Hiking to Glacier Canyon

I was ready for a lazy winter after finishing last of my three ambitions of this year, half marathon (13 miles/21 km run) to benefit San Ramon School District on last to last weekend ( 10/12/2014).  Hakan came by with a proposal to hike to a canyon that has been in his to-do list for sometime.

Hakan is very accomplished mountaineer. he summited several mountains all over the world including dozens of Sierra-Nevada peaks. He has commendable  knowledge on Sierras peaks, geology and watersheds. I have been waiting for such opportunity to hike with him in Sierras from long time.  I had a week to recover from the run and have been physically active through out the year, so thought I’m ready to take any challenge that this cross country hike including summiting two peaks would present.   Cross country hikes basically means no hiking trail to follow. You  will make your own way towards the destination. It involves  many track backs, retries and changing courses.

Our plan was to park the car at Tioga pass, hike to Glacier Canyon that features Dana Glacier and Dana lakes, climb north-west facing canyon wall towards Mt. Dana, Summit Mt. Dana,  get down to saddle between Mt. Dana and Mt. Gibbs, Summit Mt. Gibbs, return to the saddle and follow the creek that flows down the mountains towards highway 120 and reach eventually back to the car.

Here is our planned route

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On Friday 10/17/2014, we started around 7:30PM after work. Stopped one hour at Oakdale for dinner. Crossed Tioga pass around midnight and reached Lee Vining around 1AM and grabbed keys that are waiting by front door of our hotel.  Lee Vining is a very small town right on junction where highway 120 connects to highway 395. Good place to stay for exploring Mono lake and surrounding areas.

I was pretty concerned about driving on Tioga Pass during the night as fog rolls in anytime making visibility pretty bad.  We had very calm weather with almost all the road for us. We tried to sleep, but late night coffee took toll on us. We got up around 5:30AM and prepared oatmeal breakfast and got our packs ready and left for Tioga Pass.

Tioga pass is at 9,943ft. elevation. Yosemite national park east entrance station located right on the pass.  We parked our car outside the entrance gate on roadside and started walking into wilderness around 7:20AM.   We reached a  small beautiful lake in about 0.3 miles.

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Hakan marveling at the nature …

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Sun raised over horizon,  as we made our way towards the canyon entrance.

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We crossed an unnamed creek that flows into Tioga Lake.  We stopped at nice cascades for few minutes.

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Just  with in half mile in our journey, we found ourselves walking on talus. Eventually we reached the entrance of the canyon through nice meadow. What I did not know that point of the time was that rest of our hike will be on talus and moraine. Talus is basically heap or slope of rock debris. As glaciers move, they crush boulders in to small rocks. The talus we encountered is mostly 1 to 3 cubic foot large.  Moraine is combination of soil and very smaller rocks grinded by glacial movement.

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Canyon floor was like a staircase of about 4 steps. Each step has one or two lakes. Purity or clarity  of water improved as we go higher and higher.  Lakes started to freeze already. The thin lines you see in below picture in foreground are frost layer formed in the top. Its still very thin and fragile, but as winter approach these lakes will freeze. You can see ice formation in the insert in below picture.

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Here are couple of pictures of the canyon and lakes …including its visitors

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Looking back the way we came

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Hakan looking at Dana Summit.

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One of the clear and pure lake I ever saw. I did not find even algae that grows on the submerged rock on the edges of lake.

Hakan filling the water bottle directly…no filtration required.

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We finally reached the end of the canyon and Dana Glacier…Still holding up… never know how long…

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Hakan inspecting the glacier … see him in the insert that gives perspective on size of the glacier.

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Looking back at way we came. We had a great view of Mt. Conness, North Peak and Shepherd Crest.

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We surveyed east side canyon walls that we supposed to climb to get access to summit Mt. Dana. They are pretty steep and treacherous.  We found north side wall to be reasonable. We decided to climb up to Dana Plateau and thought of negotiating our way to the summit over canyon ridge. That’s when my troubles started.  Canyon wall rose about 900 ft. over about 0.25 miles (1300 ft.), i.e. 77% grade.  Its class-2/class-3 climb over loose talus.  Hakan took my camera that was hanging over my chest and blocking my vision.  We took  support of rocky outcrop and slowly climbed over to Dana Plateau. It nearly took 2 hours.  I was completely exhausted.   Based on pure distance and elevation it was like a simple stroll  compared to what I did on JMT with 3 times more weight on my back. But walking on talus, minding every single step and pushing up the body higher as you climb was entirely different.  Half marathon was much easier for me than this. Based on time and my energy levels, we decided to drop out Mt. Gibbs or Mt. Dana from the list.

Here is the Google earth profile of the wall we climbed.

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We walked over to ridge that connects Mt. Dana and Dana Plateau.  To our disappointment, the ridge is very narrow. We climbed over to rim but could not proceed further. At that time, we had to conclude our pursuit of finding route to Mt. Dana  from Glacier Canyon. But views from the ridge were breath taking. Here is the panorama of east side.

You can see complete Dana Plateau, Mono Lake and Mono craters.

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More pictures

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We walked along the Dana Plateau and came down to the canyon entrance but other side of the creek, where we found a trail that led us to Tioga Lake south end.  We reached highway 120 and walked along the road to reach our car. We walked abut 45 min. in the dark.  Over all, we hiked 12 hours about 9 miles with 3500 ft. elevation gain.

Glacier Canyon is fantastic and Views from Dana Plateau are extremely beautiful. Many lessons learned. My camera harness was really bad for off trail excursions like this. Walking on talus is no fun when you can not see where your foot is going.  Running and hiking need their own training methods. I need to get  down from tread mill and get back on to stair case mil again.

Here is our actual route and elevation profile.

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