On the evening of August 31, 2017, the Sprague Fire burned the dormitory building at the Sperry Chalet Complex. The Sperry Action Fund was established by the Glacier Conservancy to cover the cost of both immediate known needs and possible future needs specifically related to work at the chalet.
We've created this site for everyone who loves Sperry to reminisce about the past, be informed about current events, and help plan for the future. Thank you for your generous support.
A Walk Down Memory Lane
In 1926, before the completion of Going to the Sun Road, Gladys Johnson spent a summer working at the East Glacier Lodge. Her summer adventures included a memorable visit to Sperry Chalet. Click here to read her diary entries.
This is one of two journals kept by Gladys Johnson during the summer of 1926. Gladys was 20 years old and a student at Carleton College in Northfield, MN. Lenore Edgerton was also a MN college student. The two of them were waitresses at East Glacier Lodge. The Glacier summer was a magical one for them and the two of them became soulmates. Gladys and Lenore came up with a plan to hitchhike back to Minnesota at the end of the season without telling anyone! To get in shape for all the walking they would do, they decided to hike the Gunsight Pass Trail. The following is an account of their hike and overnight at Sperry.
August 25, 1926
Lenore and I are on our trip though the Park. I wanted so much to write to you before I left (East Glacier Lodge), but I just couldn’t find time. The afternoon before we left we visited Mr. Grey, the artist, in his studio. We spent the entire afternoon and had a most enjoyable time. He is tremendously interesting when once he starts talking. He gave us an entirely new picture of the Indians. As he said, the American version of the Indian was either an ideal one – thinking all Indians to be either a Hiawatha or a Minnehaha – or else regarding them as the scum of the earth. True, the half-breeds are – that is – most of them for they come from the scum of the whites such as gamblers, etc., and the scum of the Indians – and as a natural result are quite undesirable. If, however, a good grade white and a good grade Indian blood are mixed it is one of the few breeds that is good. He told us of his camping trip this summer with Mr and Mrs. Keim, both artists, and another artist, forget her name. The Indians were most hospitable to them – building them teepees, bringing them supplies, chopping wood, etc. Mr. Grey spoke with great admiration of the teepees. From an engineer’s standpoint they are a skillful achievement. The squaws build them. The Indian men do not know how. They have been built the same for years and years because there is no room for improvement. The teepees are so constructed as to have perfect ventilation, protection from rain and wind, and warmth in the cold.
(I’m writing this in the lobby at Sun Camp. They are having a banquet directly overhead and the toasts, songs and orchestra music is quite disturbing.)
Oh, dear, it is time to dance. Philip La Reveire has been sitting by my side talking to me and the time has flown by. He has just now gone upstairs to get us some salted nuts.
We are not going to dance very long (it’s 10:30 now) because we want to go to bed early so we can get up and get an early start on our trip. We are going to Sperry over Gunsight Pass.
The next entry was a report on their hike after returning to East Glacier:
Sunday Morning at work (in the dining room at East Glacier Lodge)
This is the deadest morning imaginable and so I’ll make use of the opportunity to write to you.
I must tell you about our trip We set out from here (East Glacier) in the early morning and hiked along the highway for 3 miles. It is very pleasant to hike with canes for the tap tap of them set a merry little tune and all exercise is easier with music. Lenore and I both feel we are growing happier as we grow older. I think that speaks well for our education don’t you? We were just getting into an interesting philosophical discussion when a truck driver, Norman Benson, stopped and asked if we didn’t want a ride. We had only hiked 3 miles and we would have liked to hike farther but we didn’t want to miss getting to St. Mary which is 32 miles from the entrance before the launch left – so we got in.
Later – afternoon in the East Glacier Lodge dining room. I had to stop and wait on a party.
Well, to go on. Norman is a clever chap so we had a good time. He’s also a fast driver and we beat all the busses in. The leaves of the aspen trees were turning yellow and the silvery green of the poplars, the dark deep shades of firs and pines, the bright red mountain ash berries and sarsaparilla berries made the landscape a most beautiful one.
When we got to St. Mary we went into the kitchen to see Helen and Irma. Agnes, the cook, made coffee for us, and made it as only a Norwegian can make coffee. Boy! It was good. The fisherman, Mr. Harrison, who catches all the whitefish that is used in the park, came in with a mess of fish while we were there. He is an old-timer and has as many wrinkles in his face as some of the Indians around here. He was quite inclined to talk that morning and he told us with an air of braggadocio that he had lived at St. Mary for 20 years and never had gone 2 miles out of his way to see any mountains or scenery. What he knew about the mountains was just what he had heard from others. Among other things he told us if we carried dried prunes in our pockets and ate them while hiking we wouldn’t get thirsty or hungry. “If you’re full of prunes you’re alt right,” he said.
As the launch trip was not new it lost some of its ecstatic wonderment for us but we enjoyed it much nevertheless. We didn’t eat lunch at Sun, but rested for awhile because the night before we washed and ironed and didn’t get to bed early. After about an hour’s rest we climbed out on the rocks high above the shore of the lake and talked of many things —of Lenore’s salon-to-be, of Gus and Frank – of our vagabondage (hitch hiking home) and how I could tell my folks without shocking them too much. A professor friend of Lenore’s drove through here about a week ago and went to Yellowstone. If we had been through work he would have taken us along — so we decided it wouldn’t be wrong to write my folks about him only change the time element from the past to the future. Then while I had the inspiration I wrote a letter home – after first dressing for dinner. You see we had sent our silk dresses in my overnight bag up by mail because the orchestra from here (East Glacier) went up to play for a big party – and we knew we’d dance.
I wrote a six-page letter home before dinner. We enjoyed the dinner for we were pretty hungry since as how we hadn’t had lunch (going without lunch as to save money if you haven’t already guessed). After dinner we got a rowboat from Don Bacley and I rowed across the lake to a jagged promontory of rock where Louie Hill’s summer house is perched. He had built a charming rustic house and then abandoned it because it was too hard to reach in stormy weather. Where it stands is very much like an island with water on four sides and only a narrow strip of land connecting it to the mainland. It is the wildest and yet most delightful place imaginable. It would be ideal for a few students to spend the summer there — reading, living simply and getting to know nature. Lenore and I wove all sorts of fantastic weavings of how if it were our place we would call it “The Student’s Dream House.” We would invite artists, poets, astronomers, philosophers, botanists, geologists, etc., Oh, yes, Lenore says we’d have a cook. We went farther back into the woods and there is a much larger yet equally as charming a building and as luxurious as the other place. We disturbed a large gathering of squirrels who were playing in the fireplace. Lenore rowed back and recited “Thanatopsis” and “Day Is Done.” The dance didn’t begin until 10:30 – we wrote letters until them. We had a good time at the dance. The Swiss waitresses gave a Swiss dance during intermission.
The next morning we got up at six but as breakfast wasn’t until 7:00 we didn’t get started until 8:00. The sun was under the clouds when we started and it was delightfully cool for hiking. We had hiked a little over an hour when it started to rain. It wasn’t a mild rain either. It came down in torrents — making streams out of the paths. The rain didn’t dampen our spirits any. All we’d have to do to make ourselves laugh was to look at each other. We were drenched through and through. Then the clouds lifted and it stopped raining and the sun came out, bringing out all the colors of the mountains in new freshness. For lunch we had red raspberries, huckleberries, half a rain-soaked sandwich, an orange and half a Hershey which we ate just before we got to Gunsight Lake. All the lakes here are a most beautiful greenish blue or bluish green, rather. It is an indescribable color.
We didn’t mind the climb up the switchbacks on Mount Jackson at all although they are as steep as on Swiftcurrent Pass. (We were in good trim for our hike for we had gone without desserts for over a week and had done the daily dozen almost every night.) The trail leads back and forth up the mountain above Gunsight Lake and Gunsight Mountain in the background. Gunsight Mountain is a huge, impressive mountain. We counted nine silvery-threaded streams rushing down one side of it with any number of little streams going into these. There isn’t any vegetation on that side of the mountain — only sand and beautifully colored rock with the layers of strata falling in graceful lines. Some of the streams and cataracts which crossed our paths on Mt. Jackson were really quite dangerous. They probably aren’t as a rule, but right after the rain they were deep and rushed across our path at a terrific speed.
(Drawings of switchback and waterfall on it)
I tried to show you how it could be dangerous but all I did was make a mess. The trail led underneath immense boulders and rocks which seemed as if the only thing they could do was to fall right over on top of us. We kept wishing as we went along that the clouds would not disperse until we got to the top, for neither of us had been up in a cloud before. But they kept ascending as we did so when we reached the top of Gunsight Pass they were gone. Just out of sight of Gunsight Lake one suddenly comes upon beautiful Lake Ellen Wilson shut in by several mountains. The trail goes down — almost to the shore of the lake and gradually goes up again on the other side of Gunsight Mountain. There was a formation of snow – I suppose it was a glacier — on one side of a mountain directly across the lake and it had quite a resemblance to something familiar, and all of a sudden it occurred to me it was the Whitman Sampler boy. Lenore saw the resemblance, too. We loitered along the path and lay down on the long grasses for awhile. Then we started hiking again and before we had gone far – we were right at Lincoln Pass just before one reaches the tippety top of Gunsight – a dreadful storm came up without any warning. The clouds swirled in around the corner into the lake basin and filled it in a twinkling of an eye, and before we realized it we were in the midst of a cloud with clouds far below us and above us. I had no idea the wind currents moved so rapidly. Then it began to hail. The hail stones struck us in the face and the wind blew so hard we decided it wasn’t wise to stay on the trail. There was a large rock nearby and fortunately for us there was a crevice in it large enough for both of us to slip into it, and there we sat for 15 minutes until the hail passed. We really weren’t frightened much — we were enjoying ourselves watching the wind whip the clouds around in the lake basin. Never in my life have I seen anything more dramatic and spectacular than the way the storm came up. Clouds crashed together and thundered and streaks of lightning were right beside us. It was aweinspiring. The place where we were crouched into was dry at first, but suddenly a stream began to trickle down – right where my back was resting against the rock, and as we were wedged in I couldn’t move or Lenore wouldn’t have any shelter, but I didn’t mind. had already been wet through many times before that morning. When the hail stopped we decided we ought to attempt the pass, so we trudged on in the sleet. It is a very queer sensation to be on a trail and know that there is a sudden drop on one side of the path, but all that is visible is the white mist of the clouds! Because of the clouds we could only see four or five feet ahead of us on the trail and we went along rather cautiously. Can’t you see us, diary, on the top of the mountain with the wind and sleet blowing in our faces and making my velvet jacket flop about me. I went ahead for Lenore was almost exhausted at this time. Was I cold? I thought both my hands were frozen for the fingers were beginning to turn white, but they were just numb – not frozen . We walked for over an hour in the sleet — and now we were descending on the other side of the mountain. Just before we came in sight of Sperry the clouds began to lift and in less than a minute we could see for a long distance, and it seemed as if we were in an enchanted world — directly in front of us was a miniature lake silvery from the reflection of the mists above it, and tall stately pines and poplars bordered it. All the woods were breathing new life after the rain and were unusually green. Far away we could see part of Lake McDonald and as went along the clouds rapidly lifted and we could see it all. To the left and below us we saw some sheep and heard their bells tinkling, and at our right a little stream with much force passed us merrily. When we reached Sperry we were welcomed and exclaimed over! The guides said we had made remarkable time. Hardly anyone ever gets over the pass at that time of the day. HUNGRY, WET, COLD and TIRED! WOW! We knew Florence Schneider, a most charming girl, and she gave us dry clothes, and you can guess how they felt. Then they made tea for us. Tea with tea rolls, jam and doughnuts. Nothing has ever tasted better. We sat in the small cozy lobby which is used as a dining room also, and drank our tea and then toasted marshmallows over the small heater. It was just three o’clock when we reached Sperry. After tea, we went to our room and lay down but couldn’t sleep as a noisy couple moved into the room next to ours and laughed heartily and talked boisterously. Dinner was at 6:30 and such a dinner. Everything cooked deliciously and was piping hot. The bread was most scrumptious — freshly baked rye bread with orange marmalade baked right in it. Roast beef, beautifully browned gravy, mashed potatoes with paprika and melted butter on top. (That was the second time all summer I’d eaten potatoes and I thoroughly enjoyed them.) – boiled cabbage – vegetable salad — coffee — fresh sliced peaches and chocolate frosted cupcakes. I went to bed about 8:30, but Lenore had her sore throat and cold doctored up so it was about 10:00 when she came to bed. We would have slept like “petite enfants” had not the same noisy couple made the same lot of noise. When they started in again at 5 a.m. and threatened to keep it up all morning I called in and asked if they please wouldn’t mind not making so much noise and they kept quiet after that. We were going to get up early and climb to Lincoln’s Peak and watch the sun rise, but we couldn’t even see the porch of the dorm from our window it was so cloudy. We went back to sleep. It was a cold, frosty morning, and we were glad not to crawl out of bed. We both slept in a single bed to keep warm. About 7 0’clock a boy rapped at our door and asked if we didn’t want a pitcher of warm water! It was most welcome for oh, it was cold!
Breakfast was supposed to be at 7:30 but it was a little late so we sat around the heater. An elderly man asked me where Lenore and I were going that day and I told him we planned to go to Sperry Glacier first and then down to Lewis’s. He said he knew Mr. Sperry (the discoverer of the glacier and an ex Carleton professor). It was about 4 years ago that Mr. Sperry died out on Flathead Mountain. He said he had to pay men $20.00 a day for opening a trail from Sperry to Avalanche Lake. Then he told me about one time he and a doctor were up on Sperry Glacier exploring around for the day and almost got lost because of the denseness of the clouds — then a snowstorm came up and it was only pure luck that they found the trail.
The breakfast bell sounded at this time and again the food was fit for the Gods! Apricot sauce — griddle cakes and maple syrup — coffee — toast and jam — bacon — (Nom de Dieu, I never hope to eat better bacon) — and homemade doughnuts! We would have liked to stay longer, but we wanted to see the Glacier, so we set out. My shoe hurt somewhat and as they are both too large it was quite uncomfortable going up the steep climb.
It is a 2 mile climb to the top and one of the most difficult in the Park. However, it is most beautiful. As we went up we climbed higher and higher into the clouds. It was pretty cold and our hair and hats were all frosty. The air is so light on a mountain top — so full of ether — that you have to breathe lots more of it to get all the oxygen you need. Needless to say it is pure —- as pure as air can be. The clouds obscured most of the scenery and we could see only the dim and grim outlines of the rocks. On one ledge of rocks we could see the smallest trees — it looked like a fairyland — we called them Lilliputian trees. The moss on top of Mount Edwards is most luxuriant. Just before you get to the top of the mountain you have to climb a ladder up a perpendicular rock 40 ft. high. The ladder is made up of 6 iron ladders put together and it was so cold the day we went up I tore some of the skin off one of my hands.
If you happen to look down while you’re climbing — well, your heart just isn’t where it usually is — for you can see hundreds of feet below. I didn’t mind going up so much, but I hated coming down. I had always had an antipathy for ladders since I was a child and I fell off of one. So Lenore went down first and guided my feet — you see, sometimes the ladder goes like this ——-(drawing) and many places it is so close to the rock you have to put your foot like this (drawing) instead of this (drawing). Only the last one of the six ladders is slanting. The rest are perpendicular (drawing).
The rocks on top of Mount Wilbur are beautiful red – not brick red or wine red or ashes of roses — but a mixture of all 3. The glacier is a huge thing. We couldn’t see the extent of it because of the clouds, but we guessed from the part we could see that it must cover a great deal of territory. What we could see was covered with dust and soot particles from the forest fires of Belton. We got down the ladder all right — as I described to you, but after going a short ways we couldn’t find the trail. There are so many goat paths and paths made by former streams that it isn’t any wonder at all and then, too, in the thick clouds! Every path we got onto led right down a steep precipice. We did not lose our sense of direction but kept on trying in the same way, sometimes Lenore going one one way and I another, but always we would come to a steep cliff and see nothing but the grim outlines of rocks far below us. Being lost in the clouds is no joke although we were not alarmed for as soon as the clouds lifted we could get onto the right trail again. We remembered, however, that a guide at Sperry had told us that after a rainy day the clouds sometimes did not lift for days. Then, too, we had checked out from Sperry before we left and so they would not think of us lost in the clouds. Finally we got onto a trail that we thought was the right one and we retraced our steps until we came to the ladder and then again retraced our steps going very cautiously so that we would not mistake some of the goat paths crossing the trail for the right one. We kept on — now going at a lively pace and made it is 40 minutes — leaving off many of the switchbacks. We really made the entire climb in record time — an hour and 40 minutes going up and 40 minutes down and 4 hours for the climb is considered good. We were only lost a little over half an hour, but that was long enough. When we got down several hundred feet we were out of the clouds and could see some of the scenery.
The trail down to Lewis’s is well-traveled and the path is wide enough for two. The first three or four miles is through Australian spruce trees and the rest through the fragrant white cedarwood. Part of the path is quite rocky and with my miserable shoes it wasn’t so good. I fell once and cut my hand and got pretty dirty, but I already was dirty so a little more didn’t matter. We stopped a couple of times to eat some wild June berries and huckleberries. Once when we stopped we thought we heard the woof woof of a bear — so we hurried along. We got to Lewis’s about 3 0’clock. We stopped and got some stickers for our canes and a nut Hershey and an O’Henry. Lewis is a beautiful place — with the lake directly in front of it and a profusion of flowers everywhere. Lake McDonald has a fascination all of its own — just as St. Mary has with its wild beauty — the high snow-peaked mountains, the white caps and rugged shore line — whereas Lake McDonald has a calm beauty — the large lake with its even shore line, the smaller mountains and hills around it.
We started hiking the 13 miles to Belton, but before we had gone far a fellow from Leland Stanford picked us up in his car and gave us a ride almost to Belton. He pointed out to us the results of the forest fires. He knew Don Cummins and was a good talker. When we got to Belton we bought a sundae (we wanted a sandwich but couldn’t get any), some peanuts and another candy bar! Sounds like my kid days , doesn’t it? We went down to the Flathead river and played around on the huge rocks in the river. It was a glorious afternoon and we were happy as children. We had our train tickets (Mr. Asman gave them to Lenore) but we rode with the engineer and fireman. I sat with the fireman. He was a very talkative sort of a man, but because of the large plug of tobacco he had in his mouth, I couldn’t understand him very well. I knew he was talking about beavers and deer but what he said was more than I could guess so I said “Yes” and “Well!” and “Is that so”, etc., and we got along capitally. Once when the wind blew hard he asked me what kind of a jacket I had on and I said “velvet” and he said “Oh, a Romeo and Julia coat, huh?” I wanted to whoop out loud but refrained.
When we got home (East Glacier Lodge dormitory#3) Ally had the writing desk covered with food for us and with a whoop we fell to eating (hot coffee, too), and talking, telling her of our trip. She left the next day on her trip.
There were 5 letters waiting for me. Altogether on our trip we hiked 45 miles so Saturday we didn’t do much. It was my turn to clean the room so in the afternoon I cleaned, wrote a couple of letters and about a quarter after 5 1 thot I’d lie down and rest for a couple of minutes as Lenore had a bad cold so she was asleep. I fell asleep and we didn’t wake up until we heard Shell saying Helen said we should get up and come to work. At that we got over there a quarter after six and two of my tables were full!
Sunday I wrote to you and we popped corn on our grill and made cinnamon toast and tea in the afternoon.
Yesterday I did ever so many little odd jobs and we made some heavenly fudge to give to the people at Sperry who were so hospitable to us.
Today I played sick and Helen said I should go home at breakfast and that I should stay off for lunch. I really had the curse and wasn’t very ill, but I accomplished a lot and as the tips are poor now I didn’t miss much. This afternoon we went over to the linen room and Lenore cut out her silk dress and I sewed. I sewed tonight for a long time and now I’m going to bed. It’s just about 12 now.
P.S. I got a nice letter from Merten today.
(Note: The letter from Merten Hasse, who was also a student at Carleton, was the beginning of their courtship and then marriage.)
In The News
Crews were busy preparing the logs for shipment. They will be loaded onto trucks for transport to the staging area then flown into the site by helicopter.
August 15, Flathead Beacon - The Value of Vodka
July 14, KRTV - Sperry Chalet reconstruction begins at funding campaign launches
July 14, NBC Montana - Big Fork distillery donates liquor sales to Sperry Chalet rebuild
July 9, Great Falls Tribune - Glacier Park's Sperry Chalet reconstruction begins Monday
July 11, Missoula Current - Glacier National Park Conservancy Launches $500K Campaign for Sperry Chalet Rebuild
June 24, Missoulian - Anatomy of Glacier's Sprague Fire shows close calls
June 21, Flathead Beacon - 'It Was a Gut Punch': Independent Review of Sprague Fire Details Sperry Chalet's Final Hours
June 17, Daily Inter Lake - The Sperry Experience: New Book Chronicles Historic Glacier Chalet
June 14, Daily Inter Lake - Company Selected for Sperry Rebuild has Worked on Chalet Before
June 12, Flathead Beacon - Park Service Awards $14M Contract to Rebuild Sperry Chalet
June 6, Montana Public Radio - Funding Secured to Rebuild Glacier's Sperry Chalet
June 6, Daily Inter Lake - Sperry Rebuild to Receive $12M
June 6, Flathead Beacon - Zinke Announces $12M for Sperry Rebuild
June 4, Missoula Current - Zinke Requests $12M to reconstruct Glacier Park's Sperry Chalet
May 30, Flathead Beacon - The Race to Rebuild
May 18, Great Falls Tribune - Glacier National Park says Sperry Chalet rebuild won't permanently harm wildlife
May 17, Missoula Current - Glacier Park: Sperry Chalet will be rebuilt within its historic stone walls
May 8, Daily Inter Lake - Flyover Shows Chalet Walls Survive Epic Winter
May 4, Missoula Current - Sperry Chalet's relic walls survive winter intact; public comment due
April 18, NBC Montana - Report looks at Sperry Chalet reconstruction impacts
April 17, Flathead Beacon - NPS Recommends Rebuilding Sperry Chalet at Original Site
April 17, Missoulian - Glacier recommends rebuilding Sperry Chalet in place
April 6, Daily Inter Lake - Original design favored for Sperry Chalet rebuild
April 4, KULR - Public supports preserving Sperry Chalet's historic character
April 2, KPAX - Overflight video shows more late winter detail of Sperry Chalet
March 31, Missoulian - Comment period ends Monday for Glacier's Sperry Chalet
March 26, Missoula Current - 600 inches and counting: Sperry Chalet inundated with snow, but walls still stand
March 26, Montana Public Radio - Sperry Chalet Rebuild Scoping Comments Due April 2
March 13, NBC Montana - Architects meet public for Sperry Chalet redesign
March 13, Missoula Current - Glacier Park superintendent wants Sperry Chalet rebuilt starting this summer
March 10, Missoulian - Zinke seeks quick restoration of Sperry Chalet
March 10, Daily Inter Lake - Zinke Talks Sperry Rebuild, Parks Funding
March 6, Great Falls Tribune - Glacier National Park's Sperry Chalet rebuild on an aggressive timeline
March 5, Flathead Beacon - Restoring the Sperry Experience
March 4, Missoulian - No food, lodging at Glacier's Sperry complex this summer
March 1, NBC Montana - Glacier National Park moves forward with restoration of Sperry Chalet
February 17, Missoula Current - Glacier to begin Sperry Chalet reconstruction with January open house
February 15, Glacier National Park Conservancy - Sperry Chalet February Flyover
February 9, KPAX - The future of the Sperry Chalet: restoration and renewal
January 12, Daily Inter Lake – Stoltze, Smartlam to Cut Lumber from Capitol Christmas Tree
January 9, Last Best News – Tester: Use Capitol Christmas tree to help rebuild chalet
January 5, Outdoor Life – Zinke’s World View
December 27, Daily Inter Lake – Year to Remember: Community Rallied to Rebuild Glacier Chalet
December 20, Flathead Beacon – Generosity Rises from the Ashes
December 7, KTVQ – Plans developing to rebuild historic Sperry Chalet in northwest Montana
December 7, KTVQ – Face the State
October 29, Glacier National Park – Sperry Chalet Stabilization Effort Complete
October 12, Glacier National Park Conservancy – Sperry Chalet Winter Stabilization
September 29, Flathead Beacon – Glacier Park Begins Stabilization Work at Sperry Chalet
September 1, Montana Public Radio – Remembering Sperry Chalet: ‘There’s Just a Spirit in that Building’
September 1, Missoulian – Fire that gutted Sperry Chalet was First noticed coming from inside the building
September 1, Daily Inter Lake – Sperry Chalet Remembered as an Iconic Glacier Park Treasure