Overview and Route InformationGold and silver lured hopeful prospectors to the Kirwin area, and although Kirwin never produced enough to last and the failure to get a railroad to come in ultimately doomed it, I don’t think I’m going to be offered the presidency of Mensa by guessing that the name “Dollar Mountain” alludes to the mining history out here.
Some peaks just get to you and become all-time favorites right away. Dollar Mountain did that to me.
When remoteness is measured by distance from paved roads, Dollar Mountain is almost as remote as you can get without backpacking. The drive in takes you 20 or so miles into the mountains on a high-clearance road, and the summit itself is about six route miles from road’s end. And that’s the “short” way; were you to approach from the south, from Dubois, you would be looking at nearly 35 miles from the closest pavement.
Such is standard fare in the heart of the Absaroka Range, the wildest in the U.S. outside Alaska.
But it isn’t just the remoteness; Dollar Mountain is beautiful in both form and color, and no matter what direction you climb it from, some scrambling and climbing, in some cases tricky and exposed, keep this from being a mere walk-up peak. Summit views are unbeatable, with mountains literally in all directions.
Dollar Mountain sits less than a mile north of Dunrud Peak above the headwaters of the Wood River, and it is part of a long ridge complex with several high peaks, the majority of them unnamed. While Dunrud is a tiring but technically easy climb, Dollar is more rugged, and more rewarding.
Now for a little time on my soapbox--
The Kirwin-area peaks do not see a lot of climbers; most people seem only interested in the mining ruins, and most people beyond road’s end are out for pleasant day hikes or are using the passes as parts of extended backpacking trips. The “busiest” peaks are the named ones adjacent to trail-accessible passes; examples are Mount Crosby, Brown Mountain, Spar Mountain, and Cascade Peak. Dunrud Peak is not adjacent to any pass reached by a maintained trail, and it thus gets even less visitation even though it is a major peak out here. Dollar Mountain, being farther than Dunrud, gets even less traffic. Like Dunrud, Dollar’s summit has neither a cairn nor a register. My climbing partner and I did not even see a benchmark, though we did not look carefully for one. For all intents and purposes, the mountain is pristine. It provides a rare sensation in mountains climbable in a day: the feeling, even if it’s an illusion, of being the only human ever to have stood there.
So before you go up with the intent to build a cairn and leave a register, ask yourself what purpose that serves and if it is really necessary. If mountaineers who made it up there before you did not see fit to leave man’s mark on the mountain, why do you need to? Why not leave the mountain wild, unmarked and seemingly untouched? I do not own the mountain, and I cannot control what people do, but I hope that future climbers will leave the mountain as I found it. Let others experience the same thrill of a “clean” summit. Thank you for considering this.
The shortest and easiest way to climb Dollar Mountain is to make a traverse from Dunrud Peak. This route is 5.5 miles and involves a total of approximately 3500’ in elevation gain. Most of the route is Class 1 and Class 2, but the final scramble to the summit can range from Class 2+ to Class 4.
To climb Dunrud Peak, hike 3.4 miles from Kirwin through the upper valley of the Wood River. Just after a crossing to the north side of the stream, at about 10,200’, look for a sign pointing the way to Bear Creek Pass and Dunrud Pass (the trail also makes a sharp turn south here to climb to Bear Creek Pass). Also, notice a tributary joining Wood River from the north. Cross Wood River and ascend a low ridge on the right side of the tributary. Soon, you will be in a grassy basin beneath the east face of Dunrud Peak. Dollar Mountain is also visible. Pick a route up the scree to Dunrud’s summit. My route was 1.4 mi from the trail to the summit.
For more photos and details about the route to Dunrud, please see the page for that peak.
From the summit, descend to a saddle between Dunrud and then Dollar and then ascend the ridge to Dollar. You can follow a game trail almost the entire way. Below the summit, there is a rock face that requires scrambling to surmount. My climbing partner described his way through as 2+. I was hungry for some scrambling and exposure and stayed closer to the edge and the east face; my way was Class 3 verging on Class 4, with rock that wasn’t terribly loose but definitely not something to go skipping on without testing it first. From Dunrud to Dollar, the route was 0.7 mi.
There is another good route, and it skips Dunrud while going over a few lower, unnamed and unranked summits. It is a more challenging route, with steep trail hiking, very steep off-trail hiking, several miles of cross-country travel, and a ridge traverse that involves loose rock, exposure, and Class 4 terrain, sometimes all at once.
I will cover this route with details and photos at a future time, but here is an overview:
It is nearly 8 miles to the summit, and the total elevation gain is around 3700’. From Kirwin, hike the trail up the valley to the Horse Creek Trail (signed, but not shown on the USGS Dunrud Peak quad). Take that steep trail, and at around 10,200’, begin looking for ways southwest up to either the saddle between Points 11,508 and 11,379 or the saddle at 11,228’ (the second destination is the easier to reach because the terrain is not quite as steep and you leave the trail from a higher point (between 10,400 and 10,600’). Now traverse the ridges to Point 11,646 and then west up Point 12,284, which may be a short but steep snow climb. From there, traverse south over another unnamed, unranked peak to Dollar Mountain. It is this part of the route that has the loose rock, exposure, and Class 3-4 conditions. But I also thought the route was a blast.
A variation of this would be to stay on the Horse Creek Trail until it reaches a high pass and then traverse west to a peak (about 12,300’, but no definite elevation marked on maps) just north of Point 12,284. I did not go this way and cannot comment more on it, only that the peak seemed likely to have Class 3 or 4 terrain on its south side and that I hope to climb it and its neighbor just to the west next year.
A third possibility is to head north from the basin below the east face of Dunrud Peak and attempt a climb of Dollar from the east. It is clearly possible to reach the ridge north of Dollar this way, but a direct climb of Dollar’s face would probably be quite a challenge (and adventure).
High clearance is necessary, and 4wd is a plus. It is advisable to get out and check stream crossings before plowing through them.
Remember that odometers can very slightly. In two different vehicles, I have gotten two different measures here, but both were within a mile of each other.
From Meeteetse, 32 miles south of Cody, turn west onto the signed road for Wyoming 290. In 6.4 miles, turn left onto Wood River Road. At 11.6 miles, the pavement ends. The national forest boundary is at 21.7 miles. Pass Wood River Campground at 22.4 miles and Brown Mountain Campground at 24.8 miles. The road now gets a little rougher, but it is not real 4WD stuff. At 26.8 miles is the first of three stream crossings, at Jojo Creek. This one is short and usually shallow. The second river crossing (Wood River) is at 27 miles. This one is wider and deeper. The third crossing (Wood River), which is actually two crossings in quick succession, is at 29.3 miles. These are broad but shallow.
Continue on to the trailhead and old townsite of Kirwin, at 34 miles. There is one more stream crossing, of a stream draining Brown Basin, just before the trailhead, but it is a tributary stream and may even be dry.
It takes me about 75 minutes to make the drive to Kirwin.
Conditions can change. In 2010, there were water crossings that were not there during my visits in 2001 and 2007. In one spot, the stream and the road were the same for about a quarter-mile. Be prepared for a driving adventure.
It's a long drive in. It would be wise to check with the local ranger district about any access restrictions before heading in. Call 307-868-2379 (Meeteetse Ranger District).
Red TapeNo fees, no permits. What you must always keep in mind, and prepare accordingly for, is that this is grizzly country, and the Absaroka Range has the most and the best grizzly habitat in Greater Yellowstone. If you are not comfortable being in grizzly territory or do not know how to prepare/react properly, please do not come out here; you may end up getting yourself and the bear killed.
CampingCamping is available at the Wood River and Brown Mountain Campgrounds (see Getting There about directions). The sites go on a first-come, first-served basis, and there is a $10 camping fee. Water and pit toilets are available at both.
You could also sleep in your car at or near the trailhead. I am not sure if dispersed camping is permitted; in many parts of grizzly country, camping is allowed only at established campgrounds.