Summer Camp at Sperry Chalet Glacier National Park, Montana

Jul, 22, 2010

In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks. ~ John Muir

2010-07-22-photo300.jpgJohn Muir, American naturalist and founder of the Sierra Club, may never have hiked to the Sperry Chalet, but I think even he would have been impressed by the mountain splendor of its setting. The trail is 6.7 miles long and can be a challenge for some because of its steepness. As the website states ( “the compensation of the beautiful vistas, the warm friendly feeling of the chalet, and the camaraderie of others . . . make this trip an outstanding one.” A college friend and I took that trip last week, and it was a vacation that exceeded all expectations.

The blogger and her Rinpoche

Reached only by trail (for the less daring, guided horse rides are available), the Chalet is the setting for a challenging summer adventure. In my home town of San Francisco we are blessed with the Presidio, a wonderful national park that I hike weekly, but that forested park is at sea level. In Montana, the hike to the Chalet begins at a 3,214-foot elevation and follows a 3,300-foot vertical rise. Most guests will need to carry a backpack weighing around twenty pounds if they plan to stay overnight. The hike takes an average of about 4 ½ hours. We made it to the top in 3 ½ hours.

Located in Glacier National Park, the Sperry Chalet opened in 1914. It was built by James Hill and his son Louis, the developer of Glacier National Park, and today is a Historic Landmark. The Chalet is named for Lyman B. Sperry, the “gentleman explorer” who led the first party to reach the glacier in 1896. The rustic-style buildings of the Chalet complex, built of native rock and relatively unchanged for over ninety years, are in a setting that is literally breathtaking. To this day, supplies are brought into the Chalet only two days a week by mule train.

2010-07-22-room400.jpgRoom with a View
Webster’s defines a chalet as “A wooden dwelling with a sloping roof and widely overhanging eaves, common in Switzerland and other Alpine regions.” The Sperry Chalet’s seventeen guest rooms are private but have no modern conveniences, such as electricity, heat, sinks in the rooms, or locks on the doors. When the sun goes down, so do the guests; there are no lanterns or other lights except a night light in the corridor. A flashlight is essential! The dining room is separate from the hotel, and the restroom facility is outside, with sinks for washing up (freezing cold water) but no showers or hot water. Though the restrooms are seventy-five steps from the hotel (I counted), it’s worth the trek at 2 A.M. as you can almost touch the stars.Sperry Chalet

The glacier itself is on top of the mountain, reached by a 6.7 mile hike from the hotel in the park (Lake McDonald Lodge). On our way there, my friend and I felt part von Trapp family (because of the mountain ranges); part Donner party (still on the lookout for grizzly bears); and as we reached the melting snow-capped glacier, part Frosty the Snowman.

Even though we were high on a mountain during this trip, there were signs of home everywhere. My friend’s daughter is named Logan, and Logan Pass is the crown of the entire park. Both of our mothers (Jeannette and Mary) are deceased, yet we passed more than one St. Mary’s sign and kept hearing the name Jeannette, not the most common of names. We giggled when our sheets back at the Lodge, the hotel at the foot of the trail to Sperry Chalet, were printed with pansies, the flower of our college sorority!

So they didn’t have espresso (okay, I’m a coffee snob). The coffee in the dining room was still good, and this trip made me appreciate a simple glass of lemonade and a piece of huckleberry pie, made from wild Montana berries. The Chalet is on the American plan, with meals that included homemade whole-wheat bread, baked chicken, and warm polenta cake with cream and more huckleberries.

Following are some tips for making your experience at the Chalet a good one.

What to Bring in Your Backpack
Here is what you’ll need for an overnight stay at the Chalet:

• A large water bottle or two
• Insect repellent (try wipes instead of spray)
• Rain gear for sudden thunderstorms
• Sunscreen
• Toothbrush/ Toothpaste
• Wine (none served in the dining room)
• First-aid supplies (think blisters and bites)
• Snacks (protein bars, trail mix)
• A flashlight
• Bear spray, whistle, and bell
• Warm clothing for the night
• Comfortable hiking shoes and extra socks
• Moist wipes (remember, there are no showers at the Chalet)

Play it safe
Always plan for the worst. I am, of course, speaking of bears. We followed the “bear rules” posted at the Lodge for our hike to the glacier, and prayed we would not encounter any. Some hikers who reached the peak did, and we all marveled at their photos of a grizzly and her cubs. It’s important to bring bells and whistles, and also to talk loudly on the trail, especially when approaching creeks and going around corners, so any nearby bears will not be surprised to see you.

Why push yourself
Enjoy the splendor of the trail, but also the people on the trail. We met hikers from all over the world, from Montana to France to Eastern Europe. We often stopped to chat with others and exchange information about what lay ahead.

Think back to the last time you were not connected. At 6,700 feet, you don’t have a choice. I did bring my iPhone, but I used it as a video and still camera to document the experience I will long remember.

These lines from Rumi, the thirteenth-century mystic poet, sum up our adventure perfectly: “Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, / there is a field. I’ll meet you there. // When the soul lies down in that grass, / the world is too full to talk about.”

On the plane ride home, I was too full to talk or think about anything but the mountain experience, the boat ride on pristine Lake McDonald, and the helicopter ride which offered a view of the Chalet from the clouds. But the best advice I received all week was the following list by the author Ilan Shamir, printed on a bookmark I purchased in the park:

Don’t get stuck in a rut
Cherish wide-open spaces
Appreciate life’s high points
Be at home in the woods
Make your voice heard
Know when to make tracks
Be magnificent Lisa Mirza Grotts is a recognized etiquette expert, an on-air contributor, and the author of A Traveler’s Passport to Etiquette. She is a former director of protocol for the city and county of San Francisco and the founder and CEO of The AML Group (, certified etiquette and protocol consultants. Her clients range from Stanford Hospital to Cornell University and Levi Strauss. She has been quoted by Condé Nast Traveler, InStyle magazine, the Los Angeles Times, and the New York Times. To learn more about Lisa, follow her on and

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