The Watch Tower will always hold an exceptional memory for me as being the site of the longest leader fall I have ever taken to date (July 29, 2006) as well as ever expect to survive, 140’+/-. Watch Tower is located in the Cataract Brook Valley that leads to the famed Lake O’Hara in Yoho National Park, one of four connecting national parks making up the central Canadian Rockies. It is a tower-shaped spire that is technically an extension of the north ridge of Mount Collier. The Watch Tower was first ascended in 1932 by Corry, Gilman and Whitney, but the classic alpine route climbed today, West Face, Alpine II, 5.7, was not put in until 1962 by Greenwood and Boles. This Watch Tower should not be confused with a peak of the same name in the Maligne River Valley of Jasper National Park. The Watch Tower is a striking feature that is hard to miss if you are skiing or hiking the Lake O’Hara road (east of).
The only published route on the Watch Tower is the West Face, Alpine II, 5.7 found in the Selected Alpine Climbs of the Canadian Rockies. Like many of the obscure routes highlighted in this guidebook, the 5.7 rating appears to be an older rating on the Watch Tower and the climbing on Pitch 2 is more at the 5.8 sustained level. I found the route quite dirty and with no fixed protection. It is quite possible I was off route and thus I will revisit the tower in the near future to explore this further. Meanwhile I will make note of this observation in the route section. The approach up Watch Tower Creek is the same initial approach for the north face route on Mount Victoria.
Getting ThereThe Trans-Canada Highway runs from Calgary through Banff and Yoho National Parks on its way to Vancouver. Pass through Lake Louise heading westbound and continue on the Trans-Canada on its way to Field, BC. As you pass the Yoho National Park welcoming sign and Mount Bosworth on your right, look for the Lake O’Hara parking lot turnoff on your left. Drive across the railroad tracks and park at the bottom of the road. You cannot bike the Lake O’Hara road and the Cataract Brook Trail has been decommissioned. The dusty road going in is somewhat of a hazard to hikers as the park staff who drive the road do so at twice the speed limit and they don’t expect to see anyone on foot since most everyone is using the bus service to reach Lake O’Hara itself.
Red TapeYou will be required to purchase a national park pass as you enter Banff National Park coming from the east on the Trans-Canada. This pass is good for all four national parks. If you plan many visits to Canadian National Parks within one year, you should purchase an annual pass. There are no permit requirements to climb in Yoho National Park, but all camping is regulated. There is also a backcountry permit required if you plan on spending a night in the backcountry versus the town campsites. This can be obtained via the parks website which is included in the camping section below. Yoho National Park headquarters are located in Field, BC and you will drive through the manned national park kiosks as you enter Banff National Park on the Trans-Canada.
This is active grizzly country, therefore, you should always have bear spray on your person. I advise checking with Parks Canada for any area and/or trail closures.
When to ClimbAs with most climbs in the Canadian Rockies, the driest time is from June through September. I climbed the Watch Tower in July and found the route completely free of snow despite the fact you almost reach the tongue of the west Mount Collier glacier.
CampingThe closest camp site would be the Lake O’Hara campground at the end of the Lake O’Hara road another 6km south. The Alpine Club of Canada also maintains the Elizabeth Parker Hut at the same location. In addition there is luxury accommodation at the Lake O’Hara Lodge. The Watch Tower is a fairly obscure climb and any climbers that do tackle it usually just make it a day trip wherefore camping is simply not an issue.
You can go on line at Yoho National Park to pick a camp site and obtain your camping permit. You will also be required to obtain your backcountry permit which is separate, but can be obtained simultaneously if you plan on camping at a backcountry site. You cannot camp outside of the marked specific camping areas.