Trip Report: Mt. Dana, CA – “Dana Couloir”

Miles Clark | | Trip ReportTrip Report
The Dana Couloir of Mt. Dana, CA. image: snowbrains

Yesterday, June 2nd 2020, Greggy and I skied the legendary “Dana Couloir” off 13,061′ Mt. Dana on the border of Yosemite National Park, California.

The “Dana Couloir” was given a 5-star rating in the Nate Greenberg & Dan Mingori’s eastside ski bible:  “Backcountry Skiing The Eastern Sierra.”

“Dana Couloir is the most popular descent off Mt. Dana and one of the classics lines of the area.  Though conditions vary, it is typically possible to ski directly off the summit and into this couloir.”

– Greenberg & Mingori via Backcountry Skiing The Eastern Sierra

We skied off the summit of 13,000′ Mt. Dana, but we did have to clumsily lumber our way down about 100′ of overgrown scree to connect the summit to the “Dana Couloir”. 

We linked the “Dana Couloir” to “Banana Chute” in Ellery Bowl and were able to get 4,100-vertical-feet of skiing in under 6 hours.

Dana Couloir  – Mt. Dana, CA Details:

  • Summit:  13,061′
  • Car:  9,945′
  • Vertical From Car:  3,100′
  • Vertical skied:  1,900′ (1,300′ in chute)
  • Max Pitch:  40º 
  • Avg Pitch: 38º 
  • Aspect:  North
  • Distance:  6.5-miles round trip (including Banana Chute – see below)
  • Time From Car to Summit:  3 hours
  • Car to Car Time:  5 hours & 45 minutes (including Banana Chute – see below)
  • Recommended Equipment:  skins, ski crampons (we recommend bringing boot crampons & ice axe as precautionary measures in this zone at all times)

Banana Chute  – Ellery Bowl, CA Details:

  • Summit (actually a ridge):  11,300′
  • Vertical skied:  1,700′
  • Max Pitch:  45º 
  • Avg Pitch: 42º 
  • Aspect:  North

Dana Couloir + Banana Chute Link-Up Details:

  • Car #1 at  10,000′ at Tioga Pass + Car #2 at 9,500′
  • Vertical Climbed:  3,700′
  • Vertical Skied:  4,100′
  • Distance:  6.5-miles round trip
  • Car#1  to Car #2 Time:  5 hours & 45 minutes
  • Recommended Equipment:  skins, ski crampons (we recommending bringing boot crampons & ice axe as precautionary measures in this zone at all times)

Video of Skiing Dana Couloir:

We ditched our car atop 9,945′ Tioga Pass at 10am and began grinding our way up 13,061′ Mt. Dana while breathlessly discussing the days potent current events.

We followed the Mt. Dana Trail to the top of Mt. Dana with a hiatus or two on large snow patches that provided much-needed relief the relentless drudgery of the trail’s rock and soil Stairmaster.

After 3 hours, we emerged from our darkening thought clouds onto a brilliant summit with stupefying views of Mono Lake at 1pm.

Mono Lake from the summit of Mt. Dana. image: snowbrains

The lake gleamed like a freshly cleaned glass table in your TV memory’s favorite suburban daydream.

Undulating cumulus clouds reflected from sky to lake to eye.

We were able to ski from the summit down a tenuous strip of snow between jagged rocks to the west and hanging cornice to the east.

Greggy and Dana Lake and the Dana Couloir.image: snowbrains

The summit snow didn’t connect to the couloir so we were compelled to stumblingly trudge our way down a short section of rock to reach the couloir.

The snow began again about 100-vertical-feet above “Dana Couloir” and we decided to take it from there all the way down to Dana Lake.

The snow in the couloir was just softening as we entered making the descent fast, fun, and exhilarating.

Greggy on summit of Mt. Dana. image: snowbrains

We skied along the elegant eastern rock wall and drank in vistas of the piercing blues of Dana Lake below.

It was a long, satisfying descent and we were electrified at the bottom.

1,900-vertical-feet from the soaring summit of Mt. Dana (minus our short down walk) to the glacial azure of Dana Lake.

Greggy on a snow patch ascending Mt. Dana. image: snowbrains

We skied, scooted, pushed, and strode down Glacier Canyon, across the Dana Plateau, and over to the top of “Banana Chute” in Ellery Bowl.

The hour was late (about 3:30pm), the sun was high, and the snow was rotten when we dropped into “Banana.”

We dropped into a deep, mealy mank that yearned to tear human crucial ligaments with its every move.

Greggy skiing off the summit. image: snowbrains

We survived the initial narrows of the chute before the snow changed for the better in the belly of the beast.

Wet sluff brayed down the chute threatening havoc and knee surgery.

The apron was goop yet more easily navigated due to the openness of the terrain and the lack of turn frequency.

Dana Couloir from summit of Mt. Dana. image: snowbrains

Our skis came off twice via short rocky sections before reaching our car #2 at Ellery Lake.

We arrived at the car satiated yet starving.

Satiated with our stellar 5-day stint at Tioga Pass and starving for bacon cheeseburgers and soft served ice cream at Mono Cone in Lee Vining, CA.

Greggy executing the clumsy down walk between the summit and Dana Couloir. image: snowbrains

We decided that our time here at Tioga was over for the season and that it was time to move on.

Mono Cone was as delicious as ever and on my drive West, deeper into my native California, I crossed Sonora Pass and had my mind blown by its beauty.

I highly recommend Sonora Pass in the evening light to any and everyone.

Looking west from the summit of Mt. Dana, CA with Saddle Back lake in the distance and Tioga lake in the middle of the photo. image: snowbrains

I’m not sure if I’ll ski again this season and I know I won’t be going to Argentina as I have the past 11 summer ski seasons due to the Coronavirus crisis (yesterday was my 168th ski day of 2019/20).

2019/20 has been a marvelous, if not fraught season full of unexpected opportunity and a litany of backcountry experiences including my first and hopefully last avalanche.

Thank you Tioga Pass for always being there for me in May/June.

Thank you 2020.

Thank you, everyone.

May/June 2020 Trip Reports:

Photo Tour in Chronological Order:

9,945′ Tioga Pass, California. image: snowbrains
Greggy dirt walking. image: snowbrains
12,000 lichen. image: snowbrains
Western vista from summit of Mt. Dana. image: snowbrains
Dana Couloir from summit of Mt. Dana. image: snowbrains
Greggy approaching the summit. image: snowbrains
The Dana Couloir. image: snowbrains
Dana Lake. image: snowbrains
Miles likes Dana Lake. image: snowbrains
Greggy, Dana Lake, Dana Couloir. image: snowbrains
Greggy and Mt. Dana. image: snowbrains
Mt. Dana and the Dana Couloir just left of the summit. image: snowbrains
Greggy and Mt. Dana. image: snowbrains
Greggy and Mt. Dana. image: snowbrains
Greggy approaching “Banana Chute”. image: snowbrains
People keep asking to see the bases of my skis. Here they are. Just some minor, shallow scratches. image: snowbrains
Mono Cone! image: snowbrains
The classic Mono Cone sign. image: snowbrains
Mono Cone! image: snowbrains
Sawtooth Ridge from Bridgeport, CA. image: snowbrains
The US Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center. image: snowbrains
Sonora Pass. image: snowbrains
Sonora Pass sign. image: snowbrains
Levitt Peak’s “Y Couloir” still looking pretty good on Sonora Pass, CA. image: snowbrains
Sonora Pass, CA. image: snowbrains
Sonora Pass, CA. image: snowbrains
Indian Paintbrush on Sonora Pass, CA. image: snowbrains
South fork of the Stanislaus River. Sonora Pass, CA. image: snowbrains
South fork of the Stanislaus River. Sonora Pass, CA. image: snowbrains
Sonora Pass flower. image: snowbrains

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6 thoughts on “Trip Report: Mt. Dana, CA – “Dana Couloir”

  1. Thanks Miles
    This brings back wonderful memories of Dana Couloir from 46 years ago.
    How time flies .
    There were a few more jump turns on 207 cm’s skis back then.
    But the the coverage was much better that year, and the hike out ? Willow whacking and mosquitoes below Dana lake to Tioga lake were still the knarlest part as I recall.
    That chute remains a classic in the Yosemite area and is timeless.
    Again thanks for sharing the memory of that time of climbing and skiing in my life.

    1. So glad this brings back good memories, David!

      46-year-ago? Wow, you’re one of the originals.

      Yes, we much prefer leaving a car at Ellery Lake, crossing the Dana plateau and skiing down Ellery Bowl right to the car. Huge bonus there. 🙂

      You’re welcome for sharing and we’ll keep ’em coming. We’ve decided on one last ski trip on Tuesday Wednesday and we can’t wait.

      Thanks so much for the comment.

    1. Thanks, Brett! Ellery Bowl is still skiable. We skied Banana Chute and that is the only zone off the ridgeline that you can ski nearly back to the car. We had to take our skis off twice. Check out our report from Solstice Couloir on Dana for a video of skiing Ellery Bowl and/or check out our instagram for a few videos of Ellery Bowl/Banana Chute. Thanks again

  2. Miles,
    I enjoyed reading (and watching) your trip reports very much. I admire your physical condition and look forward to next reports from you. I share your disappointment over the South America’ s closure for skiing this season.
    I wish you lots of success in all your “skiing projects”. And I wish me I were you 🙂

    1. Thanks so much for the kind words, Jan. Yeah, too bad about South America, but it will be fun to have a summer for the first time in a long time 🙂

      Thanks again and I wish you success on all as well.

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