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Guide to Tuolumne Meadows Trails (1960) by Allan Shields


XII. MT. DANA

(5-very strenuous all-day, climb 3000 ft., 6 miles).

Second highest prominence in the Park (elevation 13,053 ft.), Mt. Dana is named for James Dwight Dana (1813-1895), Professor of Geology at Yale University (1850-1894).

The slopes look so smooth and gentle they fairly invite an easy walk up, until you remember that the base at Tioga Pass lies over 3000 ft. below the summit, and that those smooth surfaces are broken quartzite. The sharp easterly shoulders form the Park boundary, and separate the waters which flow west to San Francisco from those that flow east to Los Angeles’ aquaducts. Since the

The Lying Head above Tioga Pass.
    McCrary, NPS
[click to enlarge]
The Lying Head above Tioga Pass. McCrary, NPS
summit affords one of the most inspiring vistas on the eastern escarpment of the Sierra, we need to remind ourselves of Spinoza’s warning and encouragement, realistically uttered, to the reader of his great book, Ethics, when he says, in part, “Needs must it be difficult, for all things excellent are as difficult as they are rare.” Mt. Dana is a parallel achievement, in its mountainous way, to the enjoyment of great poetry, the playing of great chamber music, or the analysis and creation of great philosophy. Onward and upward!

Directions: Drive the seven miles to the Tioga Pass Entrance Station, parking on your left just prior to reaching the station itself. As you face Mt. Dana south of the road and look up at it, you see a rugged butte jutting out at what appears to be about half-way up. This is called the Lying Head. A trail starts about 100 yards from the stone gatepost and follows along the left top side of the physical divide, contouring the first glacial moraine. Proceed along this trail until you come up under and right of the Head, when the trail moves right up the slope. The trail is fairly well-defined from here up to the tableland about half-way up, but should you lose it, simply keep to the right of the Head and follow the natural water course up to the tableland. As you come up over the initial steep portion onto the broad, gently sloping tableland, look ahead on your left (slightly) to a good sized notch on the shoulder of the mountain. Head for the notch. It provides a good resting spot out of the wind that usually blows here - and it may be cold. After resting, there will be a fairly extended scramble over large blocks as you follow the ridge up toward the summit.

By keeping left as you ascend, you will discover a “use” trail (not built as a trail) that leads directly to the summit itself. To return, retrace your steps, or vary the trail to suit your whims, remembering to head for the spot where you first came up on to the tableland.

Take plenty of time going up. After you reach 11,500, or so, the going begins to get tough. The last 500800 ft. will require frequent “puffing stops.” Even youngsters puff, but they recover more quickly than adults. Take short frequent stops. You will need between 4 to 5 hours for the ascent unless you have been doing extensive hiking in the area. The descent will require less than half the time.

Special Features: Regarding the panorama spread out in all directions, the least that can be said is to be sure to carry your topographic map of the region, there is so much to be seen on a clear day! Looking eastward, you will see Mono Lake, the old town of Bodie can be made out, the volcanic cones of Mono County, and beyond to the south, Boundary Peak in Nevada and the White Mountains in California. Northward you may be able to make out the Sweetwater Range.

Looking south, you can see Kuna, Koip, Ritter, Banner, Lyell, McClure, and Florence mountains. You can also see clearly the glaciers on Lyell and McClure. Turning more westerly you will be looking down into the multiple cirques of Kuna Crest, Mammoth Peak being the extreme northwestern end of Kuna Crest. Of course, in addition, practically the whole Tuolumne region is spread before you, with the familiar Cathedral Range appearing, probably for the first time, as a unity. There is more, of course, but that will be left for your discovery.

By descending the ridge a short way on the side opposite the one you ascended, you will find several vantage points for viewing the Dana Glacier, Glacier Canyon, and the Dana Plateau beyond, lying above Lee Vining Canyon.

Do not fail to search for the blue Polemonium, or sky pilot, which grows most commonly between 12-13,000 ft. on mountain tops.

If it is cloudy, you may be treated to some special light displays made by the sun in the clouds that occur only at high elevations.

Speak to Oscar, the marmot, and his tribe that live on top of Dana. If the weather is cool, you will find only his signs.

Dana provides one of the finest vantage points for studying the evidence for the formation of the region. The glacial map in Matthes’ volume (20, plate 39, p. 75) is a convenient study resource. Or one may spend the entire stay on the summit pleasantly engaged in counting and naming the many lakes visible. During one such visit, a party counted 25 different lakes, not including smaller ponds.

On your own: By the time you have achieved the summit of Mt. Dana and completed this series of hikes, it may be unnecessary to recommend any additional guidance for enriching your mountain experience in Tuolumne. But at the risk of appearing overzealous, let there be added one further trip, to be designed especially for you and by you. Select some mountain of your choice, register with the District Ranger, and spend the night on its summit. I recommend Mt. Conness or Mammoth Peak. Only one warning need be given: you will never be the same person thereafter!



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