For mountaineers who like solitude, adventure, and remote peaks that are rarely (if ever) climbed, Wyoming's Absaroka Range is heaven. The range is split into three subranges (North, Southeast, and Southwest), and each has its own character and feel. The peaks in the Southwest Absarokas are some of the most remote peaks in the continental United States, some of which are 20-25 miles from the nearest roads. This can be a dangerous place to climb due to the rotten and loose rock, and the large populations of predators like grizzly bears, mountain lions, and wolves should not be taken lightly.
Citadel Mountain is a beautiful peak on the eastern end of a 30-mile long chain of mountains known as Wapiti Ridge. This colossal ridge runs parallel to the South Fork of the Shoshone River, and the highest point in the Southwest Absarokas is located near its middle at 12,165 feet. The word "Wapiti" is derived from the Shawnee Indian word for elk, an animal that is found in abundance in this area.
Reaching this beautiful summit is not an easy undertaking, and while it can be done in a day, most people will require two days to make the trip. The route from the Bobcat-Houlihan trail head to the top is only around nine miles, but the nearly 6000 feet of elevation gain, 4000 of which happens over the last three miles, is a killer! Most people who make the trek to the top of Citadel will also want to tag the Wapiti Ridge highpoint, which adds about three miles to your already long round trip. From the top of either peak, you will have amazing centralized views of most the three Absaroka ranges, as well as a distant look at the Tetons.
Citadel Mountain is the 248th-highest mountain in Wyoming, and has a prominence of 396 feet.
Getting There and Climbing Information
Starting from Cody, Wyoming, turn south 0.4 miles west of the traffic light in front of Wal-Mart onto the South Fork Road (291). Travel this scenic road for about 27 miles and turn right on Road 6Eh; there is a sign directing you to the Bobcat-Houlihan trail head, which lies along the same road that goes to the TE Ranch. This roads descends to the river and crosses on a bridge at about 2.2 miles. Turn left immediately after crossing the bridge and drive another half mile to reach the trail head, which is on your right.
Hike for half a mile past the parking area to a gate which enters the Shoshone National Forest and continue for another two miles along the base of the hills until you reach Bobcat Creek. The trail then heads into the drainage, staying on the right side of the creek as it eventually switchbacks onto a small plateau, at which point you will get your first good look at the mountain. The summit is not visible from here, but it is located on the ridge out of sight to the left of the large rock pyramid near the head of the Bobcat drainage.
From here the trail drops to the first of three crossings of Bobcat Creek. The first one is the hardest, and it is fairly rocky and moves fast; my climbing partner (Tim Worth) and I threw a couple of downed logs across on the hike out, but on the way up we were able to find a spot a little ways downstream that was tricky to jump, but doable. The second crossing happens about another 100 yards down the trail and was a long jump from a rock, while the third was easy. The trail then begins to get steep as it ascends a ridge on the right side of the creek, gaining 2700 vertical feet in the next 2.7 miles before it disappears in a meadow just below the rock pyramid, which now looms very close.
This would make a great spot to set up camp for anyone taking multiple days to make the climb. There are two options to reach Citadel's summit for here. The first involves heading east and then left up a steep grassy slope to reach a large bowl, after which you will keep to the right with the goal of making the top of the ridge. Once on top, head right (east) over a few bumps and up the gentle slopes to the summit.
The second and more direct option is to stay low under the next cliff section and then make your way through some loose scree that connects little grass ramps through the bands of breccia. Tim W. and I descended this way, and while you do have to be careful and watch your footing, it's nothing for someone who is used to loose stuff. Bear up and right to reach the summit, where you will have amazing views of some beautiful rock formations and Hardpan Lake.
A round trip to summit of Citadel Mountain is around 18-19 miles, depending on the route taken near the top, and there is about 6000 feet of elevation gain from the trail head; nothing on the route is harder than Class 2.
Red Tape and Camping
There are no fees to use the Bobcat-Houlihan trail head. Camping is allowed within a fenced area at the trail head and in the Shoshone National Forest. Be sure to research camping regulations specific to this area on the SNF website.
As noted in Tom Turiano's book Select Peaks of Greater Yellowstone, this is not a place to be during hunting season; if you must go, wear bright colors and watch out for the hunters. He also says that this is a very popular area with illegal outfitters, I'm guessing in part due to the area's remote nature.
If you are climbing Citadel Mountain in a day, start your hike very early to avoid thunderstorms, which often form in this area as early as noon. Getting off the ridge and the exposed areas above treeline is not done quickly, so keep an eye on the sky.
Tim W. and I saw four grizzlies on the ridge just east of the ridge highpoint, so keep your eyes open for wildlife as well!
External LinksArmy Cutworm Moths and Grizzlies
Shoshone National Forest
Wikipedia entry for the Shoshone National Forest
South Fork Ice Climbing