June 12, 2020
The Tower of Babel has been on my climbing radar for a few years. Since it is located in the heart of Lake Louise, it’s almost impossible to access due to the high number of tourists. However, one of the upsides of the 2020 pandemic is … no international tourists.
I also figured out a great way to get the mountain all to myself. As the Moraine Lake Road is closed every spring, we parked at the closure gates and biked in to Moraine Lake. From there, we parked the bikes and climbed up the Tower of Babel. The gully to access the Tower is narrow, and the likelihood of getting rocks kicked down on you (or you kicking them down on someone else) is quite high. Being first up helps, but being by yourself up and down is pure bliss.
As the Tower of Babel is not very far or very high, doing it on it’s own is not overly rewarding for the amount of driving needed to reach it. So adding in the biking helped make it a full day.
For bikes, you can use whatever you have in your garage. Be sure you are comfortable riding with your hiking backpack.
For the scramble, I recommend the usual hiking boots, backpack kit, and poles. As this is a scramble with a tight overhead environment, I highly recommend a climbing helmet. You will also need gators for the scree run back down.
Bike to Moraine Lake. When facing the lake, go left to take the Consolation Lakes trail. As you approach the base of the Tower of Babel, look for a trail on your right leading up the gully to the right of the Tower. Follow the trail up, and then continue climbing until you reach the top of the gully. From there, turn left and hike the final approach to the summit.
Park at the entrance to the Moraine Lake Road, just off the road to Lake Louise. There is a small parking lot, and an outhouse. Bike the 11 KM to Moraine Lake. This road is uphill all the way, until you hit the high point at around 9.5 km. From here, it is a long coast down to the lake.
We started out dry, but then a low cloud came in and misted us with rain for the majority of the ride. It looked like a real weather system had moved in and we were going to be wet all day. Thankfully, it didn’t last.
Once we reached Moraine Lake, we stashed our bikes. There are fences everywhere to lean and lock up your bikes. As we were the only ones there, and it was raining pretty hard, we put the bikes in the shelter. Had we known the rain was going to stop so soon, we would have parked them elsewhere.
When you are looking at Moraine Lake, go left to pick up the main trail to Rockpile and further on, Consolation Lakes.
Stay on this well used trail. It goes past a small wooden bridge and the Rock Pile trail on your right. This section is mainly flat at it traverses across.
As you approach the Tower of Babel, keep an eye out for an obvious trail on the right. This will lead you up the rubble towards the gully.
There are two gullies as you approach the Tower. According to Alan Kane in his Scrambles in the Canadian Rockies guide book, take the one closest to the Tower.
The lower approach is a faint trail on either side of the gully. Sometimes the right side is easier, and sometimes it’s the left side. We went back and forth depending on how stable it was. The middle is for scree skiing down on the descent.
As we gained elevation and climbed up to the rock wall on our right, it was time to commit to the right side for the duration of the ascent. The rock wall provides hand holds, and there is less scree, which makes travel a bit easier.
As we neared the top of the gully, it narrows considerably. This is nice, as the scree is all but gone, and the scrambling is fun. You know you are near the top when you can see the larch trees above.
Once at the top of the gully, you are immediately rewarded with panoramic views of mountain vistas, including the true Mount Babel, glaciers, and two tarns in the valley below.
Once you’ve closed your mouth and wiped the drool off your chin, turn left to hike the remaining distance to the summit of the Tower. It is an enjoyable hike along the ridge, and then a short scrambling section to get you over the final hump to the top.
The summit of the Tower of Babel is a real surprise. It is a completely flat plateau that stretches for several acres.
As it’s a short trip up, people have made the most of their summit lounging by building … lounge chairs! There are a couple of love seats, and other occasional seating. There is also a small forest of cairns, plus one giant one.
The views from the summit are amazing. You have an almost uninterrupted view of the Valley of the Ten Peaks. This includes a good portion of Sentinel Pass, and the south side of Mount Temple.
Temple was putting on a very impressive show all day. The first avalanche went off around 9:00 am, with a resounding boom. By 11:00 am, as the sun was heating up it’s south face, the boomers were sounding one after another as snow poured down all the chutes and gullies. It sounded like a low flying jet was overhead, which goes to show the power and force behind an avalanche.
As time was not an issue, we played around in the snow for a bit. Mike and Kayla have a long-standing snow fight that can resume at any time. He started this one by flipping Kayla over into the snow. She retaliated by shoving snow up his nose. I think it was a draw.
Tower of Babel Return
Return the same route you came up. This requires some down climbing. Those with climbing experience will find this no problem, but others may get freaked out. If in doubt, always turn around and face into the rock.
Once you get below the scrambling section, it’s now time to move to the middle of the gully for the scree slide back down. If you’ve never run down scree, then you are in for a real treat. The key is to dig in with your heels, toes up to the sky. Let the rocks ‘run’ under your feet and carry you down several meters for each step. Don’t fight the movement, but instead go with it. Watch out for large stones that are stationery. These don’t move and you have to go around them.
Once back on the flat trail at the bottom, turn left to return to Moraine Lake.
We decided to add on the Rock Pile trail. This is an interpretive trail that loops around the moraine at the base of the lake (hence the name “moraine” lake).
I remember visiting this exact trail back in 1990 or 1991. That was when the Valley of the Ten Peaks was on the $20 bill. I was SO excited to see that view again, that I had to share it with my daughters, almost 30 years later.
It was here that we finally saw other people. I was impressed that so many people had made the bike trip down to the lake. Most stopped at the lake shore, and a few came up the Rock Pile trail.
We made our way back to Moraine Lake, and picked up our bikes. The cycle from the lake to the high point is about 2 km of constant uphill. While it looks like a heinous slog, the road is actually very well graded and it was easier going up this hill than some of the steeper climbs coming in. Once at the top, we raced back down the other side to the car. We easily got up to speeds of 50 km/hr.
By this time (mid afternoon), the road was crawling with cyclists biking in. Unfortunately, many were walking their bikes up the hills. While not far, this is still a mountain road and you should be in somewhat good shape. There are no facilities or help once you leave the main highway.
Totals – Tracked on Strava
Cycling Moraine Lake Road
Date: June 12, 2020
Group: Four (Alisen, Mike, Kayla and Mackenzie)
Distance: 24.69 km
Elevation: 363 m (1,198′)
Time: 1 hour 30 minutes
Tower of Babel (includes the Rock Pile Trail on return)
Date: June 12, 2020
Group: Four (Alisen, Mike, Kayla and Mackenzie)
Distance: 4.73 km
Elevation: 480 m (1,584′)
Time: 3 hours