Glacier chalet cleared by hike

The Denver Post - - NEWS - By Matt Volz

A HE­LENA, wild­fire has cut off the re­turn route for dozens of peo­ple stay­ing in a Glacier Na­tional Park back­coun­try chalet, leav­ing them the choice of re­main­ing un­til rangers tell them it’s safe or hik­ing out along a longer and more dif­fi­cult trail, park of­fi­cials said Fri­day.

Park rangers also planned to lead out 39 other hik­ers who were stay­ing in back­coun­try camp­sites near fires that broke out af­ter a pass­ing light­ning storm on Thurs­day, Glacier spokes­woman Lau­ren Al­ley said.

It’s peak tourist sea­son at the Mon­tana park, and the stone chalet built more than a cen­tury ago is a top at­trac­tion in one of the busiest parts of Glacier.

There are typ­i­cally be­tween 40 and 50 guests and 10 staff mem­bers at the chalet each night, with most vis­i­tors ar­riv­ing by foot or horse along a steep trail nearly 7 miles from Lake McDon­ald Lodge on the park’s main road­way.

A light­ning strike ig­nited a fire in the for­est some­where be­tween the lodge and the chalet.

Nei­ther struc­ture is threat­ened, but park of­fi­cials de­ter­mined that it was un­safe for those at the chalet to re­turn by the same trail Fri­day.

Thirty-nine of the 42 guests stay­ing at the Sperry Chalet de­cided to hike out and three stayed be­hind, said Suzie Menke, the of­fice man­ager of Ben­ton Chalets Inc., which runs the chalet.

They must take a rugged trail more than 13 miles long that crosses two moun­tain passes and can take eight to 10 hours to walk. That trail ends up on the eastern side of the park, on the other side of the Con­ti­nen­tal Di­vide from Lake McDon­ald Lodge.

For those who stay, the chalet has run­ning wa­ter, a full-ser­vice kitchen and 17 pri­vate rooms — but it doesn’t have elec­tric­ity and only spotty cell­phone cov­er­age.

“The good news is they got re­sup­plied yes­ter­day,” Al­ley said.

Park of­fi­cials con­firmed three small fires started af­ter Thurs­day’s light­ning storm.

The one af­fect­ing Sperry Chalet is the largest at about 10 acres.

De­spite the sud­den out­break of fires, most ar­eas of the park are still open to the record num­ber of tourists who are flock­ing to Glacier this year.

More than 1 mil­lion peo­ple vis­ited the park in July, the first time so many peo­ple have been in Glacier over the course of a sin­gle month.

Dozens of fires are burn­ing across the West, and fed­eral and state fire man­agers planned to raise the Na­tional Fire Pre­pared­ness Level to its high­est point on Fri­day.

That Level 5 signals most fire­fight­ing re­sources are be­ing used and that as­sis­tance may be needed from the mil­i­tary and other na­tions.

The level was last raised to 5 in 2015.

In Ore­gon, a fire on the Warm Springs In­dian Reser­va­tion de­stroyed two houses and threat­ened dozens of oth­ers.

The fire had burned more than 30 square miles by late Thurs­day, and one fire­fighter suf­fered a mi­nor in­jury.


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