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Hiking up to and around Dana Plateau

It was so worth the challenging hike up to Dana Plateau. Those beautifully colored and delicate columbine blooms don’t stick around and they were at their prime. Tons of wildflowers, all different colors and sizes, bloomed for us throughout our entire hike and at all elevations.

Where: Ansel Adams Wilderness Area, Inyo National Forest
Distance: 6.9 Miles (5.69 miles to the Mono Lake overlook)
Difficulty: Strenuous
Elevation Range: 9,654′ – 11,886′
Date: July 9, 2018
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. The morning reflections at Tioga Lake’s inlet did not disappoint.

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.

After crossing the small creek that is primarily fed by the Dana Glacier and watershed, the trail led us uphill and along the creek for a while. That creekside was loaded with all different colors of wildflowers.


Photo by Debra Sutherland


Photo by Debra Sutherland









Photo by Debra Sutherland

It was time for us to start heading up the wash. This area was very rocky and we just needed to pick our way up through it the best we could, sometimes on the trail and sometimes a smidge off of it because it was very easy to lose the trail but it really didn’t matter because we knew which way we needed to go–up.

The columbine caught our eye as soon as we started heading up. They were blooming and their display was probably the best we had ever seen in this area.

Many of the columbine were white but when we looked closer, we saw pink and purple fringed ones.


Photo by Debra Sutherland

My hiking buddy Gail located some very interesting information about the columbine in this specific area from Wildflowers of the Sierra Nevada & Central Valley Field Guide.  Although alpine columbine and crimson columbine grow in different habitats at different elevations and are visited by different pollinators, there are a few places in Yosemite at 9500-10,000′ where the miraculous happens–these two columbines hybridize. The result of this hybridization is a large, glorious pink and white columbine. These ephemeral marvels are well worth the strenuous hike to see them. Typical location… below Dana Plateau.

And those pollinators were out working.


Photo by Debra Sutherland









As we continued up the wash, the columbines became fewer and then none at all.

We reached the plateau and the walking became easier. I think we were a bit early for the flower display along the creek but I bet it will be coming.


Photo by Debra Sutherland








The plateau was huge and I could clearly see this when I looked back at my hiking buddies behind me.  Can you spot them?

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 finally reached the top of the bouldery knob that we like to have our lunch spot at.


And the reason we like to stop at this spot is because of the view of Mono Lake.

Tioga Road and Mono Lake

Tioga Road and Mono Lake

The surrounding views were also pretty incredible. Mt. Dana towers another 1,400′ higher than the spot we had our lunch.

Mt. Dana and Dana Plateau

We took plenty of pictures.

I was sitting on a rock admiring the views. The rocky knob that we were sitting on appeared to be desolate and deserted, but we saw plenty of signs of marmot activity and watched a hawk flying by the rim. The area wasn’t as desolate as it appeared. I noticed tiny flowers tucked in the rocks.

One of my hiking buddies came up with the idea to walk across the plateau to check out Mt. Dana, the Dana Glacier and Dana Lakes closer. We walked 8/10 of a mile to get over to the rim.

Photo by Debra Sutherland

When we reached the rim, we were glad that we had done it. Of course, we could look straight across at Mt. Dana and the Dana Glacier.

Mt. Dana and Dana Glacier (Photo by Debra Sutherland)

What a view of the Dana Lakes!

As I headed down, I looked back at my hiking buddies and they looked so very tiny.

We continued down the same way that we had come up.


Photo by Debra Sutherland

Photo by Debra Sutherland

We noticed many more wildflowers as we worked out way down.


Photo by Debra Sutherland

I was hoping to catch some butterflies and I found one that loved posing for me on the pennyroyal.

We had to cross the small creek once again on those skinny logs. We lined up on either side to get the picture, or perhaps we were lining up to get the picture in cased one of us slipped? I guess we will never really know because we all made it across safely.


Photo by Debra Sutherland

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. 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.

Map and Profile:

Dana Plateau Doarama

Dana Plateau Topographic Map

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 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

About Candace Gregory

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