Judi’s Jaunts – Hiking Yosemite & the Sierra Nevada
I haven’t met many hikes I didn’t love. Doesn’t matter if they’re long or short, flat or at elevation.
The flat ones get me out of my daily routine, focus my thoughts on wilderness and wildness, make me lose track of time for least a few hours. The tough ones challenge body and soul.
Right now I want to talk about a tough one, even though by the time you read this, you may need to plan it for next summer because it requires both access to Yosemite’s Tioga Road AND good weather without the threat of snow or thunderstorms to impede your progress.
My very favorite hike in Yosemite (at least thus far) is to the summit, or as close as you can get, of Mt. Dana, at Yosemite’s eastern entrance. It’s a hike of six miles round-trip, with an elevation gain of 3,000 feet, starting at 9,945 feet above sea level. It’s not for the faint-of-heart or the unconditioned or the unprepared. But the mind-blowing views you achieve at all stages of the hike make the effort more than worthwhile.
What do you need?
1) Acclimation to elevation. Don’t come here from sea level and expect to do this hike the same day or even the day after. Your body needs time to adjust to the thinner air. If you can, plan to stay one or two nights prior at one of the local higher-elevation such as White Wolf or Porcupine Flat or Tuolumne Meadows. You might even luxuriate at a tent cabin at Tuolumne Meadows Lodge.
2) Layer your clothing. Start early, and the day will be chilly. You will warm up as the hike progresses, and you may want to shed some of those layers.
3) Plenty of water. There is no access to water on the trail.
4) Trekking poles. This trail is rocky, and poles help you balance. Personally, I won’t hike without them even on hikes considered “easy.”
5) A hat and sunblock. Even if the weather is cool, sunburn is possible at this elevation.
6) An up-to-date weather forecast. You don’t want to do this hike if there is a threat of thunderstorms in the forecast, or if you see clouds building in the distance. They can move incredibly quickly, and there is no place to shelter on this mountain.
With all those provisos, why would you even want to do this hike?
The views are stunning. You look UP at the Sierra Crest surrounding you. As you ascend, you lose both trees and flowers to emerge on a rocky plateau or saddle featuring a “cairn” of piled-up rocks created by eons of hikers. You’ve become eye-level with the surrounding peaks. From here the trail becomes sketchy. Watch for rocks with orange dots that mark the trail created by legendary Yosemite Ranger Carl Sharsmith many years ago; however there are many routes you can take. Climbing to the ridge that leads to the summit takes you above the surrounding peaks, with a view below to Tioga Lake, Dana Couloir, Dana Glacier and, in the distance, Mono Lake. To the west you’ll catch glimpses of the Cathedral Range, the Kuna Crest and the Sierra Crest, often snow-covered even in late summer.
Continue on to the summit, where the talus starts out as fist-sized rocks and ends up as massive boulders. Disclaimer here: my short legs couldn’t manage the climb over them, and I bailed out before reaching the summit. Still, the views made the trek incredibly worthwhile.
Keep in mind that you still have to descend, so save some of your resources for the downhill. By the time we reached the trailhead at the end of a long day, our leg muscles shook from the exertion in a way they haven’t on any other hike I’ve done before or since.
Discover the magic of Yosemite’s high country, and leave the central valley’s heat behind, as well as the Yosemite Valley crowds. It’s a whole other world up there, full of adventure and spectacular beauty for both the seasoned hiker and the newcomer.
Because this hike is strenuous in a way most Yosemite hikes aren’t, planning almost a season ahead isn’t a bad thing. You have a goal that will stretch both your legs and your mind. Go for it!
About the author:
By Judi Hussain, Visitor Center Coordinator at Visit Yosemite Madera County
Judi Hussain came to Bass Lake 26 years ago and fell in love with the area. She bought a house that weekend, moved here from Southern California four months later. She’s made the Sierra Nevada foothills her home ever since.
An avid hiker, she believes the best way to see Yosemite and the Sierra Nevada is by foot or bike. She has trekked virtually all of the trails in Yosemite Valley and many in the high country, as well. She’s always open to new adventures and loves sharing those journeys with visitors to the area.