The Tower of Babel was named such by Walter Wilcox as it reminded him of the biblical rendition that reached into the heavens. In reality, this is not such a massive feature by Canadian Rocky standards. This quartzite tower is however much better known than the mountain named after it, Mount Babel, which is directly behind (south) the tower. The Tower’s easy access via Moraine Lake Road makes it a common objective for both technical climbers and scramblers. The scramble route is straightforward and three rock routes on the north side of the tower are no more than seven pitches in length and are around old alpine grade 5.7. (McKay Route, Greenwood Route and Fuhrmann Route). The scramble can obviously be used for descent of these north face routes. The East Face route of Mount Babel itself is a much more viable challenge, rated at Alpine IV 5.10 A1 or a strenuous free climb at 5.11 and should not be confused with the routes on the Tower of Babel.
The McKay route is becoming some sort of a classic trad experience for the aspiring trad climber and for good reasons: the ease of approach; less committing nature of the climb compared to most Banff National Park multi pitch trad climbs; the quality of the rock, although shattered, at least it is shattered quartzite versus shattered and chossy limestone; walk off descent. The last pitch is by far the best pitch and perhaps one of the best old alpine 5.7 pitches in the Canadian Rockies. It was raining on me when I led it so I did not savor it as much as some of my friends seem to have, but I concur it was a fun full ropes' length worth of climbing. Although the local guides seemed to have retrofitted the hell out of the old 5.7R pitch below, they left this last pitch alone for the most part. Outside of these two steep 5.7 pitches, the rest of the route is quite mellow and thus we soloed quite a bit of it.
The Tower of Babel is located over Moraine Lake, which is part of the Lake Louise portion of Banff National Park, one of four connecting national parks in the heart of the Canadian Rockies. The approach trail (Consolation Lake Trail) to the Tower of Babel is a commonly used trail among the tourists who are delivered en masse by bus to the Lake Moraine Lodge. This is a 1500'+/- ascent day.
Take the Consolation Lake Trail from the Moraine Lake parking lot (near the washrooms by Moraine Lake's outlet). This trail many times has a bear restriction of four to six people minimum. Follow this trail for approximately 1 km. Tower of Babel will clearly come into view on your right side. Hike up the large scree talus to the northwest corner by the large gully on the tower’s west side. Find a faint trail that leads over a narrow ledge below the north face until it peters out below several overhangs above.
Route Description1100’+/-, 7 Pitches, 5.7
1st Pitch- 35m- 5.6/ Locate a crack to the left of the overhangs. Make a fun move to mantel into the crack and follow it up to a ledge. Move right on a narrow ledge to a left facing corner. Follow this corner up to a broad ledge. Move back left and belay off of gear. There are several pitons on this pitch, but it takes all the gear you want to place as well.
2nd Pitch- 35m- 5.7/ Climb up and left over ledges to a crack in the left wall. Mantel up to a short wall with several nice cracks. Take the right crack up to the fixed belay/rappel (2010). These last few meters are solid climbing and rock for the grade.
3rd Pitch- 55m- 5.7+/ This pitch was written up as run out, R, and a “serious” pitch at Will’s website. However, it has been retrofitted with quite a few protection bolts as of 2010. Climb up and right through loose blocky ground following a series of bolts up this tall steep section. Stay right of the corner at all times until it tops out, then move left to easier terrain and work up and back right to an alcove gear belay of sorts.
4th Pitch- 20m- 5th/ Simul climb up to a large walk about ledge and locate a fixed belay next to a small tree below solid blocky terrain up and slightly right of the deep corner/obvious chimney.
5th Pitch- 50m- 5.6/ I soloed this pleasant solid section. Just climb the breaks straight up from the belay to another fixed belay/rappel (2010).
6th Pitch- 25m- 5.5/ Climb up and slightly right, then angle back left to finish to the left of a small roof. Before the tree is a fixed rappel/belay on your right at shoulder height.
90m- 5th/ We put our ropes away for this section. Follow a faint trail up and left. Start ascending short 4th/5th class sections back right as you keep finding ledges. Once you reach a neat looking trough type ledge below the steep headwall, move to its left end and set up a gear belay beneath a corner/crack.
7th Pitch- 55m- 5.7/ A fun sustained pitch in neat quartzite rock, making it one of the better 5.7 trad leads in Banff National Park. Start up in the crack to the right of the corner. Pull out right below the roof above. Traverse a narrow ledge to a short left facing squeeze corner. Climb this crack and mantle through to another small ledge. Head for the chimney above via a nice solid crack. Once at the chimney, exit up and left via a mantel of sorts. Belay on top in small block cracks or use the tree. You will find a few pitons on this route, but can pretty much place gear at will in my opinion.
DescentJust continue to the summit which is full of interesting cairns, an entire living room set for example, which have been up there and maintained for years now. Then descend the summit to the south towards Quadra and Bident and turn right at the saddle (with Mount Babel proper) and descend the scree laden gully back to your packs at the front of the wall. The route appears to be retrofitted with rappel stations to retreat anywhere below the final pitch, thus I can only assume this route is now being offered up as a guided route.
External Links100’s of Canmore/Banff multi-pitch rock climbs, ice climbs, alpine climbs and scrambles, just scroll down to routes
Best Eats in Canmore: Rocky Mountain Flatbread Company, all organic fare, not just a pizza place, but a true best of the best mountain local dining experience, great on site owner and customer service with a smile, not easily obtained in Canmore
Best Eats in Banff: The Bison, all organic/free range fare, with a detailed description of their suppliers. Recently expanded (2010), I recommend sticking with the downstairs. Better menu, prices and social ambience. Maybe retire to the bar upstairs for sunset or late night. Bison chili is amazing!
Best Coffee in Canmore: Beamers, the locals favorite, super wholesome lunch stuff, local guys, no attitude on service
Best Climbers Hangout: Summit Café, most likely place to find me or my brethren shooting the bull about beta. Best breakfast place in town, good coffee as well, serve Mennonite meats from Valbella, which is the best place to buy free range products anywhere in the world, right here in Canmore.
Climbing Gear: All way too expensive in the Bow Valley, but if you must, Mountain Magic in Banff is far superior to service and actual knowledge about climbing than the two in Canmore.