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Hiking up the Glacier Canyon Trail to Dana Plateau

From the tippy top of Dana Plateau, we were looking straight down at Mono Lake and the Tioga Road. Beautiful wildflowers lined the trail on the way up and we even saw a pika!

Where: Ansel Adams Wilderness Area, Inyo National Forest
Distance: 5.69 Miles
Difficulty: Strenuous
Elevation Range: 9,654′ – 11,651′
Date: August 28, 2017
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. As we rounded Tioga Lake, we could see those gorgeous reflections taking shape.

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.








The wilderness was established as part of the original Wilderness Act in 1964 as the Minarets Wilderness. The 109,500-acre Minarets Wilderness was created by enlarging and renaming the Mount Dana-Minarets Primitive Area. In 1984, after his death, the area was expanded and renamed in honor of Ansel Adams, well-known environmentalist and nature photographer who is famous for his black and white landscape photographs of the Sierra Nevada.


After crossing the small creek that is primarily fed by the Dana Glacier and watershed, the trail led us along the creek for a while. . .uphill of course.




Beautiful flowers along the creek took our minds off of that uphill portion for a while.










The trail leveled out for a bit to give us some pretty nice views.

Looking north toward Saddlebag Lake area

Looking south up Glacier Canyon toward Mt. Dana and Dana Lakes

It was time to head uphill again and this piece of the trail took us up through a rocky drainage with blooming columbine tucked in the rocks. We even saw a pika carrying grass in its mouth but that little guy ws way to fast for us to capture a picture.

As we climbed, Mt. Dana came into our sights and we just had to take the time to admire the views. Mt. Dana towers over Glacier Canyon at 13,045′ elevation and is the second highest mountain in Yosemite (after Mount Lyell). It is named after James Dwight Dana, who was a professor of geology at Yale College.

We reached the plateau portion and headed up to the highest point. There is no real trail from this point on but we were headed for the highest point in front of us. I took a look back the way we had come up on that plateau and it sure was a beautiful view.

The next stretch took us up through the tumbled rocks.

And when we reached the top, what a view! We could look straight down on Mono Lake and Tioga Road.

We were looking across at Mt. Dana.

Looking back where we can come.

And look at me!

Photo of me by Gail Gilbert

We headed down pretty much the same way that we had come up and I don’t know if it was easier climbing that hill or going down because the dirt was soft, making it important that you watched your step.

We had some new flowers open up in the afternoon in those rocks. We think this might be rock fringe.

More wildflowers had also opened up along the creek.

Photo by Gail Gilbert

Crimson columbine

Mariposa lily with pennyroyal

When we reached Tioga Lake, we were treated to white puffy clouds reflecting in the lake.

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.

Map and Profile:

Dana Plateau Doarama

Dana Plateau Topographic Map

Dana Plateau Profile


Ansel Adams Wilderness Wikipedia

James Dwight Dana Wikipedia

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 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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