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Archives Fr. Stitt goes ‘to the heights’ hiking & beyond

Sept. 27, 2023

By Mary Beth Bracy, consecrated virgin
Contributing Writer

“I started hiking when I was a kid growing up in Crown Point, surrounded by beauty. Though I wasn’t from a family of hikers, I had a number of friends who were, and I got pulled into it. I love being able to get out into the quiet and the peace and the beauty and sometimes in the excitement of nature as well,” shared Father Bryan D. Stitt, pastor of Saint Mary’s in Canton and diocesan director of Worship.

For Father Stitt, hiking isn’t simply an activity but also a lesson about the spiritual life.

“Normally things are pretty calm out there, but there are times when one sees a wild animal that’s not expected or a storm that comes up,” he said. “But it’s mostly about realizing that the human person is capable of much more than the things we think we are.”

Father Stitt has enjoyed adventures with his nieces and nephews, along with kids from Catholic schools and high schools, and Boy Scouts from throughout the diocese.

“When I’m taking kids up the mountains into the heights, you get to one summit and then see another – it seems so far away and so vast,” he said. “Then you realize it is where you just were. Sometimes you can be discouraged and say ‘I can’t get all the way over there,’ but you can.”

It’s not uncommon for Father Stitt to take individuals out for their first hiking experiences.

“I went hiking with a couple from my parish a couple of months ago,” he said. “They had never been hiking so they were a little nervous about doing so. They had a great time the beauty of the Adirondacks, and the quiet there was just amazing.”

Along the way, Father Stitt has also had some heart-pounding moments of daring. Once, the terrain he encountered was like walking on a gigantic tower of Jenga blocks.

“When I was in high school, I went on a back packing trip to New Mexico in the Rockies – one of the Baldy Mountains,” he explained. “It was like a pile of rocks that were so steep. Our mountains are huge hunks of granite, but theirs are a heap. It looks like if you added one more rock it would all fall down when you’re up there.”

Currently, Father Stitt is endeavoring to climb all 46 high peaks. So far, he has scaled 18 of the mountains.

“I started back in 1992 because we were training to go to the Rockies,” he said. “I got to do a few others when I was in college and working at Camp Guggenheim. Some friends decided to also – Father Scott Belina and Father Justin Thomas and the great priest of the mountains, Father Phil Allen. Father Ray Moreau has also done the 46. There may be others as well. Father Thomas was the last to become a 46er. His was number 9000 something. There are now well over 10,000 people.”

Father Stitt said the idea of completing the 46er was daunting, but perspective shifts at a certain point.

“Once you’ve done a dozen, you realize this could be a thing,” he said. “After you do the obvious ones, the entry ones, then you start doing three or four or sometimes five in one day. It’s not like climbing five times, sometimes you’re barely going down and then going back up. It would be crazy to do them all as individual hikes. I don’t think it’s possible with some of the trails. You’d have go out of your way to do one at a time.”

Father Stitt’s hiking isn’t simply limited to the most arduous heights, however.

“There are a lot of beautiful mountains out there that aren’t high peaks,” he said. “There is the joy in being in the beauty of creation. Hands down, the one I’ve climbed more often is Baker near Guggenheim in Saranac Lake because I’ve brought campers up there so many times. Big Slide is one that I climbed with my parents. Another one I’ve done a number of times is Colden thanks to Drew Benware of Saranac Lake, who is one of the great hikers of the Adirondacks – the guy can hike like it’s nobody’s business.”

Sometimes there are surprises when climbing in the North Country.

“My nieces and nephews saw a couple of Martens (weasel-like animals) while we were hiking this summer,” Father Stitt said. “One of them brushed up against their legs, so that was kind of fun.”

Part of hiking, he said, is trying to be prepared.

“It’s a trick in the mountains,” he said. “We always bring head lamps and rain jackets because things happen. Earlier this summer we were in a downpour, thunder and lightning and hail. There was so much rain that it turned into torrential rain. Sometimes we do these things in the winter too.”

Hiking is also meditative for.

“Whenever I go into the mountains, I can’t help but remember all the different passages in Scripture that people are going up: Abraham on Mount Moriah, the Transfiguration, and of course Mount Calvary,” Father Stitt said. “Not everyone can go hiking up the mountains, but we all have to go up the spiritual mountains in our lives. We are all trying to respond to that call to take up our cross and follow Him. Doing something that involves that much huffing and puffing while also trying not to complain about huffing and puffing has got to be good for the spiritual life.”

Given that he will soon be leading a pilgrimage in the footsteps of Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, I asked Father Stitt about the saint’s influence.

“Often Pier Giorgio will be invoked when climbing the mountains because of his love of the outdoors and of the mountains in particular,” Father Stitt said. “His unofficial motto was ‘Verso l’Alto,’ – To the Heights. We’re going to be following his footsteps all the way up to the Italian Alps. I’m not planning on doing any major mountain climbs, but I’ll definitely get into the foothills.”

For those who are just beginning, Father Stitt had some practical wisdom to offer.

“We’re blessed with a big diocese and places to hike all over,” he said. “I would not recommend starting with the high peaks unless you’re a very good athlete. If you’re not, start with something small – just do a mile and look for something that has a nice summit. It’s always nice to have a payoff, a transfiguration experience on the top of the mountain. Try to do it without complaining as you do this hike. If you go, bring lots of water. The motto of the Boy Scouts is to be prepared. It’s a good way to live our lives, not living in fear but going out and doing great things.”

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