The tallest peak in Yosemite National Park is Mount Lyell at 13,120 feet. Coming in a close second, is Mount Dana at 13,061 feet. Like Mount Hoffmann in the geographic center of the park, there is no “trail” to the summit of Mount Dana that is maintained by the National Park Service. Having said that, for those that are willing to route find, brave substantial elevation gain, and risk venturing off the three mile one way distance in minor ways, the payoff is a summit with great three hundred and sixty degree views of the Sierra Nevada mountain range, the high country of Yosemite, and Mono Lake to the east.
Directions: Mount Dana is located almost directly to the south of the Tioga Pass Entrance Station to the park. While the mountain can be climbed during the winter months by the Dana Couloir, such a climb is a technical climb, and is not the climb described herein. During the months that the Tioga Pass (California Highway 120) is open, which depends on the seasonal snowpack, the best way to access this route is to park in one of the parking lots adjacent to the entrance station. From this point, the use trail may be readily visible across the high alpine meadows to the South. I note that the use trail “may” be readily visible, because as noted above, this trail and route is not maintained by the National Park Service. Depending on the snowpack, the time of year, and other variables (such as where one is parked), the route may not be visible.
Correspondingly, hikers and mountaineers should have either a map, or a GPS unit or track that provides them with the route to follow. Generally, this route leaves from the entrance station, and bears South across the meadow and through the stand of trees at the base of the mountain. From this point, the route begins the inexorable ascent up toward the peak along the right (west) side of the mountain. Over the course of a series of switchbacks, the trail climbs up and out of the trees, and onto a plateau where the actual summit is visible. From this point, while the “trail” is likely more visible due to the numerous cairns that have been erected, there are a variety of ways that all lead to the summit.
Once on the summit, there are excellent views in every direction of both the national park, and the eastern Sierra Nevada. When one is done admiring the views, the return route is back down the way one ascended. While Mount Dana can be climbed as a six mile roundtrip hike, with 3,118 feet of elevation gain, chances are that one will probably hike and climb a bit farther than that given the condition of the route, and parking opportunities, leaving the climb somewhere in the 7.5 mile to 8 mile roundtrip range. Irrespective of distance, the climb of Dana is a great experience, and one that is a great introduction to mountaineering.
Disclaimers: While Mount Dana is generally considered a “walk up” type of climb, meaning that no technical climbing experience is needed, such a moniker is a little misleading. Due to its high elevation, for much of the climbing season, the route may be obscured at times due to snow, rockfall, or other conditions. Further, even during dry conditions, the route is a steep, talus field scramble that requires hikers and climbers to pay close attention to their footing. During the early portions of the year that the peak can be accessed for climbing, potential climbers should have proper equipment, including, but not limited to, crampons, ice axes, and helmets to address long standing and steep snowfields. During the mid-and-latter portions of the year, potential climbers should also be mindful of mid-afternoon thunderstorms that regularly affect the peak; and be mindful of rain and lightning. Overall, while not as challenging, as say, the Hillary Step on Everest, Mount Dana remains a tall mountain that requires preparation before a successful ascent and descent.
Tips: During the early climbing season when the road is open, Mount Dana provides excellent views of snow capped peaks both within Yosemite and out. For those that have the inclination, and the skill, Mount Dana also provides a location that can be climbed and skied down, or boarded down in the early summer months.