Stabilization efforts at Sperry Chalet have been completed ahead of winter after the historic structure burned on Aug. 31 in a wildfire in Glacier National Park.
On Oct. 4, a helicopter ferried a crew of 10 to the century-old, Swiss-themed chalet situated along the Gunsight Pass Trail, about eight miles east of Lake McDonald Lodge. Using massive wooden joists, the workers braced the stone masonry walls, gables, windows, and chimneys.
The chalet’s dormitory building was badly burned in the Sprague Fire, so named for the creek that rushes through the drainage.
Park officials determined that stabilization was necessary to protect the stone masonry walls from the pressures of heavy winter snow and strong winds. The building lost its roof and floors in the fire, placing the structure at increased risk of destabilization or collapse.
In all, the crew put into place 100 16-foot six-by-six beams, 24 24-foot six-by-six beams and 24 sheets of plywood. The 12-day project required 15 helicopter trips to transport all of the materials. Each beam weighed 140-180 pounds depending on length.
Led by engineer Tom Beaudette, the crews faced cold weather, freezing rain and snow, but were ultimately successful. The workers finished the project and flew off the mountain on Oct. 16.
The engineering assessment and subsequent stabilization work were funded almost entirely by the Glacier National Park Conservancy, a nonprofit that serves as the park’s official philanthropic partner, supporting park activities ranging from education programs to trail repair and scientific research. The private park partner was immediately able to step forward and financially support the project, meeting urgent time constraints with the approaching winter weather.
The majority of the stone masonry walls remain relatively intact, according to a press release from the park, although the walls appear to have suffered heat damage near the roofline.
In the spring, the park will assess how the structure weathered the winter and then develop the next steps.
Park Facility Operations Specialist John Lucke was at Sperry Chalet supervising the 12-day stabilization effort along with other crewmembers.
“I am so pleased that the crew was able to complete the project despite 12 inches of snow and freezing rain, and particularly happy that we were able to do this with no injuries to anyone on the crew,” he stated in the news release.
Crew members from both the east and west sides of the park joined together to get the job done.
“I think it’s safe to say that the entire crew is glad to have been a part of protecting what is left of the structure, and would like to thank the Glacier Conservancy for that opportunity,” Lucke stated.
In addition to snow at the work site, helicopter operations were also challenging due to unpredictable weather. The crew had originally been scheduled to go up to the chalet on Oct. 2, but was delayed due to weather.
The trail to Sperry Chalet is currently closed and impassable, as are other trails in the Sprague Fire area. Nearly 2,000 trees fell across trails as a result of the fire, and the park estimates that another 1,000 may come down across trails this winter. The standing hazard trees are considered very hazardous, and trail crews will begin work in the spring to address remaining hazards that have not fallen as a result of winter snow.
In addition to work at Sperry Chalet, the park is also beginning work along Going-to-the-Sun Road and in the Lake McDonald Lodge area to reduce the potential for winter and spring flooding following the fire. Most work will occur in the Sprague and Snyder Creek drainages and will include cleaning out existing culverts, some creek rechanneling and footbridge modification.