Sunday, September 13, 2009

Sperry Chalet

I met up with a friend from college in Kalispell, Montana, and we traveled together in Glacier National Park. Our first stop was Apgar Village inside the park, to buy him a hooded sweatshirt. Although I wore layers of lightweight clothing, we were not camping, and the weather was pleasant, so we did not worry about the old "cotton kills" saying in picking up something warm for my friend to wear. I had also brought a water resistant windbreaker for him.

We parked at the Apgar Transit Center and took the free park shuttle to the trailhead. Although the weather could have been cold, it was in fact hot. I quickly switched from my long-sleeved shirt to my wicking tank top. Later I even soaked the tank top in a cold stream to cool off; it dried quickly. It was the only tank top I had brought; I had intended to use it for an extra layer of warmth. I ended up washing it nightly and wearing it every day on the mountain.
The hike to Sperry Chalet was not terribly rewarding! It was seven miles long, was very steep, and was surrounded by trees so we could not see the mountains for most of the climb. It was also very hot and sunny; we were glad I had insisted on bringing a gallon of water to use to refill our water bottles. We drank almost the whole thing. We were grateful that the chalet staff meets its guests with glasses of lemonade. I ended up asking them for coffee too since I was so wiped out. Altitude may have had something to do with it, but the heat was probably the main cause. My body does not care for heat.

Sperry Chalet is a fabulous place to spend a couple of days. It costs quite a lot per night considering there is no electricity or showers, but it is worth every penny. The views are splendid, the rooms are neat as a pin, and the price includes all meals plus afternoon drinks and snacks. They cart supplies up the mountain by mule train twice a week.

There are two paths to reach the chalet, both of which involve the Gunsight Pass trail. You can take the 7-mile route from the Lake McDonald trailhead either on foot or on horseback, or you can take the 13.5-mile route from the east, which goes over Gunsight Pass. Both days when we were there, somebody ran into trouble on Gunsight Pass and did not arrive until late. One woman's hiking boot fell apart, and she also had not brought enough water. Some kind campers got her additional water and taped her boot together, but in the end the park rangers transported her down the mountain because she seemed to have altitude sickness. She did not make it to the chalet. Her group stayed, though one of them opted not to join the rest of the group for their Sperry Glacier hike the next day. The group on the second day simply ended up hiking slowly; the chalet still provided them with dinner when they at last arrived. That evening we enjoyed a highly entertaining presentation on park wildlife from the husband of the head woman at the chalet.

Dinner at the chalet is a multi-course meal. They have a rotation of three menus. My favorite was a salad of field greens, roasted tomato soup, fresh multi-grain bread, roast beef, mashed potatoes, corn, and huckleberry cake. They bake using whole grains, so the texture of their baked goods is very similar to what I bake at home. Breakfast also includes whole grains. Guests choose from a menu: 1-2 eggs cooked any style including poached, bacon, ham, pancakes, oatmeal, coffee, tea, hot chocolate. Apple juice is also included. Breakfast is fortifying, and after we eat we pick up our sack lunch. The first day they sent us off with us two sandwiches apiece, and I was so impressed and pleased, but I later found out it must have been a mistake. They normally only provide one sandwich per person. I loved having two sandwiches!

The 8-mile hike to Sperry Glacier was less demanding than the 7-mile hike to the chalet, because it was half up and half down. That said, it was more difficult. The trail was less even, a lot more rocky. Toward the end there was a climb up stairs through a narrow chasm that created a wind tunnel, but there was a rope installed to hold on to, so the passage was not too dangerous. After one finished negotiating the stairs, a sign said it was one kilometer to Sperry Glacier. This kilometer involved following cairns over rocky outcrops and across snow fields. After a while I got nervous that maybe we had gone too far, there was no one else around, and what would happen if one of us injured an ankle since neither of us was wearing boots... so I talked my friend into turning back, and then later we found out there actually _was_ another sign where the foot of the glacier was, so we should have kept going. More hikers showed up as time passed, so the area was not so devoid of people as it was earlier in the day. Probably the others stayed at the chalet to watch the mule train before leaving for the hike, but I did not want to hike in the heat of the early afternoon a second day.

Anyway, we did reach the glacier, just not the _foot_ of the glacier. The glacier area was spectacular. The whole hike was lovely, passing by stones of many colors, various small waterfalls, and three tarns. Even so, the glacier area surpassed it. We could see so many peaks spread out before us, and the mountain's stones were exposed with some alpine tundra flora. It is not surprising that this hike has the reputation of being one of the best in the park.

My friend got the idea to take Gunsight Pass back down, but I argued against it. I had a bad plantar fasciitis flare-up in July and August, and I felt I was lucky to have made it as far as I had. If I tried a really long hike, I might have sore feet for the next month. Sometimes it can take a full month of wearing nothing but Doc Martens to recover from a bad plantar fasciitis incident.

It was good that we took the short route down. My feet hurt agonizingly the next day, but they recovered quickly, and now they are only very mildly sore.

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