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Iceberg Lake & Ptarmigan Tunnel, MT
mini location map2021-07-19
20 by photographer avatarddgrunning
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Iceberg Lake & Ptarmigan Tunnel, MT 
Iceberg Lake & Ptarmigan Tunnel, MT
Hiking avatar Jul 19 2021
Hiking17.37 Miles 3,489 AEG
Hiking17.37 Miles   10 Hrs   7 Mns   2.11 mph
3,489 ft AEG   1 Hour   54 Mns Break
 no routes
1st trip
Partners none no partners
Day 2 in Glacier NP:

After finding that Grinnell Glacier trail was closed due to a bear frequenting the area, we moved up our plan to visit Iceberg Lake. I also wanted to tack on Ptarmigan Lake and Ptarmigan Tunnel, if we were still feeling strong on the way back.

After staying the night in a makeshift motel a few miles outside of Babb, we woke early to get to the trailhead and on the trail before traffic from other parts of the park arrived. The morning was quite foggy, which when added to the smoky haze from the numerous fires burning in Montana and Idaho made for reduced visibility and a dampening of the usually vibrant colors on this hike to mostly a slate gray.

We arrived at the trailhead with plenty of morning light but before sunrise. Despite the hazy conditions, the trail was still very scenic. This trail was open but was still "posted" (as opposed to "closed"), cautioning about a bear in the area. We didn't see one, but ran across a hiker on the way back who had started a couple of hours behind us and had seen a grizzly bear 150-200 feet from the trail within the first mile of the trailhead.

After a little more that 2.5 miles of hiking, we crossed over Ptarmigan creek and falls. The trail crosses above the falls and trees obscure a frontal view, but you can downclimb a bit from the trail and take in the upper portion of the falls from a ledge. A nice cascade. The trail skirts above the fall and passes Ptarmigan Creek over a wooden footbridge. The glacier-polished and vibrantly colored stones carpet the bottom of the creek and are on clear display through the glassy water.

Shortly after the creek crossing, we reached the fork that leads up to Ptarmigan Lake and Ptarmigan Tunnel. We debated heading up to the Tunnel first and then returning to Iceberg Lake later. But knowing that the Lake was the more popular destination, we were anxious to visit there first before it became crowded.

At about the 3.5 mile mark, the trail emerges from the trees for good. Here, the sun finally rose over the mountains behind us, but instead of a providing rush of morning rays to paint the surrounding landscape with color, the cresting sun was only marginally perceptible. In fact, I hadn't noticed that it had risen until my wife looked back and pointed to the fiery red dot through the smoky haze. It was a striking view, which cameras failed to accurately capture, but still reminded me that it was time to put my hat on if I wanted to avoid sunburn!

At 4.7 miles, we crossed Iceberg Creek, which is the drainage outlet for the lake. A nice photo area, especially of some cascading falls that are a little downstream from the bridges (which we checked out on the return trip).

Another 0.3 mile brought us to the edge of Iceberg Lake. While the haze muted its colors, the lake was still magnificent, with several "icebergs" still decorating its depths.

The lake, perfectly still and quiet, and surrounded by a glacier-carved cathedral, truly had a spiritual feel to it. As I walked along its banks and came across another hiker perched above the lake, I was impressed with the natural pressure to preserve the reverence of this place of contemplation and communion with Nature.

Although the forecast was for 90 degrees, it was much cooler at the lake, and almost dissuaded me from taking a dip in the lake. Ultimately, I compromised by wading out to my waist and then climbing up on one of the floating icebergs. Not surprisingly, the water was very cold! :lol:

We spent some time skipping rocks, and I think it would be harder to find a better place for that activity than Iceberg Lake.

As expected, by the time we were leaving the lake, a steadier stream of hiker were arriving, but not a big crowd. Also on the trail were some folks on horseback, who would end up following us up to Ptarmigan Tunnel become rather annoying on the way back because they could not keep a consistent pace (thus passing us and then being passed by us multiple times). ](*,)

Returning from the Lake, we hung a left at the Ptarmigan Lake junction and climbed up to the lake. The trail is a steep but steady climb to the lake. We took a break and a swim in Ptarmigan Lake--still cold, but not like Iceberg.

From the lake, you can see the two, long switchbacks up to the tunnel, which cuts 240 feet through the top of the Ptarmigan Wall and was originally built by the Civilian Conservation Corp in the 1930's for horses and early park tours. Coming out the opposite side of the Tunnel reveals a contrasting view of the "red" rock in the opposing drainage. Continuing on the Ptarmigan trail beyond the tunnel leads to a point at which you can look back across the mountain range to see Old Sun Glacier on the upper reaches of Mount Merritt.

The hike back to the trailhead was uneventful, other than the annoying tag team with the horse riders.

We celebrated the day with some soft serve ice cream at the Swiftcurrent Motor Inn.
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