The Watchtower of Sequoia National Park has never been included as a true backcountry climb due it's proximity and vague attachment to the Tokapah Valley. But just by glancing over this striking spire, one's imagination goes beyond the normal 'Valley' expectation. Don't be fooled by The Watchtowers location, the two hour approach will be changing your mind quickly. As Greg Vernon put it in the Sequoia/Kings Canyon guide book, "if serenity is gained through exertion, then climbing the Watchtower will deliver you into peace." The Watchtower has a real backcountry feel to it ("thrashing-manzanita and chaparal-on-steep-terrain" type approach, weathered yet good quality granite, route finding etc) and 'she' makes for a real climbers "love/hate" relationship. It's easiest but most enjoyable route is The Timex Route (III+ 5.9). There are variations of this 'timely' free ascent but most of the Watchtower's routes are creative aid routes put up by well known ascentionists: Northeast Arete (Galen Rowell) V 5.8 A3, All Along The Watchtower (John Long) V 5.10 A3. Even though this turret is sweeping and elegant, it hardly sees any traffic. This diamond in the rough deserves more attention. With a little perserverance and bold imagination, the Watchtower will yield a few more gems and provide some memorable epics as well. Check out the Sequoia/Kings Canyon rock guide by Sally Moser,Greg Vernon and David Hickey for topos and further details.
The Tokapah Valley trailhead starts at the back side of the Lodgepole campgrounds (next to the bridge on it's north side) in Sequoia Natl' Park. Follow the trail for 1.5 miles till the trail deadends at Tokapah Falls. Walk down and over the Marble Fork creek to it's south side. Head uphill heading southwest. The Watchtower is another 1/4 mile (some 3rd class terrain and thick brush to it's base). The Timex Route begins just downhill (the right side) of the largest lodgepole pine. Once at the summit, most parties descend by way of the Pear Lake Trail; back to the Lodgepole campground (3.2 miles). Remember, the Watchtower should be treated as a backcountry climb so plan accordingly (especially it's aid routes). Have fun!
When climbing all formations in Sequoia National Park, be sure to let the Backcountry Wilderness office know what your intentions are (day of the ascent, number in the party, what route you intend to climb etc). Bears are a problem in the Lodgepole area so be sure to secure your car and clean it of any food or scented items (ie toothpaste, deodorant, gum, leftover burger wrappers from In-N-Out...yum!). Any overnight or multi-day ascent parties must acquire a wilderness permit through the Wilderness Permit office at the Lodgepole campgrounds.
When To Climb
The best time to climb The Watchtower or any of the Tokapah Valley walls is early June to late October. Some sections of the tower itself weep as the late spring thaw sets in, so use caution. There are some loose sections on the upper reaches of the Watchtower and some ice does form around the northeastern section of the tower. Use of a helmet on all Watchtower routes is highly recommended. In the winter, there may be a few ice climbs that have formed up (WI 3+)...when they are in condition! The rest of the valley walls and formations have a vague and fuzzy history of first ascents. The key point to this area is adventure. This ain't no sporto resort for all you gym rats!
Camping at Lodgepole is recommended since camping at the base of the Watchtower or in the valley is not permitted (day use only). Even cheaper is to camp down the road 7 miles from Lodgepole inside the National Forest boundary. Lodgepole gets pretty choked with tourists during the height of the summer months so be prepared to muscle it out for a spot well in advance. Check out the Lodgepole Logistical Center page for current information.
Sequoia National Park weather conditions can be tuned in once you arrive within the park boundries (530 AM). Since early summer through the early part of fall is prime time to tug on Sierra granite, be aware of thunderstorm activity (usually in the afternoon) and the hazards associated with them. Know when to bail off a route and call it a day. The Watchtower will always be there another day. Check out Sequoia Nat'l Park current weather conditions
""It's easy to grin......when your ship comes in. And you've got the stock market beat. But the man worthwhile, Is the man who can smile, when his shorts aren't too tight in the seat.""
--Judge Smails (Ted Knight)