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Hiking up to Lower Dana Lake

We had planned on visiting all 5 or so of the Dana Lakes then heading up to Dana Plateau to exit but that didn’t happen as planned. We did make it to the lower lake after hiking up through the boulders to hike under the brightly colored mountains and rocks below towering Mount Dana.

Where: Ansel Adams Wilderness, Inyo National Forest
Distance: 5.08 Miles
Difficulty: Moderate to Strenuous
Elevation Range: 9,653′ – 10,826′
Date: August 26, 2019
Maps: Falls Ridge and June Lake Topogs
Dog Hike: No

It is not an easy hike by any stretch of the imagination but the view of Mount Dana towering above you, the red mountains along your side and those beautiful lakes make it worth the hike up through the wobbly rocks and boulders strewn glacial remains.

We parked our car at the parking area at Tioga Lake, just east of the eastern entrance to Yosemite National Park, then headed up on the Glacier Canyon Trail, also known as the Dana Lakes Trail, entering the Ansel Adams Wilderness. The trail crossed the inlet to Tioga Lake which looked so peaceful.


Grass that had been green on my hike a month earlier had turned brown as we started hiking up the Glacial Canyon Trail, crossing then following up along the Dana Fork. In the spring, this creek is loaded with wildflowers and this year those flowers were still putting on a nice show.





Someone had made an improvement on the log bridge across the creek, adding another log.







The trail led us into the Ansel Adams Wilderness.






I had hiked on this trail about a month earlier and it always surprises me how the variety of flowers changes but still stays pretty lush. The fireweed was gorgeous.

Mariposa lilies were starting to open up after closing up shop for the night.

Larkspur was blooming like crazy is several areas along the creek.

Sierra lilies.

About 20,000 years ago a gigantic glacier covered the Yosemite and Tioga Pass areas. The National Park Service and United States Geologic Society recently collaborated on producing an updated map of the extent of icefields and glaciers during the Last Glacial Maximum. In the Tioga Pass area, the depth of this ice field varied but Tuolumne Meadows had ice thicknesses exceeding 1,600 feet. The highest peaks and ridges rose above the massive ice fields and were surrounded on all sides by ice called “nunataks” (an Eskimo term meaning “lonely peak”). Examples of nunataks in the Tioga Pass area include Cathedral Peak, Mount Conness, Dana Plateau and Mount Dana. Nunataks often acted as refuges for species seeking to escape the advancing ice, and many former nunataks have rare or endemic plant species that survived and are unique to these lcoations.

As the glaciers in this area moved, they crushed boulders into smaller rocks. As the Dana Glacier retreated, it left gigantic piles of rock debris that it had carried called talus, and the Glacial Canyon that we were hiking in is a perfect illustration of that. As the Dana Glacier retreated, areas pooled the water flowing out of the Dana Glacier and those are what we call the Dana Lakes today.

Glacial Extent and Direction of Flow in Yosemite National Park and Vicinity (Courtesy National Park Service)

In order to reach these beautiful lakes, we climbed up a series of talus.

It wasn’t long before I reached the first of the Dana Lakes that we visited at the 10,806′ elevation.

My hiking buddies looked pretty tiny as thee topped over the talus dump.

This first lake is pretty small and we could see 6 inch trout surface feeding and jumping for joy.

Although the hike to reach the Dana Lakes is short in length, there is a lot of elevation gain here and it is above 10,000′ elevation. We had gained 1,125′ from the Tioga Lake inlet in about 2 miles.One person in our hiking party shared with us that they had gotten a weird headache as they were heading up the talus. We sat down for a while to see if they were feeling any better and that headache was still there so we decided to abort our planned ascent to the other lakes and lower our elevation. As soon as we reached the lower part of that talus, the headache went away. We decided that it wasn’t worth risking things getting worse. This could have been altitude sickness or it could have just been a headache. We couldn’t be sure.

We started heading down and we discovered lots of columbine blooming in the rocks that we had missed seeing as we headed up.

We headed of trail down to a really small lake that I hadn’t stopped at for a few years and it made a perfect spot to take a break at a lower elevation and eat lunch.

After lunch we headed cross country back to the trail, hoping those butterflies might busy working the pennyroyal.

What a surprise to see a solo sphinx moth pollinating a larkspur, also called the hawk moth and the hummingbird moth, because of its hovering, swift flight patterns. These moths have wingspans ranging from 2 to 8 inches and they pollinate flowers while sucking their nectar with a proboscis (feeding tube) that exceeds 10 inches in some species.  From descriptions that I could find, I think these were white-lined sphinx moths their size ranges in length from 2 1/2 to 3/12 inches. It has a prominent brown head, a brown thorax with 6 white stripes and a brown abdomen with paired dark spots on each segment. The forewings are brown with a buff-colored band from base to tip and veins outlined in white. The hind wings are pink, turning to dark brown near the margins.

Sphinx moth larvae change underground into adult moths, who then dig their way to the surface. Mating occurs shortly thereafter, with females laying as many as 1,000 eggs on the underside of food plants. Eggs hatch within a few days. Males and females die after they have completed their roles in the reproductive process.

Sphinx moths emerge at dusk from their hiding places and begin feeding on the nectar of flowers. Their size, combined with their rapid wing beats, allows them to hover and feed in the manner of hummingbirds, for which they are sometimes mistaken.

Their way of flying requires a lot of energy and creates a good deal of heat in the moth’s body. For these reasons, these moths feed exclusively on nectar and seek flowers which produce large amounts of this water source which also contain high amounts of sugar.

As we passed along Tioga Lake on the way back to the car, the white puffy clouds were casting beautiful reflections.

Tioga Lake (Photo by Gail Gilbert)

Even though the hike that we had planned didn’t exactly follow our expected destinations, we had a fun day. I hadn’t been over to that little lake where we had lunch in a few years and we even saw some big bucks as we were working our way over to it. Stopping for a leisurely lunch at the lake and watching the clouds float by was a relaxing thing to do. Our hiking buddy didn’t have the headache and was feeling fine, which was a good thing to hear.

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.

Lower Dana Lake Doarama

Map and Profile:

Lower Dana Lake Topographic Map

Lower Dana Lake Google Earth Image

Lower Dana Lake Profile


Dana Glacier Wikipedia

Glacial Extent and Direction of Flow in Yosemite National Park and Vicinity

White-lined Sphinx Moths Desert USA

White-lined Spinx

Prior Blogs in the Area:

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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