Overview and Route Information
Named on maps, Galena Ridge is just one of many natural features around the upper Wood River with a name alluding to the mining days in and around the now-abandoned townsite of Kirwin. Just south of Galena Ridge and Galena Basin, there are several old mines, which may explain why this area was not included in the Washakie Wilderness.
Galena Ridge is a north-south ridge that runs for about two miles between Meadow Creek Basin and Canyon Creek. To the east, it joins Chief Mountain via a saddle that gives it enough prominence to qualify as a ranked peak, but to the west, the broad, gentle saddle connecting it to Point 12,104 does not give it the necessary prominence (only about 190’). So that is why Point 11,930, having never been given an official name before, is likely to remain known simply as the highpoint of Galena Ridge.
I believe, though, that prominence and rank being standards created and applied by humans, they should not be the only factors determining whether a mountain is a mountain and whether it is worthy of a name or documentation. It’s my argument that character matters as well, and on all sides but the west, Galena Ridge (or think of it as Galena Peak or Galena Mountain) is a steep, craggy mountain that will arouse excitement in mountaineers seeing it.
So here it is.
There are at least three good ways to climb this peak, and maybe a fourth good one as well.
Via Chief Mountain-- Hike for three miles on the Meadow Creek Trail (starting elevation about 8300’) into Meadow Creek Basin. At about 9900’, before the trail crosses the stream (ignore maps showing otherwise), ascend a boulder field and then climb the north slopes of Chief Mountain to its 12,003’ summit. This can be Class 2, but there are many opportunities to mix in some enjoyable Class 3 and 4 climbing. From the summit, hike down to the saddle between the peaks and then head up to Galena Ridge’s crest. There is some brief but enjoyable Class 3 terrain just below the crest. The total distance from the trailhead is less than five miles.
Via Upper Meadow Creek Basin-- Follow the previous route, but instead of going up the boulder field, cross the stream and continue into the upper basin. Higher up, the trail supposedly splits into three forks, and one of them leads to the pass between Galena Ridge and Point 12,104. This will be steep hiking, and you may have to cross a snowfield where an ice axe is advisable. From the pass, it is an easy walk to the summit. I climbed the peak from Chief Mountain and then descended to the west-side saddle. Although I did not notice the trail, I was not really looking for it, and I can say that, trail or not, it is definitely possible to go between the saddle and Meadow Creek Basin. Total one-way distance for this route is 5-6 miles.
Via Kirwin and Brown Mountain-- From Kirwin at about 9300’, hike three miles to Greybull Pass, then ascend Brown Mountain (Class 2), head north along the range crest to or near Point 12,104, and then hike east to the Galena Ridge highpoint. Total one-way distance is 5-6 miles. Please see the attached route page for more details.
South Side-- The shortest way to reach the summit is to leave the road near the south end of the ridge and climb that way. However, it is likely that you would encounter troublesome cliff bands along the way. That is not to say that it can’t be done.
If you have the right vehicle (high clearance, and four-wheel drive is a good idea as well), part of the fun in getting here is the drive to the trailhead, for there are stream crossings that, depending on the time of year and recent conditions, can range from splashes to white-knucklers to good ways to find out how well your vehicle works as a boat. Unless you can see that an entire crossing is shallow, take the time to get out and check the conditions before driving through. When the crossings are low enough to ford, four-wheel drive is typically not necessary, but I like to use it for the extra power and traction when going through.
Except for the stream crossings, the road does not have any major obstacles unless recent conditions have caused washouts. There are rocky sections, and the road gets rockier the farther you go, but there is nothing a moderately experienced off-road driver really needs to worry about.
However, there are some sections, especially before any of the stream crossings, where the road is far more dirt than rock, and if it is raining or there has been rain in the past couple of days, the road is likely going to be treacherously slick mud in those places. To make matters worse, these spots tend to be where the road is narrow and hugs a steep hillside, meaning that if you lose traction and go off the road, you are not going to get stuck but rather are going to go crashing and/or tumbling down the mountainside. If you are inexperienced with four-wheel drive conditions, I recommend turning back if the road is like this, but if you must go on, shift into 4-Lo (if your vehicle has a transfer case) and go very slowly, using enough power to keep moving but not to make the wheels spin. If you don't have a transfer case, downshift to first gear.
So here are the directions:
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. The trailhead for Meadow Creek is at 30 miles, on the right (north) side of the road. As of July 2010, there was a rusty metal sign marking the trailhead.
You can continue past this point for four miles to the trailhead and old townsite of Kirwin. 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.
REMEMBER: 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.