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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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

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

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Our marmot friends were sunning themselves on a huge rock.

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

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

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

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The layers of rock started looking like candy cane spirals.

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We couldn’t handle how crazy this landscape is!

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

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

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By this time I was double timing it.

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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.

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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.

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

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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

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

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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.

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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.

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

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

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

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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?

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

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

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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

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Helicopters were flying around and surveying the situation.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

The Lake Plan – How I’m going to accomplish being the first person to jump in every named lake in Waterton and Glacier National Parks

Beargrass sunrise - Glacier Explorer
Anything as elaborate as the “Waterton Glacier Lake Jumping Project” has to eventually have logic, logistics and “A Plan”.

Those of you that have spent lots of time in Glacier may be interested in those logistics.  You have looked at some of these lakes from peaks high above and pondered which way I had to go to get there.  Heck, I have relied on your recon to keep me safe and pointed in the right direction through the years.

But, so many of you have more or less no idea where I’m talking about, it’s just a wild, pretty place.  I can imagine it’s tough to really gather how much logistics and how many minute details go into something like this.  Unless you have spent an exceptional amount of time in Glacier National Park, it’s nearly impossible to understand that this is not just a passing, chaotic aquatic weekend endeavor.

So, I figured I would take this week to explain some of my logic.  My plan if you will.

As I write this, I have 12 lakes left out of 168.  132 are in Glacier and 38 are in Waterton National Park, Canada.  Two of them are in both countries, so added together; the number is 168 instead of 170.

Through the earlier portions of the project, I would simply go anywhere that was still on the list.  Since the list at that time was seemingly insurmountable, it was easy to simply go wherever my friends were going.  They all had to be checked off and it was an open slate.

As the years have passed I have sat up late nights, alone and with friends just planning.  Asking some of Glaciers most well experienced explorers their opinions, pouring over maps, photos and climbers guides over beers around a fire.    Planning routes, planning logistics, planning who would be good candidates to accompany me.

Some lakes, you just needed a willing participant.  Others I needed a more skilled climber (which doesn’t take much) to help me through the scary parts.  Sometimes I just needed an open afternoon and the willingness to drive there.


brian, pat, marc pic - - Glacier Explorer

NOTE:  I have always tried to make it known, but again…Thank you to everyone who has helped me get this far.  This project would have never, ever, ever happened without my friends who kept me safe and sane.

Some trips were five lakes in a day, and others were one lake in four very dirty, tiring, crazy days.

There is an immense amount of planning.

The twelve I have left are as follows.

Gem, Bench, Miche Waben, Camas, Evangeline, Ruger, Grace, Lilly, Running Crane, Medicine Owl, Carthew Pond and Fisher Cap.

Twelve arbitrary and very different places in a multinational , million acre+ expanse of mountains, stream crossings, alder bushes, cliffs, devils club, waterfalls, marshes, glacier basins, downed trees and thimble berries, gravel roads, river fords, PBJ’s, blisters, odd suntans and LAKES.  Can’t forget them.

I will not be able to finish this year.  I had high hopes, but life is what it is.  I have other things going on other than jumping in lakes and so do my friends.  So, between weather, weekends, snow melt and accompaniment and LIFE…It’s just not going to happen this year.

So, as of right now, here is the plan as well as it can be explained.

I do not want to finish at the absolute end of the season next year.

GEM and BENCH are two lakes that have to be done this year because they have to be done late season.


gem - Glacier Explorer

It is a tiny pond at the top of Comeau Pass which is in the middle of an expansive off trail route called Floral Park.  The route goes from Logan Pass to Lake McDonald through a high elevation shelf that drains Sperry Glacier.  The route simply does not melt out till late in the season and that is not going to get rid of all snow, just the sketchiest parts.  People have died on this route, mostly based on not understanding the enormity of the challenge in front of them, bad weather and sparse route finding skills.  This must be done late season and with that, I plan on completing it this year.  I did this route five years ago and was not aware that this was a named lake.  It’s just a pond on top of a pass.  Who would have guessed.  I am looking forward to it though, it’s an amazing place. I want to make sure it is known that this is not an advertisement for Floral Park.  It is a huge endeavor that many have taken lightly and been sorely mistaken.  If you do ever try it, Please do your homework, go with a group and know how to use a map.  PLEASE!!  (1 Enormous Day hike, at least 12 hours)


bench - Glacier Explorer

Everything is approachable from more than one way, but there is always the “best way”.  This lake should be accessed by going to Canada and boating back into the US into a roadless area called Goat Haunt.  This is already the middle of nowhere to most people, but from there you must hike about seven miles of trail, then leave trail and cross the Waterton River which would be very big early season.  Goat Haunt is known for its wet, dark forest that has in my humble opinion the heaviest ground cover in the whole park.  You will find yourself climbing thousands of feet up the side of 45 degree angle slopes of 12 foot high alder filled with devils club and every other nasty plant we have.  It is plunked right in the middle of the molar tooth that is Kootenai Peak.  For this and every other reason, I just want this to be dry and clean as possible.  This too must be done this summer. (Two night’s backcountry, one huge day in the middle to get the lake)

*From there it would be nice to get a couple more done just to help make next year not as hectic.


camas - Glacier Explorer

North of Lake McDonald is the Camas Creek drainage and some of the heaviest Griz country in the park.  There are seven fords of Camas creek that you have to do to get to Camas Creek Campground much less beyond it to the upper two lakes.  It needs to be late enough to have some of those steams dry.  If this doesn’t happen this year, then it will have to be later next year.  Note that July is buggy and this being super wet would make it probably pretty rough.  So, it would be an August thing.  August vegetation is at its peak and this area will be thick.  (Two nights at Camas CG and one off trail day to get the upper lakes)


miche - Glacier Explorer

There once was a trail to the lake but that is long gone and overgrown.  In the furthest reaches of the northeast corner of the park is the Belly River.  Miche Waben Lake is the headwaters of virtually never visited North Fork of the Belly River.  It is a pretty low lying forested valley, but very, very tight.  So, again having this dried out would be important.  There is a waterfall that you have to climb around and I would not want that to be too full.  Plus again, July is skeeter season.  You have to ford the Belly River so you couldn’t do it too early anyway.  Three miles in on the Belly River trail is a faint old trail that is cleared periodically.  It would lead you to the North Fork and from there is a full on schwack for a few miles to the lake.  I know a few people to have been there, but not many.  Good Times.   (Two night’s camp, one day big lake push)

*I would be super happy to get either of these last two done this year, but it’s tough.  Weather has to hold and need someone to go with me.  I don’t do this stuff alone and people do have lives.  If not, then August of next year.


grace - Glacier Explorer

Fourteen mile flat as a board backpacking trip in a remote portion of the northwest corner of the park.  The road to the trailhead is often washed out early season.  It is low elevation, so it would be a great early season or late season trip.  Once you are up there, I have always heard its an amazingly wild, beautiful area.  I want to spend a day exploring the area or I would have pondered a great big 28 mile day hike.  Three day weekends are tough to come by and it is imperative to dedicate them to the off trail hikes that you need a base camp for.  So, that is why I view it as super early or super late season.  When the snow is still in the high country or the snow has started to fly again, this would be a perfect trip.  This is the last on-trail trip I have left in the states.  (Three days, two nights)


lilly - Glacier Explorer

I didn’t even know this was a named lake for a long time.  It is not named on the map and you would never even think of it as being a destination.  But, in years gone by there used to be about 300 miles of trails that have been let to grow over in the last few decades.  This lake used to be accessed by one of those trails.  North of Dutch Creek and south of Logging Creek is Adair Ridge.  Tucked into the forested folds of that ridge is a bean shaped lake that I am not looking forward to going to.  It is going to have to be late enough that the snow is gone.  Then the water is running and with all the little folds of forested ridges it will probably be pretty rough going.  I will need a GPS coordinate to even find it because it’s not obvious like the lakes tucked at the base of a mountainous cirque.  The tough thing about this kind of lake is that July will be wicked buggy and by August I would imagine it’s pretty nasty.  The water will have started to evaporate enough that it’s more of a mucky impoundment of water.  I would love to be wrong, but I don’t think I am.  So, I’m hoping to hit this next year around early June.  (Either one huge day or base camp at Logging Lake Ft Campground and spend a day getting to the lake and back to camp)


med owl - Glacier Explorer

This thing is tucked in the upper portions of the Red Eagle Valley surrounded by mountains.  My best guess is a saddle in the upper valley that you can climb up and over.   It melts out early enough that I’m hoping to hit this in July but I could be wrong and you never know what the winter snow pack is going to be like.  The valley it is in burnt in 2003, but the ground vegetation has rebounded with a passion.  So, I think that saddle is my best bet.  (Three nights with one day in the middle for the lake)


running crane - Glacier Explorer

This thing is tucked in the most remote, inaccessible little pocket on the eastern front.  Between Two Medicine and Cutback is the Lake Creek drainage that flows out into the plains.  The far upper reaches of this valley is Lonely Lakes and Running Crane.  I once saw Running Crane when I did Lonely Lakes, but we did not have enough daylight to get to them.  I am planning to climb Mad Wolf Mountain and walk the ridge toward Eagle Plume Peak, then drop off that ridge.  From there maybe return the same way or try and push out to Two Medicine through a variety of random options.  Either way, I need lots of day light.  Early season you have too much snow, but its light till 10pm.  Late season its clear and melted out but you have started to lose hours of daylight.  So, I think this is a late July or early August thing as long as there is not huge amounts of snow still.  Should be an exciting one.  (One very huge day hike)


carthew - Glacier Explorer

I’m guessing this is an impoundment of water below the lower Carthew Lake in Waterton National Park.  Along the popular Carthew-Alderson day hike in Waterton National Park there are two Carthew Lakes…I must have missed this thing.  When I did this hike, I had not gotten the list of lakes from Canada yet and just did the obvious ones on the map.  I am saving this for any one of a select group of friends who love a good day hike but won’t be able to make it on one of these other more extensive trips.  It is the last lake I have in Waterton National Park.


fishercap - Glacier Explorer

This is an idyllic little shallow pond just five minutes up trail from the Swiftcurrent Motor Inn Parking Lot in Many Glacier Valley.  Its border line silly, but this is going to be my last lake.  I am glad that I had the foresight to save an easy one.  I would have probably saved St. Mary or something a bit more logical, but Fishercap is beautiful and easily accessible.  That was what I had left to pick from when it dawned on me that I want my loved ones to be with me when I finish this.  I did not want to be in the absolute middle of nowhere, with one person when this finished itself up.  So, as funny as it seems.  Sometime in mid-August of next year, if all good things come together…I will plop into Fishercap Lake.  I’ll be surrounded by majesty, my loved ones and possibly a moose, five minutes from a parking lot.

That’s the story.  Thanks for listening.  Hope this stuff makes a bit more sense now.

I try to respond to all comments, so feel free to share what’s on your mind about my project. And please use the share buttons. Tell a friend!

All the Best!
To Life,

p824001 - Glacier Explorer