Glacier National Park: Ptarmigan Tunnel to Iceberg Lake

In All, Glacier National Park, Hiking, Montana by Dylan1 Comment

Belly River Drainage, as seen from Ptarmigan Tunnel.

Belly River Drainage, as seen from Ptarmigan Tunnel. (Click image to buy print)

On a whim, five friends and I headed up from Helena for a quick adventure in Glacier National Park. Yeah, we are super lucky to be able to make such a trip “on a whim.” Our initial plan was to climb Altyn Peak, Mount Henkel and Apikuni Mountain, but because of bears, we had to bag that plan. Still, we were in Glacier, so we just pointed our finger elsewhere on the map and found an amazing adventure!

 

20 minutes up the trail.

20 minutes up the trail.

 

Marneé strutting up the trail.

Marneé strutting up the trail.

Despite being late in the season, there were still several wildflowers in bloom and the weather was very mild. The clouds rushed overhead and the sky was a lapis blue.

The first five or so miles of the trail vary between wide open meadows to dense wooden pine trees, and every so often, the precipitous peaks flash their snarling teeth through gaps in the trees. The trail itself is very wide and is more like a path than a trail, which allows for a quick pace. We made the intersection of Ptarmigan Tunnel and Iceberg Lake is just over an hour.

 

Mount Grinnell

Wildflowers and Mount Grinnell (Click image to buy print).

 

Snarling teeth of the Rockies.

Snarling teeth of the Rockies. (Click image to buy print).

 

On the way toward Ptarmigan Tunnel.

On the way toward Ptarmigan Tunnel.

Once we broke treeline, we were greeted by a couple of Big Horn Sheep. There were several ewes, but no rams.

The trail zig zagged up the pass, past Ptarmigan Lake and under colossal cliffs, where we saw a Mountain Goat blaze his own trail up a vertical wall of rock. Unfortunately, he was way too far for me to take a picture.

 

Big Horn Sheep strutting his stuff.

Big Horn Sheep strutting his stuff. (Click image to buy print)

 

Group inside the tunnel.

Group inside the tunnel.

 

Walking on the north side of Ptarmigan Tunnel.

Walking on the north side of Ptarmigan Tunnel.

 

Looking north toward the Belly River from Ptarmigan Tunnel.

Looking north toward the Belly River from Ptarmigan Tunnel. (Click image to buy print)

We walked down the other side of the pass for about one mile and from there the view opened up dramatically!! We were even able to see parts of Ahern Glacier and the surrounding snowfields.

After having lunch, we cruised the three or so miles back to the turn off for Iceberg Lake, picking Huckleberries along the way. At this point the sun was low in the sky, creating dramatic shadows and colors.

 

Lori taking in the view.

Lori taking in the view.

 

Old stalks of Bear's Grass.

Old stalks of Bear’s Grass. (Click image to buy print)

Roughly one mile shy of Iceberg Lake we saw a huge Golden Eagle and then twenty minutes later we came face to face with a big bull moose.

After we skirted around the bull moose, we made our way to Iceberg Lake, where shadows cascaded down and the flowers bloomed.

 

The Bull.

The Bull.

 

The crew gawking.

The crew gawking.

 

The Sun goes behind the cirque above Iceberg Lake.

The Sun goes behind the cirque above Iceberg Lake. (Click image to buy print)

 

John walks down to the lake.

John walks down to the lake.

Unfortunately there were no icebergs to fill the namesake, but the water was ice cold. John and Sierra cooled off their feet and one of us braved the cold with an icy plunge.

The sun was setting quickly and we still had plenty of miles to cover, so we strapped on the shoes and headed back down the trail. The light was cascading perfectly, painting the valley with long shadows and soft light.

Around every corner, through each break in the trees and on every hill the sights were amazing. The low light illuminated the valley in such a way that we kept finding ourselves standing still in admiration.

 

Yes, I took the plunge.

Yes, I took the plunge.

 

Looking down the valley.

Looking down the valley. (Click image to buy print)

 

Perfect cloud cover.

Perfect cloud cover. (Click image to buy print)

 

Mount Grinnell

Mount Grinnell. (Click image to buy print)

Once at the car, there were about 100 people gathered around a number of telescopes, chatting, smiling and gawking. They were watching four grizzly bears eat berries on an exposed slope roughly a mile away. We looked through the scopes, had our fill and left. And to our surprise we came across two more bears right outside the park, drinking and playing along the side of Lake Sherburne.

 

Lil Bear

Just a “little” bear.