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best of cc.com [TR] The Sphinx - N Ridge, Phyllis' Engine - Std Route - 9/6/2008

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Trip: The Sphinx - N Ridge, Phyllis' Engine - Std Route


Date: 9/6/2008


Trip Report:



Fifteen years ago I was sitting in Westerns' Wilson Library flipping through Canadian Alpine Journals when I came across an

amazing photo of a guy climbing some of the cleanest most splitter granite I had ever seen. The route was Vertex on the west face of Isosceles

Peak located in a remote corner of Garibaldi Park. The climb sat on my short list of places to go but never made the top until last week when Gene Pires

and I found ourselves staggering up the Helm Creek Trail under heavy packs laden with rock gear and aspirations for an aggresive four day itinerary.


The following morning as we stumbled across loose talus and suffered demoralizing losses of elevation it became apparent that we were no longer the

paragons of fitness nor the alpine titans we once thought we were. Isosceles would be left for another journey and we instead settled

for several less commiting climbs located above the Sphinx Glacier. The following photo is as close as we got.


Isosceles Peak, Crosscut Ridge and Mount Luxor








Garibaldi Park is different. The rugged and steep valleys of the North Cascades are replaced by the gentler sculpted terrain typical of volcanic areas without

being dominated by the classic volcanic cone. The high peaks in this area are granitic and Garibaldi itself sits far to the south. With the exception of

the long drop to Gentian Pass the entire eleven mile approach to the alpine is a gradual ascent on good trails, open meadows, mellow glaciers and gentle ridges.



Helm Meadows The infamous Black Tusk towers over the first part of the approach.






Cinder Hills If you follow the Alpine Select approach description literally by hiking all the way to Cinder Flats and then circling around

The Cinder Cone you'll add an extra hour of wandering through a chaotic and tortured landscape of shifting cinders, dust and scattered animal bones.

Both tiring and interesting.






Helm Glacier The Helm Glacier is an oddity. More arctic than alpine, it oozes down across an otherwise barren landscape. Why is it here? How

much longer will it last?






First View of Castle Towers and The Sphinx After about 8 miles and 4000' of gain you finally get see your destination. Unfortunately you also see

the steep 800' drop to Gentian Pass. Nothing comes easy.






Gentian Pass No trails, no cairns, no footprints.






The Perfect Campsite After eight-and-a-half hours of travel we finally scrambled off the backside of Polemonium Ridge to find a perfect

campsite. Flat heather meadows, a small stream, boulders to sit on and an impeccable view.






Garibaldi Sunset






Tantalus Range at Sunrise Garibaldi Lake in the foreground.






The Sphinx - North Ridge II 5.8






Campsite near the Glaciers Edge As described earlier, on the morning of the second day we found difficult and time consuming terrain between Polemonium

Ridge and The Sphinx Glacier. Realizing that we didn't have the time or energy for Isosceles we set up camp on an airy perch near glaciers edge and climbed

The Sphinx that afternoon.






Crossing Sphinx Glacier An absolutely wonderful journey. It's almost three miles across with numerous deep schrunds and crevasses to navigate.






Threading the Shrunds Garibaldi Lake in the background.






Near the Base of the North Ridge The route is only about 500' in length. We climbed a 200+' pitch of low-5th class on blocky granite, then another

200+' pitch up a fine slab split by numerous enjoyable cracks. The final pitch is short and stout, starting up a steep crack and corner system before finishing

with a wild slightly overhung handcrack.






Near the top of Pitch 1 looking east to Isosceles






Fine cracks on Pitch 2






Sphinx Summit Pose Based on the summit register the Sphinx appears to receive one to two ascents a year. A majority of those are by the North Ridge

and a majority of those are by Garibaldi Park Rangers. Presumably they canoe across Garibaldi Lake, significantly shortening the approach.






N-E-S Facing Panorama from Summit of Sphinx In every direction there are endless glaciers and summits even more remote. How often do they get climbed?






PHYLLIS' ENGINE - Standard Route II 5.8



The Smokestack On the third day we climbed Phyllis' Engine. The tower is about 300' tall and is made of some the cleanest, finest stone I've

climbed in the mountains in recent memory. The standard route climbs the convex slab on the right side then the back of the summit block in three

short pitches of 5.8. There are several other excellent looking lines as well. Heres a view of The Entire Engine.






Summit Block Geometry The geometry was more reminicent of a desert tower than of your typical northwest spire.






Looking down at the first belay






Starting the Second Pitch We skipped the see-through chimney in favor of some nice looking cracks to climbers left.






Second Pitch cracks Gene following the easy cracks.






Looking South from below the summit block Glaciers everywhere.









Descending Polemonium Ridge After climbing Phyliss' Engine we packed up camp and begin the long trip back home. Black Tusk in the distance.





Iceman or Gene? Helm Glacier Pass





Helm Glacier Basin One last night was spent in the barren plain below the Helm Creek Glacier. We stayed up late bullshiting and watching the stars come out.

The following morning we reached the car in a little over three hours. Total travel time of seven hours from the Sphinx Glacier to the parking lot.






One last look - Sunset over Sphinx Glacier





Gear Notes:

Lightest 50m rope you can get

Set of nuts and cams to #3 Camalot


Approach Notes:

30+ miles

~10k feet of vertical

6 pitches

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Nice, Darin goes alpine climbing!


Looks like a fun trip to a unique area. :brew:


Great pics as always; looks splitter out there.

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Wow....thats an amazing place...and amazing pictures too! The rock looks so nice. The Engine looks so cool!


How much does the canoe approach cut off the trip in?

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That is a fantastic area. After traversing the area in winter it's nice to see summertime pictures of the region.


The approach sucks, but it's a cool place to get to. :tup:

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Thank you for going to places like this and bringing back pictures. Checking out your trip here has pretty much made my morning!

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keeping a link to your report handy in case I ever get stuck for an example of the perfect T.R.




["Phyllis' Engine?" imho, possibly the coolest peak name ever!]

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Phyllis Beltz thought the then-unclimbed spires looked like a choo-choo train and the name has stuck.


Congrats on your canoeless ascent Darin. Canoes are aid!


It's kinda awe inspiring to think that Peter Croft linked Castle Towers and the North ridge of Sphinx with a complete circumnavigation of Garibaldi Lake in less than 24 hrs from Rubble Creek parking lot.

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A quicker although less aesthetic approach to Isosceles

and N. Ridge of Sphinx is to drive up the Brohm Ridge logging road, get past the gate, park in the alpine. From there you can access Isosceles in a long day, and Sphinx in a little less.

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Of all those gorgeous photos in Alpine Select, I tend to wonder how many are as good as they look. Well these ones certainly are! Thanks for the great info.

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