In we go
Out of the goodness of her heart, the mrs let me fly out to California and visit Jon over Memorial Day weekend in 2007. We'd have 5 days of climbing available and were hoping to hit 3 or 4 mountains. We thought we’d climb Dana first as it had the shortest approach of all the mountains we were considering. This was important at the time because I had some serious jetlag. I had arrived at Reno at midnight the night before the climb after having flown 11 hours to LA from London, then having to sit around LA for 3 hours and then finally flying to Reno. In the end we left Carson City about 6AM the day of the climb and made the 2 hour drive to Yosemite.
We grabbed a campsite on the way in just a few miles outside the park and then we drove to the base of the climb. We parked the car a little east of the Tioga past entrance and then started the climb by hiking across some marshy lowland and trees to gain a snow field leading into Glacier Canyon. Once in the canyon we tried to stay fairly low and on the snow as much as possible.
After a few miles hiking over scree and intermittent snow fields we arrived at a large snowfield that led across to the couloir. The snow was fairly hard but had just enough give that we decided to hike across it without any crampons. We were fairly high up on the slopes of Dana at this point so we made sure we didn't fall as it would have been about a 500 foot vertical slide to reach the bottom of the snowfield. Soon enough we reached the base of the coulior where we put on our crampons and got ready to start the climb.
In the couloir
Halfway up Jon near the top
The couloir was laced with ice on either side so we decided to head straight up the middle. We didn't bother using a rope and instead just climbed offset 6 feet or so from each other so we wouldn't run into each other if one of us fell. The couloir was about 40 degrees steep and the snow was fairly hard and in general we did a frontal assault climbing pied a’terre style or front pointing.
It was a cool experience climbing inside the colouir. There seems to be something about couloirs that really adds an element of adventure to a climb. Maybe the setting just seems more alpine and remote or the encroaching walls seem slightly ominous. Whatever the case the ambiance in the couloir was impressive. The run out to the valley floor was huge, a fall wouldn’t have been fatal but it would have necessitated a long climb back up. Fortunately for us the snow was in good shape and our axes and crampons felt solid.
One of the steeper sections
We climbed steadily and reach the top of the couloir in a little under an hour. The top of the couloir ends in a saddle that separates the Dana plateau from the summit. We had been quite hot in the couloir but the saddle was really cold so we had to take a quick break to stop and add some layers. From here, we had to gain about 500 vertical feet before we would reach the summit.
Summit and descent
Jon and I on the summit
We ended up climbing a low angle snowfield from the saddle straight to the summit. Funnily enough it seemed that we were both getting more tired on the summit slopes even though they were less steep than the couloir was. The altitude may have been affecting us since neither one of us really acclimated but it didn't really matter much as we soon topped out on the summit. I was thinking we would be the only ones on it but there was a gentleman already on top who had climbed up the standard route. He was kind enough to take our photo and then we took a quick break to have some cheese, salami and crackers for lunch.
We didn't really feel like slogging through wet snow on the way back so we decided to descend the standard route rather than going back down the couloir and through Glacier Canyon. The standard route mostly switch backed through scree and talus fields before reaching a gravely plateau. From there we picked up a trail that switch backed down toward Tioga Pass. The standard route made a fine descent but what a crappy way to ascend the mountain. I’m not one for slogging up endless switchbacks, particularly through scree, but that seemed to be the embodiment of the standard route. It seems sad that the majority of people that summit mountains like Dana only experience them through routes like the standard one. But I guess that’s good for those of us who prefer isolation on the more interesting routes. Whatever it’s aesthetic merits we got down the scree pile fairly quickly and made it back to the car after a round trip time of 5 hours and 45 minutes.
Dana turned out to be quite a nice climb. I couldn’t have handled anything much longer due to having travelled so far the day before so I found the approach just right. The couloir itself was a little steeper than I expected and I found it to be quite an invigorating climb. Jon and I were both happy with how we handled the altitude and with our fitness levels for the climb. All in all, a great day and a good indication of how we would handle the other mountains on our trip.
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