For the past decade, Marc Ankenbauer has splashed in exactly 168 named lakes in Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park, sometimes spending days hiking across rugged country just to go swimming in their frigid waters.
On Sept. 8, a close set of Ankenbauer’s friends, family members and a moose joined him for a dip in Fishercap Lake, marking the completion of his decade-long quest to jump in every named lake in Glacier and Waterton Lakes National Parks.
To the uninitiated, it might seem like a strange pursuit, but Ankenbauer has been plunging for a purpose.
Since beginning his project, Ankenbauer, who survived a brief bout with cancer as a teenager, has been raising money for the charity Camp Mak-A-Dream, an organization that provides cost-free Montana wilderness experiences for children and young adults with cancer.
He launched a website, glacierexplorer.com, and created an online donation program, setting an arbitrary goal of raising $5,000. When he surpassed that goal last spring, he raised the bar to $10,000 and, as of his final jump, had raised nearly $7,400.
An ambitious project – Ankenbauer is the first known person to jump in all of the lakes of Glacier and Waterton Lakes National Parks – he said it was a welcome incentive to explore the parks’ 1.2 million acres, even though it often entailed long, arduous bushwhacks.
“For me it all began as an effort to explore Glacier National Park with as much depth as I could,” he said.
He said half of the lakes require off-trail travel, and one remote lake, Lily Lake, required a 16-hour bushwhack. Others were occupied by grizzly bears, and once, after hiking 10 miles to Aurice Lake, a sow grizzly and her cubs forced Ankenbauer and a friend to turn around.
Sharing the experiences with friends has been the most gratifying part of the project. One friend, Anna, accompanied Ankenbauer on his first jump, and was there to enjoy the last dip, too.
Ankenbauer chose Fishercap as his finale because of its proximity to Swiftcurrent Motor Inn in the Many Glacier area, so that his mom and friends could attend the ceremony.
Their support has been critical, he said.
“It almost happened poetically. My entire time knowing most of these people that went with me have been through the eyes of this project,” he said. “It’s very bittersweet. This has defined what I do and for the last 10 years. I’m certainly excited to be able to choose my hikes based on want versus necessity. But it’s bittersweet.”
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