Standing sentinel over the Tioga Pass area, Mount Dana casts an impressive profile for all who pass through the eastern reaches of Yosemite National Park. The route to her lofty summit is a no-bullshit affair; the trail climbs well over three-thousand vertical feet in just four miles. It is a must-do for any Yosemite regular, offering unrivaled views and a good physical challenge.
We had this hike on our list for a number of years before it reached the top of the batting order in August of 2006. An early morning start from San Francisco found us blazing through the Yosemite high country in the wee hours of the morning. Apparently, we were blazing a bit too fast, as I got pulled over for going 10 MPH over the limit around Tuolumne Meadows. I’m convinced the Yosemite Bear Project sticker on our back window saved my butt, and the ranger let me go with a stern warning. We grabbed a campsite in Lee Vining Canyon and spent Saturday doing a couple of warm-up hikes. A hike to the top of Lembert Dome offered unspoiled views of Tuolumne Meadows and our goal for the following day, Mount Dana. On our way back to camp we solicited a bit of route-finding advice from a seasoned ranger at the Tioga Pass station. He pointed out a few landmarks on the upper reaches of the peak and wished us well.
We woke early on Sunday and broke camp while it was dark. The air was still bitter cold when we hit the trail. We made our way through Dana Meadow and began the long, slow climb up countless switchbacks. The hike reminded me of the slog up the lower reaches of Mount Shasta: one rocky switchback after another, terribly slow progress, and a goal that seemed no closer with every step. We took ample breaks and were amazed by at least two specimens who jogged past us en route to the summit. The last portion of the hike is a Class 2 scramble with an indiscriminate number of routes up the rocky slope. We got a bit off course and found some exciting views along the exposed northwest ridge of the mountain. We got ourselves back on course and reached the summit by mid-morning. At 13,057 feet, Mount Dana is the second tallest mountain in Yosemite National Park, but views from the summit were second to none. The entirety of the Mono Basin lay at our feet and the spiny backbone of the Yosemite High Country drifted south toward the giants of the High Sierra.
We took our time up top, signing the summit log, eating snacks and taking photos. We weren’t looking forward to the hike down, but before long we started the reverse slog back to the car. As we approached Dana Meadow, we passed a number of groups who looked ill-prepared for such a hike. One woman exclaimed, “Well, it must stop going up at some point. I really wish they put in more switchbacks.” No problem, Honey, it levels off just ahead, right around 13,000 feet. We got back to the car and knew there was only one way to finish the day. Ice cream sandwiches from the Tuolumne store brought smiles to our faces and closure to another beautiful Yosemite weekend.
This post is part of the SierraSoul Archive. The trip took place in October, 2006 (or thereabouts).