I came, I saw . . .
I’ve been trying to take advantage of our great summer weather by climbing at least “a peak a week” – Mount Haggin, Table Mountain, Blackmore, and Baldy in the Big Belts were all enjoyable hikes that I’ve done with friends so far this summer. However, I interrupted my routine last week to join my daughter (Amy) on the Pacific Crest Trail in Washington. Amy is doing the entire 2,660-mile trail, and my plan was to tag along for a 144-mile section. But after one day of hiking with her (15 miles), it was obvious that I wouldn’t be able to keep up – Carrying a 35-lb. pack takes much of the fun out of hiking! Amy had already logged hundreds of miles, so she was in VERY good shape. As my sister put it, “I came, I saw . . . I went back home”. It was a humbling experience, but it was also great to see her doing so well, and enjoying the adventure of a lifetime. After I recovered from the trip I needed something to get my “mojo” back, so I set my sights on Sphinx Mountain, an iconic peak in the Madison Range southwest of Bozeman. (Photo Tour)

panoSphinxView of Sphinx Mountain from a scenic turn-out along the highway between Ennis and Virginia City.

Saddle up for the gully!
This was the second time that I climbed Sphinx Mountain (10,876 ft.) – The first was in 2013 with a couple friends. This time I was also by joined by two friends (Kacey and Jerry), first-timers who both had the Sphinx near the top of their lists. We left Helena at 6 am and made the beautiful 130-mile drive to the trailhead at the Forest Service Station on Bear Creek, 19 miles south of Ennis. The challenging hike (12.6 miles round-trip with over 4,500 ft. of gain) follows the creek for the first 4 miles, before switch-backing out of the forest to a scenic saddle between “The Helmet” and Sphinx Mountain. From the saddle, we followed a trail to the bottom of the half-mile long “gully” to start the most challenging part of the hike. A climber’s trail zig-zags up through the gully before opening up to the much more reasonably-sloped final half-mile to the summit ridge. The gully is not fun, but it’s worth the trouble.

I’d forgotten how much fun this hike is. We walked through beautiful meadows with abundant wildflowers in the saddle area (before the gully), and enjoyed great views of distant ranges from the summit. But, the most interesting sight during the hike might be the view of the saddle and Helmet from above. The geology is pretty extraordinary too – The entire Sphinx is made of thick layers of “conglomerate”, a fairly uncommon sedimentary rock that consists of gravel embedded in a matrix of reddish sandstone. To top things off we spent about 45 minutes on the summit ridge, looking around and watching several goats on the slope below us, before starting down. The hike took us 8 hours.

“Remain Untamed” – Pretty sweet slogan.
Instead of driving back past Three Forks, we drove over to Sheridan, Montana (pop. 642) to sample beers at the Ruby Valley Brew. The server was super-friendly, the atmosphere was very nice, and I really liked their “Maverick Mary IPA”. The side-trip added about 30 miles to the drive home, but (just like hiking up through the gully) it was worth it.

Below: This map marks hikes that have been featured on bigskywalker.com so far, including several in Glacier Park – Select full screen to expand, zoom in for more detail, or click on a marker for a link to the post.