Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Sperry Chalet Update

Last week my wife and I had the privilege of hiking up to Sperry Chalet during our visit to Glacier National Park. In case you're unaware, the historic stone dormitory on the west side of the park was tragically lost during the Sprague Fire in August of 2017. At approximately 6:00 p.m. on that afternoon, a hot ember from the valley below entered the structure near a second story window. Despite a dedicated group of firefighters at the site, specifically working to protect the chalet complex, the ember ignited the wooden portion of the structure and proceeded to burn the entire interior of the building. Fortunately for hikers, history lovers and Glacier enthusiasts, the national park immediately made the decision to re-build the historic chalet, which was originally constructed in 1913 by the Great Northern Railway.

Hikers and park enthusiasts will be pleased to learn that the reconstruction project is scheduled to be completed by early October, which is much earlier than originally anticipated. The chalet is also expected to open at the start next season. In fact, the chalet will likely begin accepting reservations sometime in December. You'll be able to find more information about this process on their website at that time.

In addition to seeing first-hand progress on the reconstruction efforts, we also wanted to enjoy a hot lunch at the nearby dining hall, which received only minor damage during the fire. After climbing more than 3300 feet on a cool, blustery day, we both enjoyed hot soup and a grilled roast beef and cheese sandwich - probably the best meal you could ever have on a hike! We were very fortunate to have sat next to the Park Project Inspector during our meal, who has been on the site throughout the entire project. After eating our lunch he provided us with a fairly detailed update on the project, and showed us dozens of photos of the beautiful, handcrafted woodwork being done on the interior. If any of you have ever stayed at Sperry you’ll likely remember that the walls used to be paper thin. Construction crews have addressed this issue, based on public comments, by constructing thicker interior walls with improved insulation. Not only will this cut down on noise from neighboring guests, but it will also be in compliance with current fire code.

As of our visit the interior was nearing completion, with the installation of exterior windows remaining as the only major phase left on the project.
Although post-fire photos showed the stone wall exterior standing, the walls still sustained damage during the blaze. As a result, some of the stones cracked or disintegrated due to the intense heat, and had to be replaced. To conform to its original design, workers from the Dick Anderson Construction Company replaced all damaged stones with newly hand-cut stone. These were quarried just up the mountain from the chalet, just like the original stones. The inspector also mentioned that the new interior steps that lead to the second floor have been designed to wrap around so that they won't be as narrow and steep as they were in the past.

Like the inspector, the construction workers also stay on the site, working on rotating, 8-day shifts, and camp in nearby tents. To show their appreciation, some of the largest donors to contribute to the reconstruction efforts hiked up the 6.1-mile trail earlier this summer to provide the workers with fresh steaks and cold beer!
Throughout the entire day we heard and saw helicopters flying back and forth from the work site. Because the project is nearing the end, many of the helicopter runs were removing supplies from the site, although there were a few runs that brought in new materials. In several instances the helicopters simply moved gear and supplies from one spot on the site to another. As we hiked above the chalet we literally had a birds-eye view of the operations:
Amazingly, there was virtually no fire damage to any of the trees surrounding the chalet complex. The burning ember that floated up from the valley below truly had to be a million-to-one shot.

Despite sporadic fire damage, and several "dead zones", the fire did relatively little to impact the overall beauty of the trail. In my opinion, it’s still a very beautiful hike!

For more information on the hike to Sperry Chalet, please click here. To inquire about reservations this coming December, please visit the chalet website. For more information on the history of the chalet you can visit the National Park Lodge Architecture Society website.

Ramble On: A History of Hiking

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