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Rare Winter Ascent of Sphinx Face on Mount Temple

Heading up Sphinx Face Photo Noboru Kikuchi

Mount Temple’s north facing walls have long been an objective of alpine climbers.

Noboru Kikuchi, Toshiyuki Yamada and Eijiro Matsumoto have made a rare winter ascent, possibly only the second, of the 1,000-metre Sphinx Face.

There are three main routes that climbers aim for between Dec. 21 and March 21, but of course the number of climbers who make those attempts are fewer than half-a-dozen.

Those three routes are the Sphinx Face, The Greenwood/Locke and The Greenwood/Jones, all technically difficult and dangerous routes in winter.

There are many hazards that come with winter alpine climbing in the Rockies, including avalanches and cornices. Not to mention, the temperatures are always well below freezing and the climbing is hard to protect.

The Sphinx Face on Mount Temple has long been a goal of alpine climbers.

Steep upper headwall pitches Photo Noboru Kikuchi

The first ascent of the face was in October 1998 by Ward Robinson and Rob Orvig. The first winter ascent was in 2004 by Raphael Slawinski and Valery Babanov.

Slawinski was drawn to route by the guidebook description, “Atrocious rock which provides a supreme test of one’s climbing cool.” They drytooled the 5.9 A2 section at M6.

The legendary Canadian climber, Barry Blanchard, was turned away by the Sphinx Face on five separate occasions between 1980 and 2010.

“Looking back to the Sphinx I locked into my memory the fact that so much of the climbing had been horribly loose and dangerous,” said Blanchard. “I skied out knowing that I won’t be making a sixth attempt.”

Heading out of the bivy Photo Noboru Kikuchi

The lower part of the Sphinx Face is a long snow couloir, which has been skied a number of times, including by Jeff Relpsh, Ruari Macfarlane, Colin Haley and Rob Smith.

The cruxes on the wall are the upper half. The climb weaves through weaknesses in steep overhangs.

In the summer of 2014, Cian Brinker free-soloed the Sphinx Face in running shoes.

Upper pitches on Sphinx Face Photo Noboru Kikuchi

The first one-day ascent of the face was in April 2015 by Scott Semple and Eamonn Walsh.

“The climbing was made for drytooling techniques, as there was hardly any ice on the entire climb, yet it’s too cold and snowy to go without warm gloves,” said Walsh.

“Climbing a route of that stature in a day in what is essentially still winter is a remarkable effort,” said Slawinski.

Kikuchi, Yamada and Matsumoto’s winter 2018 ascent took 50 hours car-to-car with one bivy on-route in a “very good bivy cave.”

The bivy cave Photo Noboru Kikuchi

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