The Mt Langley trip scheduled for Feb 18-21 was moved to Mt Dana, and the entire group was replaced but the leader remained the same. Borrowing a page from the Dave Ress Trip Report Style Guide, the group consisted of The Grizzled One, The Fair One, and The Young One. A small band, but determined (and competent to boot).
Undaunted by the long drive to Lee Vining in winter conditions, we braved the 60 degree cold for a 10 am Palo Alto start in The Grizzled One's trusty 150,000 mile car, and even with a leisurely lunch of dead chicken we got to our primitive camp by 5 pm. (OK, it was Murphy's Motel, but The Young One had to sleep on a roll-away! Not even a real bed!) Plenty of time for re-packing and phone calls for avalanche details, etc.
Pancakes and eggs fueled our post-dawn start up the dry pavement of Highway 120. It was gated at 7500' near the Ranger station, apparently reserved for the exclusive use of the Tioga Pass Lodge weenies, who had pickups parked about 3-4 miles inside the gate.
Nice grade, but our plastic boots and snowshoes weighed heavy on our backs as we skipped along in trail hiking shoes. The rockfall was our major danger, and we finally got onto steady snow around the now-famous "Camp 9". Snowshoes were not required until Saddlebag Lake, because the Lodge weenies groom the road as a ski trail for their patrons. (I shouldn't be so hard on them... they would not sell us a meal, in spite of the "food/gas/lodging" sign CalTrans provided for them, but they let us fill our water bottles after they called off their dog!)
The Grizzled One chose a camp beside Tioga Lake, at about 9600', just to the east of the Tioga Pass entry station. About half of the outhouse was exposed, but there were no picnic tables in sight, leading me to speculate that there was only 5' of snow on the ground. The southern exposures had a lot of exposed rock, and the wind had eroded the snow even on northern slopes. This area appears to have been missed by the heavy snowfall in January, which might be useful info for those planning early summer trips.
Preparing to melt snow for dinner, the MSR performed as expected (it wouldn't light) and the Optimus also performed as expected (it worked fine for the entire group). The sun dropped behind the ridge around 4 pm, prompting an early dinner. The Fair One tossed it soon afterward, grim testimony to the lack of acclimatization one can expect in winter climbs. Further symptoms did not appear, and we all slid into our bags expecting a warm night after the 50 degree daytime high.
The Young One, having been cast out of the Fair and Grizzled tent-sharing pool, peered out of a heavily frosted bivy bag as the pre-dawn light began to grow. 5 degrees. Not quite what we expected! Water bottles had become sleeping partners during the night, as we realized how cold it was getting, but we still had to melt water for breakfast.
We left camp around 7 am, trudging up the road to Tioga Pass and cutting new tracks to avoid destroying the ski trail. The Grizzled One kept us fairly close to the standard route up Dana (under the outcroppings to the northwest side), and the snowshoes were cutting in a reasonable 3 inches most of the time. With the full sun came a full wind, 30 mph or so, that kicked up small ground blizzards but kept down the heat we had struggled with the day before.
We switched from snowshoes to boots around 11000', now on drifts. The Fair One was keeping up, but the toll was heavy from the lost dinner the night before. At 12000', The Young and The Grizzled left The Fair One to guard the snowshoes and quickened the pace in an effort to sprint the remaining 1000' and recover our intended schedule. Some sprint - the snow grew softer in the bowl, and we had to dodge rocks in the steepest parts (where the wind had blown the snow off).
The Grizzled One grew weary and talked of turning back. The Young One found that following with an extended ice axe provided sufficient motivation, and both had summited by shortly after 1 pm, an hour behind schedule. Amazing views were admired, cornices were avoided, "ooh" and "aah" were said aplenty, and a hasty retreat was made. The wind abated just after we summited, an apparent sign that we had been accepted in this isolation no one could conquer. There was no rocky summit in sight, much less a summit REGISTER, due to the waves of wind-packed snow. Maybe next time.
Glissading could be done standing (when the drifts were hard enough), squatting with an ice axe brake (when it was steeper), or sitting (in the softer drifts), making the return fast and fun. We broke camp quickly, and headed back down the road. We cleared the rockfall just before dark, and spread out on the paved part like cows heading for the feedlot. While packing the car, The Grizzled One discovered a missing plastic boot.
The next morning The Young One retrieved the missing boot, for a small fee, having once again rested well at the primitive camp site (but this time on the floor, being denied even the small comfort of a temporary bed). Even with a 6 mile round-trip before breakfast, we managed to rocket The Grizzled One's venerable old car back to Palo Alto by 2 pm, surely setting some sort of record for unimpeded two-lane travel. The Grizzled One swears he never left the ground, but discussions of welfare and the body politic kept his passengers unaware of actual speeds and routes.
A fine trip, a fine leader, and fine discussions. Thanks again, to all who came.