Type: Trad, Alpine, 1000 ft (303 m), 10 pitches
FA: Vitaliy Musiyenko, Brian Prince 8/2019
Page Views: 6,878 total · 174/month
Shared By: Brian Prince on Sep 5, 2019
Admins: Mike Morley, Adam Stackhouse, Justin Johnsen, Vicki Schwantes, Salamanizer Ski

You & This Route

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Access Issue: Always check SEKI road conditions and peregrine closures Details


This is a super fun free route up the magnificent prow of the Watchtower, a long time in the making. It’s the culmination of routes and attempts by a long list of legendary climbers (of which I am surely not). Richard Leversee, with his infinite vision, spearheaded the dream of putting a free route up this one-and-only prow. In the early 90's, he and Jay Smith (the Jay Smith) started up Galen Rowell’s 1970 Northeast Arete, the first route on the formation. Wanting to stick to the true prow, they ditched the Rowell route when it ventured off to the left side. In new terrain and going ground up (of course), they were eventually shut down by thin and unprotectable seams. yikees

A few years later, Leversee and Jim Zellers (first snowboard descent of Half Dome) returned with the most legit rope gun imaginable, Scott Cosgrove. This time they stuck to the Rowell route but became uninspired when it did indeed venture off the prow and into some mediocre rock, and they didn't bother to free a couple moves of aid (still an impressive feat).

Vitaliy and I had admired the line from many vantages before but never felt worthy to go for it. Thankfully, the prow never left Richard's dreams and a few years ago encouraged us to check it out. The route we pieced together starts up the Rowell route but leaves it, as Leversee and Smith had, after a couple pitches. We then managed to find completely new terrain that sticks to the prow with relatively easy but great climbing. If any of the Leversee teams had picked the system we ended up on, this line would have been freed long ago and with far fewer bolts. Higher, it briefly meets up with “All Along the Watchtower,” the aid line put up by none other than John Long and Richard Harrison, in a spot where they bailed on the idea of climbing the “Shield” like splitter (see long’s comment on the Watchtower page). All Along the Watchtower quickly joins the Rowell route but we found more great free terrain through the upper summit block to create a bottom-to-top free route up this prow. And there you have it, Big Time. Nothing groundbreaking but good fun the whole way


All belays are bolted. Well protected throughout with a good amount of bolts protecting cruxy/face sections. 70/30 crack/face. Pretty friendly and maybe fluffy climbing overall

Sun - In the summer, the route is in full sun and can be hot until about noon or so. A latish start is fine. It hardly receives any sun as fall moves in. Though a breeze can make things chilly and t-storms are always possible. Basically, alpine environment up there.

P0 - 4th - Head up the main gully on the left side of the Watchtower a ways and then cut right on some bushy ledges to gain a stance that has a bolt anchor.

P1 - 5.8 - Head straight up some corners and dirty ledges with a few bolts to guide the way/keep it safe. Worst pitch on the route, but you will shortly forget about it. Belay on top of a flake or keep going

P2 - 5.10b - Go slightly down and back left, clip a bolt, then make a crack switch. Head over a small roof with a hand crack and then party up some great finger cracks. Belay on nice ledge. Highly recommended to link P1 and 2 (65m link)

P3 - 5.11a - “not on my watch” - Take either the layback flake straight up, or jam a finger crack out left. They eventually merge and thin (crux). Then some cool varied terrain takes you to a stance, clip a bolt out right and make a wild traverse up to the “judgment day flakes.” Use caution. Traverse past some bolts to a hanging belay.

P4 - 5.10c - An awkward move off the belay leads into steep and sweet hands. With long legs you can stem some too for kicks. Using a crack on the left to protect, you can ration your hand size gear. Jam away through a roof and up to a great ledge.

P5 - 5.11a - You may notice some bolts up and right, these are from the Leversee/Smith attempt. Instead, head up and left on ledgy terrain. You can either layback the obvious, right-facing, curving crack or face climb to the left. At the top of the flake, make a balncey traverse out right, bolt protected. Head up a cool juggy flake until arriving at a finale of bolt protected liebakcing. End at a nice stance. Need a single rack at most.

P6 - 5.12a - Pull a tricky move off the belay and eventually traverse left into the obvious right facing corner. Head up this until it turns into a roof and you can undercling out right. A few more tough moves leads to a hanging belay. Mostly bolts but bring a couple cams from .3-1

P7 - 5.11d - Launch up the sweet and exposed crack/seam all the way until it dead-ends, clip a bolt, and make a tough crack switch to the left. 5.10 terrain takes you to an anchor. Lots of gear up to #1 and a couple bolts. Highly recommended/obvious to link with the next one.

P8 - 5.10a - Keep heading up the finger cracks to a great ledge. Short pitch.

P9 - 5.11d - the “thousand yard stare” - Go straight right onto the slab and blast off into tokopah valley. 4 bolts lead to a crack system. This will then steepen and curve and become an overhanging rail. Traverse left past 3 bolts and perform a burly mantle. A short finger crack will end at an amazing ledge. Mostly bolts and a couple finger-hand size

P10 - 5.11b - Head up the left side of the giant flake. At its top say thank god you don’t have to climb the overhanging ow above and instead clip a bolt out left. Traverse under the roof until you get to a finger crack. Crank over this to a stance and then pull another, this time hand-sized, roof. Two bolts then lead up and left into a splitter finger-sized corner. Pull a roof at its end and some easier terrain leads to the top. Runner this pitch well or break it up.


The route can be rapped with one 70m rope. EXCEPT P10. This rap is 40m!! You can do a 35m rap to a ledge, build an anchor, and then donwnclimb (belayed) to the top of P9. Or simply bring an 80m/two ropes/fix one. Some of the other raps are very close and each anchor must be used. This includes a traversing rap from the top of P9 to top of P8. 

With this in mind there are 3 options for an approach/descent combo:

1 - Park at Wolverton and take the Pear Lake trail to the summit. 1.5 hours at casual pace. Rap in and climb out. The top rap station is just over the lip of the very summit. Hop down to a lower ledge to access. Hang your bags on the anchor so they're out of sight, as hikers do wander over here. First rap goes down the huge chimney. This is the most convenient option

2 - Park at Lodgepole and take the Tokopah Falls trail for ~1.5 miles or so, cross the river, then head up to the base. Climb up and Rap back down.

3 - Hike to the base but then walk off. Like described on main watchtower page. This doesn't lead back to the base of the route and requires an extra mile hike on a linker trail from Wolverton to Lodgepole at the end of the day. Or getting down early enough to catch the free NPS shuttle. "Trad" option


doubles from purple metolious to #2, one #3 optional.