'We Are Sperry Tough!" Longest, Hardest Hike Yet Challenges GiG
100th Anniversary of the NPS
We had been working up to it all year, getting in shape, but more than that, getting “Sperry tough,” as Susan would say. Our Sperry Chalet trip was as much mental as physical, believing that we could hike three days in a row with the first day being one of the biggest hikes the GiG has tackled: 13.5 miles and 3410 elevation gain, with the bulk of the gain coming at the end of the hike. But it was all so worth it!
The trip started on a Wednesday morning at 8 a.m. We had to drop two cars off at McDonald Lake Lodge before heading to Rising Sun Cabins and Motor Inn for our first night. Bonnie, Gail, Kathy and Mary drove. After dropping off Mary and Bonnie’s cars and piling ourselves and our gear into the other two, we drove a few more miles down the road to take a quick stretch break along McDonald Creek to eat our lunch on the banks of this gorgeous, turquoise-colored stream and the Sacred Dancing Waters section of the rapids.
Then it was up and over Logan Pass for us, with another quick stop, this time to the Visitor Center and walking path behind it (we saw two bighorn rams) before we arrived at our final destination for the night: Rising Sun Motor Inn and Cabins. It took three rooms and one cabin to fit all 10 of us, with those sleeping on the cots saying they were a bit lumpy, but one said she slept like a lamb despite the mattress. Others didn’t sleep even in a queen or double bed, due to the excitement and a little apprehension about the major hike planned for the next day.
After dinner at the Two Dog Flats Café, some took a walk down to the boat dock to watch the clouds roll in, giving an ominous outlook for the next day with a 40-percent chance of rain in the afternoon.
The next morning, we arose early, ate a hurried breakfast of instant oatmeal and bananas or whatever else we hauled along since the restaurant didn’t open until after our go-time. After sending a quick message from the lodge wifi to let Nancy and Chrissie, our car shuttlers know that we were sticking to original plans as the sky looked clear, we headed out, saying a temporary goodbye to Gail, who would be heading over the pass to ride a horse to the chalet. We would meet back up at dinner time.
Then it was time to hit the trail. We parked Kathy’s car at the Jackson-Glacier Overlook lot and geared up and got on trail at 6:30 a.m., a few minutes before daybreak. The trail was posted for a bear frequenting the area along the first two miles as it drops to Reynold’s Creek and Deadwood Falls, so Katie was extra cautious leading while still keeping a fast pace on the downhill and flat in preparations for a slow-go on the uphill sections. Luckily, we didn’t run into a bear in the early-morning light. But we did run into two hikers coming out of Reynold’s Creek campground (the place where last year’s fire stated) who said they had not seen any bears, which reassured us a bit.
No bears, but we did run into a mama moose! Right before we entered the willow-filled St. Mary River basin of Gunsight Lake, we spotted a moose; she was walking down the trail right at us but wandered to the right-hand side when she saw us. Then we heard a rustling to our left and realized she had a baby hidden among the willows. She was distracting us to the right side of the trail, away from her baby. After a few photo opps with bear spray out, we continued on to the gorgeous clear-aqua Gunsight Lake for our first rest and snack break, filling our bottles and sterilizing the water, before we started the major uphill pull to the pass. We did see a lone loon in the lake.
At the lake, we came across our first fellow-hikers of the day: travelers who had stayed at the lake, but they took off toward the pass ahead of us. At this point, we started seeing goats on the trail; some did not want to yield the trail and had to be shooed away. This section of trail is most beautiful as it becomes very alpine. The views of Blackfoot and Jackson Glacier stun the eyes; and the rock ledges and narrow trail provide a different kind of thrill, not to mention the thrill of looking down on glacial-till filled Gunsight Lake.
At the top of the pass, we immediately saw down into the Lake Ellen Wilson valley and had more eye candy upon which to gaze. We took a few pictures of the hikers’ shelter but decided the wind wasn’t bad enough to warrant resting inside. Then we encountered a group of young men eating lunch, so we joined them. We were all glad that Kuntzie was married or we may have lost her to the Lake Ellen Wilson campground where these men were staying.
After a very short “teacher’s lunch,” Katie kept the group going, as the threat of afternoon thunderstorms coupled with the thought of missing a hot meal for dinner had her anxious. This next section of the trail is down, down, down to just above the lake and then up, up, up. The hucks were numerous and particularly tasty, which seemed to explain all of the bear scat we saw on the trail. At this point, we also passed a couple (it’s a rarity that we pass anyone), but we noticed that the gal of the pair was dragging her leg. The man said she had injured herself earlier. We asked if they needed anything or any help; when they said no and didn’t seem too talkative, we said we would tell the chalet they might be late for dinner, but they said they would make dinner, which was 6 p.m. (and they did).
Goat sightings became more frequent and less of a novelty as we approached our next pass: Lincoln pass. This one seemed a bit steeper than Gunsight but it may have been our tired legs. The last 2.3 miles from the Lake Ellen Wilson campground to the chalet seemed never ending. Many of the gals kept asking “how much longer” and “will there be any more uphill?” Katie didn’t think so, but after a half mile of flat on top of the pass, there was one more low-angle switchback to get over before dropping down to the chalet. At the chalet, the kitchen staff greeted us with a pitcher of cold lemonade, which we quickly drank and then drank another. We had made it in time for dinner with 45 minutes to spare, so we could freshen up a bit and organize in our rooms. And everyone had made it without being too exhausted; every gal carried her own pack the whole way! On top of that, we found out no one had to share a bed as one room had four singles, while two rooms had a double and two singles. We had drawn names earlier and Gail and Kuntzie were expecting to have to share. We were all happy to meet back up with Gail, who said her horse ride was great; she wasn’t very sore either.
Our dinner was Thanksgiving with a cucumber salad, turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, veggies, cranberries, and apple-spice cake for dessert. Katie had a delicious chickpea stirfry, being the vegetarian of the bunch. At dinner, the staff introduced themselves, read an inspirational passage and then had us all introduce ourselves. They gave us tips about breakfast, avoiding mice in the rooms, hanging our items so they wouldn’t get chewed up by the goats and marmots and quiet hour. They also explained that social hour was at 8:30 with games, non-alcoholic drinks and maybe popcorn. Only Katie, Bonnie and Kuntzie took them up on social hour. We played dominoes with an extreme hiker who was doing Mount Brown the next day. Nobody could really remember the rules, but we had fun anyway.
The next day we met at 7:30 a.m. for breakfast, which was made to order (choice of eggs, pancakes, oatmeal, bacon, toast, orange juice), and planned to hike immediately afterward until the staff said a pack train was coming between 9 and 10 a.m. The gals wanted to see the pack train, even if it would leave us short on time at the glacier due to afternoon thunderstorms and getting back in time for dinner, so we did. The train came in at 9:30 a.m.; the gals took many pictures with Kuntzie and Gail recognizing the wranglers from their trip to Granite Park the week before. We al felt appreciation for these wonderful animals that make our stay at the Chalet possible, hauling our laundry and bringing food and full propane bottles.
At just before 10 a.m., we headed to Sperry Glacier, via the 58 gravelly,narrow, and steep stone steps of Comeau pass. The trail is gorgeous, passing many waterfalls and alpine tarns (glacially carved lakes). At the top, the views are stunning. This hike is a must-do in the park. At the pass, the trail becomes decidedly more challenging, requiring rock scrambling and crossing slippery snowfields. We scrambled across several of these obstacles before stopping for lunch at 1 p.m. At this point, Katie had been timing the clouds coming in and estimated we had another hour before lighting might strike in the area in addition to rain making the steep stone steps slippery and dangerous, so she said we had to hustle if we hoped to get to the glacier. Bonnie and Susan decided not to continue and instead turn back to take their time down the steps.
As the rest of the group continued, they had fun route finding and going up and over more and more rock “hills” followed by “valleys” filled with snow. After a half hour, Katie realized we would not make the glacier and said we needed to turn around. We did get to glance at the glacier and take a picture or two, but we left a half mile short of reaching it.
Kuntzie took over lead from Katie, negotiating a different route back. She said she loved the scrambling best of all and kept us at a great pace, getting us to the stairs before any rain fell. We soon caught up to Bonnie and Susan and finished our hike around 4:15, ten minutes before the rain started. Luckily, no thunder or lightning accompanied it and it let up in about an hour or so.
Dinner this night was roast beef, scalloped potatoes and veggies with the yummy home-baked salty-crust bread and chocolate-cherry cake for dessert. Katie had a vegetarian meatloaf, that again was delish. The staff again read an inspirational passage, this time about the origin of the park, in honor of the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service(NPS). The employees had made a “happy birthday” sign; everyone, staff and guest alike, went outside for a group photo on this very special day.
Also at dinner, Katie asked if anyone wanted to get up and climb Lincoln peak in the morning. they all thought her a bit on the crazy side as only Beth agreed to get up early, hike fast uphill and be back by check-out time of 10 a.m. All of the gals showed up for social hour this night, since we didn’t need to get an early start the next day (except Katie and Beth). Mary had hauled up Left, Right, Center and we found some poker chips in the chalet’s game box, so we played two rounds with Kuntzie’s stories about melon balls and not being invited to join the gourmet club, which Susan warned us not to believe, kept us entertained.
The next morning, Katie and Beth did go up Lincoln pass and scramble up the peak, enjoying the fantastic views into Lake Ellen Wilson (one last view), Lincoln Lake and Beaver Chief Falls as well as Lake McDonald and beyond; they made it down by 9:30 a.m. They met the other gals in the lodge and packed their items. This time, Gail would be hiking with us, so all 10 would be together on the home stretch. After pictures in front of the lodge, we left at 10:30 a.m. for our trip down the mountain to Lake McDonald Lodge, where Nancy and Chrissie would be awaiting our arrival after shuttling Kathy’s car from Jackson-Glacier Overlook.
The trail seemed long on tired legs. We enjoyed looking back up at the lodge as we wound our way down, but the 6.5 miles of downhill took its toll. Just before then end, a man with wild red hair and beard came flying past us. Katie shouted—“Hey, you took our picture on Peigan pass a week ago”; he turned around and acknowledged her and Sue, who had also been there, smiling and saying he had started at 8 am. from Jackson-Glacier overlook. We were shocked at how fast he was going, but then again, he climbed Piegan Peak, Cataract Peak and Siyeh Bend and passed us by on the way up twice before finishing with Siyeh Bend. He basically completed four hikes in one day.
Everyone was hot and tired by the time we arrived at the lodge parking area at 2:30 p.m. Most of the gals put their packs in the cars before going inside while those who road with Kathy took their items into the lounge, where we all enjoyed a cook drink. Nancy and Chrissie had not arrived, so Sue checked at the desk to see if they left a message. Then 10 minutes later they came in. We enjoyed some laughs with them and said our goodbyes. Sue went with them to go camp at Kintla Lake and say goodbye to Ranger Lyle, the 96-year-old, who had worked at Kintla for years, but not before Sue got an $8 shower at Glacier Raft Company.
On our way home, we stopped at the Glacier Conservancy store to pick up books about the chalets (Kuntzie got a copy of Night of the Grizzlies DVD) and called ahead for reservations at the fun restaurant the Lighthouse in Valier, our final stop.
After a great dinner, we arrived home around 8:30 p.m., tired and wanting a shower from a trip we will never wash away from our memories.
On a side note, most of us felt we tested ourselves, going beyond what we thought we could do just a few short years ago. We did have a few mishaps on the trail but nothing major, thank goodness: Katie was the first to fall, scouting for bears on the very first section of our trail on day one; Kuntzie followed on the same section. Mary took a tumble and Bonnie had the worst: she fell while crossing below a waterfall on a wet rock, which bent her glasses out of whack so that they wouldn’t stay on her face unless she put sunglasses over them. Bonnie kept her sense of humor, saying, “Not many people can say they fell in a waterfall.”
Who went: Katie, Gail, Susan, Bonnie, Catherine, Kuntzie, Beth, Sue, Kathy M and Mary N