|At the Trail head|
During the night fears surfaced in my subconscious: would my camera work, would the weather be decent, did I have the stamina to make it there, what if I encountered a bear? Towards dawn, through the open window I could hear what sounded like torrents of rain--oh, no! That would make it a miserable long hike... When I got up to look, it was only the sound of the wind whipping up the leaves of the tree by my window. It was cloudy and chilly, but otherwise fine. I put on the four layers I had with me just like the day before--this would lighten my daypack. I turned on my camera and it was working--hooray!
Kevin came by to pick me up around seven and bought me a hearty breakfast before dropping me off at the trail head, which was right across the road from Lake McDonald Hotel. I don't know how I could have missed the sign for Sperry Trail, but despite looking for it, I hadn't seen it before. Before seeing me off, Kevin gave me instructions on the bear spray he had equipped me with--keeping on the safety until the need to use it arose, remaining calm and waiting until the target was in range, and that if deployed, the pepper spray would likely get on me too. He reassured me that in all his years of hiking to Sperry Chalet, he'd never once had to use the bear spray, but it's considered standard safety equipment for hikers at Glacier. I was to keep it on my pack belt at all times when hiking.
It was about eight-thirty when I set out. The trail rose gently as it went past the Lake McDonald riding stables, and then at a steeper incline as it followed the bank of Snyder Creek. The tall forest of western cedar, pine and fir was lush and wet in the cool morning, and yet as soon as the terrain began to rise, my pulse rate did too, and breathing became more labored. I took short rests every twenty to thirty paces--just about every switchback--to bring both down before going on.
Kevin had said that about a third of the way there I would cross a creek--Crystal Ford. Approaching the creek, the trail began to descend for a while, a welcome relief from climbing. A sign on the other side of the wooden bridge pointed to the left for Sperry Chalet, and indicated 4.9 miles to go. Just past the bridge I saw a couple of what looked like coral root orchid spikes on the steep bank, with the flowers going to seed, but since I'd just put away my camera after taking a couple of shots of the creek, I didn't stop to record them (now I wish I had).
|Twinflower (Linnaea borealis)|
The sun was coming out and illuminating bits of vegetation on the forest floor. There were different kinds of mosses and mushrooms, what looked like wintergreen, rattlesnake orchid leaves, and much that I couldn't begin to identify. I noticed some of the plant whose leaves I'd taken to be orchids at the Trail of Cedars were in bloom, a solitary white flower with six petals (lily family?), which I was later able to identify as Clintonia uniflora--first time I'd seen this flower which also grows in the Appalachians.
I spotted a couple of small clumps of delicate pink Twinflower (Linnaea borealis) growing by the side of the trail and then one huge patch in bloom. I've seen this plant growing only in one location in the east--Ice Mountain in West Virginia, where due to the site's peculiar micro-climate, this boreal species is able to survive at a much lower latitude than usual. In Glacier it is part of the native flora. I stopped to take some photos. Each time I had to take the camera out of my backpack, which took up time, but I didn't want to leave my camera around my neck, as the swing with each stride was annoying.
The mule pack passed me on its return trip around eleven--I moved off the trail to my right, which happened to be the downhill side. Later during my stay at Sperry Chalet I would learn that this was precisely the proper trail etiquette, because should the animals spook, they would turn uphill and avoid a possible tumble downhill.
I passed other hikers coming down the trail, and was passed by several who were moving at a faster pace. Around noon I took a short break to eat lunch--one of the two energy bars I'd bought for the occasion. It was now warm enough to remove my parka. Shortly after this break, the forest began to thin out and I emerged into full sun. The switchbacks became steeper, the terrain rockier.
|Point of no return waterfall.|
I was now looking for the view of a waterfall which Kevin had told me marked the "point of no return," the half-way mark or slightly past. It finally came into view. I was tiring out faster, and having to take more frequent rests.
Around one-thirty I passed a lady hiking alone, an Asian woman. I asked her if she was coming down from Sperry Chalet. She said she'd started out from Gunsight Pass Trail-- this is a twenty-mile hike from the trailhead at the Jackson Glacier overlook to Lake McDonald. I was quite impressed! Even more so when I learned later on that Gunsight Pass was still covered with snow fields.
|Flowers by a rill.|
Further up the trail I came across a lovely group of flowers growing by a mountain rill and stopped again to photograph them. I could identify some: Moss Campion, Spirea, ferns, wasn't sure about the pink flower, but it was a refreshing scene. Time to shed my cotton sweater. I plodded on, wondering when I'd get a glimpse of Sperry Chalet.
|Sperry Chalet from the trail below.|
Several switchbacks later, I finally caught sight of Sperry Chalet way above. It looked so near, and yet, when I took in the trail that lay ahead, I could see how it wound around the mountain side to my left--it was still quite a ways away, probably a mile and a half, perhaps two. By this time I was drenched in sweat. The long-sleeved T-shirt I was wearing was black, and absorbed so much heat! I shed that and slogged on in my remaining layer: a sweat-soaked short sleeved T-shirt.
I was beyond looking at flowers at this point--all I wanted to do was to get this torture over--if I could only fly! My hiking poles were the only thing keeping me going: I pulled myself over the rocky dikes and boulders huffing and puffing with every agonizing step.
|Sprague Creek flowing through the cirque.|
Several long, steep inclines and then a valley with a flowing stream and waterfalls opened up. It was tempting to take off my boots and cool my aching feet in the stream, but a glance at my watch--about three o'clock--was enough to dissuade me. I'd been on the trail for about six and a half hours now, and if I didn't arrive soon, Kevin and the staff at Sperry Chalet would begin to worry about me.
I could see the Chalet was very close now, yet thinking that my eyes could be deceiving, I asked a hiker sitting by the stream if he knew how much farther it was. I had another two-tenths of a mile to go, he replied. In a glen past the bridge I saw a sign for Sperry Glacier pointing to the left and Sperry Chalet to the right. Here at least there were some firs casting a bit of welcome shade over the trail. Even so, that last home stretch seemed interminable.
When I finally reached the door of the dining room around three-thirty, I was welcomed warmly by a tall lady who urged me to come in, sit down, and offered me a glass of cold lemonade. Renee introduced herself as the manager of Sperry Chalet, and waited until I had recuperated before taking me farther up the hill to show me the lay of the land and my room. I should have asked her to take a photo of me at the moment of my arrival (I'm sure I looked a wreck, drenched from head to toe). It would have been a great comparison to the departure photo Kevin took--before and after photos--but I was so exhausted it didn't even enter my mind.