Photo of the Month: Backcountry Brook Trout

Photo of the Month: Backcountry Brook Trout

Monday, January 25, 2021

Glacier Day Five: Hiking to Sperry Glacier Part One

The adventure for day five had started months earlier. When planning our trip to Glacier National Park, I had planned on doing several hikes. A large portion of these hikes were impossible due to the closure of the Many Glacier area of the Park. Thus having jettisoned many of our plans, we had been developing a game plan as we went. So far, we had already experienced several amazing hikes in Glacier National Park, but we were ready for more than the usual short popular routes like Avalanche Lake or Hidden Lake. Our longest day at this point was almost ten miles but our legs were feeling fresh and we were ready to go. It was time to get back to some of my original plans.

Sperry Glacier is one of the more accessible glaciers in Glacier National Park, provided of course that you are willing to walk the nearly ten miles up there to see it. With everything going on because of COVID, I did not even look into any of the backcountry chalets in the Park. If I ever have it to do again, however, I would definitely explore the possibility of spending a night or two at the Sperry Chalet. This enables you to more comfortably explore the Sperry Glacier vicinity and also maybe take a walk over the pass to Lake Ellen Wilson which is rumored to harbor some very nice brook trout. 

The Big Hike

On our trip, we were looking at doing the nearly twenty mile hike as a day trip. Thus, it was time for another early start. We got going even earlier than any other day and were well up the trail by the time the sun started breaking over the ridges. Walking the Gunsight Pass trail uphill from Lake McDonald, we started out on the same route that had taken us to Snyder Lake just a few days before. As on the hike to Snyder Lake, we pushed hard through the first miles. The steep section just above Lake McDonald flew by and we were soon on new to us trail. 

The Gunsight Pass trail generally follows Sprague Creek starting just a little beyond the Snyder Creek crossing. In the early morning air, sound travelled well and we usually heard other hikers ahead before actually spotting them. Sprague Creek was down in a little canyon to our right as we hiked. The surrounding landscape opened up more and more. The landscape throughout this portion of the hike was affected by the Sprague Fire, meaning if you hike during the midday hours, be prepared for lots of sun exposure. I was starting to get a little winded by the time we approached Beaver Medicine Falls, but my wife was just starting to get warmed up. Interestingly, on this day, she was easily the stronger hiker and I struggled a little. Some days you have it while other days you don't. On this day, I had to push harder than I normally do during a hike.

Hiking to Sperry Chalet, Almost

The trail was fairly congested with hikers heading up to Sperry Chalet. Thus, resting always brought the awkward problem of potentially being passed by hikers that you knew you would fly by again shortly. Our rest breaks were accordingly very short, just enough time to swig some water in fact. I would catch my breath while my lovely wife waited on me, and then away we would go again. Just above Beaver Medicine Falls, the trail begins to switchback on the final push up to the junction of the Gunsight Pass and Sperry Lake trails. The trail never gets close enough to Beaver Medicine Falls for good pictures, but I was enjoying the wildflowers that were growing in ever greater numbers the higher we went. They gave me an excuse to slow down albeit briefly. I was sticking with cellphone pictures at this point. We had a long enough day that I didn't want to get slowed down with my big camera quite yet.

I was having a difficult time not only with the hike, but also identifying flowers. Some of these I'm still trying to figure out. Both of the flowers in the two shots below are in the penstemon family but beyond that I'm not certain. If you have any ideas I would like to hear about them!






We began to spot a famous Glacier National Park wildflower as well. Bear-grass is a spectacularly beautiful wildflower that can be abundant in parts of Glacier. Because this flower does not bloom every year, it can be hit or miss to find even if the overall distribution is fairly widespread. We noticed a few blooming, but most were not particularly close to the trail. As we ascended into the subalpine and then alpine habitats, we were increasingly careful to try and stick to the trail as far as possible. These are fragile environments, and I strongly recommend sticking to trails in this type of terrain to limit the impact on these beautiful places. Eventually, we did find a few blooming close enough to the trail that I was able to get some shots without trampling everywhere. 

Bear grass blooming on the trail to Sperry Glacier

Sperry Lake Trail Through Glacier Basin

Thankfully, we would see this one again on future hikes, so there were more opportunities for pictures. After snapping just a few, we were again on the move. The sun was still behind the great bulk of Gunsight Mountain to our east and northeast as we ascended through Glacier Basin. The shade was a welcome reprieve from what we knew would be intense sun later in the day. It also left us with some interesting lighting as the rich morning light reflected through the valley below.

Glacier Basin viewed from the Sperry Lake Trail

Morning light in Glacier Basin hiking on the Sperry Lake Trail


We were soon winding up towards a rushing torrent that had a small metal footbridge to help us cross. Feather Woman Falls just above the creek crossing provided beautiful views as we hiked this section.

Looking up towards Feather Woman Falls

Metal Bridge over Sprague Creek below Feather Woman Falls

Selfie below Feather Woman Falls on the Sperry Lake Trail to Sperry Glacier


Just beyond this stream crossing, we began to encounter more and more wildflowers. One of my absolute favorites from this whole trip was the yellow Columbine. Here we began to find these flowers in good numbers. I took a picture or two on my cellphone and then finally caved in. My "good" camera had been riding securely in my backpack all morning. I knew if I didn't take it out now, then I probably wouldn't. If I was going to carry all that weight up the mountain and back down, then I was going to use the camera. The first picture is from a cellphone, while the others are from the good camera. This first one was particularly amazing because of the color variation it exhibited. The others were more standard yellow as one would expect. 

Incredibly colorful yellow columbine


Yellow Columbine in Glacier Basin on the trail to Sperry Glacier

Yellow Columbine closeup along the trail to Sperry Glacier

As the trail wound around the headwall of Glacier Basin, it soon emerged into the morning sunlight along the flanks of Edwards Mountain. An intense climb commenced and we quickly gained elevation as we approached Akaiyan Falls. This section of trail reminded me of the Devil's Corkscrew on the Bright Angel Trail in the Grand Canyon. Looking back, I was impressed with myself for making such good time through this section! I was finally starting to feel better and the workout had me warmed up. 

Steep switchbacks on the Sperry Lake Trail

Of course, we had to take some pictures of Akaiyan Falls also. This falls is a series of plunges coming down from The portion we photographed was one of several plunges. This was one of the shorter plunges. This falls is basically a section of big drops below Feather Woman Lake and plunging down into Glacier Basin. The trail crosses the lower end of these cascades along the headwall of Glacier Basin and again approaches the upper portions below Feather Woman Lake. 

Upper reaches of Akaiyan Falls below Feather Woman Lake


A Lunch Spot With A View

About this time, I began to think about lunch. When we are on these big adventures and burning lots of calories, I tend to think about food more than usual. Those who know me know that I already like food a lot. It was only 10:30 am local time, but we began to discuss eating an early lunch. Now we just needed to find the right spot.

The switchbacks continued up and we began winding around past Feather Woman Lake and then began climbing yet again. The trail covers flat basins with short steep sections at the head of each one. The bottom was Glacier Basin. The next contains Feather Woman Lake, and the last contains Akaiyan Lake. Above Akaiyan Lake, we would find another bench just below the final climb to Comeau Pass.

Large snowfields began to block our progress between Feather Woman and Akaiyan Lakes. The trekking poles we had brought were finally put to good use. Thankfully, the snow wasn't too slick. The strong summer sun had created a layer of slush on top, but if you stepped carefully, hiking was mostly safe. Finally, as we passed yet another big snowfield, some large boulders beside the trail overlooking Akaiyan Lake required a stop. We had found a lunch spot with a view. 

Akaiyan Lake and Feather Woman Lake in Glacier National Park

Sperry Glacier Trail Feather Woman Lake and Akaiyan Lake in Glacier National Park


Sperry Lake Trail Akaiyan Lake and Feather Woman Lake

Seriously, a lunch spot doesn't get any better than this. We took an early lunch around 11:00 am local time. This is about our usual practice, especially on such big hikes. The energy from lunch would help push us up over Comeau Pass and on to Sperry Glacier we hoped. That is a story I'll save for another day...

Enjoy the rest of this hike with these two stories.











2 comments:

  1. David
    Seeing all these flowers and greenery makes me wish Spring would get here soon. These are trip of a lifetime for you and your wife and I know there are many more in the future. Enjoyed the post thanks for sharing

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    Replies
    1. Bill, I'm getting excited for spring myself! It should bring many more adventures. Thanks for stopping by and reading!

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