The Dana Couloir is a northern Yosemite classic and an excellent starting place for newer mountaineers looking to get a first couloir ascent checked off their list. The gully is wide, has minimal rockfall, and features a steady, 45-degree slope with killer views as you ascend.
This climb is best done in the late spring or early summer before the snow melts and it becomes an AI-1 ice climb. If Tioga Road is closed, then you’ll face a long hike or bike ride up the road, but the approach is much easier when the pass opens in May or June. Camping can be found at Tioga Lake, just before the east entrance of Yosemite National Park.
On the south side of Tioga Lake, there is a poorly-marked trail for Glacier Canyon. When snow levels are high, the trail is impossible to follow, so strap on your crampons and begin the steady uphill climb toward the bench that separates the road from the lower slopes of Mount Dana. Starting near 5 a.m. is recommended to get the best snow conditions in the couloir itself, but be sure to check temperatures and avalanche warnings before heading out on any alpine climb as conditions vary wildly in the late spring.
Though it is only a 3-mile approach, it is deceptively difficult, as sun cups and multiple moraines require careful foot placement. Give yourself plenty of time to enjoy the approach, as it highlights picturesque views of Mount Conness and the surrounding High Sierra. You’ll pass multiple alpine lakes as you near the couloir, the perfect place for a snack break or water refill.
The couloir and Dana Glacier come into full view as you approach Dana Lake. The lack of a large bergschrund makes it a less technical approach and a great, steep snow climb. Watch out for signs of wet slides as you hike toward the eastern side of the mountain, passing under the Solstice Couloir and its massive cornice. Now get ready to climb. Ascending smoothly for 1,200 feet, it’s no wonder that the Dana Couloir is one of the top-rated alpine climbs in the Sierra!
At the top of the couloir, a saddle separates the peak of Mount Dana from its neighboring plateau. Turn right and head up a more-gently graded snow climb toward the summit, carefully avoiding any cornices that may have formed at the top of the ridge. Once above the cornice’s edge, an easy walk through the snow brings you to the top of Mount Dana, the second highest point in Yosemite National Park.
There is a Class 1 or 2 trail off the back of Mount Dana that easily brings you back to Tioga Road. It can be hard to follow in the snow, but it basically heads straight down the shallower slopes and moraines on the northwest face of the peak. If you’re feeling adventurous or snow conditions are awesome, skiing, plunge stepping, or glissading down the couloir will provide an exhilarating end to your high-altitude adventure! Continue back the way you came toward your vehicle and grab a burger. You’ve earned it.