Marc Ankenbauer's 10+ year quest to jump in every named lake in Glacier and Waterton National Parks for charity.
168 lakes. Only 17 16 15 14 13 12 11 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
ZERO LAKES LEFT!!!
-- Marc jumped into Fisher Cap Lake on Sunday September 8th, 2013 to complete his goal! --
Read about Marc and how this project started...

Nahsukin,Gyrfalcon,Redhorn Lake – The Adventure

Folks, don’t try this at home...or in Glacier!
FULL SAFETY MESSAGE

This Blog Entry is Dedicated to “Billy”, most know him as Brad. Have a great year back in college. This trek would not have been done without you.

Good Morning everyone,

That’s right, I’m casting off my nighttime literary window and trying the morning. Hopefully this entry will be fueled by the big mug of coffee that is sitting next to me and the refreshing light that is streaming in my front window.

I have some things going on that start in the late morning, so for right now I would like to tell you a story of what is easily the most elaborate lakebid, and one of the most hectic trips that I have ever taken in all my days of hiking.

Waterton Lake is fed by the Waterton River which flows north into Alberta. It then connects to larger rivers and eventually to the Arctic Ocean. The headwaters of Waterton River is called Nahsukin Lake. It is about 11 miles south of Goat Haunt, but after 7 miles it becomes a valley without a functional trail and clogged with downed trees, alder bushes, and every other random piece of wildly thick vegetation that grows in the Northern Rockies. This lake will be the base camp of what is now called the Nahsukin, Gyrfalcon, Redhorn Adventure.

At this point every year, Glacier National Park becomes very fire prone and quite smoky from fires that pretty much rip holes in the mountainous west. This year is no different. Although there are no fires in Glacier itself, it gets a lot of smoke from fires west and north of it, and that smoke actually makes for amazing sunsets. It’s particulate matter in the sky that makes sun sets vary in color and intensity. Honestly, that is why many cities have great sunsets, odd concept.

The evening we left was no different.

My partner in crime, Brad and I hiked five miles south before sunset.

As we left, the sunset was amazing. The tour boat came in for it’s last run and the lake was washed with a classic wildfire/smoke orange glow.

Mt. Cleveland was glowing with an amazing alpen glow as he headed south to our camp for the night.

In the morning we waded across the Waterton River and dove off the maintained trail that we will eventually yearn for through the next few days. There once was a trail to Nahsukin Lake……about 50 years ago. Many trees fall, and vegetation fights back to reclaim a lot of trail in 50 years. Luckily, animals still take the path of least resistance and in this case some of that least resistance is the old trail…Let me impress upon you that just because I say the word trail does not mean that it is anything more than a spot between bushes that is slightly more trampled than the rest.
You start looking for trees that have broken branches or an old log that has been torn up by hooves and paws, a slight path through the grass. Nothing obvious, you have to be paying attention.

Often there was absolutely nothing to follow. We just decided that to keep the same direction as the lake, and dive right on in there. Maybe wear sunglasses, to protect from a random branch to the face.


You fall a lot, which Brad did quite often on this trip.

You take a good old spider web to the face more than you can count.

You even eventually, start losing your mind and decide that walking straight up a creek drainage would at least be without thick vegetation.

But, after four miles, you eventually end up at Nahsukin Lake. A wild place where, Brad saw a wolf for a split second, before it dipped back into vegetation.

By the time we got to the lake, it was time to crash. Ate a slight bit and just went to sleep. We had a long day to be ready for, so right now the best thing we could do was just sleep. Morning will come very soon.

Morning on Nahsukin Lake is a place that the local animal population does not expect to see human beings. One or two people a year may force their way up here. Not enough to make animals change their natural routines.

We were pumping water from the lake shore in the morning and two Wolverines were running down the shore directly at us. When they saw us they quickly turned 180 degrees and run halfway around the shore line. It was amazing to watch how they effortlessly hopped rock to rock inches above the lake with no thought that they might lose their footing and end up in the drink.

In this picture, Brad is pointing towards the direction they ran. In the background you can see a very thick dark green section of vegetation directly above the lake shore.

The wolverines ran on the rocks, we as human beings can’t cling to those same rocks so we have to thrash through that vegetation. What took them about a minute to get past, took us about an hour of sweaty cussing as we “walked” through the alder thicket. It’s like this stuff is alive, it grabs you and has a thousand squiggly branches that pull you down. We were on a 70 degree angle essentially standing on alder as we swung from branch to branch. When I neared the end, I noticed I had lost one of my prize trekking poles. I looked for 20 minutes, but it was gone, gobbled up by the alder bushes.

Brad had broke one of his on the hike in yesterday, so I figured that this was the oman of the trip and I should just sacrifice it to the lake gods.

So, after the alder, we climbed up the bowl at the end of the lake. It was big rocks and angular streches of slick vegetation, but it was also early in the day and we over came this section in about an hour.

Allow me to tell you now, we eventually hike for 14 hours today before we stumble with bleary eyes back to Nahsukin Lake. Big Day Folks…Big Day…

At the top we look down on an amazing view of the entire Waterton River drainage and Nahsukin Lake. The furthest left hand mountain is Mt. Cleveland, the highest in the park.

Our camp was at the far end of this lake towards the mountains.

From here we continue to climb up sloping rock slabs to a lake called Gyrfalcon Lake.
Through this process we are walking literally on the continental divide. There are actually two lakes that are astride the continental divide.

Interesting to look at, they look like two normal lakes. But the left one flows east to the Atlantic Ocean and the one on the right flows west to the Pacific Ocean. This “continental high point” is easy to see normally when it is a jutting mountain, but when it’s a slight hump of dirt and rocks sepertating two lakes it’s much more difficult to visually understand.

Gyrfalcon Lake looks amazing on a map, high in the mountains and surrounded on all sides by glaciers and rock…well above tree line. This is the last little tree I saw, think it has a windy rough winter up here?
Gyrfalcon Lake has been on the agenda for years, to finally arrive was pretty great for me.

In celebration, I went swimming….

Not to linger too long, because we have hardly even begun today’s endeavor. From here we head north along the west side of the continental divide and attempting to decipher which of these two saddles has to be gained and climbed over.

On the way we came across a bunch of small lakes, they were great.

No names though, so along we went.

Through much mapping and debate we eventually pick the higher elevation of the two saddles and climb our way to the top of it.

I’m was so happy that we picked the right one, if not we would have had to down climb the same thing and keep going. From the top, I looked down on one of the most remote lakes in the park.

Redhorn Lake. Although it looks plain enough, the valley that it lies at the head of has never had a trail and is a long, bear infested bushwack…..or you simply climb all the way around Nahsukin mountain and come in from a saddle above it….

That’s obviously what I planned here today..

The wooded ridge behind me is what will eventually be climbed to start making our way back towards Nahsukin Lake. But for now, we have a long slog back down this rocky slope to Redhorn Lake. By this point we were about 10 hours into the day and this was just getting long.


Just from the completely different angle. The major snowy section of mountains that I was looking at that morning in late June was where I was standing right now. Much drier and less terrifying than it would have been then.

At the bottom of the valley I found an interesting thing. A 20 foot tree suspended on top of a 40 foot high rock.

It made me think, boy there must be a lot of snow here in the winter. That tree was placed there in the middle of winter as it slid down a slope in an avalanche and got stuck up there. There was a snow in this spot that was at least 40 feet high. Welcome to the Northern Rockies…Jeez

Then, that’s right, we went swimming…Great lake, loved it and really not too cold at all. Refreshed me for what I had to come.

We climbed directly up a vegetation covered Stairmaster. This was one of the steepest things I had ever walked up, honestly…

From this point we had to continue over this real big, broad ridge to get above Nahsukin Lake. We went though a big avalanche blow down and up and over all kinds of what not to get to the end of this ridge…12 hours in now…

We walked up to the edge in a spot which was in no way where we had planned on coming down….We casually walked up to the edge and expected to see a big slope covered in grasses..rough enough at this point, but instead we popped out right on top of a monster cliff looking down 2000’ at the lake…Ahhhhh..

So, we had to thrash back through the woods to find the slope we had planned on….We eventually found it and side stepped, fell down and cussed our way along for two hours…

Trying to work at a 45 degree angle back towards our camp…I’m sure it was because we were working on hours 13 and 14 of the hike, but this felt like it was by far the worst part. Add on top of that, we were running out of daylight…

Would you believe that we ended up at our tent at about 9:45 PM about 10 minutes before dark settled in….There was no interest in eating food or anything else…We climbed in to our tent and went directly into the most needed sleep of my life…

In the morning we work up, and swam in Nahsukin Lake.

I had to look directly at the alder thicket that held my trekking pole captive. I had no interest in looking for it. I was beaten by the alders and they won the trekking pole battle.

On our way back out, Brad broke his second pole and we broke out in what was the most insane, off our rocker laughter. We had both lost our beans on our trip and we had nothing left but to cackle like crazy men…

We thrashed back through our 4 miles of forest until we finally found our beloved maintained trail. Seven more miles of trail and we arrived back in Goat Haunt…We may have won the war, but we lost many, many battles…

If in your hiking life you ever question what it is that trail crew does for you….Just ask me… Cause if you just jump off of that magical maintained pathway…You will want to buy them dinner by the time you get back on it….At least in the brushy, wild Waterton Valley..

…To the trail magicians of our parks…I raise my glass…PROST!!!

TO LIFE!!!!!!!!!

Marc

2 comments
Ashley Sweat
Ashley Sweat

I love it!Thank you for telling your stories, Marc!