Yosemite National Park-- July 2005Seized by wanderlust one afternoon in July 1999, I left camp and ended up atop one of the Kearsarge Pinnacles. What I saw and felt there changed me forever, and I left the Sierra Nevada that summer a climber, no longer a hiker. My love of the Rockies kept me out of the High Sierra until 2005, when I decided I had to go back and tackle a few notable summits. How I envy those of you who live closer and can explore the lesser-known gems of the Range of Light!
It had been six years since I had been in the High Sierra, and I’d forgotten how magnificent the rock is there. There is so much of it, and it’s so sheer, with such awesome cracks. I chose three summits, all because they are prominent and easily done as day trips, but for other reasons as well. Cathedral Peak--- it offers great free solo opportunities and is just one of the most striking peaks anywhere in the country. Mount Conness—the highest Yosemite peak north of Tioga Pass. Mount Dana--- Yosemite’s second-highest, highest attainable in a day, and offering a good snow climb as an alternative to the popular standard route.
I climbed the peaks in ascending order by height and on consecutive days.
(Blood) Mount Dana via Dana Couloir—Thursday, July 14
“Pink Snow” would be a better title for this section, but it might raise eyebrows and turn me into a forum subject. “Blood” is so much safer and so much more appealing, isn’t it? Reminds me a little of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn when the Duke and the Dauphin guarantee an audience for their show by writing “Ladies and Children Not Admitted” on their announcement.
As the trail leading to the Dana Lakes petered out in tundra-like meadows about a half-mile before the first of the lakes, I felt obligated to minimize my trampling of the fragile vegetation, so I headed to the nearby talus slopes and planned to traverse to the lakes that way. Ecologically, this made perfect sense. In all other respects, it was stupid. In addition to adding considerable amounts of downclimbing and reclimbing to my route, it also resulted in a nice gash on one hand when I stumbled on some rocks and ignominiously fell forward and got a close-up view of the rocks. Usually, there’s a pretty woman around when such things happen to me. This time, fortunately, there was no one else around.
That nice gash also bled a nice amount. Too lazy to get some bandages from the first aid kit in my pack, I just wiped my hand on snow occasionally, leaving a series of pink blazes behind me until the bleeding eventually stopped, which wasn’t until well up into the Dana Couloir. Note to those getting ready to make some wry remark: the snow was pink not because I am some curious specimen but because the red blood mingled with the wet snow, thus producing the pinkish tinges.
But I finally got to the Dana Lakes and climbed to the talus and snow slopes between them and the Dana Couloir. After a rest and some pictures, I crossed to the base of the couloir after dismissing an attempt of a closer one that looked much steeper and possibly unstable. The couloir wasn’t exactly icy, but the snow was often packed hard enough to make crampons a great aid if not an outright necessity. Using my crampons, ice axe, and someone’s abandoned trekking pole, I climbed to the top without any significant incidents, stopping a few times to readjust and tighten my crampons.
From there, Class 2 hiking up Mount Dana’s south ridge takes one to the summit. Because there were scattered patches of steep snow along the ridge and I didn’t want to deal with the on-again, off-again hassle of crampons in such conditions, I found a Class 3 rock route just below the ridge along its east side, finally climbing to the ridge proper just before the summit. I reached the summit and found myself both alone and the first to reach it that day, and for almost half an hour I enjoyed my solitary views from what might be Yosemite’s most popular mountain summit. The views were spectacular and unobstructed in all directions, and the highlights for me were snow-draped Mount Lyell to the south and, to the east, the expanse of Mono Lake, where, knee in the snow, I had proposed to my wife on December 23, 1997.
The standard route between Dana and Tioga Pass was my descent choice, but I almost wish I’d gone back to the Dana Couloir and made a fast glissade down it instead. It was still pretty early in the morning and the trail wasn’t terribly crowded yet, but the first half it, a steep path through ankle- and knee-jarring talus, was just no fun at all. But it was fast, and it only took about an hour to reach Tioga Pass, from which point I hiked down the road and back to my car at the parking area overlooking Tioga Lake.