A Chalet Experience

July 24, 2018 Posted by: Ranger Mark

Not even thirty minutes into the patrol and my uniform was drenched in sweat. Granted, it was going to be an overnight affair, thus a more laden pack. Additionally, the Gunsight trail is rather steep in its beginning. A brief visitor contact with the exchange of destinations ended with the young couple now leading the way. About ten minutes later, it donned on me to check in on their intentions of visiting Sperry Chalet. Due to the rebuild project, there is a Superintendent authorized closure in the immediate area of the stone structure.

The term chalet has origins in the Arpitan speaking region of Switzerland and referred to a herder's hut. These seasonal quarters allowed dairy farmers to bring their cattle from the lower pastures to the alpine meadows to grave. Besides an alpine residence, the chalets served as butter and cheese production sites. With the onset of winter, the dairy products, the cattle, and herders headed down to more friendly climes.

It did not take long for the chalet concept to morph into a seasonal or even year round housing for tourists. Besides alpine locations chalets can also be found at sea level along prime beach destinations worldwide. To encourage and accommodate more tourism, the chalet style of housing quickly arrived in Glacier National Park. The Great Northern Railway constructed nine chalets throughout and on the periphery of the Park. Some of these structures still exist and operate today. Sperry is one such structure, as meals will be available this summer while the lodging quarters are being rebuilt.

It was one week prior to my patrol, when I had my first chalet experience in Glacier. There was a small weather window with forty percent chance of rain and possible afternoon thunderstorms. My intention was to make it up to the Swiftcurrent Lookout and back down before such conditions played out. Granite Park Chalet quickly passed in my rear-view as I still had over twenty two hundred feet of elevation gain in the next two plus miles. I gave the stone structure one last look before pressing on. The historic building looked quaint and cozy.

My directness and weather gamble paid off with mostly panoramic views atop the Swiftcurrent Lookout. If you ever want to gain a grand view of a particular area of the Park, visit one of Glacier’s eight lookouts. A Belgian family caught up to my solo view shed. I was more than happy to share the confined summit and took their family photo. As a group, we decided that it was in our best interest to head down before the threatening weather changed her mind. On our descent, I learned they had stayed in the Chalet on its first night of operations. Now with our Lookout connection, I was curious to investigate the inner workings of the Chalet. I was happy for a break and popped inside Granite Park to take a look. The chalet has a hostel like setting, in fact the lack of prepared meals makes it just so. One can purchase snacks or food that they will cook with their own equipment.

The couple I was hiking with were brother and sister. Hiking to the Sperry Chalet had become a family tradition. They hadn’t backpacked or visited too many other places in Glacier. I found this to be a little odd, but I’m the guy who bushwhacks for miles to stand on peaks nobody else visits, which is odd in itself. Traditions once begun can be difficult to stop. I was beginning to develop a deeper understanding of the general public’s desire to rebuild this recently burned structure.

As we approached the Chalet, I began to dread having to take on the role of traffic cop. Even with the trail head sign clearly announcing the Chalet Complex closure, not everybody follows rules set forth to protect themselves. It was a surprise and relief to see another Park Service uniform as a water operator is stationed at one of the nearby cabins. I was greeted and offered a cup of coffee, given the misty and dreary weather it was a nice reward to almost reaching my destination of Sperry backcountry campground.

The Chalet is best seen by continuing on the Gunsight trail, in fact I had my best views just uphill of the timber laced support system holding up the now skeleton like remains. The rebuild is scheduled to be a two year project, so give those workers space and enjoy from afar. I’m not sure if I would recommend hiking the ten plus round trip miles to see this construction project. Isn’t one of the main draws of visiting a National Park to escape construction, congestion, and other miscellany of modern day society? Of course it is hard to break those family traditions.

My patrol continued with investigations of Sperry and Lake Ellen Wilson campgrounds. I checked the serviceability of the pit toilets and food storage devices. Onward, I pushed to Gunsight Pass. At the time, I would not have recommended continuing east. As the author writes, ( July 18th) there are differing takes on the current conditions of this pass. Consult the trail status reports on the Park website or better yet come in for a visit at one of the four backcountry permit offices.

I called out to Dispatch to end my patrol and settled in at Sperry backcountry campground. The weather which was near whiteout from snow thirty minutes ago, abated and allowed views and me a chance to warm up and cook my dinner. I woke up the next morning with fresh snow on my tent and fog reducing visibility, thus ending any thoughts of heading up to Comeau Pass and summit bids on Gunsight or Edwards Peaks.

I packed all my gear and headed down to the water operator's quarters to say my goodbyes. Another cup of Joe was offered and accepted. We chatted for an hour or so and then I hiked down to begin my three day weekend. Along the way I remembered my first real chalet experience. During the winter of 2009-2010, I traveled with my Mandarin speaking friend to China. We explored much of the Yunnan Province, a place I would have never ventured given my near zero Mandarin knowledge.

At one point of our trip, we settled in a town whose name now escapes me. There was a large peak with public trails allowing passage to the summit. My friend had her own agenda, thus I set forth on my own and spent the night at a guest house high up in the mountains. Although not called a chalet, it served the same purpose. I enjoyed a yummy meal and hospitality from the operators. The next day I hiked up to the summit of the Chinese peak. Another white out setting greeted me and I quickly headed back down to town. Rain soaked through my clothes and I found my friend at our agreed upon rendezvous. After I was able to dry out, we exchanged our experiences during our time spent apart. Without a place to stay in the mountains, I would never have attempted such a hike.

So get out there and explore, you don't always need a chalet, in fact a tent works get. Come on in for a permit.

Last updated: July 24, 2018

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