Dana Couloir Trip Report

15-16 May 2004 - by Amit Bedajna

Participants: Heyning Cheng (Leader), Suet Fe Li, Amit Bedajna

Neither Heyning, nor I have technical ice experience, we decide to do it as soon as the Tioga pass opens, so as to avoid using pro. Only Suet Fe has ice climbing experience, she brings along a picket and ice screws, and Heyning brings a 30m 8mm rope, just in case. We end up carrying these along with harness, but never use them. We drive up to Yosemite May 15 Sat'day night and camp for free at a closed campground near the junction of 120 & 395. Night is warm (about 40), no wind chill, the camping is almost fun!

Sunday we start at the entrance station trailhead at about 8:00am, traverse left to head up along Glacier Canyon, moving at a very relaxed pace. (Compared to our usual pace on such outings, it almost feels as if the day is unfolding in slow motion). Snow is hard packed, we decide to strap crampons on early. We decide to contour the bowl of the glacier instead of loosing elevation, traveling on snow almost all the time. When we were about a quarter of a mile from the base of the couloir, we spot two tiny dots of human form that start climbing the col. I guess they are Kelly Maas and Arun Mahajan of the PCS. We met them Sat'day night at the Yosemite entrance station. We reach the base of the col at 12:30pm.

At the base of the col I have an attack of self doubt. I have negotiated 40+ degree snow before, but they were soft snow, and I could kick steps. Now the snow is hard packed, which means I have to crampon up 1000ft of exposed 40-45 degree slope without belay. Heyning and Suet Fe provide words of encouragement. I take a small break, eat a bar, tighten my crampons and walk up directly to the center of the base of the col, and my fear magically vanishes. We start at 12:45pm. Heyning zigzags up by cutting steps. Suet Fe finds fault with my self belay technique (note to self: bedtime reading of Freedom of the Hills doesn't substitute for hands on training -:), her suggestions are extremely helpful. Soon I hit a comfort zone, and maintain a slow steady pace. Heyning starts front pointing up using the ice axe at low dagger position, while Suet Fe and I use the classic self belay with ice axe in stake position. Both of them start moving up at a furious pace, but they slow down to give me company. Thanks. We reach the top of the col at 2:00pm, taking 1hr 15min for the climb. The col terrain was a mixture of hardpacked and corn snow, with several icy pacthes which we easily avoid. We stay to the climber's left, but I guess that is just a random decision. Overall, I felt it was more of a psychological challenge than anything else, this time of the year, when snow conditions are so favorable.

A soft-snow slog takes us from the top of the col to the summit. We are rewarded with billion dollar views of the mono lake basin. On the way down the touristy route, we do standing glissade for the 2/3 of the distance that has snow cover. Overall, I guess at this time of the year, the couloir can be a fun and exciting climb for someone without technical ice experience. From the top of col to the car, in spite of a headache, my face has a broad grin, that starts at my left ear and spans all the way upto my right ear most of the time.

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