Trip Report
The Sphinx (9,146 ft) - Cotton Mouth Khafra (FA) 1800 ft, 5.11-
Wednesday August 13, 2014 12:32pm
Immediately after I saw the Sphinx I wanted to climb it – striking feature rises over 4,000 ft above the Kings Canyon and overshadows the surrounding formations. That was in October of 2011 on the approach to ascend the mega classic South Face of Charlotte Dome. With a little research, I learned of a few short technical routes that were climbed to the top of the Sphinx’s striking sub-summit. The massive Northeast portion of the peak remained ignored. Back in 2011 following a detailed topo of a multi-pitch 5.8 route seemed like an epic adventure – putting up 2,000 foot first ascents was not in the cards. The time passed and rock climbing became more addictive than I would like to admit. With the addiction came the abilities, desires and the most important – passionate partners.


Our route takes the NE buttress and gains 1800 feet. Not bad for a day-hike FA!


The big overhanging sub summit - a cool feature!


Last water of the day!

For me and Daniel, the summer of 2014 did not turn out as free as we would like, but that did not prevent us from making ambitious plans. Wake up early, do the approach that gains 4,000 feet, descent down an unknown canyon, climb a new route up the menacing east face and descent down to the car – at least it sounds simple!
The day turned out to be a wild one. Looking at the East face from across, we did not spot a free-climbable weakness. Through the binoculars, we saw multiple cracks filled with vegetation and blocked with roofs. Unwilling to back down we chose to descend down the unknown canyon and look for a line that would trace the Northeast Buttress. The challenges arouse from the git-go. We expected a straightforward romp up the face that would gain approximately 700 feet and brought only a liter of water each, a bare minimum. Descending deeper down the canyon meant climbing many more pitches than we expected. In addition, the variation we took to descent and traverse to the start of the proposed route was getting into 5th class territory.


The Sphinx as seen from Kings Canyon, on the approach.


"Looks big!"


Alpine columbines in the gully!


Massive f*#ker


Looking down into Kings Canyon

After surviving the approach we looked up the “weakness” that split the massive overhangs. I got the first lead and found solid 5.10 moves off the ground. The protection was tricky and a ground fall from 30 ft was an option I managed to avoid. The climbing however was surprisingly fun. After I climbed partway up a an easy hand-crack in a corner I reached a left leaning fingercrack and built an uncomfortable belay. Daniel went up the next pitch and pulled a ballsy lay-back with an insecure mantel and minimal pro.


Bubbs Creek - I thought of this water a lot through the last 2/3rds of the climb!


Looking up at the start of pitch 1. Looks "fun" (Picture by Daniel)


The fun of pitch 1! (Picture by Daniel)


Good rock, fun climbing - pitch 2 (Picture by Daniel)

He protected the next section of face climbing by hammering a knifeblade in a seam. While following I was impressed with his effort. The belay anchor was from gear I would not trust my backpack to and a bolt he hammered from a terrible stance. I had to follow up his impressive lead by more ballsy climbing. Clean face climbing on tiny edges took me to a flake where I finally placed a first solid piece, 25 feet or so up from the belay. With solid pro I pulled over the easy roof and avoided a dirty looking wide overhang by running it out right on a prominent dike. This pitch was probably not harder than 5.9 but after I built an anchor I took in a deep breath of relief.


Do I really want to climb that?


"Yes, I DO!"


"YWAAAHHH"


Monkeys are sendin

Next pitch was straightforward. It took us to the giant ledge one-third up the formation. Lack of water and unknown difficulties ahead led to a quick discussion about bailing. Neither of us gave it much thought before Daniel led the first pitch off the ledge. We expected the climbing here to be easy, but ran into a thought provoking move on a dirty traverse. Next pitch was mine and ended up being a true epic.


Still having a lot of fun, but where is the pro?!


Kings Canyon, looking up Bubbs Creek


Daniel climbing up towards top of P3


Daniel and the dome across. Resting on a giant ledge, third of the way up.

When you get into clusters on classic climbs imagine how bad it could get on a first ascent. First, I went left and up. The thin crack over the roof looked hard, it likely would not accept my fingers or cams. I down-climbed to below the belay, traversed right and went over a roof. I ran it out to prevent a nasty pendulum fall for Daniel and placed my first cam. Crap! A flake in a roof prevented me from flipping the rope no matter how hard I tried. I took the cam out and down-climbed about 15 feet, 30 feet above my last gear, before I could fix the situation. Climbed back up and confronted a big overhang. I tried to do an insecure traverse right but the climbing there did not look good and I down-climbed to below a right leaning crack. My position was awkward and protection shitty. I tried to make a blind placement in the overhanging crack, but my gear pulled as soon as I gave it a good jerk. Since the crack was there I knew something would go in and tried again. My next try was successful, but I was unwilling to risk falling on gear I could not see well. After making a few moves I asked Daniel to take and placed a few more pieces before being confident to pull the next (5.11a?) moves over the overhang. The pitch would not let up. Next up was a reachy mantel that took all my height to pull. I tried to continue up a direct line and ran into more trouble. About twenty feet above a solid piece I placed a crappy cam. Climbing above did not look too hard from below and I ran it out for another 20+ feet. After I climbed into another awkward stance, I found the crack I saw from below to be flaring. The obvious belay ledge was only seven feet away. It looked like a 5.10a face move to reach the ledge, but lichen-covered rock, burning muscles, unknown difficulty and being 45 feet above solid pro did not fuel my confidence. I tried to clean the crack and place something that would stay. It seemed like the right spot for it, but the purple cam came out as easily as it went in after every yank. After at least six failures the cam stayed.


Daniel thinking about the moves ahead with a lone pin to his right


Thirsty, hungry, tired, still going!


View of the sub summit


Can you spot Bubbs Creek Wall?!

I trusted it to hold a fall as much as I would trust myself to not eat in an all-you-can eat buffet. I could have asked Daniel for a bolt kit, but with our clown hammer it would take at least 45 minutes to hand drill. My stance was not getting any better and I had to move somewhere. The climb was taking us much longer than we expected and the sun was going to set in a few hours. I rushed into trying to traverse on top of the crack and my feet slipped on lichen. Thoughts of a 100-foot whipper resulted into a death scream that scared the sh#t out of Daniel. To my surprise, I slid down for only 25 feet before the rope stopped me. The cam I had no business trusting held my fall. To say I was happy was an understatement. I took the obvious ramp to my right and belayed Daniel from a giant dead tree. We were happy to be safe and he took the next pitch back to the ridge crest. His pitch was difficult and fun. On the pitch that followed I pulled another 5.10 layback through an overhang and we reached easier terrain on the crest proper. We swung the lead thrice more and finished the climb with a 400ft simul climb.


Taking in last rays of sun! Looking good!


How I really felt


Cotton Mouth Khafras!


Yellow - part of the approach
Red- Cotton Mouth Khafra (1800 ft, IV 5.11a)

It was quite rewarding to bathe in the last rays of sun on a beautiful summit with our limbs intact. Even though neither of us had much water or had peed in several hours, we knew that an hour or so later we will satisfy our thirst. A few snacks and photo snaps later, the sun set and massive towers of North Guard got dark. It was a sign to get out.

If someone wants to repeat the route, you may, or may not have to cross the line between bad-ass and dumb-ass on multiple occasions. Bringing a drill would not be a bad option, and I don’t think neither of us would care if protection bolts are added to some spots. If you like climbs like Windfall-Windchill, Ho Chi Minh Trail and other long adventurous routes, you may like this one. The line it takes is classic, but it is no Serenity to Sons link up.
More reports could be found at my blog: http://vividrea1ity.blogspot.com

  Trip Report Views: 2,555
Vitaliy M.
About the Author
Vitaliy M. is annoying gym climber from San Francisco.

Comments
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snakefoot

climber
Nor Cal
  Aug 13, 2014 - 12:34pm PT
this is getting out of hand, stop having so much fun and seek therapy.


thanks for the post

bob

climber
  Aug 13, 2014 - 12:41pm PT
Incredible 1st ascent adventure. Congratulations! The combination of detailed writing and very nice pictures add up for me.

This TR made my day.

Thank you.
JEleazarian

Trad climber
Fresno CA
  Aug 13, 2014 - 12:45pm PT
Still having a lot of fun, but where is the pro?!

I thought that more than once looking at your pictures. Amazing effort, and excellent trip report. You are really on a roll!

John
survival

Big Wall climber
Terrapin Station
  Aug 13, 2014 - 12:47pm PT
Wow. Rock n Roll bro!!

Keep coming back! Keep bringing the goods!!
thebravecowboy

climber
walking, resin-stained, towards the goal
  Aug 13, 2014 - 01:05pm PT
Yowza!
W.L.

climber
Edge of the Electric Ocean Beneath Red Rock
  Aug 13, 2014 - 01:10pm PT
Awesome stuff as always bro. Thanks for taking the time to post it up!
mike m

Trad climber
black hills
  Aug 13, 2014 - 01:12pm PT
Okay I gotta say it......





































































































































What do you do for a job?
BFK

Trad climber
San Francisco, CA
  Aug 13, 2014 - 01:25pm PT
The sickness continues!!!! Nice write up!
Studly

Trad climber
WA
  Aug 13, 2014 - 02:06pm PT
Holy crap, that just blew my mind! Awesome effort and accomplishment. What a send and thank you for the great TR, made my day in the office feel like I went on a adventure after reading it.
Travis Haussener

Trad climber
Salt Lake City
  Aug 13, 2014 - 02:06pm PT
Nice work...TFPU!!
Brandon-

climber
The Granite State.
  Aug 13, 2014 - 02:47pm PT
Strong work man!
kaholatingtong

Trad climber
Nevada City
  Aug 13, 2014 - 02:49pm PT
top notch work here V, and quite an adventure! not to mention a pretty cool feature; thanks for taking us along yet again.
Vitaliy M.

Mountain climber
San Francisco
Author's Reply  Aug 13, 2014 - 03:00pm PT
Thanks all!

What do you do for a job?

Registered Nurse. Worked full time through this summer! This trip up the Sphinx was a car to car march. Have to stay fit and take advantage of weekends I have off. :(
looks easy from here

climber
Ben Lomond, CA
  Aug 13, 2014 - 03:23pm PT
Wowee! That looks awesome! Thanks for sharing.

following a detailed topo of a multi-pitch 5.8 route seemed like an epic adventure – putting up 2,000 foot first ascents was not in the cards.

I know that feeling, and I think that junior's going to keep me a couple steps behind you on the FA trail, but your TRs are inspiring. I'll be posting some like these at some point down the road.
limpingcrab

Trad climber
the middle of CA
  Aug 13, 2014 - 05:44pm PT
I appreciate two things:
1) That you made me sound hardcore when I was really just being scared.
2) That you're up for stuff like this and are super fun to climb with.
3) that you have rad TRs and pictures almost weekly.
4) That you don't judge people who don't count well.
anita514

Gym climber
Great White North
  Aug 13, 2014 - 05:58pm PT
Awesome stuff, V.
What happened to your teddy bear?!
johnkelley

climber
Anchorage Alaska
  Aug 13, 2014 - 06:21pm PT
Nice. Way to go
Clint Cummins

Trad climber
SF Bay area, CA
  Aug 13, 2014 - 07:40pm PT
Looks like it was a great adventure!
Thanks for sharing.
nah000

climber
canuckistan
  Aug 13, 2014 - 07:52pm PT
sweet.

always love the stoke...
donini

Trad climber
Ouray, Colorado
  Aug 13, 2014 - 07:54pm PT
Another notch on your gun Vitaliy....keep getting it done!
Darwin

Trad climber
Seattle, WA
  Aug 13, 2014 - 07:56pm PT
Grinning from ear to ear. I don't think I've used proud before, so: Proud!
T Hocking

Trad climber
Redding, Ca
  Aug 13, 2014 - 08:19pm PT
Bitchin trip, report and pics!
TFPU
Tad
wayne w

Trad climber
the nw
  Aug 14, 2014 - 08:03am PT
Great job Vitaly and Daniel! Nice FA in a spectacular locale!!
this just in

climber
north fork
  Aug 14, 2014 - 08:05am PT
Perfect.
Ron Anderson

Trad climber
Relic MilkEye and grandpoobah of HBRKRNH
  Aug 14, 2014 - 08:07am PT
some of dem leads look VERY IRRESPONSIBLE.. Congrats on the line!
The Alpine

climber
  Aug 14, 2014 - 08:07am PT
V - remember when you were just getting into this?

The stoked become the stoke!
Vitaliy M.

Mountain climber
San Francisco
Author's Reply  Aug 14, 2014 - 09:06am PT
some of dem leads look VERY IRRESPONSIBLE.. Congrats on the line!

Thanks! I will make sure to retro-bolt them on the second ascent. That would be the only way it will get a third, lol. It is not a runout test-piece, but there are some sections that make the nuts shrink that’s for sure. At least for guys like me. But I am not hardcore. A few weeks ago, I thought The Thing at Donner was a bit heady (on the onsight at least).

Anita, Cheburashka stayed home as soon as I told him we were taking only a liter each for the climb. : ) He should appear in some report soon, I did slack off on taking him along.

The Alpine, thanks, that was like last year? : ) Still want to get out to Chamberlain and do a route of yours. This year it didn’t happen with a week long trip I was planning. Co-workers filled up all the summer vacation spots before I requested.
micronut

Trad climber
Fresno/Clovis, ca
  Aug 14, 2014 - 09:28am PT
Whoah. Skeery lookin line boys. What a beaut. I have gazed upon the sphinx with a climby eye on may occasions but never had the salt to head up there. You guys are goin' full on hardman style after these gems and I'm proud to know you both. They're gonna need a new guide after this summer of love between you two.


Nice style points on taking my t-shirt art up there with you. Thanks for the props.

"Balch Caaaamp!" I said that like a gangbanger out loud just now.
mike m

Trad climber
black hills
  Aug 14, 2014 - 10:12am PT
Nice job and a working man too. Way to get after it.
Roxy

Trad climber
CA Central Coast
  Aug 14, 2014 - 10:16am PT
superb new route and quality TR!!!
Jdizzle

Boulder climber
Lander, wy
  Aug 14, 2014 - 01:06pm PT
I trusted it to hold a fall as much as I would trust myself to not eat in an all-you-can eat buffet.

Awesome. FA's take vision, but going car-car after a long work week is a whole different deal. Keep it up, and hope to keep seeing these reports. -cheers
Radish

Trad climber
SeKi, California
  Aug 14, 2014 - 01:03pm PT
Nice Job!! You guys are getting after it! Nice Pics and Story as always! Thanks............
le_bruce

climber
Oakland, CA
  Aug 14, 2014 - 10:20pm PT
About twenty feet above a solid piece I placed a crappy cam. Climbing above did not look too hard from below and I ran it out for another 20+ feet. After I climbed into another awkward stance, I found the crack I saw from below to be flaring. The obvious belay ledge was only seven feet away. It looked like a 5.10a face move to reach the ledge, but lichen-covered rock, burning muscles, unknown difficulty and being 45 feet above solid pro did not fuel my confidence. I tried to clean the crack and place something that would stay. It seemed like the right spot for it, but the purple cam came out as easily as it went in after every yank. After at least six failures the cam stayed.

...

...

Whoa. Whoa!

Great read, Vitaliy. Thanks for it.

Think of this winter, the days to come at the Cookie... any line you ponder will seem casual and worth a try. Crack-a-Go-Go? Red Zinger? Why not! At least you know they all take pro. Keep putting up backcountry 5.11s ground-up and you'll never be intimidated by anything in the Lower Merced again! That's how it works, right?
Ezra Ellis

Trad climber
North wet, and Da souf
  Aug 15, 2014 - 11:15am PT
Nice V, great style!!!!
Grippa

Trad climber
Salt Lake City, UT
  Aug 18, 2014 - 08:17am PT
f*#k yea!
Larry Nelson

Social climber
  Aug 18, 2014 - 10:34am PT
Thanks for posting yet another excellent TR.
The Larry

climber
Moab, UT
  Aug 18, 2014 - 10:36am PT
Sick trip!
Reilly

Mountain climber
The Other Monrovia- CA
  Sep 8, 2014 - 03:21pm PT
Hey, Vitya, here's what yer Sphinx looks like from Monarch Divide...

Vitaliy M.

Mountain climber
San Francisco
Author's Reply  Sep 8, 2014 - 04:06pm PT
That looks really cool actually homez! Thank you for posting.
Gnome Ofthe Diabase

climber
Out Of Bed
  Nov 4, 2014 - 07:24am PT
thwack ping crack smash BUMP x bump
survival

Big Wall climber
Terrapin Station
  Nov 4, 2014 - 07:29am PT
GO V!!!


VIVA UKRAINE!!!
mike m

Trad climber
black hills
  Nov 4, 2014 - 08:42am PT
You should quit your job and use gofundme!
nopantsben

climber
europe
  Nov 4, 2014 - 08:49am PT
f*#k yeah man what a cool tr! nice FA. congrats.
briham89

Big Wall climber
santa cruz, ca
  Nov 4, 2014 - 09:00am PT
Killer!!!
Vitaliy M.

Mountain climber
San Francisco
Author's Reply  Nov 4, 2014 - 09:51am PT
I should win a lottery! Plus, survival took that option from me. He has a thread and everything :'(
Sonic

Trad climber
Boulder, Co
  Nov 4, 2014 - 10:45am PT
Nice TR and beautiful looking climb

Are there any direct lines up that face?
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