Base Elevation: ~3,160
Summit Elevation: 7487
Elevation Gain: 4,288
Distance: 10.3 miles
Moving Time: 3:47 (I was hustling to get back for a rafting trip)
Date: June 27, 2020
It was my 50th birthday weekend and I had never gone to Glacier National Park so my wife planned a family trip to celebrate my half century mark. Unfortunately, about 75% of the park was closed due to the coronavirus pandemic so the Road to the Sun was closed at the Avalanche Lake parking lot thus limiting our hiking options. We were staying at the amazing but rustic Lake McDonald Lodge which provide great access to Mt. Brown. I knew my teenage boys wouldn’t be up for a long summit hike so I was on my own. We had a rafting reservation at 11 so if I was going to bag a peak in Glacier, I had to get up super early. Since it was my birthday, I had carte blanche to more or less do what I wanted to do so I set my alarm for 5:00 AM with the goal of starting the hike at first light which was just before 5:30.
I have done many summit hikes but I have not done any in bear country and I forgot to bring my bear spray to MO. The beginning of the Mt. Brown Lookout trail is densely populated with tall trees thus making it particularly dark at 5:30 so I was a little timid about doing this hike solo without any bear protection (I saw two people carrying guns on the hike). My goal was not to startle any bears or other wildlife so I was blaring tunes on my iPhone and would give out a good holler every few hundred feet. At about the ½ mile mark, I heard some noise from down below but I shrugged it off and continued onward. A few minutes later I heard some noise again and I turned around to see another hiker/runner hustling up the trial on his way to work at the Sperry Chalet which is only accessible by foot or horseback. I chatted briefly with this guy and he said he has been doing his early morning commute for several years and he said he has never seen anyone else on the trail this early. So I was invigorated by the fact that I was one of the foolish few to start this hike at dawn.
The Mt. Brown Lookout trail starts across the street from the Lake McDonald Lodge and you start on the Sperry Trailhead which soon becomes the Gunsight Pass Trial. The lower part of the trail is moderately steep and it gets very crowded so if you are looking for solitude- start early. After about 1.6 miles, you will see a sign that says Mt. Brown Lookout 3.7 miles (see photo below).
When you take this turn, you start to see more evidence of the Sprague Fire of 2017. As you continue to gain elevation the landscape becomes a black forest with burnt trees on the ground and standing burnt trees that have been cut in half. It feels rather eerie and it is sad to see the devastation that this fire inflicted.
As you continue on, you will encounter several switchbacks and you start to emerge from the trees and the vistas start to expand. You will have views of the entire Lake McDonald and Mt. Stanton across the valley. As you approach the top, the Mt. Brown Lookout hut comes into view and the day that I did it- there were still a few snow patches along the final stretches. The hut was locked but you could walk around the perimeter. Since I had to get back to the lodge by 10:00 to go rafting, I wasn’t able to extend the hike to the official Mt. Brown summit and given the snow around the hut- I didn’t see an obvious trail. But if you have time, I recommend going for it.
As I departed from the hut, I saw two mountain goats down the path. I am a huge fan of mountain goats as they are such a strong and majestic animal plus I love the fact that they live at high altitude in the snow. I continued to walk down the trail and I expected them to scurry away as a I approached but to my surprise- they kept an eye on me but continued on with their business of eating. I was actually able to get about within 10 feet of them but I remained respectful and on notice.