Ptarmigan Tunnel to Redgap Pass Goat Traverse

Belly River headwaters from ridge

The iconic Ptarmigan Tunnel in Many Glacier is a popular day hike. The tunnel is also frequently used by backpackers descending and ascending into the Belly River drainage which is often paired with Redgap Pass to make a loop. For those interested in connecting these two features without losing the elevation via trail, an off-trail goat traverse is an attractive option.

A few years ago, some friends and I attempted the off-trail route connecting Ptarmigan Tunnel and Redgap Pass as spelled out in J. Gordon Edwards’s book, A Climber’s Guide to Glacier National Park. My friend leading the trip didn’t follow the directions exactly, ending up with another option of the route. Blindly following the past, I did the same with my wife, only to realize later that the reason why Edwards’s book was so confusing was because I was squishing his description into another route. This, obviously made his words confusing. (As an aside, Blake Passmore from Climb Glacier National Park will have this route detailed in Vol 4 of his Climb Glacier National Park series spring of 2015)

Redgap Pass from Goat Trail

Be that as it may, the trip was great. We started on a crisp, sunny, beautiful September day and made quick work up to the tunnel. Kristen had never been to it and it always brings smiles both from the views and the relief from climbing. We scouted our route which was to find the last point on the red ridge to the east and locate a clump of trees that intersected the trail. We hiked down to them and traversed up to the point.

From the point, we admired the views into either side all the way from the tunnel, up to Helen Lake, Ahern and Old Sun Glaciers and up towards Redgap Pass. The obvious goat trail led to a slope above cliffs right up to Redgap Pass. We followed a mountain goat most of the way and had lunch at Redgap Pass. Right as we started to descend, the large hanging Kennedy Lake is always a wonderful surprise for first time visitors, then you descend into bear country and the trees. We ended up seeing two black bears before reaching Poia Lake.

Another rest stop at the lake and an appreciation of the falls coming out of the lake preceded a soul-sucking hike up Swiftcurrent Ridge. The Swiftcurrent Ridge Lake gives you hope knowing that your elevation up is done and it’s a cruiser on the way out.

This last part always has me on high alert as I’ve seen bull elk and grizzly bear along the way. While hiking, we heard bull elk bugling and kept our eyes peeled and were eventually rewarded with a HUGE bull we jumped off the trail.

Finally, we hit the trailhead at sunset on a great day. Once at Swiftcurrent Motor Inn, we had dinner and headed back home, exhausted, but happy.

Mt. Wilbur in the Morning

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5 responses to “Ptarmigan Tunnel to Redgap Pass Goat Traverse”

  1. Mike Kinsella Avatar
    Mike Kinsella

    So how many miles was that little trek? I’m guessing 15? Kristen should run a marathon just for relaxation.

    1. I believe that it was 17.5 miles trail with approx 2 miles of road and who knows how much off-trail… maybe another mile. She kills it!

  2. Peter Dale Avatar
    Peter Dale

    Will that tunnel be open for a July 8th trek?

    1. I believe the tunnel opens on July 17th each year.

    2. Tough call. Guessing snowpack is a tricky business. My guess is that some of the trail will be open, but you’ll still encounter late snow. The trail is all low-angle, so it wouldn’t be dangerous, just a lot more work. Keep in mind of where you’re heading once you cross the border to the north if it’s higher elevation.

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