Retro time again I’m afraid. I’m still only walking about 3 miles a day and not doing anything interesting enough to write about, so thought I’d do another post from years gone by.
Actually this one’s not from yonks ago, only 2007, so I haven’t had to scan any photos in this time.
Anyway, for anyone out there who doesn’t already realise, one of my favourite places ever is Yosemite National Park and we have been fortunate enough to have had several trips there over the years. We’ve always followed the same format when we’ve been – 10 days or so camping at the proper campsite at Tuolumne Meadows and then a backpacking trip of some description.
Tuolumne Meadows is at 8,600ft and a brilliant spot for accessing a myriad of day walks into even higher country, thereby making sure you acclimatise to the altitude as well as possible. In fact after flying into San Francisco (which is at sea level) and then driving across to this site in less than a day, the height difference is enough that you definitely notice yourselves gasping for a air a bit for a couple of days and so we tend to do fairly level wanders to start with and then gradually increase the height gained on a walk.
Most visitors to Yosemite only ever see the valley – which is a 60 mile drive away from from Tuolumne Meadows and at 5,000ft – and whilst still a fantastic place with wonderful views of Half Dome and El Cap, many people have no idea just how much wilderness there is to explore on foot.
The highest peak in the park is Mt Lyell at 13,114ft but this doesn’t get too many climbers as it needs a backpack in, a glacier crossing and then easy grade rock climbing skills for the very top.
None of this would be any problem to Geoff, but I’m afraid my rock climbing skills are abysmal, so the next best thing is Mt Dana, which at 13,053ft is the second highest summit.
So Mt Dana is much more accessible and gets its fair share of visitors. It’s not difficult, but is described as a ‘class 2’ climb (US classifications) as there is no proper trail most of the way and lots of strenuous, ankle-turning (ha!) talus hopping.
The trail head for Mt Dana is at Tioga Pass, which is the eastern entrance to Yosemite. This is itself at 10,000ft, so you then only have 3,000ft to actually do on foot to the summit. However, don’t underestimate those 3,000ft – they have to be done in just 3 miles and at that altitude this makes for a good half day’s climb. Weather also has to be taken into consideration. There are occasional afternoon thunderstorms in the area and Mt Dana’s summit is possibly one of the last places you would want to be when lightning is striking all around! It’s best to set off early and aim to be off the summit shortly after lunchtime.
We chose a nice day and set off around 9:00am. The first few hundred yards take you through trees.
But almost before you realise it, the relentless climbing begins. This bottom bit of the climb is also known as a wild flower haven.
After a mile or so, you top out above the tree line to a sort of plateau where you get the first close up view of the talus fields to be crossed. At this point, the summit has a tendency to look a lot closer than it really is! This area is also a haunt for marmots.
There are lots of mini trails through the talus but they all tend to peeter out very quickly, so you end up choosing your own route.
And the rocks are all exceedingly wobbly and walking poles were very useful!
As you get closer to the summit, not only does it get steeper and steeper, the pair of us both started to be more aware of the altitude and feel a little light headed.
Once on the summit, a couple of guys who’d got there earlier kindly took the obligatory photos of us.
The summit itself is rather ‘pointy’ and not very large – probably only about 20ft square.
Something you do have to be aware of when walking at altitude, is drinking plenty. As a surprise, I’d lugged a couple of cans of iced tea up to the summit to have as treat with our lunch and after a short refuelling break, we set off down again.
Not long after leaving the summit we found a bit of a trail to follow for a while and of course going down over those rocks was inevitably slower than going up.
So to date, Mt Dana remains the highest summit I have climbed. Back in 1997 we did have a go at Mt Whitney – which at 14,505ft is the highest mountain in the contiguous USA – but ended up aborting the attempt after spending the night at 12,000ft in the most horrendous thunderstorm imagineable, when the weather took a turn for the worse. But that, as they say, is a whole other story…