CDT Day 118 (MT – E. Glacier to Canada)

GNP: Tunnel Vision

  • Ptarmigan Trail: 13.8 miles
  • PNW NST: 5.3 miles
  • Total Hiked: 1,989.8 miles
  • Elevation Range: 4,680-7,255 feet

By 6:45am the nomadic tribe of CDT hikers had cleared out of the campsite. Snickers, Cheer, and I seemed to be the first to start packing up and the last to leave. No worries for us though. We were pumped to discover that the smoky hazy cleared dramatically overnight!

I had hoped to try and get a coffee from the motel restaurant this morning before hiking, but as we walked by learned they didn’t open til 7am another 15 minutes. Time is precious, so to the trailhead we went. With our new plan, we weren’t even going on the CDT today, our main pathway was the Ptarmigan Trail and later on we’d connect to the Pacific Northwest National Scenic Trail.

Here’s a rough mark up I created. The purple icon is the “town”/campground/motel of Many Glacier. The blue dotted line is our new planned path to the Waterton Lake border and then the green arrows show our planned route out after that.

Right from the Many Glacier hub we started out at the Iceberg/Ptarmigan Trailhead. From there, it was up for the first 5 miles. Not super steep thankfully and it didn’t seem to take long for us to get some morning color views…

Looking back…

At 8am, we found a waterfall. Here’s looking down on it…

The big thing we were looking forward to this morning was the Ptarmigan Tunnel. We’d heard only rumors about it, that is was neat, but didn’t fully know what to expect. So as I was climbing up to this view, in my head I was visualizing a tunnel at the base of a rock wall somewhere that shoots straight through the mountain to the other side…

Only time would tell if my minds interpretation was correct. Until then, we went up some more and looking back got a nice view of the bowl we’d walked through and the distant jumbo mountains…

Then, we popped out at Ptarmigan Lake and opted to go down to it for second breakfast. Here, we got a little clearer idea of the tunnel characteristics, but only slightly. We could see long switchbacks going up the dead-end walk and inquired that there must be a tunnel leading through near the top. Maybe it was just an arch though? How long was it supposed to be? We really had know idea.

So after a good rest and some coffee and oatmeal, we went to check it out. We’d only seen about three total people prior to breakfast, but during our stop, it seemed a never ending stream of folks passed us by. Ok it wasn’t that bad, but there were a good amount of day hikers also interested in finding out about this tunnel.

To use the phrase that’s seemed to applicable lately on this trail, we were on then up and up…

Before the big tunnel reveal, looking back was quite the view of the lake and surrounding super mountains. One of my better time lapse vids. if I do say so myself…

At our high point of the day, around 10:19am, we finally made it to the Ptarmigan Tunnel and made our way through! The first pic shows from our entry side the height of the wall above…

It was like we’d entered into Middle Earth… into the mines of Moria or possibly the depths of the Lonely Mountain. On the mighty doors, I could imagine some Elvish writings, “Speak, Friend, and Enter.” Luckily I knew such riddles and spoke “friend.” And the doors swung open magically for us. Others there may tell accounts witnessing that the doors were already open upon arrival, but I think you’d find them false.

I thought this was so cool and exiting out the other side nearly blew my mind. Such an awesome and interesting part of trail. The trail itself was a work of wonder…

photo credit@leeruelle

Here’s one more shot looking up towards where the tunnel shot through. It’s hard to imagine a trail along such a straight cliff.

The views were not bad either. In fact, going down from the tunnel to Elizabeth Lake were some of the best views in Glacier. We were stopping often to glance out at the expanse that was ever changing. Took so many photos each only slightly different maybe…

photo credit @carollcoyne

Had fun with a slo-mo vid viewing the smaller scale stuff too…

Took us a bit, but we eventually made our way down to Elizabeth Lake. It’s the bigger longer shaped one in the pics above and the smaller blue one sort of hidden amongst the tall giant mountains, that’s Helen Lake. We wouldn’t go by Helen this time and just stopped by the shore of Elizabeth for a bit before continuing our trek north again, now in the bottom of a forest covered valley…

photo credit @leeruelle

At one point during our post-lunch walk, we suddenly started to hear some water moving rather thunderous-like. Out of nowhere, boom, there was a giant waterfall that none of us were aware was on the itinerary for today. That’s how Glacier is though, endless views and sites to see. Turns out, this one is Dawn Mist Falls…

We were quite enthralled and took the short side trail to the river below for another perspective.

Water falling and mist rising in slow motion…

That was pretty neat and our spirits continued to rise hiking through this wonderful park. The falls are part of the Belly River. I kept calling it the Belly Up River for some reason. Thought that’s what it was and liked the name. Next, would be a transition from one valley to another. The new one would be our path up to Stoney Indian Pass, but we wouldn’t get there til tomorrow. Between here and there though… several more beautiful lakes.

First up, Cosley Lake and it’s outlet, the Mokawanis Riverton. We’ve been so spoiled lately with bridges that we were a bit taken aback upon realizing we had to cross and get our feet wet. It was shallow and pleasant, so not too much complaining from us.

After this is when we left the above-and-beyond expectations, Ptarmigan Trail, for the Pacific Northwest Trail (this one goes from Glacier to the Olympic Peninsula in Washington).

Here’s another shot of Cosley…

In between Cosley and the next lake, Glenn, we came across two hikers at a stream as we were filtering. after talking a bit we discovered they were PCT 2019’ers like us and so we had some back and forth trying to figure out if we’d seen one another or had mutual connections. I think Snickers knew some of the same folks they knew.

Glenn Lake is a very long and rather narrow lake that we’d hike parallel all the way to our camp the rest of the day. I was hoping we’d be close to the edge, but the trail actually was back in the trees. We moved quickly though and got into camp at a decent time again, maybe around 5:30pm-ish. After hanging food and picking out our tent spot, I got off on a mini adventure I’d been eyeing.

Our campsite was in the trees with only views between up to the high mountain peaks. I decided I’d do the less than a mile jaunt up to Mokawanis Lake to see what I could see there. Took bear spray, a snack, and my trekking poles and set off solo. I was surprised that a very short ways in, I got a view standing on the western side of Glenn Lake at it’s inlet, looking eastward…

And this view looking somewhat south…

I made it to Mokawanis quickly and had my snack while chatting with a section hiker there. It was, shocker, yet another beautiful mountain lake…

I made it back to camp before 7pm, right as the team was thinking dinner sounded nice. We gathered there with a guy named John and had nice conversation while stuffing our faces with food. There were three thru-hiking guys camped as well, but they stuck to themselves for the most part. I did give one of them my stove to use since his broke apparently.

Our camps are fancy in the park, like I’ve mentioned already, but the one downside is they can be a bit tight for three tents sometimes. That wasn’t why I cowboy camped (looking for stars again), but it did help in making a slightly smaller footprint.

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