Which mountain has two humps and riddles hikers with its steep ascent? Sphinx is a notable peak, towering high above Grey Creek Pass. It’s easily spotted from the Kootenay Lake Ferry but not so easily summited.
Distance, round trip: 11.6km
Season: early July to late September
Trailhead and Driving Directions
The original access road to the Sphinx Trail has become un-drivable, so now you need to start your hike by parking near an old mining road near the summit of Grey Creek Pass. Grey Creek Road is usually suitable for 2WD low-clearance vehicles and open seasonally from July to October.
From Crawford Bay, drive South on Highway 3A until you pass the Grey Creek Store. Turn either onto Oliver Road or Anderson Road (both connect to Grey Creek Pass Road shortly) and reset your odometer.
At 1.3km, fork left for signed Grey Creek FSR and follow the road as it ascends up the valley. After 6km, start driving up switch-backs, stay on the main road at any junctions. At 17km, pass Oliver Lake Rec Site on the right. There is a short 20-minute trail that loops around the lake if you want to add some extra adventure to the day.
At 18km, reach the top of Grey Creek Pass and drive over. Switchback down the other side. Watch on the left for the second recovering clearcut where an old mining road angles up the slope. Park here at 22km, there is a pullout on either side of the road for parking and the mining road is flagged. You’ll need to hike 2.6km along the mining road before arriving at the original trailhead.
Along the Mining Road
Starting hiking up the mining road as it climbs up the clear-cut and angles high above Grey Creek Road. The mining road will dip into the forest and begin to level-off.
At 1.7km, pass an old mining cabin on the right. There are a couple of short spur-roads here, so just stay on the main road as it begins to descend. The cabin is at the crest of the road you’re following.
At 2.0km, descend to meet another road and fork left. Remember this junction for the way home. Soon Sphinx Mountain comes into view and it looks far away!
At 2.6km, reach a junction of 4 old roads and again pay careful attention to where you came from. Turn right (East) and look for the Sphinx trail starting on the left (North). You’ll immediately see the two logs crossing the creek as well as spot a handmade sign.
Up the Trail
The trail climbs through forested slopes, weaving among huckleberry bushes and flowers. This trail only sees occasional maintenance, so expect occasional deadfall.
Around 3.7km, you’ll near a small creek on the left and then the trail will ascend more steeply, crossing the creek. Watch for flagging tape at crossings. By 4km, the forest begins to open up to patches of meadow as you hike between the ridges flanking the Sphinxes.
Yes, the Sphinxes! There are two: Sphinx West and Sphinx East. Pay attention as you hike up the saddle between them. The true summit is Sphinx East to your right as you ascend.
By 4.5km, you’re levelling off into scenic larch meadows between the Sphinxes. Watch for a wilderness campsite on a small plateau. It’s here that the trail fades away and stops. Looking ahead to the North, you’ll see the saddle. You have choices:
- Hike up to the saddle to look at the view North
- Hike up to Sphinx East (the true summit)
- Explore the meadows (there is a small lake below Sphinx West if you follow the ridge around South-West, check out the ESTBA website for more info)
Whatever you chose, pay attention to where you’re leaving the trail for the journey home. Sphinx West is a scramble from the saddle and not a recommended route.
The saddle is 0.3km away from where the trail ends and 100m elevation gained up steep talus slopes. From leaving the trailhead, it took us 2 hours to hike to the top of the saddle.
East Sphinx Summit
Want to summit Sphinx? At 2605m, East Sphinx is the true summit and can be reached by hiking a steep slope of meadow-talus-rock. It’s just under 1km from the saddle to the summit, but a mighty 250m elevation gain.
Pick you way up the meadows, favouring grassy ramps among the rock piles. Whether you side-step your way in zig-zags or do the long and painful staircase, it’s a slog to the summit. As you look back, Sphinx West shrinks away.
At last, the slope flattens to a small meadow over the summit. Head North to find the summit cairn.
A panorama of peaks awaits! Spot Mount Loki to the North and look across Kootenay Lake to see the Kokanee Glacier. To the south, look back over Grey Creek Pass and spot Mount Snowcrest.
Beyond Sphinx West, spot the West Arm of Kootenay Lake snaking off into the distance.
Take your time hiking down the steep slopes to find the trail again. In mid-July, the meadows are glowing with Yellow Glacier Lillies. By late September, the larches will be blazing gold.
The Sphinx Range, as viewed from “Thanksgiving Mt.”, comprises three summits, Sphinx West/West Sphinx, as shown in one of the photos, Sphinx (Main), the highest summit and then, to the east, East Sphinx, which is just a few meters lower than Sphinx Main and West Sphinx. When viewing West Sphinx, from Sphinx, do a 180 and one views East Sphinx. Beyond East Sphinx is a lower “plateau” (Sphinx Plateau) from which one can continue east, north-east along a humpty route to a couple of little lakes. To do Plateau isn’t difficult , excepting the steep ascent and the lengthy return.… Read more »