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Hiking Up, Down and Around Dana Plateau

Dana Plateau is not an easy hike by any means but if you are up for it, you will be blown away by the landscape, textures, colors, views and wildflowers that call this land that escaped the glaciers their home. If you go now and climb up through the white, bouldery wash, you will see beautiful columbine blooms which are at their prime. They don’t stick around very long though.

Where: Ansel Adams Wilderness Area, Inyo National Forest
Distance: 6.83 Miles (5.69 miles to the Mono Lake overlook)
Difficulty: Strenuous
Elevation Range: 9,650′ – 11,924′
Date: July 31, 2019
Maps: Falls Ridge and June Lake Topographic Quads
Dog Hike? Probably not

We started this short but steep adventure at the trailhead at the west end of Tioga Lake on Tioga Road, just east of the Tioga Pass entrance to Yosemite National Park. The trailhead starts where the informational signs and restrooms are located. If the wind isn’t blowing, the morning reflections at Tioga Lake’s inlet are always extra pretty.

Tioga Lake Morning Reflections

We followed the signs toward Glacier Canyon and into the Ansel Adams Wilderness. This hike is a fantastic one to really see how the glaciers shaped the land. In Glazner and Stock’s book, Geology Underfoot In Yosemite National Park, they discuss the most recent glaciation that occurred between 26,000 and 18,000 years ago known as the Tioga glaciation. These glaciers deposited a whole bunch of rocks and debris, also carving out the majority of glacial features that we see today.

A huge ice field formed over and around the Tuolumne Meadows, up to 2,000 feet thick in places. These glaciers smoothed the landscape under the ice, forming the domes and slabs in the Tuolumne Meadows area. A few peaks and ridges poked up above this sea of ice and they were called “nunataks.” They were a kind of bedrock island and some examples include Cathedral Peak and Unicorn Peak. Dana Plateau became a nunatak for short periods as the Tioga glaciers formed around them. These nunataks were sanctuaries for many plants and animals. It was an area that was free of ice where they could live and as the glaciers retreated, these species expanded outward from their nunataks to colonize the freshly deglaciated landscape.

We had a little creek to get over and in past years, logs were across it and I was happy to see that they were still there. Some of my hiking buddies aren’t wild about crossing on these logs and asked if they were more wobbly than prior years. I don’t think this crossing is any worse than it has been. But it is also no better. The use of trekking poles makes it a bit easier for me but some prefer to go without.

The trail led us uphill and along the creek for a while. That creekside was loaded with all different colors of wildflowers.











Elephant heads were looking beautiful and you could really see how they got their name.










We followed the trail which left the creek and we checked out the view to the north and up Mine Creek where I had hiked and fished a couple of weeks ago.

It was soon time to start up the wash, which looks devoid of any life. But if you listen and look closer you may see a pika.

This time of the year, the columbines are blooming in this wash. Alpine columbine and crimson columbine grow in different habitats at different elevations and are visited by different pollinators, but there are a few places in Yosemite at 9500-10,000′ where these two columbines hybridize. The result of this hybridization is a large, glorious white columbine with tinges of pinks, purples and yellow.

I just love these columbine!

After we climbed out of the wash, we reached the plateau, still an uphill climb, but not quite as steep as that wash. We could see where we were headed to the high point of Dana Plateau.

We had some mighty pretty views all around us though.  Looking toward Mt. Dana, which towers over Glacier Canyon at 13,045′ elevation. 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.

Looking back at the direction we had climbed.

We kept up climbing up, aiming for the rocky knob in the middle.

Photo by Steve Humphry




We reached the spot where we usually stop for lunch and admire the view of Mono Lake and Hwy 120 wiggling it’s way down to Lee Vining.


But that view looking back where we had come up was mighty pretty also.

The temperature was in the high 50s but plenty warm enough for Steve to locate a flat rock to take a siesta in the sun.

I checked out the tiny flowers that were nestled in among the rocks.







We wandered south along the rim of the Plateau.

Then we tried to gain a little elevation circling the plateau to end up at the high point overlooking the upper Dana Lake. It is farther than it looks, almost a mile across.

We could look down to the Dana Lakes, formed when that glacier retreated.

And across the plateau for another glimpse of Mono Lake.

It was time to head down and along the creek, we spotted some flowers we missed on the way up. One of my favorites it pennyroyal and I love the aroma of it.

Mariposa Lily



I don’t want to make this hike seem too easy. Although it is short in length, there is a lot of elevation gain here and it is above 10,000′ elevation. 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?

Probably not. This hike is very steep through boulders and loose soil. For myself, it is difficult enough to climb up this trail without having to hold on to a dog. There are also sheer dropoffs at the top. This would not be a good hike for my dog Sally and I have never taken her up here for that reason. But you might be able to do the lower portion with your dog along the creek.


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 Plateau Doarama

Map and Profile:

Dana Plateau Topographic Map

Dana Plateau Google Earth Image

Dana Plateau Profile


Ansel Adams Wilderness Wikipedia

James Dwight Dana Wikipedia

Blackwell, Laird, Wildflowers of the Sierra Nevada & Central Valley Field Guide, Lone Pine Publisher, 1999

Glazner, Allen F. and Stock, Greg M., Geology Underfoot in Yosemite National Park, 2010.

Altitude Sickness WebMD

Prior Blogs in the Area:

Hiking up to and around Dana Plateau July 9, 2018

Hiking up the Glacier Canyon Trail to Dana Plateau August 28, 2017

Hiking up to Dana Plateau August 3, 2016

A Breezy Hike Up To Dana Plateau June 11, 2013

Dana Plateau Hike September 20, 2012

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