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
-- Marc jumped into Fisher Cap Lake on Sunday September 8th, 2013 to complete his goal! --
Read about Marc and how this project started...

The Floral Park Saga Part 2 – Gem Lake

01 - Floral Park Saga Part 2 - Glacier Explorer

This is Part 2 of the Floral Park Saga. Check out Part 1, if you haven’t already.

Sperry Glacier Basin is unlike anywhere I have found myself on the planet. It’s like being on an island. It’s alien, removed and high above the rest of the surrounding world.

Although, if you are familiar with the park…you find yourself surrounded by strangely familiar things.

Directly below you is a sheer cliff down to Avalanche Lake which is probably the most visited hike in the whole park. People staring up at these cliffs from below don’t even know you’re up there. It’s like it’s a secret, like you’re hiding.

02 - Floral Park Saga Part 2 - Glacier Explorer

The mountains you look off at are Stanton, Vaught and McPartland which are the main landscape at Lake McDonald Lodge on the Going to the Sun Road.

03 - Floral Park Saga Part 2 - Glacier Explorer

Off in the distance are the familiar mountains that you see from Logan Pass and the highline trail which is the absolute center; the heart and soul of Glacier.

04 - Floral Park Saga Part 2 - Glacier Explorer

Behind us was Sperry Glacier which we have all heard of but few seldom see and certainly not this intimately.

05 - Floral Park Saga Part 2 - Glacier Explorer

By this point in the trip you are looking back at gargantuan efforts that happened early enough in the trip that they seem like a different day.

The whole experience is simultaneously alien and warmly familiar to those who know.

After lunch we headed into the depths of the Glacier Basin.

06 - Floral Park Saga Part 2 - Glacier Explorer

It is made up of countless ribs of bedrock that lead directly towards the open expanse of familiar mountains at odd angles and eventually the epic drop into the Avalanche Lake headwall.

The basin is made of bedrock ribs that were scoured clean from by the glacier through the last eternity.

When you look closely there are striations on the all the ribs from the glacier scraping against the rock. This exotic landscape has only become visible over the last century.

07 - Floral Park Saga Part 2 - Glacier Explorer

The area is a washboard of ups and downs that present a unique obstacle course.

Each time you get to the top of a rib there could be anything on the other side.

08 - Floral Park Saga Part 2 - Glacier Explorer

There could be a perfect little scramble down or an expanse of snow completely filling the gap between ribs.

There could be a stream to cross or a melt pond that forces you to walk ten minutes around to the other side.

Countless options, over and over and over again.

It’s really the strangest landscape I have ever traveled in.

Every time I looked for my partners I found them lit up against the most improbable of backdrops.

09 - Floral Park Saga Part 2 - Glacier Explorer

This is the part of the trip that deserved our time, our attention and our camera lens the most.

The moment in time meter went through the roof.

Getting closer to Comeau Pass we had to make a decision that I believe is a no brainer.

10 - Floral Park Saga Part 2 - Glacier Explorer

Either we were forced to hike up the Sperry Glacier which is a terrible plan while un-roped.

Or there is a well better option.

11 - Floral Park Saga Part 2 - Glacier Explorer

Instead we hiked downhill past the last melt pond and towards a mountain called The Little Matterhorn.

12 - Floral Park Saga Part 2 - Glacier Explorer

This little wonderland is filled with wildflowers and a braided stream whose destiny is to become Avalanche Lake.

13 - Floral Park Saga Part 2 - Glacier Explorer

We accessed an amazing ramp of rock slabs, wild flowers and marmots that led us directly towards Comeau Pass.

14 - Floral Park Saga Part 2 - Glacier Explorer

Our marmot friends were sunning themselves on a huge rock.

15 - Floral Park Saga Part 2 - Glacier Explorer

I feel this is the best way to gain the pass.

16 - Floral Park Saga Part 2 - Glacier Explorer

Not only is it safe and as straight forward as possible but totally AWESOME!!

17 - Floral Park Saga Part 2 - Glacier Explorer

We even took a moment and took the best shadow picture ever!!!

18 - Floral Park Saga Part 2 - Glacier Explorer

The layers of rock started looking like candy cane spirals.

19 - Floral Park Saga Part 2 - Glacier Explorer

We couldn’t handle how crazy this landscape is!

20 - Floral Park Saga Part 2 - Glacier Explorer

Depending on when Floral Park is done, the route has more or less snow.

21 - Floral Park Saga Part 2 - Glacier Explorer

On this day only one snow field stood between us and the pass…and in my case.

22 - Floral Park Saga Part 2 - Glacier Explorer


By this time I was double timing it.

23 - Floral Park Saga Part 2 - Glacier Explorer

I was hoping to get to the lake while there was still sun on it.

It’s cold enough to climb into a lake on top of a huge mountain pass right next to a snow field in the middle of a wind warning.

But, the sun is imperative.

Thankfully I got there with literally minutes of sun left.

I tossed on swimming trunks and flip flops that I had carried for hours and hours, waiting for this moment.

24 - Floral Park Saga Part 2 - Glacier Explorer

I had to toss rocks on my other clothes so they did not fly away in the wind.

The outlet of Gem Lake is a waterfall that flows west towards Lake McDonald.

The wind was blowing so hard that it was picking up the waterfall and blowing it up into the air and landing back in the lake.

The fact is, I got it done.

The lake is just deep enough to submerge my body in, certainly no laps being swam.

Just some screams as I waited for a picture or two to be taken by my wife who asked me to stay in for two pictures. She wanted to get it right…Yeah…

It was very cold, but I’m over the idea that these lakes are cold.

I just needed to hop in and get my clothes back on.

I bounced around, doing jumping jacks to warm back up. Everyone else pumped water, ate some food and helped me with whatever tasks my cold digits were having trouble with.

25 - Floral Park Saga Part 2 - Glacier Explorer

We were still in a rush, no matter if the dip into the lake was done or not.

26 - Floral Park Saga Part 2 - Glacier Explorer

Once at the pass, we still had 10 miles and 5000 feet of elevation loss to take care of on trail.

Let’s keep in mind that the sun was still starting to set.

A group picture was in order as this place, this moment was truly epic

27 - Floral Park Saga Part 2 - Glacier Explorer

Before I left the top I grabbed a shot of the heavily weathered sign that marks the pass.

28 - Floral Park Saga Part 2 - Glacier Explorer

The trail down from Comeau Pass starts by dropping through a crack in the headwall that was made in the early days of the park.

29 - Floral Park Saga Part 2 - Glacier Explorer

There is a cable to hold on to as you climb down. It would be bad to lose your footing since its steep enough to cause some serious damage.

30 - Floral Park Saga Part 2 - Glacier Explorer

We saw about 10 mountain goats as we zoomed past alpine lakes and waterfalls.

31 - Floral Park Saga Part 2 - Glacier Explorer

We were able to get down to the Sperry Chalet trail intersection before dark fell.

But,…then it fell. And boy did it fall…

32 - Floral Park Saga Part 2 - Glacier Explorer

From this point we still had six miles and 3000 feet of elevation loss to do in the pitch black. YES!!

We spooked a bighorn sheep as we slowly picked our footing in the dark.

It’s good to make noise in Griz country anyway, but in the black of night you get pretty inventive.

I’m sure every animal in the woods enjoyed our conversations, games and most off all the show tunes.

It took what felt like forever as we walked in the dark. I think we fell asleep walking a few times. I swear!

But, eventually we popped out at Lake McDonald Lodge.

Car shuttles to Logan Pass commenced.

As we got towards St. Mary there were slight traces of Northern Lights.

I had never seen them through the years and even minor ones are pretty spectacular!

All in all an amazing day!

Even deserved a two part Saga!

To Life!!!

The Floral Park Saga – Part 1

top pic The Floral Park Saga - Glacier Explorer

Gem Lake sits high atop Comeau Pass.

Comeau Pass is equally high atop the single most amazing day “endeavor” I have ever been on in my life. I say “day endeavor” because it is no “day hike”.

To call it that implies that it is a straight forward walk that takes nothing more than legs, time and nice day.

Floral Park has grown to have a dubious reputation in the park. It unfortunately has been featured in magazines next to things that are just “day hikes”. This has allowed for first time visitors, newbie concession kids and weekend warriors to address it like it’s just another outing.

It has claimed lives. Please don’t ever attempt this trip solo.


My condolences to the families of those who lost their lives over the last few years.

*On to the Story*

Jump Stats

The Floral Park Saga 12 - Glacier Explorer
Lake Jump: #157 of 168
Hiking distance: 20 miles
  -On-trail: 12 miles
  -Off-trail: 8 miles


In 2006 I went with a bunch of friends and had an amazing time. It took forever and we hiked out the last couple hours in the dark, but it blew my mind.

I took a dip in four lakes, Hidden Lake, Mary Baker Lake, Feather Woman and Akaiyan Lakes…

So it seems there are five named lakes on the route

I didn’t know about Gem Lake.

It’s not labeled on the map and at the time I hadn’t looked at the USGS list of “Named Lakes in Glacier”.

Although surprised, I’ve been looking forward to doing this route again.

Thanks Map Labelers!

The Floral Park Saga 1 - Glacier Explorer

Often when people accompany me to an off trail lake, I feel guilty for putting people through the often brutal endeavor.

This is a once in a lifetime, bucket list trip for anyone involved.

The evening before we left, a wildfire was reported in the Avalanche Lake Valley.

The Floral Park Saga 3 - Glacier Explorer

It kind of spooked us, as the route goes directly through the Sperry Glacier Basin which is the head of the Avalanche Lake valley.

A High Wind Advisory found Logan pass more than brisk, but we were able to make early morning miles fueled by some of the best breakfast sandwiches I’ve ever had. THANKS PAT!

The light was amazing as we hiked up to Hidden Lake Overlook.

The Floral Park Saga 2 - Glacier Explorer

Millions of people have looked down upon Hidden Lake, but comparatively few ever drop down to it.

The Floral Park Saga 4 - Glacier Explorer

Twice I’ve been to this amazing lake, and both times were to begin Floral Park.

The Floral Park Saga 5 - Glacier Explorer

Once you leave the foot of Hidden Lake there’s no trail at all.

Once you begin wrapping around Bearhat Mountain you have to be able to read a map and know the route.

The Floral Park Saga 6 - Glacier Explorer

A lot of people expect a path, but for hours and hours you are simply on your own.

The first main objective is to gain a huge ridge that separates Hidden Lake from “everything else”.

From the top it was obvious that the fire was not going to be an issue for us as it was far away from the route.

The Floral Park Saga 7 - Glacier Explorer

It made for a historically memorable day though. I will always remember that I did Gem Lake on the day of the Avalanche fire.

From the top of the ridge we stared down a chasm that dropped 4000’ feet directly down to Avalanche Lake.

The Floral Park Saga 8 - Glacier Explorer

It made my stomach flip and flop. But, at least there were enormous gusts of wind kicking us back and forth…At least we had that, huh?

The Floral Park Saga 9 - Glacier Explorer

As we looked back on our last views of Hidden Lake you can understand why people linger down there.

The Floral Park Saga 10 - Glacier Explorer

It’s amazing! But it truly is the “beginning”.

The Floral Park Saga 11 - Glacier Explorer

The first time doing Floral Park, you don’t really grasp how much more is beyond this Dragons Tail ridge.

There is countless hours of ridges to drop, bear grass to side hill up and down, bedrock ribs to climb over, scree to battle, streams to cross. It is profound!

The Floral Park Saga 12 - Glacier Explorer

Comeau Pass looks like forever from the top of the ridge.

Then when you finally get to Comeau Pass, there is still 10 miles of trail and 5000 feet of elevation drop before you get to your car that’s parked at Lake McDonald Lodge.

There is one way down from this huge ridge and its a really steep hill of bear grass all the way down to Mary Baker Lake and the rest of the route.

The Floral Park Saga 13 - Glacier Explorer

It is fondly referred to as B#!ch Hill for its obviously enjoyable nature. This is the point of no return.

Once you drop this huge hill, you will never want or hardly be able to turn back.

I think this is one of the biggest issues with the route. There is a total commitment that many novice hikers are not used to.

The Floral Park Saga 14 - Glacier Explorer

At the bottom is lovely little Mary Baker Lake.

We quickly pulled water, shoved Gatorade and food in our faces. We had accomplished something here but there is SO much more.

The Floral Park Saga 15 - Glacier Explorer

The next step is side hilling up more bear grass and scree towards the Sperry Glacier Basin.

The Floral Park Saga 16 - Glacier Explorer

The fire burnt on the side of Mt. Brown and from our timely perch we had a great view.

The Floral Park Saga 17 - Glacier Explorer

Helicopters were flying around and surveying the situation.

The Floral Park Saga 18 - Glacier Explorer

At the top of the slope we started hitting snow and rock. We could see our entire route from the top of the ridge down that ill named hill and back up the latest slope of vegetation.

The Floral Park Saga 19 - Glacier Explorer

This is where the real payoff begins.

All those moments when you feel like you are not giving the route the time it deserves.

You have stored up all your borrowed time so you can spend it in this paradise of half moonscape/half heaven.

A route this long forces you to keep moving.

The Floral Park Saga 20 - Glacier Explorer

It’s ironic though, you want to constantly linger and take pictures.

You are in the depths of one of the longest hardest days you have ever undertaken, but you are simultaneously having your mind blown.

The Floral Park Saga 21 - Glacier Explorer

We could hardly even take time for a legitimate lunch, but we did so at an amazing little melt pond of glacier water shortly after having gained the glacier basin.

The Floral Park Saga 22 - Glacier Explorer

Pat and I have entertained making a website called “where I ate lunch today”. This would be a good entry.

But, we absolutely HAD TO KEEP MOVING.

The sun has only so long to light our way and we had to get out of the Glacier Basin and back to normal trail before it stopped.

The Floral Park Saga 23 - Glacier Explorer

As Robert Frost said,

The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

The Floral Park Saga 24 - Glacier Explorer

To Be Continued…

Tune in next week….

Same lake jumping time….

Same lake jumping channel….

For the startling conclusion of…

Bear grass meets Bedrock! The Floral Park Saga!!

Update: Part 2 is available here