. We were hiking in wet jeans, which are ideally suited to chafe your skin and yank the hairs out of your legs. The wind picked up, the temperature dropped, and it started to rain. By the time we were halfway down the Granite Creek drainage, I was shivering uncontrollably, slipping frequently, and could barely keep up with my boys.
When we reached the end of the valley, we sat in the trees on a hillside about a mile from camp, drank our last water, and split the last few bites of food we had between us. We knew we were close to the end, however, and our spirits picked up. Twenty minutes later when we finally stumbled into camp, there was a hot fire, hot chili, hot chocolate, and hot coffee waiting for us. I don’t know if food ever tasted so good or hot coffee rejuvenated half so well. Once we had some hot food and hot coffee in our bellies, we changed into warm, dry clothes. Then we sat around the fire, enjoying the warmth and thanking God that the journey was over.
I have often pictured this two-day hike as an illustration of the pilgrim’s passage through life. Our journey is a rugged path beset by storms. We get knocked down. We suffer setbacks. We are often hungry, tired, and cold. Things go wrong. The twin buffeting of man’s trials and the believer’s trials batter us and wear us out. But when we reach the end of our journey, tired, weary, and sore, we shall find ourselves in the warming, rejuvenating environment of heaven. Our trials shall be over … for ever.
2 Corinthians 4:17, “For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, works for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.”
Romans 8:18, “For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed to us.”
Be encouraged dear brethren in all your trials and sorrows.
“Eyes wide open, brain engaged, heart on fire.”
Lee W. Brainard