Mt Dana (13057') and Cathedral Lake (9600')
Date: 14-15 Sept 2013
Campsite: Tuolumne Meadows Campground (8600’)
This camping and hiking trip was planned in short notice (seems to be becoming a habit). I had a campsite reservation at Tuolumne meadows campground that came as a reminder email from recreation.gov and so I decided to head out for the weekend. After the very adventurous Roundtop Peak hike, I planned for a simple and enjoyable easy hike in Yosemite area. Ang, Jamil, Jihyun and I formed the 4-person team during this fun filled weekend. Having problems with my insurance, I wasn’t able to drive my car and had to get Jamil drive his awesome GTI. We departed human civilization at 0600hrs from my place on Saturday the 14th of September and so the adventure begins.
The unfortunate rim fire that has been incinerating the eternal beauty of Yosemite was responsible for the closure of Highway 120 between Crows Flat and Tioga Pass Rd. The only other access to Tuolumne Meadows was the alternate longer route through Sonora Pass, Mono Lake and Lee Vining. This meant we had to drive about a 100 extra miles, which took us close to 2hrs more. The original plan was to hike Mt. Dana on Saturday and hike Mt. Conness on Sunday. It was already 1330hrs when we got to the Tioga Pass entrance. The forest official advised us to check for weather if we planned to summit Mt. Dana that day. Taking into account the altitude and the time, I did not want to take a shot at it in the evening. A mistake in calculations or a sudden turn of weather into a bad thunderstorm would mean we might be stuck up in the open above the tree line and in trouble. We decided to set camp at Tuolumne Meadows and hike closer to camp – Lambert Dome or something on those lines and spend the night at camp for acclimatization.
I had a non-specific campsite reservation and was assigned a campsite when we got there. After setting camp and grabbing a quick bite for lunch, we planned to hike to Cathedral Lake (7 miles out and back). On the way to the trailhead, we stopped at the Tuolumne Meadows store, which was offering 40% discount on all stuff in account of end of season sale. We bought wood for campfire and started our hike to Cathedral lakes at 1420 hrs. It wasn’t a tough hike and that was evident by the number of hikers on this trail. At the end of what seemed to be a comfortable hike, the trail opened to a view of a large field of grass and water channels running around the field. The first thought that came into our mind was whether the lake had actually dried up due to intense heat. After a short walk towards the granite lands that lay directly ahead of us, the pristine blue lake was in our view. Cathedral peak lying on its left towards the east was a magnificent sight. At about 1715 hrs, after we had spent a good half hour there and so we headed back to the trailhead. What followed was a comfortable dinner followed by supposed sleep.
I had taken my 48 F sleeping bag, which turned out to be a very big mistake. The temperature dropped down to 38F and I was shivering due to cold. I wasn’t able to get good sleep Saturday night. Anyways as planned, we were up and ready by 0730 hrs Sunday morning and headed out to Mt. Dana trailhead, which is right behind Tioga Pass entrance station on the south. Mt. Dana at 13057’ stood magnificently outgrowing all the other mountains near and around it. At 0800 hrs we started our ascent towards the summit.
The beginning of the hike was through the meadow towards the tree line and Mt. Dana towards the south. Climbing 3000feet from 9995’ to 13057’ in 2.8miles, the hike to the summit is very steep. It takes more effort than one expects. There isn’t a marked trail as such to Mt. Dana but the use trail is pretty easy to follow. The trail heads south till the tree line after which it angles east towards the summit. After a while hiking along lakes and among trees we were at tree line and the climb above seemed inclined by almost 60 degrees. It was pretty much like climbing stairs. The trail went on and we chugged along like ants following each other. Jamil though was pretty fast and ascended quicker than all of us. I was tail ending our very small group. At 10:00am we were at Dana Meadow, which is marked by a small wall of stones (Stone Kiln). The almost 360 degree panorama was lined by mountains ad peaks in grandeur. Nature at its best as John Muir describes about Yosemite.
From here on, the summit was clearly visible towards the east and we had to climb up to the ridge and follow the ridge east to the summit. Use trail was less visible in this part of the terrain attributing to the rocky nature of the ground. Also, well sculpted arrangement of stones in the shape of pyramids mark the trail turns and switchbacks all the way from the tree line to the top. In case one looses the trail, they can hike/scramble up the rocks towards the peak. It will take a significant amount of effort to do this but you can’t loose your way here.
Looking all around the beautiful mountains, I realized I had left my camera atleast 40mins behind, below Dana meadow. I had to decide whether to go back for it or take it on the way back after summiting. Heeding to Jamil’s advice I decided to push on towards the summit and hopefully find my camera later on the descent. Luckily however, two hikers from San Francisco were right behind us
and they had picked up my camera. So now, I was in possession of my camera and snapping pictures continued. We summited Mt Dana at 11:20am after 3hrs 20mins of hiking. An hour or so was spent at the summit. The Dana Couloir is just amazing to see. The erosion by the massive glacial ice defines the magnitude of how powerful Nature is. Mt. Lyell, Cathedral peak, Mt. Gibbs and various other mountains can be seen from the top. Also, Dana Lake to which Dana Glacier drains into can be seen at the foot of Dana Couloir. Close to 1pm we decided to head down to the parking lot. Journey down wasn’t very eventful other than the fact that Jihyun experienced some problems with altitude or that’s what I believe. It could be attributed to the egg she had during breakfast as well. We reached the trailhead at around 4:00pm. Highway 120 was open on Sunday, which made our journey back to the bay area shorter and quicker. All in all, it was a fun weekend well spent in the wonderful and magical lands of Yosemite National Park. I end this write up with the extreme expectation of going back to the Granite heaven very soon.
Total Elevation Gain: ~3000 feet in 2.8 miles
Trailhead: at Tioga Pass entrance station on Hwy 120: 9995 feet
Getting there: From north east - take 395S and 120W. From South east - 395N and 120W, From Bay Area - 580E, 205N, 120E (Sonora), Right on Yosemite Ave to continue onto 120E. If you are coming from the east or you take Sonora pass (108) and reach Tioga pass, you will avoid Yosemite park entrance.
Recommended acclimatization of at least one night at moderate or high altitudes.
Campgrounds: Tuolumne Meadows, Saddleback lake (Part of Inyo National Forest), Tioga Lake campground. There are a lot of other camgrounds in and around Tioga Pass.
County: Mono County/Tuolumne County
Search and Rescue: Mono S&R
Ranger Station: USFC Ranger station at Lee Vining - 760 647 3000
(Note: Half peak of Mt. Dana is in Yosemite National Park and the other half in Inyo forest)
It is bear country - Need to store food in bear boxes, canisters.
SummitPost Link: http://www.summitpost.org/mount-dana/150284