Linda Tippetts, “Sperry Chalet,” oil, 20 x 30 in., Lot #60, First Strike, Live auction at The Russell, An Exhibition and Sale to Benefit the C. M. Russell Museum, March 16, 2018, Great Falls, Montana

Miles of hiking through the glaciers of Montana led Linda Tippetts to paint “Sperry Chalet,” which later suffered from the park fires of 2017. Read about her thrilling trek in this guest blog post (originally published in 2018, but still of interest today).

Hiking to (and Painting) Sperry Chalet

By Linda Tippetts

Sperry Chalet access is only by hiking one of two difficult trails: from Lake McDonald Lodge (elevation gain of 3,360 feet, over 6.5 miles), or 14 miles from Going-to-the-Sun Road over two passes (Gunsight and Lincoln). The chalet is primitive, but the hospitality is unique and comforting, with the kitchen/dining shack and primitive toilets down a rock trail from the chalet. The staff cooks breakfast, packs a lunch for the day hike and provides family style dinners. The chalet has hosted 40 to 50 guests nightly during its 103-year history.

The 6.5 mile trail from Lake McDonald Lodge to the 103-year-old Sperry Chalet has an elevation gain of 3,360 feet. Winding through lush stands of beargrass the brute strength of Cool Whip saved Linda on the first six-mile leg of the trip. This particular trail and the chalet were completely destroyed by the Sprague fire in Glacier shortly after this trip — a bittersweet whiplash from this significant trip. So fortunate to have spent five nights (over the past two years) in this primitive iconic and hospitable resting place.
The 14-mile hike out included Lincoln Pass and Gunsight Pass. The hike included a bear encounter on the trail just before hitting Going-to-the-Sun Road.
Gunsight Pass Overlook is on the 13.5 mile trail from Sperry Chalet to ‘Going-to-the-Sun’ Road.

The chalet season is short due to snow seasons — perhaps two-plus months per year. Reservations are by the luck of the draw. The chalet was and will be important access to Sperry Glacier, which was discovered just before 1900. At that time the glacier was 800 acres — roughly eight times the size it is today — and was one of the main attractions of Glacier National Park. Louis Hill of the Great Northern Railroad placed the Sperry Chalet into that scenario.

Sperry Chalet (consumed by fire in August, 2017)

I was fortunate to stay two nights in 2015 and three nights in 2017, just a short time before the devastating Sprague fire destroyed both the trail from Lake McDonald Lodge and Sperry Chalet. In the fall of 2017 engineers stabilized the outside rock walls of the structure and the National Park Service has secured $350,000 toward its rebuilding.

The Importance of the Painting Process and Experience

After painting professionally for over 30 years I deliberately search for challenges. The process is still more important than the product. Part of that process includes the search for a subject and the search for more innovative design. Experiencing the painting before ever picking up that paintbrush is still crucial. Memories of the bunkbeds and flashlights/headlamps and dodging mountain goats on those night trips to the primitive toilets bring a nostalgic smile. Sharing meals and trail traumas with both friends and strangers in the cook shack are all part of remembering Sperry Chalet.

To quote Renee Noffke, manager of Sperry Chalet, “People just have this awakening sort of experience up there that’s hard to replicate in the rest of the world.” The setting is part of the structure itself, as are most of Glacier Park’s historic structures. My focus is generally on “straight landscape” without “props.” Of course, I had to paint Sperry Chalet.

Snowfield on way to Glacier and standing next to Sperry Glacier

The backstory of “The Last Cairn” signifies the lost and found trail to Sperry Glacier. Most of the trail was across boulder fields and extensive snowfields searching for the next stacked cairn placed by previous hikers.

Augusta, Montana is a small ranching community of perhaps 300 (except on rodeo weekend — into the thousands). We have an avid hiking group and 10 of us were able to experience this incredible adventure. We did the round-trip into Sperry Chalet from Lake McDonald Lodge and out Lincoln Pass and Gunsight Pass. Included were the spectacular hike to Sperry Glacier through “The Notch” and a separate solo hike to Lake Ellen Wilson.

“Cool Whip” took Linda on just the first 6.5 mile leg of the trek up to Sperry Chalet. The treks to Sperry Glacier from the Chalet across snowfields required hiking poles and yak traks on hiking shoes. A different route out over Gunsight offered even more spectacular views.

Training was necessary months before, and riding “Cool Whip” up that first leg made my extra hikes possible.

Sperry Chalet on Auction at The Russell

The C.M. Russell Museum hosted its 50th anniversary show and art auction March 16, 2018. I have attended every show since its inception and it gave me my first inking that maybe, just maybe, I could make a living painting pictures. It wasn’t until 1986 that I became involved with this museum/auction as a professional artist and juried into their auctions.

The eight-mile-plus round-trip hike from Sperry Chalet through the 52-step “Notch” led to the painting of “The Last Cairn” (below). The disappearing trail was marked by stacks of rocks or “cairn” piled from a century of hikers marking the trail. Sperry Glacier is to the right of this cairn.
Linda Tippetts, “The Last Cairn” oil, 24 x 36 in.

After traveling and painting across the US, Canada, Alaska, Mexico, Italy, Portugal, and China — Montana is now the focus and the close proximity of Great Falls, Montana, and The C.M. Russell Museum will always have my support and loyalty. Sperry Chalet is known and experienced by many lucky hikers and it seemed natural to include it in this auction.

Linda Tippetts, “Gunsight Pass from Lake Ellen Wilson,” oil, 24 x 36 in.

Other paintings from that hike were exhibited at the “Out West Art Show” in the Heritage Inn, along with an alla prima nude. Just have to keep diversity in subjects! The passion to “create,” rather than the effort to “produce,” requires constant challenge, so I can relate to Inspector Clouseau and his nemesis “Cato” in the Pink Panther series: I am constantly searching for a challenge.

Visit the website of Linda Tippetts at

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