Cat-Like Climbing

All about the Sphinx.

By the time the first storms hit and the elk begin to bugle, Sphinx Mountain is sporting the first ice of the season. In a good season, there are a multitude of excellent, three-star pitches scattered across the face. You’ll want to troll the forums at for condition reports, as you can’t see the routes until you are practically on them. By mid-October, word spreads across the Pacific Northwest that “the Sphinx is in!”, and a face that may have gone years without an ascent a decade ago, can now see three parties a day despite the four-hour approach for “just” three pitches. 

Drive south of Ennis on Hwy. 287 and turn left at Cameron, onto Bear Creek Rd. Continue to the trailhead. 

From the trailhead, hike to the col between the Sphinx and the Helmet. From the col, walk up the slope to an exposed traverse onto the north face. More information can be found in the Winter Dance guidebook—although ten years old, the information is current, with just one excellent new route (WI/M4+, name unknown) established just right of The Lowe Route

The Routes
Mid-December is typically considered late in the season for these routes, as the approach ledges can get dangerously loaded and cold winds devour the scratchy smears. The Lowe Route (WI 3) forms every year and is excellent even when thin and narrow, rating at M5. Every so often it even boasts a challenging WI 5 freestanding direct start. 

Despite the approach, it’s often worth hauling a bunch of stubbies and a healthy pin rack just in case Unknown, the Earl-Trimble Route (WI 4), or the ephemeral The Riddle (5.9, WI 5) happen to be in. They are some of the most beautiful routes in Montana.

Joe Josephson is the author of Winter Dance and was a longtime organizer of the annual Bozeman Ice Festival.