Hike to Sperry Chalet forever changed by Sprague Fire

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  • A junco finds a caterpillar in the Sprague Fire burn.

  • 1

    The Sperry Chalet, as seen from the Gunsight Pass Trail.

  • 2

    The remains of the Sperry Chalet.

  • 3

    The Sperry Chalet and a broader view of the basin.

  • 4

    A thimbleberry bush sprouts in the Sprague Fire burn. It will take years for the forests to return.

  • 5

    Miles of the Gunsight Pass Trail en route to Sperry Chalet were razed by the Sprague Fire.

  • 6

    A mountain goat looks out a window of the Sperry Chalet remains last week.

  • 7

    The fire was a complete stand replacement in some areas, more mosaic in others.

  • A junco finds a caterpillar in the Sprague Fire burn.

  • 1

    The Sperry Chalet, as seen from the Gunsight Pass Trail.

  • 2

    The remains of the Sperry Chalet.

  • 3

    The Sperry Chalet and a broader view of the basin.

  • 4

    A thimbleberry bush sprouts in the Sprague Fire burn. It will take years for the forests to return.

  • 5

    Miles of the Gunsight Pass Trail en route to Sperry Chalet were razed by the Sprague Fire.

  • 6

    A mountain goat looks out a window of the Sperry Chalet remains last week.

  • 7

    The fire was a complete stand replacement in some areas, more mosaic in others.

The hike to Sperry Chalet was never a favorite of mine for a lot of different reasons.

After the Sprague Fire razed a big chunk of it, itís even less appealing.

Which isnít to say the area around the chalet and the Sperry basin isnít beautiful ó it is. But getting there was never a lot of fun, at least not from the Lake McDonald side, with its 3,400-plus feet of elevation gain and 6.5 miles of mostly featureless trail.

Now after the 17,000 acre Sprague Fire from last summer, there is little shade for a long ways, making it even worse.

(Hiking to the chalet from the Gunsight Pass side is an entirely different ball game. Though much longer, itís one of the best hikes in all of Glacier).

Evidence of the fire starts a little more than a mile into the hike and by the time one gets to Crystal Ford, itís evident that the journey will be forever changed, at least in our lifetimes.

Just before the ford there is a patch of stand replacement burn and then just beyond the ford, the fire burned progressively hotter. The ford itself is a little oasis.

In lower elevations, the fire is a bit more mosaic. Species that are not fire tolerant ó mostly hemlock and cedar ó did not survive, while the larch did. Some hemlocks are still green, but based on the amount of needles falling from them, they wonít be green for long.

As you gain elevation the fire burned hotter. Along the trail the forest has almost 100 percent mortality for several miles. Small bushes, most notably thimbleberry and rocky mountain maple are beginning to sprout, along with fireweed and the ubiquitous bear grass, whose resiliency after a fire is shockingly tough.

Needless to say, long stretches of the hike will be without shade for decades to come, promising a hot journey in July and August.

All is not lost, however. Glacierís healing powers promise a riot of wildflowers in the years to come and the standing snags will be host to a variety of summer songbirds for a long time.

But right now at least, itís a bit ugly and very black.

The forest greens up again just below the chalet, but even then there are patches of black among the green.

We went beyond the chalet to the backcountry campground, which is still under snow for the most part. Surprisingly, most of the backcountry camp did not burn. The bulk of the trees are still green, save for a few that were exposed on the west facing slope.

If you go, take plenty of water. The last good watering hole is at Crystal Ford until you get within a mile or so from the chalet.

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