Mt Dana via the Dana Couloir

16 May 2004 - by Arun Mahajan

Tioga Pass was open! This was the earliest in my memory, so Kelly and I decided to pay homage. Climbing Mt Dana (just over 13000 ft) that is so close to the Tioga Pass entrance seemed to be an ideal way to kick off the high(er) altitude climbing for the season. To add further spice, we decided to climb Dana by way of the Dana Couloir. Kelly Maas had climbed it a few times, with ropes when it was icy and without, when it was earlier in the season and had been a high angled snow climb. I too had climbed it in fall once, as a roped climb and with ice regalia, with Ron Karpel but I had not done it as an early season snow climb.

So, off we went, walking from the deserted parking lot just inside the park, at Tioga Pass, at about seven am. There was snow everywhere and it was hard and packed. We went towards Glacier Canyon. The usually barren slopes were snowbound and as we approached the Dana Couloir, the snow was hard enough that we had to put on crampons. We saw a couple of hardy skiiers climbing up the Solstice Couloir with their skis lashed to their packs.

After a long break at the base of the Dana Couloir (no bergschrund today, everything closed up), we set off to climb the actual couloir. Kelly sprinted up effortlessly, front pointing all the way. With my skills and confidence quite lower, I took on a more cautious pace, zigzagging up the slopes. Soon, Kelly was out of sight. The snow was good for cramponing and the shaft of the axe sank just enough to inspire confidence but I had to be careful as there were patches of harder snow interspersed with the softer snow. Fifty five minutes from having started, I was at the top of the couloir. Kelly had been waiting patiently for me for the past twenty five minutes, amazing!

It is a privilege to see the Sierra with this much snow and this early in the season. After a long lunch break, we took off towards the summit of Dana. The snow was softer here than on the couloir but it was rippled and there was a lot of it, being the north/north-east side.

There were people at the summit, skiiers as well as mountain climbers. Being in no particular hurry, we chatted and eventually made our way down by the usual, popular route. Several groups of skiiers were coming up and there was good snow cover below the summit boulders on this side of Dana, with patches of ground showing up in several places.

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