Tower of Babel – A Bike & Hike Adventure

June 12, 2020

The Tower of Babel has been on my climbing radar for a few years, but as it’s 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.

Gear

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.

Overview

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.

Trail Head

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.

Babel 1

This is the start of Moraine Lake Road. There is an outhouse, and room on either side to park. The first part of the cycle is all in the trees.

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.

Babel 2

Directly behind Mike is the Tower of Babel, with Mount Babel looming above it. We were definitely wet with this rain, but thank goodness we kept going because it cleared up into a hot day.

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.

Babel 3

This is your first view of Moraine Lake. Wow! Even in the rain it is spectacular.

When you are looking at Moraine Lake, go left to pick up the main trail to Rockpile and further on, Consolation Lakes.

Babel 4

This is main trail to the left of Moraine Lake. It gets smaller the further you go. Most people stop at Rockpile.

Babel 5

I love the old signs. I don’t know who made them, but the font and colours are just perfect.

Main Trail

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.

Babel 7

The trail is still well-used, but way less so than before the Rock Pile.

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.

Babel 9

The Tower of Babel is the sheer face on the left. There is a gully directly beside that face. This is the route we took. Above Mike on the right is the other gully option. It is more open, but we could see it had snow to the top. These two gullies connect at the top of the summit ridge.

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.

Babel 10

The trail gets steeper and less defined, until it disappears and you have to do your own route finding. This isn’t too hard – just stay right up against the right wall. Below you can see Moraine Lake Lodge, the Rock Pile, and the trail leading to the base of the Tower.

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.

Babel 11

Looking up at the start of the gully. Despite the photo, this is not a gentle slope.

Babel 12

Going up beside the right wall is easier than churning up the scree in the middle.

Babel 13

Kayla puts her pole away so she can use both hands to scramble up. It’s near vertical in places, but usually with step-like features.

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.

Babel 15

The rock changes colour near the top, and narrows considerably.

Babel 14

Be sure to turn around every now and again. Mount Temple is offset by the sheer wall of the Tower of Babel. Below in the valley is the Moraine Lake Road. We had that bike ascent to look forward to.

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.

Babel 16

Mount Babel is on the right, and Panorama Ridge is on the left.

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.

Babel 17

This is such an enjoyable little interlude between the gully and the summit. I could have hiked a ridge like this all day. If you went up the far gully, this trail continues back the other way to connect with it.

The summit of the Tower of Babel is a real surprise. It is a completely flat plateau that stretches for several acres.

Babel 19

I was surprised at the completely flat summit. I would like to get a geologist’s take on how this tower was formed.

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.

Babel 18

The flat plateau of the Tower of Babel. Several pieces of furniture have been made by the hundreds of people who come up every year.

Babel 20

This cairn is almost as tall as me, and I’m 5’7″.

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 shoots and gullies. It sounded like a low flying jet was overhead, which goes to show the power and force behind an avalanche.

Babel 21

My daughters taking in the view of Moraine Lake. Above to the right is Sentinel Pass (treed area). The lake is fairly low right now, but still a shockingly bright blue.

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.

Babel 22

The plateau steps down to a lower shelf. I love this rock – so much more sturdier than limestone.

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.

Babel 23

Kayla showing us how it’s done.

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).

Babel 24

Follow these steps to gain the Rock Pile Trail. This ‘rock pile’ is actually the remains of an ancient terminal moraine that hems in Moraine Lake. Moraines are piles of rock that are ground up and pushed down the mountain by a glacier as it grows during an ice age. When the glacier melts and retreats, the pile of rocks is left behind. A terminal moraine is at the end of the glacier, and on the sides of the glacier are the lateral moraines.

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.

Babel 25

The Valley of the Ten Peaks is the reason people flock to Moraine Lake, and everyone tries to take this literal ‘Money Shot’. This is the exact view from the old $20.00 bill. How I loved that money. I wish I had kept one.

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.

 

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Alisen

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

Map - Bike

The Moraine Lake Road goes around two faces of Mount Temple, with great views of the mountains in the Valley of Ten Peaks. Even if you don’t want to climb, it’s well worth a bike trip to this area in the spring instead of fighting the crowds in the summer.

Profile - Bike

The majority of the elevation gain is at the start of the bike. The return elevation gain (around KM 13) is actually pretty gentle compared to the steep climb at the start.

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

Map - Tower

The trail starts right at Moraine Lake. The Tower of Babel is the closest mountain in the area, and is by far the easiest. This accounts for it’s popularity. I am so thankful to have the opportunity to climb this mountain all by ourselves.

Profile - Tower

Unfortunately, the GPS signal in the gully was pretty poor. I am surprised we were able to get any tracks. There is NOT a vertical “drop of doom” half way up the mountain. That this drop should show on both the ascent and descent is interesting.

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Posted in Adventures, Cycling, Scrambling
5 comments on “Tower of Babel – A Bike & Hike Adventure
  1. This was one of my favourite hikes! I loved scree skiing on the way down. Have you hiked Mt. Yamuska?

    • alisendopf says:

      Yes! Yam is fantastic. Funnily enough, I just took a group of women up there yesterday. They learned the trick of scree skiing and they all did great. My father-in-law was the first person to put up a climbing route on the face in the 1950s – Calgary Route – with his childhood friend Hans Gmoser.

      What are your other favourite mountains or hikes?

      • Oh that is amazing! What a cool little piece of history. Cirque peak has been my absolute favourite, as well as Tent Ridge. I don’t live in the area anymore though sadly so now I need to try and plan some trips out there whenever it is safe to do so.

      • alisendopf says:

        You have excellent taste in mountains. Tent Ridge is gorgeous. I’ve only skied Cirque in the winter. It’s an amazing area.

        I hope you get to come back here soon. Happy trails!

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