Category Archives: Featured hut

Sperry Chalet

Sperry Chalet – historic hut in Glacier National park

Sperry Chalet: historic hut in Glacier National Park

[Featured image (1914) above by Fred Kiser, Courtesy Ray Djuff Collection]

By Sam Demas, October 2017

Sperry Chalet, a much-loved historic hut in Glacier National Park, came to national attention on August 31, 2017 when the main lodge, or “dormitory” was badly burned.  Sadly, I never visited Sperry.  This is not a first-hand account; like many others, I still hope to get there some day.  Efforts are underway to rebuild and re-open this early exemplar of high mountain hospitality. May they succeed!

This post is an appreciation of Sperry Chalet as one of the oldest and most beloved high mountain huts in the nation.  It sketches the hut’s history and architecture, and briefly treats its prolific namesake Lyman Beecher Sperry.  This post is based entirely on secondary sources, mainly the work of Ray Djuff, but others as well.  Apologies in advance if any errors crept into my account.

For fuller information about the present and future — i.e. the Sperry fire, present conditions and efforts to re-build — please see the article by Ray Djuff, which he kindly granted Hut2Hut.info permission to print and the October 19 Glacier National media release reporting on the stabilization efforts to help the structure (which lost its roof and floor) weather the winter.

For fuller historical information about Sperry Chalet see chapter 10 (p. 128-137) of Glacier’s Historic Hotels and Chalets: View With a Room by Ray Djuff and Chris Morrison (Farcountry Press, 2001).  For a touching, first hand post conveying the depth of affection Sperry has engendered among park visitors and staff, see Courtney Stone’s Remembering a Grand Lady: the Loss of Sperry Chalet, 1913-2017.  And the website of the National Park Lodge Architecture Society.

Origins of the second oldest hut system in the U.S.

Between 1913-1915 the Great Northern Railway (GNR) built a system of nine Backcountry Chalets (see my separate post on this early hut system) and four hotels to provide park visitors with horseback (and hiking) access to the interior of the park.  This makes it the second oldest hut system in the USA, and until sometime in the 1930’s or 40’s it seems to have been the nation’s largest hut system.

Until the 2017 fire, Sperry and Granite Park Chalets were the last remaining backcountry chalets in this once-grand hut system. The Glacier huts (and hotels) were sited in places of great natural beauty, each one a day’s horseback ride apart from another lodging option.  Designed in the style of Swiss Chalets, these hut complexes were part of the railroad’s efforts to market Glacier as “America’s Switzerland”, as part of a promotional campaign aimed a wealthy Americans to “see America first”.  See the introduction to Glacier’s Historic Hotels and Chalets: View With a Room for an excellent overview of this ambitious initiative advanced by Minnesota railroad barons James Jerome Hill (the Empire Builder) and his son Louis Warren Hill, Sr.

Sperry Chalet: quick historical sketch

Built on the precipice of a magnificent cirque, Sperry Chalet offers some of the finest views in Glacier and provides access to to nearby Sperry Glacier.  The Great Northern Railroad was anxious to build on this strategic site to gain a monopoly on access to one of the most popular destinations in the park.

Legally designated a National Park in 1910, the Great Northern Railway (GNR) was quick to establish a near monopoly on lodging in Glacier.  Sperry was just one of a dozen or more construction projects initiated soon after formal designation as a national park.  At Sperry a tent camp was constructed in 1911 and hosted 461 visitors in 1912, its first season.  Construction on the stone kitchen and dining hall began in 1912 and the facility opened in 1913.  The “dormitory” — accommodating 75 guests — was constructed in 1913 and opened in 1914, and supplemented by a tent camp (which operated until WWI) accommodating another 75 guests.

The hut is accessed by 6.7 mile trail from Lake McDonald (with a 3,300′ elevation gain) and a gentler, scenic 13.7  miles through Gunsight Pass.  The blazing of the trail to the site of Sperry Chalet is an interesting story related below.  Accessible only by horse or by foot, Sperry Chalet is renowned for its views, remoteness, and its mountain hospitality during its 60 day operating season.  Even without electricity, the level of amenities made for genteel comfort in a backcountry setting.  In the early days lighting was provided by kerosene lamps, running cold water was available in the dormitory rooms and hot water was delivered on request.  The buildings were heated by wood stoves. Plentiful servings of good food was provided, family style, three times a day in the dining room.

Sperry Chalet

Sperry dining room and kitchen in 1920’s, Courtesy Ray Djuff Collection

The hut was supplied by pack horses from Lake McDonald.  Human waste from outhouses and gray water were tossed over the cliff until the environmental effects became intolerable (see below) by 1992.  Lounging on the balconies to watch the sunset was a favorite activity.

Sperry, along with the other Glacier lodgings, suffered financially during the Great Depression. After the initial completion of the Going to the Sun Highway in 1933 park visitors increasingly visited by auto and overnights at the backcountry Chalets dropped off. 

Sperry closed (1943-46) during WWII.  By the end of WW II all but 2 of the chalets were accessible by car, the demand for saddle trips fell off dramatically and the railroad deemed the Chalets out-moded or unsupportable.  The GNR sold Sperry to the National Park Service for $1.  The Park Service let the hut as a concession to Martha Russell.  In 1954 the concession went to the Luding family, who operated it for many years.

What kept Sperry and the few remaining backcountry chalets going during the 1950’s and into the 1960’s was use by enthusiastic and fit cliques of park and concessionaire employees.  Ray Djuff says this was a second golden age of the chalets, which became prized hiking destinations for those in the know.  The back to nature movement of the 1960’s and backpacking boom of the 1970’s precipitated yet another golden age, which continues today.  People love these huts.  Getting reservations has long been very competitive, and will certainly be harder still in future.  As in Yosemite, the interest in backcountry huts on national park lands is intense.  Sperry continued to operate through August 2017 in much the same way as it did in the early days, as rustic shelter for backcountry travelers who appreciate comfort and conviviality at the end of a day of hiking in fabulous mountains.

[Coda: It is interesting to speculate what the Glacier hut system would look like today if the other backcountry Chalets at Glacier had been able to survive the incursion of the automobile into the center of the park.  If, like Sperry and Granite Park, they had been able to hold on until the environmental movement and backpacking boom a generation later, Glacier still might have one of the largest and oldest hut systems in the USA.  In any case, Glacier still has Sperry (assuming it will be rebuilt) and Granite Peak as reminders of a different era in National Park Service backcountry lodging options.]

Sperry Chalet, note rock work mimicking log joints, Courtesy Wiki Media

Architecture

Both of the main buildings comprising the Sperry Chalet complex were built of local stone and lumber from the area.  The kitchen/dining building was built by Italian stone masons in1912. Both structures were designed by architect Kirkland Cutter of Cutter and Malgrem in Spokane.  The one story 22’x80′ Kitchen and dining hall was a fairly unassuming stone structure.  The 32’x90′ two story lodge or dormitory, was built in the style of a Swiss chalet.  The balconies were a favorite feature of guests.  A nice detail in the stonework is the use of stone to look like the corner joints of a log cabin.  Following is the architectural data included in the description on the website of the National Park Lodge Architecture Society:

Sperry Chalet • Glacier NP, 1913
Classification IV
Location:
 Sperry Trail, Lake McDonald, Montana
Theme: Swiss Chalet; National Park Rustic “Parkitecture” with multiple rectangular structures
Original Architect: Cutter and Malmgren; some sources list Samuel Bartlett. Glacier Park Hotel Company
Construction: Glacier Park Hotel Company (later renamed Glacier Park Company), subsidiary of Great Northern Railway. Most aspects of design and construction were controlled by Louis Hill, president of GN Railway.
Structure: Two storey stone dorm building with asphalt roof, multiple porches and dormers. Interior walls cedar tongue-and-groove, floorboards are painted wood, interior and exterior railings are peeled log. One storey kitchen-dining room building, stone structure with wood shingle roof.
Known Timeline:
Construction begins, 1912
Kitchen/dining room building completed, 1913
Open for guests, 1914
Closed due to war, 1918
112 total season guest count due to depression, 1932
Dormitory altered, 1940
Closed due to war, 1942-1944
Concession transferred to Luding family, 1954
Dormitory altered, 1955
Dining Room altered, including roof replacement, 1961
Deck and balconies replaced, 1978-1979
Restoration of entire complex, 1996
New restroom building added, ca. 2008
Presently offers 17 guest rooms

Environmental impact: the “million dollar toilet”

For years kitchen waste was pitched over a cliffside and became, as in many national parks, a public viewing ground for the nightly feasts of “garbage grizzlies”.  In response to problems with beats attacking people in a number of national parks, culminating in several lawsuits after bears killed humans.  NPS implemented strategies (e.g installing bear boxes, visitor policies, and closing of dumps in the park) to break the connection in the minds of bears between people and food.  At Sperry a new strategy — packing out the kitchen waste beginning in 1954 — was implemented long before the aforementioned NPS policy changes.

Disposal of sewage was a harder problem to fix. While flush toilets were added in 1964, sewage disposal continued as before: dumped over the mountainside.  By 1992 the unenlightened practice of disposing of sewage finally caught up with the National Park Service.  The pollution effects of this practice were no longer possible to ignore; Montana state water quality tests were one indicator that precipitated discussions of Sperry’s future.  Sperry was closed after the Sierra Club Environmental Defense Fund threatened to sue NPS for this defilement of a beautiful high mountain area.  The cost of fixing the sewage problem was deemed prohibitive by NPS, which had many other pressing priorities.  NPS decided to close Sperry Chalet and Granite Park Chalet, which had similar conditions.

This decision prompted a public outcry in the form of a “Save the Chalets” lobbying and fundraising effort.  Public pressure resulted in action from the Montana legislators, getting Congress to direct the NPS to keep the chalets open and allocating $3.3 million to implement solution.  The funds were used to effect renovations at both huts, but most of the funds went to fixing the sewage problem (the most costly component was helicopter fees associated with complex backcountry construction).  Sperry and Granite Park were closed from 1992 – 1999 during  construction and renovation.

The elaborate project attracted much press coverage about the “million dollar toilet”.

Alas, the expensive toilets were removed in 2005 due to non-performance — they could not achieve a sufficiently high temperature conditions to actually compost the waste.  They were replaced with latrines using sealed drums, which were used to haul sewage from the huts by helicopter to a sewage treatment plant.

Today we know from experience that siting of high mountain huts is a significant challenge.  Site selection for Sperry Chalet was done quickly by the railroad, and without sophisticated consideration of the long term effects of human use, in particular waste disposal.  Sites like those of Granite Park and Sperry Chalets would no longer make it through the screen of an Environmental Impact Statement process.  However, high mountain huts “grandfathered in” are extremely popular and can prompt extraordinary measures to keep them open in compliance with environmental stewardship principles and practices.

Lyman Beecher Sperry: professor, naturalist, sanitary scientist, trailblazer

Sperry Promotional Brochure, Courtesy Carleton College Archives

Lyman B. Sperry, the namesake of Sperry Glacier (after which Sperry Trail and Sperry Chalet were named)  was a talented with many interests.  He was trained as a physician, taught at a number of midwestern colleges (Oberlin, Ripon and Carleton), promoted the establishment of Glacier National Park, and was a tireless lecturer on nature-based travel and on topics concerned with public health and human sexuality.

Several aspects of Sperry’s connection with Glacier Park are related in “Lyman Sperry and the Last of the Firsts”, a chapter in Randi Minetor’s book Historic Glacier National Park: the Stories Behind One of  America’s Great Treasures (Rowman and Littlefield, 2016 ). Apparently Sperry visited the Glacier area with two purposes in mind: to purchase land in the Avalanche Lake area as an investment, and to explore the wonders of the magnificent landscape.  In the end it seems his appreciation of the beauty of the region — or something like that — trumped his pursuit of land acquisition.

At some point (it is not clear if this happened before or after the discovery of Sperry Glacier, but I assume it was before) Sperry was approached by an agent of the GNR and asked to explore the region.  Sperry already had a reputation as a lecturer and promoter of travel and, according to Djuff and Morrison,

“Sperry was enticed to explore the Glacier Park region by a Great Northern Passenger agent who asked him to “make such observations as you shall find practicable regarding our scenic attractions.”  It was the first hint of the railway’s interest in developing tourism in Glacier — more than a full decade before the area became a national park. 

In June 1895 Sperry visited the Avalanche Lake area in the region that would become Glacier National Park.  Homesteader Charles Howe told him about a U-shaped valley he had discovered, and about a sighting from the top of Brown Mountain of a large glacier.   The thought of finding a new natural feature in a region that had been pretty well explored was exciting.  They went as far as the edge of the huge basin in June and realized they needed more  time and gear to do a proper exploration.  Sperry returned in August 1895 (with his nephew Albert L. Sperry and Prof. L.W. Chaney, a geologist from Carleton College) and mounted an expedition into the basin and measured the elevations of the surrounding peaks, made some geological observations, and analyzed the water of Avalanche Lake, determining its composition indicated the source was glacial meltwater.  There was clearly a glacier in the mountains high above them, and they looked for a way to find it.  They reached the edge of the massive glacier and determined they would have to return to complete their exploration and documentation.  Sperry wrote up his findings in the January 1896 issue of  Appalachia, and returned in summer 1896 to climb onto the glacier and fully document it.

Like the GNR, Sperry soon became a fervent promoter of the idea of protecting Glacier as a National Park.

The next step was to provide visitor access to this remarkable discovery.  Sperry went straight to J.J. Hill to propose he fund trail construction from Lake Mcdonald to Sperry Glacier. It seems Hill was intrigued but concerned because the land was not yet protected as a National park and he ran a risk of losing his financial investment.  Sperry suggested the job could be done inexpensively by letting him (Sperry) hire a fifteen students at the University of Minnesota to build the trail in a summer.  Hill agreed to let the students do the work (apparently without pay) and provide them transportation to and from the park on the Great Northern.

[A final note on Lyman B. Sperry the lecturer and promoter: he traveled the nation and abroad for over 30 years lecturing on “Sanitary Science”, an early tributary of what later became  the disciplines of public health and human ecology.  His lectures at colleges and through YMCA programs, focused particularly on societal and individual  problems of sex and narcotics.  Sperry was part of a movement to counter the effects of roving quacks who dispensed advice and medications that confused young people and also filled them with fears and misunderstandings about these little-understood matters.  Among his lecture topics were “Male and Female”, “Human Longevity”, ‘Brain and Nerve”, “Narcotics and Narcoticism”, “Superstitions, Delusions, and Fads”, “Friendly Enemies”, and “Gumption and Grit”.  By all accounts he was a powerful lecturer.  With all this practice, its no wonder he was convincing in his promotion of national park status for Glacier, a topic for which he also developed strong conviction.]

Author’s note: I am deeply grateful to Ray Djuff for his research, on which I have drawn heavily, for our phone conversation, and for his providing the images used in this post.  Ray  is passionate in his research and generous in sharing his knowledge and resources.

Sperry Chalet

“Sperry Chalet dorm lost to fire may be rebuilt” by Ray Djuff

Sperry Chalet dorm lost to fire may be rebuilt

by Ray Djuff, Prince Of Wales Hotel 1973-75, ’78

[posted here by kind permission of the author;

featured image of Sperry fire courtesy National Park Service]

As quickly as the Sprague forest fire destroyed the dormitory, or “hotel,” building at Sperry Chalet on August 31, 2017, there was talk of rebuilding the structure.

The morning after the fire, Doug Mitchell, newly appointed executive director of the Glacier National Park Conservancy, was talking with park superintendent Brian Mow about the next step.

The conservancy quickly established a $90,000 emergency fund and hired DCI+BCE Engineers to come up with stabilization plan for the damaged building. The conservancy will also buy supplies to do the stabilization work.

{Note: since this was written the building has been stabilized for the winter by the NPS with funding from the Glacier National Park Conservancy.  See Glacier NP Media Release Oct. 19, 2017}

DCI+BCE Engineers is a Seattle-based structural and civil engineering firm, with offices in Missoula, Kalispell, Bozeman and Billings, that was consulted on repairs to Sperry Chalet after it was damaged by an avalanche in 2011.

Glacier superintendent Jeff Mow told the Missoulian newspaper that it was too soon to know what the future holds for Sperry, but “this work represents the first step in assessing the extent of the damage to evaluate what future actions might be possible.”

For U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke, a native Montanan and former U.S. representative for the state, there was no doubt about the future.

“Rebuilding Sperry is one of my top priorities,” Zinke said in a news release from Glacier. “Today’s announcement is the first step in that process.”

The sentiment was supported by both of Montana’s U.S. senators, Jon Tester and Steve Daines.

The fire that gutted Sperry Chalet was caused by a severe thunderstorm on August 10 that saw some 150 lightning strikes setting off several small blazes in Glacier, one in the Sprague Creek drainage on Edwards Mountain, east of Lake McDonald Lodge.

The forest fire grew rapidly, from 10 to 101acres within days of its discovery, cutting off access to Sperry Chalet along the trail from Lake McDonald, stranding chalet staff and 39 guests.

The last guests to arrive at the hotel was a group of five women, among them Khi Soldano, daughter of Blackfeet artist King Kuka (1946-2004).

In face of the growing fire threat and after consultations with the National Park Service, chalet manager Renee Noffke closed the building and led the staff and stranded guests to safety on Friday, August 11, via Gunsight Pass, a 13.5-mile trek to Sun Road.

For Soldano and her four hiking partners, who had struggled over that same trail just two days before due to being ill-prepared and ill-informed about the hike, the return trip was a daunting thought.

“I wasn’t sure if I could ever do that (hike) again,” Soldano told the Great Falls Tribune. “Then that thought was thrown in my face. I’d have to do it again.”

With the public evacuated from the Sperry region, a group of highly skilled firefighters was assigned to defend the chalet. The firefighters did fuel reduction around the five structures in the area, laid out an extensive line of hoses, put sprinklers on the chalet roof and set up a pump system. As well, the firefighters put protective wrap on exposed wood and around the bottom of buildings with decks.

It was decided that it would be too unwieldly to try to wrap the entire dormitory.

Logistically, it is difficult to wrap a building the size of the chalet, said Glacier fire information officer Diane Sine. Each roll of the fire-resistant material weighs about 100 pounds and the crew couldn’t get to the top of the two-storey building.

Sine said using a fire retardant gel also presents difficulties, as it has to be maintained and hauled in buckets to the site.

“They felt that the sprinklers were enough,” Glacier’s public information officer Diane Mann-Klager said.

Despite the best efforts of firefighters to contain the Sprague fire in the heavily wooded and steep sides of Edward Mountain, it continued to grow, from about 500 acres on August 18 to 4,600 acres on September 1.

With the fire spreading unchecked and causing dangerously poor air quality conditions in the valley, Lake McDonald Lodge announced August 29 it was closing early for the season. It was originally supposed to close September 27. The move was out of concern for employee safety–because they work and live onsite they have a longer duration exposure to the air conditions.

Four days later, Sun Road was closed from Apgar to Logan Pass and everyone around Lake McDonald was ordered to leave.

Firefighters moved in to protect Lake McDonald Lodge and neighbouring buildings. Pumps were put in Snyder Creek and Lake McDonald, hoses laid out and an extensive “Rain for Rent” sprinkler system was used to increase the humidity around the lodge.

By now, the fire was now on Sperry Chalet’s doorstep.

“The fire team . . . worked tirelessly to contain this fire and protect structures and infrastructure,” said superintendent Mow.

While battling an “ember shower” from the approaching fire, the firefighters noticed puffs of smoke under an eave on the Sperry Chalet dorm. It was approximately 6:10 p.m. on Thursday, August 31.

The firefighters sprayed the area with water because they thought there was an ember on the roof. Almost instantaneously, a window in the dorm broke out and flames were licking at the eaves. From a photo taken of the event, it would appear that embers had gotten inside the building and had set the interior alight.

It was a “valiant stand” by the firefighters, supported by three helicopters with water buckets, to save the structure, but they were unsuccessful.

The 103-year-old Sperry dorm, a national historic landmark, was gutted.

Fortunately, the rest of the buildings survived the fiery onslaught.

The public reaction when photos of the burning building and the remaining rock walls of the chalet were published was shock and grief.

“I am utterly devastated that our beloved Chalet has been lost to the Sprague fire,” Geneva Warrington, a member of the extended Luding family which operates the chalet, posted on Instagram.

“Each and every person who was lucky enough to spend time here knows what a magical place it was, and what a terrible loss this is,” Geneva wrote. “My family has been incredibly blessed to get to share this magnificent place with the public for the past 63 years, and we are so very sad it has ended in this way.”

Kevin Warrington, Sperry Chalet co-ordinator for Belton Chalets, Inc., which operates the chalets, called the loss “a sad day.”

“I have been around Sperry for my entire life and I have never expected to see anything like this,” Kevin said. “It has been a privilege to share Sperry with the great many people that love it.”

Beth Dunagan of Whitefish, lamented: “My heart is breaking not just for my family, but for everyone who so dearly loved that chalet.”

Dunagan, another member of the extended Luding family and a former employee who recently wrote a book, Welcome to Sperry Chalet, about the place, spent all of her childhood summers and five years as an adult at the backcountry lodge.

“There’s no place on earth I’d rather be,” she told the Daily Inter Lake newspaper shortly after her book was published in 2013.

Dunagan’s book is as much a tribute to the chalet as it is to the Luding family, which has operated Sperry Chalet since 1954.

Sperry became a tourist destination in the early 1900s, after the Great Northern Railway paid Dr. Lyman Sperry to have students from the University of Minnesota build a trail from Lake McDonald to his namesake glacier, which he’d earlier located.

Upon the Glacier region being designated a national park in 1910, Great Northern president Louis Hill commissioned a series of camps be built for tourists on saddle horse trips. The tent camp near the present Sperry Chalet opened in 1911.

The first buildings appeared the following summer, 1912: two log cabins and a 22- by 80-foot dining room/kitchen complex made of locally quarried stone and lodgepole pine. The kitchen/dining room opened for business in 1913.

That same summer, work started on a 32- by 90-foot dormitory building, again made of rock and wood. It was finished and opened in the summer of 1914. The two-storey dorm had 23 guest rooms.

Both stone-and-wood structures at Sperry were designed by Spokane, Wash., architect Kirtland Cutter, who also created the plans for Lake McDonald Lodge, also opened that year, 1914.

Situated on the edge of a cirque 6,500 feet above sea level, the chalets offer a fantastic view of the surrounding mountains and down to Lake McDonald. The hike from the lake to the chalets is a rigorous 6.7 miles, gaining 3,300 feet in elevation.

Sperry Chalets were a popular destination for anyone wanting to visit the nearby glacier, and a welcome stop for tourists on saddle horse trips. During the Great Northern era, fresh bread and pastries were made daily, served at mealtimes by waitresses in uniform. Each bedroom had metal beds with springs and mattresses, a sink with cold running water, and chamber pots so guests wouldn’t have to go the outhouse during the night. Lighting came from kerosene lamps.

The creation of Going-to-the-Sun Road, along with the Great Depression, radically changed the nature of tourism to Glacier, to people driving themselves and fewer venturing on horse trips into the backcountry. By the 1950s the Great Northern Railway was looking to get out of the hospitality industry in Glacier, and in 1953 it sold the Sperry buildings to the National Park Service for $1.

While other chalet colonies the railway had built were razed due to lack of use, Sperry got a reprieve when the park service in 1954 leased the operation to Ross and Kathleen (Kay) Luding. It was the beginning of a six-decade long revival of the complex, with the Luding family starting and maintaining new traditions at the fabled site, so remote it is supplied by mule train arrivals each week.

Kay Luding, a sprite of a woman with boundless enthusiasm and a welcoming smile, became the heart of Sperry. In her book about Sperry Chalet, Beth Dunagan said Kay Luding always put others first:

“It doesn’t matter to me how many discomforts I have up here just to serve the public,” Kay Luding said. “I couldn’t care less, because I want our guests to have a memory they’ll take home with them that will last forever.”

She achieved her goal, turning Sperry into a spot where tourists champed at the bit to make a reservation for the following year, and openings were hard to find during the short, 60-day summer season in which it operated.

It is on the basis of that reputation, maintained by her son Lanny Luding and other generations of the extended family following Kay’s death, that has sparked the push to rebuild the fire-ravaged Sperry Chalet dorm building.

When Doug Mitchell, who had only taken on the top job at the Glacier Conservancy six weeks before, heard the news of the Sperry fire, he said: “This puts all hands on deck. We will marshal the troops and do what we can to help. Our mission is to be here for the long run.”

The conservancy has set up a page where the public can make contributions to its “Sperry Action Fund.” As a special thank you for any donations of $100 or more, the conservancy will send donors a limited edition 12- by 18-inch poster of Sperry created and donated by Roy E. Hughes, done while he was Glacier’s artist-in-residence in 2005.

With the conservancy’s support, a team of engineers has visited the site and is putting together a plan to stabilize the rock walls of the fire-charred dorm so they survive the winter, after which a decision will be made about whether they can be preserved for a rebuilding project. The plan is to have the supports for the walls in place before winter hits the higher altitudes in Glacier.

Park spokesperson Lauren Alley told the Flathead Beacon newspaper that approximately 100 beams will be brought to the site by helicopter to stabilize the remaining walls. The chimney will be secured with stabilization collars, and the gables will be surrounded with plywood.

“We want to protect the walls from wind and snow this winter,” Alley said.

Meanwhile, the Heritage Partnerships Program of the National Park Service is seeking blueprints of the Sperry Chalet dorm to assist in any rebuilding effort. The Heritage Partnerships Program helps citizens, agencies, organizations, and communities identify, document, interpret, protect, and preserve National Historic Landmarks within the eight-state Intermountain Region.

Fans of Glacier Park eagerly await news of the fate of what remains of the Sperry dorm, and the rebuilding plan.

Elsewhere, Glacier’s staff is looking at the huge job of cleaning up some 30 miles of trails where the Sprague fire swept through the Lake McDonald area, felling 1,900 trees on the hiking and riding paths.

Park spokesperson Lauren Alley said it’s possible that some popular routes, such as the Mount Brown Lookout trail, Snyder Lake trail and Sperry trail will be closed well into next year. The Lincoln Lake and Lincoln Creek trails were among the most heavily affected by the fire, she said, with two bridges damaged on Snyder Ridge.

Milder weather rain and snow had diminished the fire, which at last report before publication continued to smoulder. It had burned more than 17,000 acres in the park.

 

Sun Valley Trekking

Featured Huts: Pioneer Yurt and Fishook Yurt and Hut

Pioneer Yurt and Fishook Yurt and Hut

Featured Huts of Sun Valley Trekking

(See Also Photo Galleries for Pioneer and Fishook,

and Operational Profile for Sun Valley Trekking)

Pioneer Yurt and Fishook Yurt are two of the six huts operated by Sun Valley Trekking in the beautiful snow-filled mountains of Central Idaho. These two locations have historical significance in the world of U. S. alpine touring huts, and they give a taste of the offerings of San Valley Trekking’s remarkable infrastructure for enjoying the beauty and thrill of these mountains.  

Pioneer Yurt sits on the edge of a lovely alpine meadow at 8,600’ in the Pioneer Mountains in the Sawtooth National Forest in Central Idaho.  Located near the towns of Ketchum and Hailey, this fully-equipped yurt — located in a bowl surrounded by Hyndman Peak (12,009’, the highest peak in the Pioneer Mountains), Old Hyndman Peak. (11,755’), Cobb Peak (11,6500), and Peanut Peak (c. 9,600).   This is paradise for ski mountaineering groups in winter and a spectacular base camp for hiking, botanizing, and star-gazing in summer.  

Sun Valley Trekking has operated Pioneer Yurt since 2006 when it took over from Heli-Ski and tore down the old yurt and erected a new one.  The 24’ diameter yurt is equipped with everything you need (just bring a sleeping bag and food) to enjoy this mountain Shangri La.  The high ceilings, three large windows, and nicely designed amenities provide a feeling of openness and comfort.  The ambiance is simple, rustic and cozy — perfect for a getaway with family and/or friends.

The amenities are thoughtfully honed over years of experience in mountain hospitality.  The yurt sleeps up to 16 people in four bunk beds, each with comfortable plastic covered mattresses.  The wood stove keeps the yurt warm.  There are lots of clothes lines and hooks for hanging wet clothing to dry.  Water for drinking and cooking is from snow melt in winter and from nearby Hyndman Creek in summer (gravity filter provided).  The kitchen has a three burner propane stove and all the implements needed for cooking and eating, including a small BBQ.  There are tables for indoor and outdoor eating and lounging, and foldable chairs for reading and sitting in the meadow or under the stars.   The Goal Zero solar collector system feeds a battery which powers lights, lanterns, a speaker system, and recharges GPS units and personal devices.  A selection of games and reading material, along with the hut log, provide quiet entertainment options.

Pioneer Yurt is 3-4 miles as the crow flies (much farther by trail) from the historic Pioneer Cabin, the first backcountry ski hut in Sun Valley.  In 1938 the Bavarian ski guides and instructors brought to Idaho to start the Alpine Ski Touring School at Sun Valley told their employers that the place to learn alpine ski touring is in the mountains, not in the valley.  They took over an old mining cabin and called it Pioneer Cabin, where they established one of the early alpine ski schools in the USA.  The original hut is no longer in use, but is a popular day hike destination for its fabulous panoramic views.  

Sun Valley Trekking

Fishook is comprises a wall tent and a yurt joined with a walkway. Photo Courtesy Sun Valley Trekking

Fishook Hut and Yurt sit at 6,800’ next to meandering Fishook creek and beautiful meadows on the edge of the Sawtooth Mountains wilderness area.  The jagged mountains rise above the meadow, with spectacular views of Thompson Peak (the highest in the Sawtooth Mountain).  Fishook has the same level of amenities as Pioneer, described above, and is distinguished by three features: topography, history, type of accommodation, and a hot tub.

The approach to Fishook is a gentle four mile tour.  The lower elevation and flat terrain are ideal for Nordic skiers and snowshoers.  Advanced skiers and snowboarders can find fantastic downhill terrain in the peaks above Fishook Valley: Horstman, Thompson, and Williams.  

The 16’ diameter Mongolian yurt is nicely appointed and sleeps 8, and is joined together by a lodge-pole pine framed walkway to a pioneer style wall tent that sleeps 6.  The wall tent, the site of cooking and dining, is appointed with colorful panels and a gorgeous fabric doorway.  There are two covered outhouses. The piece de resistance is a wood fired hot tub.  

Historically, Fishook was the site of what Joe Leonard, the guide who started the business that Sun Valley Trekking built upon, claims is the first yurt in North America, built in the 1970’s.  Whether this claim is true (there is a competing claim in Sun Valley lore), staying here gives the visitor a sense of being part of the history of alpine huts/yurts in the USA.  

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Sun Valley Trekking

Joe and Francie St. Onge at work in the SVT office in Hailey, ID

Joe and Francie St. Onge, owners of Sun Valley Trekking, have developed a remarkable series of backcountry ski huts and a local and international guiding business.

They offer guided trips to their huts (including porters and food service if desired) as well as self-guided experiences.  Most of their business is from return visitors; first-time visitors in winter are required to use a guide for the first day.

This is a serious, well-run backcountry ski destination, and appropriate skills are needed.  I visited in summer and can’t wait to return for the winter experience!

Details on hut rental and reservations can be made on the Sun Valley Trekking website .  

 

 

 

Post by Sam Demas, September 2017

Sam Demas, September 2017

Update on Spearhead Huts Construction

Spearhead Huts Construction Begins!

by Sam Demas based on information from Spearhead Huts website

The Alpine Club of Canada and the British Columbia Mountaineering Club have broken groundAlpine Club of Canada - Claire and Kees  on the Kees and Claire hut, the first of three huts in three huts planned for the Spearhead Traverse.  Named after a young couple who perished in a collapsed snow cave they built for shelter while on the Wapti Traverse in 2006.                                                                 

The Spearhead Huts August 25, 2017 blog update provides some great photos of the intense volunteer effort undertake  to put in the foundation for the hut.  For an broad overview of the plan for the Spearhead Traverse, see the FAQ and other portions of their web page.

When completed this three hut traverse will offer safer access to the remarkable ski terrain that claimed the young lives of Kees and Claire.

Spearhead Huts Construction

Foundation of Claire Kees Hut emerges August 2017.  Photo Courtesy Spearhead Traverse Huts

Spearhead Huts Construction

Working fast on concrete pour between helicopter deliveries of concrete. Photo courtesy Spearhead Huts.

American Alpine Club

American Alpine Club Hut System

The American Alpine Club’s “Hut System”

While staying at the American Alpine Club’s (AAC) Grand Teton Climbers Ranch I was intrigued by a sign indicating that it is part of the AAC Hut System.

It turns out the AAC has borrowed the term “hut system” (see my article What is a Hut? Towards a definition)  for a more common definition) to describe its system of five lodging camps in USA.  I talked with Jesse Billingham, Lodging Director of AAC, to learn more about this accommodations network.  It turns out that AAC has developed four of these five properties in the past five years or so and is considering opening more in future.   As with the original Climbers Ranch in the Grand Tetonsthe other four lodgings are small non-profit operations. Some operate in the black and others in the red; it varies from year to year.  The AAC does not view them as a revenue stream, but hopes they don’t lose money.  

The mission of all these lodging enterprises includes:

  • providing affordable accommodations for climbers at iconic climbing locations,
  • community building through creation of a cultural hub for climbers,
  • education, and
  • environmental conservation.

To these ends each one provides lodging, a central dining pavilion, one (or two) communal fire pit (rather than many dispersed gathering spots), and education and volunteer service programs, such as the AAC “Crag and Classics” series of weekend events and clinics.

I was so impressed by the mission and thoughtful design of the Grand Teton Climbers Ranch, established in 1970, that I decided to look online at the others.  These lodgings are open to AAC members and to non-members. Reservations can be made online at the link below.

These are good examples of an organization developing lodgings to build community for their members and support nature-based activities.  Following is a very brief listing of the other for AAC lodgings, each of which is described in more detail on their website.

  • Snowbird Hut (Alaska), sleeping 6-12, this is a single hut that can be linked with two huts of the Alaska Mountaineering Club to form the Bombers Traverse.  Open year-round, this remote shelter is for back country skiiers, climbers, and hikers.  There is a link to the history of the hut on the AAC website.
  • Hueco Rock Ranch (near El Paso, TX).  Established about 2012, this ranch includes a house with rooms for rent, campsites, and space for parking travel vehicles.
  • New River Gorge Campground (Lansing, WV) was established in 2014 and has 40 campsites, a shower house, and two communal fire rings.
  • Gunks Campground (officially: Samuel F. Pryor III Shawangunk Gateway Campground, New Paltz, NY) was established in partnership with Mohonk Preserve and the Palisades Interstate Park Commission.  It has 26 drive-in campsites and 24 walk-in sites.

American Alpine Club Grand Tetons Climbing Ranch

American Alpine Club Grand Teton Climbing Ranch

Overview:  Located in Grand Teton National Park in Moose, WY, the Grand Tetons Climbing Ranch (GTCR) is one of five AAC mountain huts, i.e. base camp accommodations centers for climbers operated by the American Alpine Club.  The cluster of 11 buildings comprises 9 cabins, a lodge, and a bath house.  It is located on the valley at the foot of the fabulous Grand Teton mountain range.  GTCR sleeps 64 and provides an array of amenities designed to support climbers as they prepare to go climb in the remarkable Grand Tetons.  About 85% of the users of GTCR climbers, and about 50% are members of the American Alpine Club (AAC).  The GTCR has a venerable history and a special place in the history of the AAC.

GTCR is more than an accommodations center.  It is an agent in education, conservation and community-building in the mountaineering community.  Its mission is:

….to provide inexpensive, extended-stay accommodations for mountaineers visiting Grand Teton National Park.  As a facility of the American Alpine Club the Climber’s Ranch also represents the interests and concerns of the American Climbing Community in the Park, cooperates with the NPS in conservation of the environment and preservation of the historic structures of the ranch, and provides a venue for the cultivation of mountain craft, the exchange of information about the Teton Range, and the promotion of good fellowship among climbers.

History:  The establishment of the GTCR in 1970 was a signal event in the modern history of the AAC, and an important step in its gradual shift from an Eastern elitist organization to an inclusive climbing club reflecting the democratization of climbing in America.  Two visionaries — AAC President Nick Clinch and former superintendent of Grand Teton National Park Horace Albright — combined forces to address a growing challenge: the rapid increase in the numbers of climbers in the USA.

The Tetons are a cross-roads and focal point of American climbing.  In the 1960’s increasing numbers of climbers began gathering at the Jenny Lake campground adjacent to prime climbing spots.   It became hard to reserve camp sites and there were conflicts between the culture of the young “dirtbag” climbers and families staying at the campground.  The NPS had to impose limitations on camping and campground activities.  Clinch and Albright, neighbors in Palo Alto, got together to find a solution to these symptoms of the growing pains of a new phase of mountaineering in America.  In 1969 there were three former dude ranches for sale in the Grand Teton National Park; one of these, the Double Diamond Dude Ranch (operated 1924-1964), was determined by Clinch, Albright, Leigh Ortenburger, and others (reportedly including Yvon Chouinard, who did the plumbing in the early days) to be the most appropriate of the three for purchase by AAC.

In an article in the January/February 1969 issue of Summit: a mountaineering magazine (of which Royal Robbins was contributing editor), AAC President Nick Clinch published an article “The New Climbers Ranch: Your Base Camp in the Tetons”.  He outlined plans to open the ranch in 1970 for the purpose of “providing accommodations for climbers at a very modest rate”.  Clinch outlined plans to raise $200,000 to make improvements to the property and to establish an operational endowment.

GTCR opened in 1970 and Dave Dornan (of the Dornan family in Moose) was the first manager.  Rick Liu was the second manager, and Ruth Balsin, who served for 12 years, was the third manager.   There have been others since.  Bob Baribeau, the current manager, showed up in 1973 as a guest and climber and began helping out.

The former dining room of the original dude ranch building currently serves as the headquarters/registration building and the library.  It is listed on the National Historic Register.  A 1985 forest fire destroyed about half of the structures.  Other period structures were moved to the site by NPS and AAC to replace the burned buildings.  The first of these was named after Leigh Ortenburger, author of A Climber’s Guide to the Teton Range.

Accommodation and amenities:  Each of the cabins has between 2-6 two-tier bunk beds, each wide enough for two people but usually used for one person.   Guests provide their own bedding (sleeping bags and pads).  The bunk rooms are spare but thoughtfully supplied with plenty of electrical outlets, string for drying clothes, showers (bath tubs in at least one cabin!), and pegs for hanging gear and clothing.  Some rooms have a closet for gear storage and some have a desk or table.

Reservations are necessary and the charge for overnight accommodation is $25 per night per person for non-members, and $16 per person per night for AAC members.

The bath house includes a sink room, wash room, climbing wall, and recycling center.  The very well stocked sink room is supplied with detergent and scrubbers.  It also houses an array of loaner pots and pans, BBQ grills, toasters, electric water kettles, hose, etc.  In addition to bathrooms (in most of the cabins) there are central men’s and women’s bathrooms with showers.  There is a well-equipped laundry room with washer and drier ($5 per load), and a great clothesline located nearby.    GTCR also loans coolers, bicycles, and locks and helmets.  And there is a left-over food box with items free for the taking.

There is no food service; guests bring and cook their own meals.  The magnificent outdoor dining pavilion has great views and is perfect for preparing meals.  Bear-proof lockers are provided for food and gear.  It is also the social hub of the GTCR, where people eat, drink and talk together.  Most of the conversation revolves around climbing.

GTCR operates a serious recycling program including nearly every kind of waste (including fuel canisters), includes a can crusher, and even goes through the trash to separate out material that should have been placed in recycling.

The library is a magnificent amenity.  Located in a separate, sacred space (paintings, no shoes allowed) that used to be the kitchen of the dude ranch.  The collection is fairly extensive (the online catalog has 685 entries) and is primarily focused on climbing in the West, but includes an international focus.  The library is curated by Prof. Alan Nagel of U of Iowa.  The library is used for presentations and discussions.

There is a “partners board” where folks can meet up to climb together, as well as get information about local guides.

Operations:  The GTCR operates June 1 – September 15 within the Grand Tetons National Park (NPS) on a concessionaire permit, renewable every ten years.  The staff consists of a manager, Bob Baribeau, and four young staffers.  All are climbers, and are unfailingly knowledgeable, competent and courteous.

The GTCR structures are owned by the NPS and operated and maintained by AAC.  No new construction is allowed and the buildings are all old, many moved onto the property from the area.  The buildings are well-maintained with obvious care and attention to detail.

A plentiful supply of excellent water flows underground from the mountains, through a vast underground cobble field, and is tapped at a wellhead/pump house at the GTCR.  Sewage and graywater drain into a septic system which is pumped out as needed at AAC expense.

NPS conducts and annual walk through with the manager and compiles a list of maintenance tasks to be completed during the year.  NPS is responsible for road maintenance and large infrastructure projects.

GTCR conducts an annual “work week” in which volunteers assist with maintenance tasks.

Business model: GTCR operates on a non-profit basis under the AAC.  AAC’s attitude towards the economics of its five accommodations centers is that they are not looked to as revenue centers.  Its considered good if they don’t lose money, but some do in some years.  GTCR consistently earns sufficient revenue to cover its operating costs and return some surplus to the AAC.  There is a small operating endowment.

by Sam Demas, August 2017

Mt. Tahoma — High Hut and MTTA Notes on History and Operations

Spring 2012, Karly Siroky, High Hut Manager.

High Hut Trail Guide Excerpts

Notes kindly compiled by Leyton Jump, Manager of High Hut, Mt. Tahoma Trails Association

OUR MISSION

2005

The Mt. Tahoma Trails Association operates and manages for public use a year-round hut-to-hut trail system adjacent to the slopes of Mt. Rainier, offering trail users of differing skill levels and economic backgrounds a safe and inspirational backcountry experience. MTTA leadership maintains a functional working partnership with all stakeholders (MTTA members, trail users, volunteers, and our host land owners) based on mutual trust and honesty. Volunteers provide labor to achieve this mission.

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Featured Hut: New Monte Rosa Hut, Swiss Alpine Club

by Sam Demas

This glittering, crystalline structure changes the aesthetic paradigm and technical concept of Alpine lodging.  A technologically sophisticated building, the New Monte Rosa Hut sets a new standard for hut design and is an exemplar of design for self-sufficiency in remote places.   It is located at an altitude of 2,883 meters, above the Gorner glacier and near the the Matterhorn and Dufourspitze, Switzerland’s highest peak.  It is at least 90% self-sufficient in meeting its energy needs and is said to be 65% self-sufficient overall (alas, it cannot  grow its own food!).

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Book Review: New Monte Rosa Hut Swiss Alpine Club

Review by Sam Demas; for pictures of Monte Rosa Hut, see photo gallery

Hut design is a prized architectural specialty in Switzerland, and this book is a prism through which to view this specialty — as well as to learn about the remarkable New Monte Rosa Hut.  This beautifully produced book comprises 6 thoughtful introductory essays providing historical and architectural context for the project, 15 informative technical notes on key aspects of the project, many architectural drawings, and dozens of beautiful photographs.  Published shortly after construction, it is a both a form of public documentation and a celebration of this remarkable design and construction project of ETH-Zurich, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology.  It was published in conjunction with a 2010 exhibition on the hut.

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