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Tioga Lake to Lower Dana Lake Hike

We found a snowy, icy wonderland up above 11,000′ elevation at the lower of the Dana Lakes. Snowy reflections of mountains in a beautiful turquoise lake were a site to behold!

Where: Ansel Adams Wilderness Area, Inyo National Forest
Distance: 5.5 Miles
Difficulty: Moderate to Difficult
Elevation Range: 9,262′ –10,990′
Date: October 14, 2013
Maps: Falls Ridge, June Lake

Highlights: The recent snowfall and cold temperatures resulted in a hike through the snow up to a partially iced over high mountain lake with amazing reflections in the colorful lake. No matter which direction we looked, the view was outstanding. Our plan was to try and make it to several of the Dana Lakes but the snow and ice slowed us down and we only made it to the lower of the Dana Lakes.

We parked our vehicle at the Tioga Lake Overlook and noted some changes that the United States Forest Service had made due to the Federal Government Shutdown. The bathrooms were pretty stinky and the garbage cans were beginning to overflow. I am sure that since the Federal Government is back in business, that this parking spot is now back to its well kept status.

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We took the trail that follows the west end of Tioga Lake and in this early morning with the temperature around 25 degrees, ice formed along the edge of the lake. There was still a little snow from the last storm in patches and the grasses had long turned a golden color, which helped create gorgeous reflections in Tioga Lake.

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We continued up the trail, entering the Ansel Adams Wilderness toward Dana Lakes on the trail known as the Glacier Canyon Trail, also referred to as the Dana Lakes Trail. Does that name give you a hint at the wonderful geology that you can see in this area?

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We crossed the log bridge over the icy Dana Fork. It was a bit tricky because of the snow and ice on the wobbly log bridge.

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And did I mention that the creek was icy?

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The trail followed the creek upstream until it topped out at a meadow area with small tarns or ponds on it. Most of the ponds had shrunk up but if you looked closely, you could spot a mighty fine reflection in them.

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As we headed up the trail we could see Mount Dana in front of us, along with the hidden spots where the Dana Lakes were located. Photo by Gail Gilbert.

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Looking up toward Mount Dana, the upper Dana Lake and the Dana Glacier.

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Tioga to Lower Dana Lake 18Mount Dana reaches 13,061 feet tall and it is the second highest mountain in Yosemite (after Mount Lyell). Mount Dana is named after James Dwight Dana, who was a professor of geology at Yale College

“In 1889 J. N. LeConte copied, from a record found on the summit, “State Geological Survey, June 28, 1863. J. D. Whitney, W. H. Brewer, Charles F. Hoffmann, ascended this mountain June 28th and again the 29th. We give the name of Mount Dana to it in honor of J. D. Dana, the most eminent American Geologist.” James Dwight Dana (1813-95) was professor of geology at Yale at that time.
– Erwin Gudde, California Place Names

Now, back to the reason that this trail is called the Glacier Trail. A glacier is located on Mount Dana at the end of Glacier Canyon, inside a northwest facing cirque located east of the Mount Dana. The glacier occupies the very steep, shaded western slope of the cirque at around 11,500 to 11,800 feet, although a part of it reaches up to 12,500 feet. Photography that compares images taken in 1883 with those from 1975 show that the glacier has retreated substantially in that time frame. Glacial activity carved the area that the Dana Fork and Dana Lakes are located, growing and receding over many years. You can see the glacial activity evidence of the deposited and polished rocks as proof of its travels.

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Here is a link to an excellent short video called – Dana Glacier: A Bellwether of Climate Change – The California Environmental Legacy Project http://youtu.be/CnlHoGcmaw4

Dana Glacier is not the only glacier in the area. There are two other glaciers in nearby Yosemite National Park. Lyell Glacier is the largest of these, covering approximately 160 acres. The other is Maclure Glacier. These glaciers have retreated much since the end of the Little Ice Age, estimating that Sierra Nevada glaciers have lost 50% or more of their size. Some glaciers, such as the one that John Muir discovered in 1871 beneath Merced Peak, no longer exist. You can read more about the extensive glacial activity that has shaped this area, including the ancient glaciers that no longer exist. I found a very short article that summarizes this: http://www.ehow.com/facts_5584705_glaciers-yosemite-valley.html#ixzz2hqQRCWkd

When we reached the first lake, our breath was taken away by the view of this absolutely gorgeous lake. No matter which way we looked, reflections outdid the previous view.

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We climbed up high over the lake to take in the view and Gail Gilbert caught this amazing picture of the color of the lake with me taking in the view.

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What a great lunch spot!

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We walked around most of the lake, admiring those ever-changing views.

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Photo by Gail Gilbert

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Well, it was time to head back down the hill. We had hoped to make it up to some of the other lakes, but since it was kind of tough walking in the snow and ice, we were slower than we anticipated. The afternoon had melted some of the snow on our way down, making it a bit more of a workout because every once in a while you would sink in a hole between rocks. Gail Gilbert caught this issue well with this pictures of me picking me way down between the snow covered rocks.

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Almost back to the car, we reach beautiful Tioga Lake. Photo by Gail Gilbert.

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We look forward to returning to this area and making it a little farther up to at least the next lake. If the weather holds, I sure hope it is soon.

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Day Hikes in the Tioga Pass Region, John Carroll O’Neill & Elizabeth Stone O’Neill, 2002

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