Sunday, November 24, 2013

Glacier National Park: Iceberg Lake & Ptarmigan Tunnel

Glacier NP – 8/18/13 – Iceberg Lake & Ptarmigan Tunnel – 15.3 Miles

Okay, I’ll confess it out loud:  I didn’t realize there would be, like, actual icebergs in Iceberg Lake.  I have seen icebergs floating in Glacier Bay, Alaska, from the cushy comfort of a cruise ship deck, margarita in hand, but I just didn’t make the mental connection with Glacier National Park.  Ah well…

Day 2 of our Glacier NP agenda began again in the Many Glacier section, hiking to Iceberg Lake and Ptarmigan Tunnel (so if there are icebergs in the lake are there ptarmigans in the tunnel??)  The trail begins near the Swiftcurrent Motor Inn complex, an assortment of buildings including a motel, cabins, a restaurant and a gift shop with refreshments (very important.)  Marta accompanied us again for the first leg, telling us it was a gentle, easy hike.  Well, the overall trail gains only about 1,000 feet in 4.5 miles, but our group set a brisk trot pace at the beginning going up stone steps to connect with the main trail.  The masculine half of our crew quickly pulled ahead while the rest of us walked and gawked at the wide open scenery smorgasboard. 

The cirque that encompasses Iceberg Lake with Mount Grinnell on the far left – we’ll see that from a different angle later in the week

Monkey flower (Jeff’s photo)

Iceberg Creek (Jeff’s photo)

First glimpse of Iceberg Lake

Second look - icebergs!

Third look (Jeff’s photo)

Fourth look (Jeff’s photo)

We took an extended break at the lake’s edge (after all, isn’t that why we came?) amongst humans and creatures.  Here’s Cathy and a curious squirrel

Cathy, Dolores and me at Iceberg Lake

Marta put her toes in the lake and decided to stay awhile before going back to her home.  She was kind enough to lend me her bear spray canister for the week (with a quick lesson on how not to hurt myself).  Then the rest of our crew continued on our Y-shaped hike.  Next stop:  Ptarmigan Tunnel.

Which meant backtracking halfway down Iceberg Lake Trail and taking a left.  The brief downhill was forgotten as the uphill towards Ptarmigan Lake literally took my breath away.  Without Marta to set a leisurely pace and conversation, the others were soon out of sight and I felt pulled to hurry after them.  I felt a sense of protection from the bear spray on my belt and was no longer concerned about hiking alone, but I still wanted to stick with the group.  Jeff was behind me for a bit, claimed he was taking care of his knees.  At the lake we caught up with everyone – they had stopped for lunch – but they immediately started up the trail so I didn’t stop to eat.  

Mount Henkel

Slogging my way up to Ptarmigan Lake (Jeff’s photo)

On Ptarmigan Trail

Ptarmigan Lake at the bottom of a barren cirque - no icebergs, but still awesome looking at the Ptarmigan Wall.  From this great website, “the Ptarmigan Wall, towering more than 1700 feet above you at this point, is an arête, or a thin ridge of rock separating two valleys that have been carved by glaciers. In this case, the Ptarmigan Wall separates the Many Glacier valley from the Belly River valley.”

Big horn sheep mamas and young’uns were hanging around the trail between the lake and the tunnel, ignoring us.

On the switchback trail up to the tunnel, looking back at the lake (Jeff’s photo).  This is one of my favorite photos of the entire Glacier trip.  The trail looks narrow and intimidating and was quite steep but actually intense great fun.  Loved.  It.

So what is Ptarmigan Tunnel?  Well, a ptarmigan is a bird commonly seen in Glacier NP.  The tunnel is not a natural tunnel but was blasted through the Ptarmigan Wall in 1931, facilitating a nice day’s ride on horseback from Many Glacier to the Belly River area. 

A nice description of hiking to PT with fantastic photos and maps is here. 

Eastern entrance to the tunnel

You gotta go through it (Jeff’s photo)

The other door (break on thru to the other side)

Elizabeth Lake in the Belly River valley

We were about two-thirds of the way through our hike now and it’s all downhill in reverse (except for the uphills).  Again I was bringing up the rear and I spent the five miles back to the trailhead having a conversation with myself about what I wanted out of this trip.  Everyone has a natural hiking pace and I wanted to enjoy mine rather than chasing everyone else.  Well…no one was asking me to!  Now I had an invisible force field of bear spray so I could hike on my own and it was up to me to enjoy this incredible opportunity.  One thing to pay better attention to was making sure I ate.  It’s hard to have fun when your energy is depleted. 

Back at the Swiftcurrent gift shop and snack shop we hung out on the porch (alas, no big view like yesterday) and rewarded ourselves with ice cream and beverages.  That night we had a great meal at Two Sisters Café, the best restaurant “near Babb, Montana.”  We made room for rainbow trout, bison steak, huckleberry pie.  It’s true.

“When preparing to climb a mountain – pack a light heart.”  ~Dan May