Over the divide …… Hiking up to Sperry Chalet, Glacier National Park

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An incredibly stunning journey to Sperry Glacier in Glacier National Park, MT.

:y: Spectacular! You gotta do this trail in Glacier! It’s the long way to Sperry Chalet & totally worth it ….. the views are amazing, the wildflowers incredible & the journey memorable.

The spectacular Gunsight Lake as seen from Gunsight Trail.

As the feature presentation of 2012 Glacier edition – this trail was everything it was written up to be & more!

After a mad scramble when the bookings opened to ensure all our bases were covered with reservations & long wait to finally get to TH ….. tibber, desertgirl & bigfoot made it to TH & off we went downhill to Deadwood falls ( on Reynolds Creek) & then uphill bushwhacking through 4-5ft tall thimble berry for what seemed a long time … it seems to back off & we get our hopes high to open meadows.

Guru is almost swallowed up by really tall Thimbleberry bushes

Ah not so soon — more thimbleberry and more calling for the bears — Angela had me tagged with the bear bell ( I think she just belled me to keep track of me in the thimbleberry which was well over my head in places!) and the ringing bells would stay with me for next 3 days! Guru & Angela were the bear spray carriers…. And I felt like bear bait :)

Over St Mary River & off through more thimbleberry which now eases off a bit and we come out into more sunny meadows filled with flowers of every color and size! Wildflowers are the Summer smiles in Glacier! Our views open up to Dusty Star Mt ( Angela points this out to me …) and onto Mt Jackson. I managed to forget my superzoom camera so I had to settle for watching Angela’s superzoom work overtime! More great views, more flower decked meadows, a few trailside chit-chats . We had quite a nice trail through the recent avalanche damage area & were soon at the beautiful Gunsight Lake.

Gunsight Lake & Meadows

More hikers & more flower decked meadows. The campground here seemed particularly inviting …will be a future stop! The meadows were going crazy with flowers and our pace slowed for sure ….tibbermode!

Crossing the creek at the outlet of Gunsight Lake. Normally you have a single -hiker suspension bridge but that was washed out from the floods the prior season so we have to brave the cold waters.

River crossing in cold waters ( the foot bridge was down) which came up way higher for me than it did for Angela or Guru ( I had Guru carry my pack across), — sunny snack stop at the outlet to Gunsight Lake and soon we were on the LONG ( only 3 miles but felt very long) & spectacular climb up the side with Gunsight lake eye-candy to keep us reasonably distracted. The day was warming up quick & we were feeling it. Oh there was more pushing through thimbleberry …but the higher we got on flanks of Mt Jackson the easier the trail got & the views of aquamarine Gunsight lake below some beautifully layered undulating rocks of red, tans & purples with many waterfalls cascading down the side of Gunsight Mountain was just out of this world.

Flower decked trail & the spectacular Gunsight Lake gleams turquoise beneath soaring peaks of Gunsight Mountain.

The views looking back were just as beautiful. This is one trail where you definitely want to look around. Higher up the terrain made the trail more exposed and we were contouring up around the lake high up with beautiful flower decked hillsides heading all the way down to the lake. We escape a few showers from cascading waterfalls trailside ( you will get drenched earlier in the season for sure!) The trail angles up fairly steeply and you can see this line heading up …seems a way off & way high but the trail is nicely laid out so you make it there quite OK!

Heading across some long snowfields as we near Gunsight Pass. We navigate 3 of these area & its August!

Higher up closer to the pass we get into alpine terrain of bare rocks & low growing plants ( all in bloom!) and soon encounter a few snowfields…I don my yaktrax since I did not have my hiking poles & make my way across. Angela makes her way across & films us across all the snowfields. A mama & kid goat oblige Angela with an up close encounter licking salt & whatever else off rocks & scamper across the snowfields. We had arrived at the higher altitudes of Glacier Park!

A detour across a rocky area by another waterfall & associated snowfield with some wee bit of trail finding & soon we see the Hiker’s Hut at Gunsight Pass peeking over the edge — a welcome sight!

Gunsight Pass Shelter: A welcome respite for weary feet. This is located on the Continental Divide!
Gunsight Lake from Gunsight Pass
Lake Ellen Wilson from Gunsight Pass

We are literally on the Continental Divide here! We looked around & oh I did find a friendly marmot sunning outside the hut! There were a few pika in the area but too far for my PS camera with no zoom to speak of. Lunch in the hut & some assessment on time to dinner & distance to cover – we decide we will hike on at pace to see if we make dinner. We head down steeply looking down on Lake Ellen Wilson … switch backing quite a ways down through great fields of purple penstamons amongst the rocks. Great views keep you good company as do some wonderful trail partners….

By this point Angela has built up to the climax of the “waterfall” that some guys on Glacierchat are keeping a fall score on…. We reach the falls & we scope them out.

The hiker-eating waterfalls along Gunsight Pass Trail

I am not particular to add to the score & opt for the low route & change into my water sandals ( so as to keep my hiking boot dry) . Guru & I cross low while Angela crosses high — a slip & a recovery & she makes it out with some wet boots & clothes and a wet camera sack but other than that she makes it OK with perhaps an add to the “Fall Fall Score”.We complete our traverse of the headwall & soon are making our way up hill towards Lincoln Pass along the north side of Ellen Wilson.

The turnoff to the backcountry campsite on the shores of Lake Ellen Wilson

We passed the turnoff for Ellen Wilson Camp – seems to be a beautiful site as well. Bear Grass was in its 7-year bloom cycle so the trails were studded with these beautiful stalks of blossoms . We were hiking in full sun (88F+ & in Glacier that’s hot! – especially with all the added humidity in the area) and this section was slow go … we thought we were at the pass only to find ourselves wandering through a flatter area of rocks …. Only to encounter 2 Goats on ice ( ok snow) panting away — they were just laying on the snow & were panting & this just made me feel even hotter since I had just climbed up so far !

Mountain Goat chilling on a snowpack near Lincoln Pass

We contour some more around another bend & its a couple hundred feet up to Lincoln Pass. Once there I had 25 mins or so to head down to the Chalet to be on time for dinner. Guru & Angela are coming up behind me so I decide I take off a good pace to try to catch dinner & save up meals for Angela & Guru ( we did not need to do that — later we had a party roll-in at 6:45 and still get fed!) . Food at the end of a long hike is important! So off I went down the hill, distracted by a few more marmots but making good time to the chalet & I see Guru coming running ( literally) down the hill & he beats me to the chalet by a few mins. I get out of my hiking boots & such – my feet were now happy in their flipflops! We wait for the dinner service to open up — just as dinner is announced Angela also makes it to the Chalet! We all made it in time for Dinner!!! Mission accomplished!

They hand us some Lemonade that is out of this world! ( Granted its highly colored by our need for hydration & sense of relief!) We sit down to a 3 course dinner of some excellent home cooking! Good food in a great location makes it spectacular!!! I agree with Angela’s assessment that the food is just some good home cooking rather than gourmet . After dinner, we get our rooms & unpack & rest up …Guru went to bed & Angela & I wandered down to 9-10pm coffee time to enjoy some conversation with staff & share some awesome Huckleberry Chai that Angela had brought up. Angela was successful in sharing her chai but could not pawn off the whisk that came with the pack.

Sunset from Sperry Chalet

Sunset isn’t until real late here in summer so it was still quite bright when we headed back to our sleeping quarters & turned in for the night. Oh I forgot to mention, our cabin had a balcony that had views towards Lincoln Peak & Pass and distant views to Lake MacDonald. We sat out there enjoying some beverages and reminiscing our last part of the hike hurrying down to get to dinner! The obligatory goats showed up as well…..

All in all, amazing hike up to the historic Sperry Chalet – highly recommended! Next time, I think I will backpack my way slowly up hill with stops at Gunsight Lake, hike up to the pass – side trip to Jackson Glacier & then head down to Ellen Wilson Camp & then make to Sperry Chalet. Side trip to Lincoln Peak will round out the down day . Perhaps the Glacier again & then head back down.


  • Beverages: You have to carry up all your adult beverages & carry back all the trash! But a cold one on the Sperry Chalet Patio will be well worth the labors!
  • Reservations at Sperry Chalet: These are not the easiest to come by. Bookings for the limited 2 month season opens in October of the prior year. You will need to be lucky few who score a reservation here! Once you have your reservations you wait & hope the trail will be open when you have your reservations — avalanches, snow drifts & bears are just a few of the wildcards you face on this journey!

Reservations: http://www.sperrychalet.com/reservations.html
Detailed Hike Description: http://hikearizona.com/decoder.php?ZTN=16873

Text & Images © 2012 Ambika Balasubramaniyan

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