Ptarmigan Tunnel (Glacier National Park) 31-Aug-2010

Ptarmigan Tunnel Glacier National Park Montana

This was the second hike during our 2010 trip to Glacier National Park. We were at the Many Glacier Hotel again this year since it is at or near several trailheads. There is also a shuttle from the hotel to the free shuttle service that operates within the park and this allows us to do several long loop trips as dayhikes.

We had finished our hike to Cracker Lake the day before just as the skies opened-up with a deluge. The weather calmed down a bit overnight but it was still cloudy and cold when we decided to hike to the Ptarmigan Tunnel (10.6 miles roundtrip; 2,400 feet of elevation gain). The trail starts from behind the Swiftcurrent Motor Inn and climbs gradually above Wilbur Creek,

Ptarmigan Tunnel Glacier National Park Montana

Starting on the trail to Ptarmigan Tunnel

to Ptarmigan Falls.

Ptarmigan Tunnel Glacier National Park Montana

Ptarmigan Falls

Along the way, we saw our first moose of the day (we’d see a bull moose later), calmly munching through the foliage near the trail. Moose are not nearly as sphincter-tightening upclose as a grizzly but moose can be dangerous too if you get too close.

Ptarmigan Tunnel Glacier National Park Montana

Moose munch

Past the falls, the trail turns up along Ptarmigan Creek to Ptarmigan Lake and then climbs the headwall of the canyon in three sweeping switchbacks,

Ptarmigan Tunnel Glacier National Park Montana

The trail sweeps up the headwall

Ptarmigan Tunnel Glacier National Park Montana

Getting close to the tunnel

to arrive at the tunnel.

Ptarmigan Tunnel Glacier National Park Montana

Ptarmigan Tunnel

Ptarmigan Tunnel Glacier National Park Montana

Transiting Ptarmigan Tunnel

Why this tunnel was cut through the Ptarmigan Wall in 1931 as a Civilian Construction Corp (CCC) project wasn’t necessarily clear to us until we exited it on its north side,

Ptarmigan Tunnel Glacier National Park Montana

The north side of Ptarmigan Tunnel

and saw the sheer cliffs there. These put trying to go over the Wall with a trail out of the question; a tunnel was the only workable solution if you wanted a trail to cross this low point on the ridge.

Ptarmigan Tunnel Glacier National Park Montana

Ptarmigan Tunnel (arrow) exits on a cliff

On the north side, the trail has been blasted into the cliff face,

Ptarmigan Tunnel Glacier National Park Montana

The trail down to Elizabeth Lake is carved into the cliff

and on down to Elizabeth Lake in the valley below.

Ptarmigan Tunnel Glacier National Park Montana

Elizabeth Lake

We were tempted to hike down toward the lake but it looked as though the weather was going bad (again), so we turned around at the tunnel. On our way back to the Many Glacier Hotel, the weather once again closed in,

Ptarmigan Tunnel Glacier National Park Montana

Another storm rolls in…

and we almost got detoured by a trail closure due to a bear sighting. With that, we just barely reached the hotel bar before a major storm broke.

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