Saturday, June 22, 2024

Hike to Sperry Chalet really a one-star review?

Hagadone News Network | September 6, 2023 2:00 AM

A one-star AllTrails review of the Sperry Trail to its namesake chalet by Chris Pike describes the adventure as, “Six miles of horse manure, sun-baked gravel, unspectacular views and no wildlife except the bugs feeding on the dung.”

So, off I went with minimal expectations. I started out my morning in the parking lot by Lake McDonald Lodge and headed across the road moving east and uphill on a very well-worn path.

I feel like I smell better at higher altitudes in cleaner air. It makes food taste better. It makes me perk up and notice when I pass a soft, fruity fir. It makes horse pucky incredibly pungent. Horse smells never bothered me, but if they did, this might not have been the trail for me. It clearly was not for my friend Pike. I got the worst of it though, following the pack mules in and the trail horses out, and I lived.

However, I have to disagree about the lack of wildlife. Right off the bat an American three-toed woodpecker was breaking the morning silence as the sun cleared the treeline, and he sat still (or as still as a woodpecker can) and posed for me, even as I pointed him out to other hikers passing by.

Everyone I crossed paths with was incredibly friendly. There were older folks and little kids making their way up and down, stopping to look at the little waterfalls, creeks and flowers that lead you up to bare rock. Trees fallen across the path on my way up were cleared by trail crews by the time I was headed home.

Once I made it up to the chalet, which is slightly painful because you can see its dark silhouette far before you actually get to be there, I saw what appeared to be a man and his Great Pyrenees standing in front of the great stone building. For a moment I thought, “Dang, I didn’t know dogs were allowed.” They’re not. Tourists also aren’t supposed to stand so close to mountain goats you think they’re on a leash. The guy was from southern California. The mother goat and her baby made their way around the chalet “lawn” without any goring, as they were also in a friendly mood that morning.

The chalet itself has good-natured staff that were busy unpacking and repacking the mules when I stopped in. One hiker I passed told me that if you want to get in on a reservation, calling to be put on the cancellation list is a smart move. Day trippers can eat lunch there as well, and though I didn’t get anything, it smelled great. Possibly due to the altitude.

I continued up Lincoln Peak and passed ptarmigans, pikas and marmots. It is pretty barren up there, but the rocks jut up in sharp reddish plum hues against cold gray and blue skies and the air felt crisp even as the wildfire smoke drew a curtain over Lake McDonald below. On my way back down, I passed a doe, two snakes and kicked up dozens of fiery orange butterflies enjoying what the horses had left behind.

I suppose you have to decide if you’re going to enjoy the little things or let them bother you before taking Sperry Trail. I ended up hiking around 15 miles total with 3,678 feet elevation gain, and it took me the better part of the day, though I am definitely a meanderer. But that trail could be as easy or hard as you make it.


A mountain goat kid explores the grounds of Sperry Chalet.


A hoary marmot peers down from his perch on the way to Lincoln Peak.


A trio of mountain goats climb in the front yard of the Sperry Chalet kitchen and office.


A Milbert’s Tortoiseshell butterfly enjoys the nutrients provided by a pile of horse dung on Sperry Trail.