Saturday, August 27, 2011

Mt. Dana (Aug 26, 2011)

My last day in Mammoth was reserved for a hike I've been wanting to do for several years now and me staying in Mammoth, it was only 20-30 minute drive away. Mt. Dana is the second highest peak in Yosemite at 13,000 ft. My highest hike to date is just about 11,000 ft (2 of the 3 were this week!), so this would be my first real test of high altitude hiking. I promised myself if I couldn't make it to the top, I would drop out of the Whitney climb in September.

The trail for Mt Dana is an unofficial trail and unmarked, so it was a bit tricky to find. Luckily, I saw two hikers step off of hwy 120 in the vicinity and figured that must be where the trail started. It started in the employee parking area at the Tioga Pass entry station and the trail didn't become obvious until about 100 yards in.

The first half mile is flat and wanders between 3 lakes and serene woods. The meadows and forests in Yosemite are so nice. I promised myself I need to come back and do a nice mellow meadow hike sometime.

This half mile of flat hiking is worrisome. The hike to Mt Dana isn't that long, which makes it attractive. But there's a hidden factor: it has at least 3000 ft of elevation gain. It's supposed to be 3 miles up and 3 miles back, but my gps claims I only did 2.6 miles each way... and if I just hiked a half mile across the meadow, that means the entire 3000 ft of elevation gain is going to happen in about 2 miles. Uh, oh... This is going to be a doozy!

 The climb is in approximately two sections of 1500 ft each with a saddle in between. The first section has a meadowy green section and a rocky second section. This first section had one of the craziest wildflower displays I've ever seen while hiking. They were dense and tall. I passed a few hikers in this area that were only hiking the wildflower section.

Once past the wildflowers, the climb continues, but over rocks. The trail is still marked well, so it wasn't too difficult. Once past this first section I came to the saddle area where the hike flattenss for a bit (which also means the next section really must be steep!) I think the flat saddle area (actually, it still climbs, but feels flat compared to the rest of the hike) was about 11,400 ft or so, if memory serves. After crossing over the top ridge of the first section onto the saddle, I finally got to see the summit of Mt. Dana and what lays ahead. Rocks!

First view of the summit.
The rest of the hike from this point forward was just rocks. The trail eventually disappears and I pretty much had to make my own path to the top. Occasionally you'd come across path like sections from previous hikers, but I'd lose the path and have to rock scramble. About 1/3 of the way up, I really started to hit an altitude wall... around 12,400 ft or so. I was definitely having more difficulty breathing, and scrambling over the rocks really took a lot of effort. The worst came at 12,700 ft and I really started doubting myself. I was having to stop every step or two. I think it took me over an hour to hike the last 500 ft up. The altitude had also swollen my sinuses so I was back to mouth breathing only, making it that much more difficult.

Yes, it's steep and daunting.

You can just barely see the silhouettes of two hikers coming down giving a sense of scale.

One of many patches of snow. Luckily I could go around them.

As hard as the last 500 ft was, and as much as I was nearly ready to quit, I suddenly realized how close to the summit I had come. I had a burst of energy I just went straight to the top without stopping (and videotaped it as well.) Due to the shear elation of making it to the top, I had no problem breathing and felt on top of the world at that moment.

The views from the top were amazing. To the east was a 6000 ft drop to the Mono Basin and all of Mono Lake was in view. In fact, it's probably the best place to take a picture of Mono Lake. I could see the entire White Mountain range past Bishop. Mt Lyell and the Ritter Range were directly to the south and looking awesome covered in snow. To the west I could see all of Tuolumne Meadows. The entire time I was at the top I never once had a breathing problem. I think most of my problems were due to the steepness of the climb at that altitude. Walking around at 13,000 ft caused me no issues. I sat down facing Mono Lake and had a nice 30 minute lunch.

Interactive Panorama on PhotoSynth (make sure to press the full screen icon for the best effect):

Looking east at Mono Lake 6000 ft below and about 15 miles away.

Looking south

Looking west

Looking north

Heading back down was much quicker, but the steepness and treachery of the rocks still limited me to not much more than 1 mile an hour, but since I was going down, I had no breathing issues at all. By the time I got to the bottom I never wanted to see another rock in my life! The hike proved to be quite an amazing journey. A nicely maintained trail would have been welcome, but there was something special about there not being a trail and having to conquer the rocks on their terms. As hard as it was, and I was constantly asking myself can I do another 1,500 ft (Whitney), I did realize that as long as I took my time and controlled my heart rate, I should do fine. Hopefully Whitney has a better trail that doesn't require as much physical effort. My body seemed to deal with the altitude well, but I could certainly use some cardio training to deal with the muscle demands at that altitude.

After the hike I had a well deserved burger and beer in Mammoth and hit the bed early. Saturday morning was time to head home. I considered stopping for a short hike on the way home like Lembert Dome or Tuolumne Meadows, but I didn't sleep well and thought it best to end the trip with a bang at Mt Dana.

Looking back at the summit from the parking area.

All photos are on Smugmug.

GPS track is on Everytrail.

No comments:

Post a Comment