OverviewThe Sphinx (and the Helmet) are impressive geologic formations just east of the Madison Valley in Southwest Montana. One of the more striking mountains in this region, the Sphinx offers a fun and not very technical gully route up the west face. The gully is probably the only feasible route as the other three sides of the mountain offer large cliff faces of very unstable rock.
Getting ThereDrive south of Ennis on U.S. Highway 287 for 11.1 miles. Turn left and head east on Bear Creek Road (Forest Road 327) at Cameron. Bear Creek Road heads east on pavement for 3 miles, then turns south on a good gravel road for 1.5 miles until it turns east and goes another mile to the Bear Creek Ranch. Turn south here again and travel less than a mile to a junction; turn left, heading east up Bear Creek to the Bear Creek Ranger Station. It is 8 miles from the highway to Bear Creek Campground and Trailhead.
From the trailhead Trail 326 enters the Lee Metcalf Wilderness just beyond the Bear Creek Ranger Station and follows the Trail Fork of Bear Creek northeast for about 2 miles before it joins Trail 325. Stay left for about 3 miles on Trail 325 to the saddle between the Helmet and the Sphinx.
From this saddle, stay right and aim for the broad obvious gully in the Sphinx. There is a bit of a climber's trail leading in that direction. Stay left of the gully for the first 800 vertical feet and then cross over to the south (right) side until the route begins to level out at a summit plateau. You will see an obvious ridge line about 400 feet above on the right. The Northeast end of the ridge is the true summit. Beware of the 2000 ft. drop into the Indian Creek drainage.
The entire route (if you make a loop and come out north of the Helmet on the Middle Fork of Bear Creek) is about 13 miles. Total elevation gain from the car is about 4,400 ft. The toughest parts of the route are class 3.
Red TapeNo permits are required. Be aware that grizzlies and moose are common in this area. Take the necessary precautions.
When To ClimbJuly through September seems to be the most popular time to climb, although stable snow conditions could lead to a nice ski descent at other times of the year. During peak snow melt, you will need to stay just out of the gully to avoid a rather large cascading waterfall.
CampingIf you're camping, pick one of several good sites along the Middle Fork or Trail Fork of Bear creek or try camping at the saddle between the Helmet and the Sphinx (no water here and only 1 or 2 small tent sites). There are no camping fees or restrictions.
Mountain ConditionsIf you are hiking in the fall the big sky ski resort web cam (~ 8 miles NE) provides a good idea of how much snow may have already fallen in the area:
Also, any winter trip should start by checking the Gallatin National Forest Avalanche Center web page: