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Hiking to All of the Dana Lakes

Three weeks ago we attempted this hike up through wobbly rocks and boulder-strewn glacial remains, but a member of our party started showing symptoms of altitude sickness so we aborted our plan. It was time for us to finish what we had started. We visited all 5 of the Dana Lakes then headed up to Dana Plateau to exit but unexpected encounters with the local wildlife caused to to stop, watch and take a few pictures.

Where: Ansel Adams Wilderness, Inyo National Forest
Distance: 5.19 Miles
Difficulty: Moderate to Strenuous
Elevation Range: 9,653′ – 11.149′
Date: September 13, 2019
Maps: Falls Ridge and June Lake Topogs
Dog Hike: No

We parked our car at the parking area at Tioga Lake, just east of the eastern entrance to Yosemite National Park. I think the car thermometer said it was 46 degrees when we headed up on the Glacier Canyon Trail, also known as the Dana Lakes Trail. The trail crossed the inlet to Tioga Lake (9,636′ elevation) then entered the Ansel Adams Wilderness. It wasn’t long before we passed through grass with frost still clinging to the leaves.

We followed the trail up the wash on the trail that heads up farther to Dana Plateau, then I told everyone to stop. There it was. A pika.

This pika was busy gathering grasses. They blend in so well with the rocks that they can be pretty hard to spot but we had a pika sighting and that is pretty exciting, so we watched and snapped pictures for a little while.

The American pika (Ochontona princeps) is considered an indicator species for detecting the ecological effects of a changing climate in mountainous regions. Results from recent studies suggest that in some areas, pikas are being lost from lower elevations in response to increased warming and less suitable habitat.

They are distantly related to rabbits and prefer rocky slopes. They graze on a range of plants, mostly grasses, flowers and young stems. In the autumn, they pull hay, soft twigs and other stores of food into their burrows to eat during the long cold winter but they do not hibernate.

American Pikas are small mammals, with short limbs and rounded ears. They are about 6 to 8 inches long and weigh about 6 ounces. They have small litters of 2 to 5 with the young born after a gestation period of about 30 days. Sometimes the females will have a second litter.

We left the trail, heading cross country up the canyon. Rather than hike up along the creek, which can get willowy, I find it a bit easier to gain my elevation and head up on the hillside. By the time I reach the base of the first talus slope to that first lake, I am even elevation-wise. By late summer, this area had been traveled by many hikers and climbers, so cairns were seen along the way and snakepath trails had been made in the direction we hiked. We headed up the talus, soon reaching the first Dana Lake (10,806′ elevation).

Up another more bouldery talus dump and there was the second lake (11,047′ elevation), a gorgeous turquoise color.

Up another boulder field toward the third lake and we could look back at the second lake, Gaylor Peak, Granite Lakes area and White Mountain (12,054′ elevation).

Photo by Jody Giorgi

We walked along the third and highest lake (11,154′ elevation) to get to a great view spot for our lunch. And this was our lunch spot, with the perfect view of Mt. Dana (13,061′ elevation) and the Dana Glacier. It is the second highest mountain in Yosemite (after Mount Lyell) and is named after James Dwight Dana, who was a professor of geology at Yale College. If you would like to learn more about him, check out the links to my prior blogs where I shared much more on this great man.

The Dana Glacier has continued to shrink over the years and there is a famous picture taken in 1883 by I. C. Russell that shows how much it has shrunk.

It was time that we moved on and we headed for our next lake, skirting to the east of the second lake. But we spotted a small snowfield that demanded that we sit on it and get our pictures taken. September snow!

Photo by Gail Gilbert

Photo by Gail Gilbert

We headed down and alongside the fourth lake (11,049′ elevation).

Photo by Gail Gilbert

Our fifth and last lake was the smallest one (11,069′ elevation). I took a look back where we had traveled since lunch and Mt. Dana.

It was time for us to go up to Dana Plateau. It was a short scramble, saving us from going back through those boulders but it is a bit scary so I try to not look down.

We skirted the lower portion of Dana Plateau then reached the trail down the wash that leads to Dana Plateau, following it down.

Photo by Jody Giorgi

Then I spotted a few columbine still flowering so I had to take a pictures.

Then I spotted another critter that was also loving the columbine! I think this is a Sierra golden-mantled ground squirrel. The head, neck and shoulders are a reddish or coppery yellow, forming the “mantle,” while two white stripes run along the sides of the blue-gray back. These stripes lead some people to confuse them with the chipmunks. However, the golden-mantle is larger than any chipmunk, about two-thirds the size of the Belding, and does not have stripes running through the face. looks similar to a chipmunk because it has stripes on its back (though, is larger).

They make short burrows under ground, with the entrance near a log, stump or rock which provides a lookout point.

Their food consists of nuts, fruits, and other vegetable matter, varied with meat. There is some evidence of food storage, though this must be for early spring use, since the Sierra golden-mantled ground squirrel hibernates.

The trail led us back to Tioga Lake and our car. It was a fantastic day, made even more fantastic by out sighting of the pika and the Sierra golden-mantled ground squirrel. Adventures sometimes have unplanned, wonderful surprises.

Alititude Sickness:

It is important to be acclimated to hiking at this elevation and recognize the symptoms of altitude sickness when doing so. People do die of altitude sickness every year and this is a very real issue that people should be more aware of.

Altitude sickness occurs when you cannot get enough oxygen from the air at high altitudes. This causes symptoms such as a headache, loss of appetite, and trouble sleeping. It happens most often when people who are not used to high altitudes go quickly from lower altitudes to 8000 feet or higher, but it can occur to even a seasoned and conditioned hiker at times.

You can be adversely affected by the higher altitudes because the air is “thinner” at these high altitudes. When you go too high too fast, your body cannot get as much oxygen as it needs. This causes the headache and other symptoms of altitude sickness. As your body gets used to the altitude, the symptoms can go away.

These symptoms can include:
• A headache, usually throbbing, that gets worse during the night and when you wake up.
• Not feeling like eating.
• Feeling sick to your stomach. You may vomit.
• Feeling weak and lazy. In severe cases, you do not have the energy to eat, dress yourself, or do anything.
• Waking up in the night and not sleeping well.
• Feeling dizzy.

Your symptoms may be mild to severe. They may not start until a day after you have been at a high altitude. Some people say that having altitude sickness feels like having a hangover.

Altitude sickness can affect your lungs and your brain. When this happens, symptoms include being confused, not being able to walk straight, feeling faint, and having blue or gray lips or fingernails. When you breathe, you may hear a sound like a paper bag being crumpled. These symptoms mean the conditions are severe enough that they can be deadly.

Usually the best immediate treatment for altitude sickness is to go to a lower altitude. If your symptoms are mild, you may be able to stay at the elevation, take it easy, rest and make sure you keep yourself well hydrated.

If you are going to go on a hike at high altitude, learn about altitude sickness, the symptoms and how to treat it. It is very important that you look out for the other people in your group also. I have only briefly touched the subject of altitude sickness but felt it was important that it was on your radar should you decide to attempt a hike at elevations that are higher than you are used to. Altitude.org is a site where physicians who are knowledgeable about altitude sickness and associated illnesses have collected some information to share with the public. It has cautionary tales, a calculator where you can enter you’re your elevation to determine your percent oxygen that you will be breathing, along with detailed recommendations on the site. I used their calculator for our Dana Plateau hike and it showed that at our summit of 11,640′ elevation, we had 66% of normal oxygen at sea level. It even has a link that you can email them with questions if you have them. You can find them at Altitude Sickness .

Dog Hike? No

There are no rules prohibiting dogs on any part of this hike and the lower portion while we were on the trail along the creek could be a nice dog hike. But headed up through the moraine where boulders are as big as houses, many that are the size of me, loose rocks that can shift unexpectedly and will, along with straight dropoffs doesn’t make this area a wise place for most dogs. But the lower portion of the trail could be a good dog hike. Once you start climbing along the creek, the trail is narrow as it climbs.


What is a Doarama?  It is a video playback of the GPS track overlaid on a 3 dimensional interactive map. If you “grab” the map, you can tilt it or spin it and look at it from different viewing angles. With the rabbit and turtle buttons, you can also speed it up, slow it down or pause it.

Dana Lakes Doarama

Map and Profile:

Dana Lakes Google Earth Image

Dana Lakes Topographic Map

Dana Lakes Profile


Dana Glacier Wikipedia

American Pika as an Indicator Species for Detecting Climate Change NPS

American Pika Nature Works

American Pika U.S. Fish & Wildflife

Parker, Harry C., Mammals of Yosemite National Park (1952),  Sierra Golden-Mantled Ground Squirrel

Prior Blogs in the Area:

Hiking up to Lower Dana Lake August 26, 2019

Hiking up Wobbly Rocks and Boulders to the Glacial-fed Dana Lakes August 27, 2018

Hiking up to Dana Lakes Hiking up to Dana Lakes July 22, 2016

Hiking to Dana Lakes with Cloud Reflections and a Closer Look at Dana Glacier July 21 2014

Hiking Up To The Dana Lakes July 8, 2014

Tioga Lake to Upper Dana Lakes and Dana Glacier Hike October 21, 2013

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