Climbing Mount Dana via Dana Couloir - Yosemite, CA

My bother-in-law Scott and I headed out early (3:15 am) Tuesday morning toward the Tioga Lake overlook on CA SR-120 (Tioga Pass Rd) just outside Yosemite National Park. We wanted to get an early start climbing Mount Dana (second tallest peak in Yosemite at 13,053 feet) via the prominent Dana Couloir (YDS class 3-4). Our original goal was to then climb neighboring Mount Gibbs (12,773 feet) and hike back along CA SR-120 to form an 11 mile loop. We ended up only climbing Mount Dana and heading back along the NW ridge (6.1 mile round-trip). We parked at the South end of the Tioga Lake overlook where the Glacier Canyon trailhead starts.

Mount Dana and Mount Gibbs Elevation Profile

We started around 5:40 AM, just after sunrise. We could see the sun shinning on the NW ridge as we started hiking through snow along the shore of Tioga Lake.

Sunrise at Tioga Lake     Mount Dana Northwest Ridge

As we gained elevation up Glacier Canyon, we saw a small waterfall to our right that disappeared under the snow. The view behind us was spectacular. The temperature was still below freezing, so the snow was nice and hard.

Small Waterfall in Glacier Canyon     Looking NW Down Glacier Canyon
Looking SE Up Glacier Canyon     Looking NW from Glacier Canyon

As we continued climbing, the snow began to disappear in spots like the various moraines we climbed up and over. The moraines were basic talus scrambles. To our right, we noticed a recent avalanche along the edge of the canyon. Above the moraines there were partially frozen glacier tarns.

Avalanche on Slopes of Mount Dana     Glacial Tarn with Moraine in the Background

Further up glacier canyon, we finally got our first glimpse of Mount Dana and the Dana Couloir.

Mount Dana NW Ridge with Moon     Mount Dana with Dana Couloir Visible in Lower Left
Partially Frozen Glacier Tarn     Mount Dana NW Ridge with Moon

Soon we could see Mount Dana along and both the Dana Couloir and Soltice Couloir. There was a large cornice on the top of the Soltice Couloir which is typical this time of year.

Mount Dana and Solstice Couloir     Dana Couloir, Mount Dana, and Solstice Couloir

At the base of the Dana Couloir, there is a large cirque. It was completely snow covered, but looked as though a small tarn might exist later in the season after the snow melts. At this point we put on crampons and helmets.

Dana Couloir     Cirque at the Base of Mount Dana Couloir

We traversed above the cirque towards the Dana Couloir and then up the coulior. The sun was intense until we reached shade partway up the couloir. The snow was very hard and icy and the couloir was every bit of 40-45°. I lead and kicked steps in, making it easier to climb up. It would have been quicker to climb up with a pair of ice tools, as each step I kicked in took about 10 seconds to break through the ice to softer snow beneath.

Scott Climbing Dana Couloir     Looking up Dana Couloir
Looking Across Dana Couloir to Climbers Right     Looking Down Dana Couloir

It took us about two hours to get up the approximately 1,200 foot Dana Couloir. At the top it's still another quarter mile or so up a 20-30° slope to the summit. At this point we could see neighboring Mount Gibbs.

Looking up Towards Mount Dana Summit     Mount Gibbs
Looking up Towards Mount Dana Summit     View from Mount Dana Summit

We finally made it to the summit after a slow going seven hours. The views were beautiful with completely clear skies.

View from Mount Dana Summit     View from Mount Dana Summit
Mono Lake     View from Mount Dana Summit

At the summit, we rested in a shallow stone-walled shelter before heading down the NW ridge back to Glacier Canyon. We couldn't find a summit register, but it may have been buried in the snow.

View from Mount Dana Summit     Scott on Summit of Mount Dana

On the way down we glissaded where we could. The rest of the time we were in talus fields.

Scott Glissading Down NW Ridge of Mount Dana     Mount Dana from NW Ridge
Tioga Lake from NW Ridge of Mount Dana

It took us about 2.5 hours to descend, making the round-trip approximately 9.5 hours. It was a challenging climb, but well worth the effort. Maybe next time we'll hit Mount Gibbs.

1 comment

Scott Halley, Mon, 06/27/2011 - 12:55

Mt. Dana and the Dana Couloir was the hardest climb I've ever done. Thanks for talking me into it Jason!

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