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Ptarmigan Glacier lies at the western end of the basin between Flattop and Notchtop Mountains, and is one of the most popular snowfields in the Park, both for skiers and for climbers who are looking for a great place to practice or simply a mellow day out. It's steep enough to warrant the use of an ice axe and/or crampons (depending on the conditions) and as a ski descent it keeps you on your toes, er...edges.
Like anywhere in the Park, depending upon the season and time of day, snow conditions can range anywhere from slush to ice to powder and everything in between. The south (left) side is the least steep, and just before the top the angle eases off a bit. I'd call the glacier somewhere between easy and moderate, depending on your skill level, the snow conditions, and which side you're climbing or descending. As summer goes on and more snow melts out at the base, be careful of the rocky runout.
I should mention that Ptarmigan Glacier is, especially in the summer, divided into two distinct snowfields - the upper steeper one and the less-steep lower one. What I've written above applies to the upper glacier, except for things like snow conditions. In winter and spring they're more or less connected. The lower glacier as it exists at the end of the summer (it's "permanent" year-round surface area) is less steep than it's upper cousin. Earlier in the season, though, the section just above the tarn is almost as steep as the upper glacier.
From Bear Lake, head up the Flattop trail toward Lake Helene and Notchtop Spire. Just before the trail starts to curve right toward Odessa Lake, look for a climber's trail on the left that heads slightly downhill through the trees. Take this to Lake Helene and skirt it on the right. Keep following the trail and cairns (or when covered with snow, take the path of least resistence) until you get to the base of a snowfield at the southern end of the base of Notchtop Spire. This is Lower Ptarmigan Glacier. Follow this as it curves up and slightly right to the base of the main Ptarmigan Glacier.
It's a good solo, but if you want to protect it bring pickets.
Looking up at Ptarmigan Glacier from the base. Jul...
Diana Laughlin heads up Ptarmigan Glacier.
Diana Laughlin near the top of Ptarmigan Glacier.
Crevasses at the top of Ptarmigan Glacier.
A crevasse at the top of Ptarmigan Glacier.
Diana Laughlin swallowed by Ptarmigan Glacier.
Lower Ptarmigan Glacier in mid June, 2005. The top...
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