Redgap Pass-Elizabeth Lake Hike

Three days, 2 Passes, 32 miles in the heart of Glacier NP

Day 1

We were fortunate to get back country permits for 2 nights from Many Glacier to Poia Lake and over Redgap Pass to Elizabeth Lake and back over Ptarmigan Tunnel, for three days of backpacking. We had all our gear packed and ready, we drove to Many Glacier and parked at the Swiftcurrent Lodge, then we were crazy enough to walk the 2 miles to the trailhead for Poia Lake back along the road, instead of hitch hiking. It’s 6.4 miles from Many Glacier Road to Poia Lake and we just added 2 more miles to our hike. As we ascended the trail Lake Sherburne appeared visible in the valley below, then after 3 miles the trail passes the shore of Swiftcurrent Ridge Lake, where we stopped for a break.

D3 Elizabeth Lake-3

Bull Moose in Elizabeth lake

From this Lake the trail descends into the Kennedy Creek Valley, where the trail crosses a series of beaver ponds set among the large aspens. We started to wind our way upward for the final 1.5 miles through gravelly rock gardens to Poia Lake, suddenly we spooked a moose down by the creek and she went running up the mountain on the other side in a flash. When we looked back we could see her hiding in the trees watching us go up the trail. We arrived at Poia Lake very tired after 6 hours of endless walking through the woods. We set up camp in one of the campsites, that sits on a wooded knoll at the foot of the lake, and went to the lake to relax in our camp chairs on the beach, swim in the refreshing water and read. The lake is deep and cold and is surrounded by blocky cliffs on both sides. There were two other groups of campers here: 3 guys from Brooklyn and a young couple from Columbia Falls, who passed us on the trail. The food prep area is a community affair, we all sit together cooking over our jet boils, telling stories and eating our camp food dinners out of bags. After dinner we hang our food bags from the 25 foot high pole so the bears don’t come into the camp and eat our food. As the sun was setting it was time for bed, after a walk on the beach to see the glow of the setting sun it was back to the tent for the night. Click on thumbnail to view images

Day 2

What a great nights sleep! Woke up refreshed and ready to hike 12 miles today to our next campsite on Elizabeth Lake. We ate breakfast in the food prep area with the other campers, the 3 guys from Brooklyn left at 8am as they had 14 miles to hike to Helen Lake. A Ranger with two girls arrived at the campsite late yesterday and they joined us for breakfast. He was a nice guy but we were reprimanded for taking our food bag back to our tent site, before leaving. We were back on the trail at 9am on our way to Redgap Pass. From the head of the lake, the trail winds for 3 miles through a wooded valley floor before ascending steeply toward the pass. This is where I begin to slow down and let the other hikers pass, I just keep putting one foot in front of the other and eventually I will reach the top, leaving the lodgepole pine forests and hiking into open subalpine fir parkland. Looking back to the south, the spectacular views of the hulking mass of Apikuni Mountain, and Mount Henkel and Crowfeet Mountain crowd the head of the valley with Kennedy Lake at their feet.

The vistas makes the climb all worth the effort. As we reached the windswept Redgap Pass we were greeted with stunning views of Old Sun Glacier lying at the base of the towering spires of Mount Merritt, and Lake Elizabeth way in the distance. We stopped here for lunch enjoying the rest and the wonderful feeling of being on top of the world looking out at these awe-inspiring mountains. From here it’s downhill for 6 miles to the head of Elizabeth Lake, our next campsite. When we left we dropped into a high, treeless cirque and descended through ragged stands of pine, to a junction where from this point it is a foot-pounding 2 mile descent to the foot of Elizabeth Lake. We stopped here to filter more water, but still had 1.6 miles to go along the shores of Elizabeth Lake to the campsite. The hike following the beach was so beautiful that it made the last 1 mile easy. We set up tent at our campsite, then went to the beach to relax, swim and unwind in this peaceful setting. We shared dinner with the other campers and retreated to our tent when the sun began to set behind the mountains.

Day 3

On my way to get water at the lake at 7am I was surprised to see a giant bull moose feeding in the water up to his knees. Soon everyone was watching the moose as he was content eating the grass on the bottom of the lake. We stayed for about an hour just in awe of being so close to this magnificent creature in the wilderness. We eventually had to get going because we have 12 long miles to hike today. We got back on the trail around 9am and headed back along the shores of Elizabeth Lake to the foot of the lake where we crossed the Belly River on a suspension bridge.

Then it was up hill for about 5 miles to the Ptarmigan Tunnel. Climbing up the trail the views looking back at Elizabeth Lake and Helen Lake nestled at the foot of Ipasha Peak became more impressive as we hiked around the east Ptarmigan Wall toward the tunnel. The 250-foot long tunnel at 7,200 feet is a unique man-made feature in Glacier, built in 1931, which was blasted through the solid rock of the Ptarmigan Wall. Heavy iron doors were hung across the tunnel adits during the summer of 1975 and remain open from mid-July until October 1, weather permitting. A wide area, originally for guide and tourist horses, extends from each portal with a masonry retaining wall. We hung out here eating and enjoying the views and the four horses who came up from the other side. On the way down we stopped at Ptarmigan Lake, which lies in a gravelly, barren-looking cirque below the tunnel, for a must needed swim.

We finally made it back to the Jeep, thankful and grateful to have completed another fabulous backpacking trip. We celebrated with a wonderful dinner at the Many Glacier Hotel, in the Ptarmigan dining room with stunning views of Swiftcurrent Lake.