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

Miles Clark | | Trip ReportTrip Report
Solstice Couloir off Mt. Dana, CA. image: snowbrains

Yesterday, May 29th, 2020 we skied the dreadfully fun “Solstice Couloir” and “Banana Chute” off Mt. Dana & Ellery Bowl, respectively.

This legendary California link-up is extraordinarily gorgeous, offensively charming, and relatively simple.

Climb up Mt. Dana from Tioga Pass, ski down one of Dana’s many northern chutes, cruise down Glacier Canyon, cross the Dana Plateau, and drop into one of the many Ellery Bowl’s many northern chutes right to your 2nd car.

Solstice Couloir  – Mt. Dana, CA Details:

  • Summit (actually a ridge):  12,500′
  • Car:  10,000′
  • Vertical From Car:  2,500′
  • Vertical skied:  1,400′
  • Max Pitch:  45º
  • Avg Pitch: 40º
  • Aspect:  Northwest
  • Distance:  5.5-miles round trip (including Banana Chute – see below)
  • Time From Car to Summit:  2 hours and 45 minutes
  • Car to Car Time:  6 hours (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

Solstice Couloir + Banana Chute Link-Up Details:

  • Car #1 at  10,000′ at Tioga Pass + Car #2 at 9,500′
  • Vertical Climbed  2,750′
  • Vertical Skied:  3,100′ 
  • Distance:  5.5-miles round trip
  • Car#1  to Car #2 Time:  6 hours
  • Recommended Equipment:  skins, ski crampons (we recommending bringing boot crampons & ice axe as precautionary measures in this zone at all times)

Video of Skiing Solstice Couloir:

We left our car at 9,945′ Tioga Pass 8:15am and headed east up 13,061′ Mt. Dana.

We hiked on a dirt trail until about we hit snow at 11,000′ and switched to skins.

From there it was a straight-forward climb up to the notch in Mt. Dana’s high ridgeline where the “Solstice Couloir” lingers.

Miles iceberging on Dana Lake. image: greggy

The weather was hot and sunny with an occasional high overcast.

The forecast for 11,500′ this day was a 43ºF low and a 65ºF high with sunny skies.

We’d gotten reports that “Solstice” was difficult to access recently due to its ferocious cornice and that people have been seen rappelling into it.

They weren’t wrong.

Video of Skiing Banana Chute:

When we finally found a safe place to peer over the edge, we gawked at a 6×6-foot gob of 55º-steep hanging snow draped over a quadratic hunk of granite with an abrupt 20-foot drop on its downhill side that was the only gateway to skiing the “Solstice Couloir.”

If you successfully executed the “turn” on the hanging snow, you then had to squeeze your skis between an 18-inch-wide gap between the granite hunk below and a rakish, rocky shark’s tooth – all in a no-fall-zone.

Greggy liked it.

Solstice Couloir’s cornice guard. image: snowbrains

He likes anything steep…

I took one look over the bewildering edge, saw the nasty spit of snow and shark’s tooth and said “no way, man.”

I walked away determined to finish the climb up and over Mt. Dana to the easy entrance of the Dana Couloir.

Miles wipe-out. image: snowbrains
Miles hucking his meat. image: snowbrains

He convinced me to come back and look at it from his angle.

From his angle, it looked survivable and exciting and I changed my tune.

Greggy dropped first, stuck the steep turn in the no-fall-zone, flew through shark’s tooth straights, and slashed an elegant turn below the hefty, hanging cornice above and the steep, rocky choke below.

Solstice Couloir entrance. image: snowbrains

I was impressed.

Witnessing Greggy’s success boosted my confidence.

I sketchily slid onto the no-fall snow, dodged the shark’s tooth while picking up speed before slapping a sloppy speed-check turn above the stony narrows below me.

Miles about to drop Banana Chute. image: snowbrains

Once through the choke, it was nothing but hoots, exhilarating speed, and big turns right up until I went for a mini-air, landed directly on a rock, and tumbled twice through deep, dank snow.

Fortunately, the crash was at the very bottom of the run and was pretty fun.

Diving headfirst into slushy snow in a T-shirt was a whimsical experience.

Gorgeous flowers in camp. image: snowbrains

I got myself together, finished the run, and celebrated with at the bottom Greggy.

We were euphoric.

We hadn’t expected to ski anything that spicy nor had we expected the snow to be so good on such a hot day.

“Solstice Couloir” held capital corn at the top, then that balance of super slush and minor stickiness at the bottom.

When the celebration was over, we scurried down Glacier Canyon along the iceberg-bejeweled Dana Lakes and up the Dana Plateau to Ellery Bowl’s “Banana Chute”.

We always think of the chutes in Ellery Bowl as a simple means to an end – just way to get us to the car at Ellery Lake below.

Miles in the morning. image: greggy

They are not simple.

These chutes are steep, long, formidable, and awesome.

We dropped into Banana chute in deep, syrupy, somewhat isothermal snow.

Banana Chute in Ellery Bowl off Tioga Pass, CA. image: snowbrains

The going was a bit tough but the chute itself, the towering rock walls, and the views more than made up for the laborious snow.

Skiing this red crack in the mountain is an exceptional experience especially since it delivers you right to your car after a lengthy day.

The apron below “Banana Chute” held better snow than the chute proper and lower angles that allowed for long, arching turns in splashy corn snow.

Greggy ripping turn #1 in Solstice. image: snowbrains

After a few big “rest” turns, I looked over my shoulder and saw a little wet sluff grinding down the mountain behind me.

I slowed down, pulled up right next to it, and relished the hell out of hearing it scrape down the mountainside.

This run was about 1,700-vertical-feet long right to the car minus one short, 40-foot walking section down near the bottom where the snow didn’t connect.

Greggy on the edge of Solstice Couloir. image: snowbrains

We busted out camp chairs, quaffed water, and reminisced on how the day hugely outperformed our wildest expectations.

After shuttling back up to our 2nd car on Tioga Pass, we slipped down to Mammoth Lakes, grabbed delectable carne asada burritos at Salsa’s, went for a soak in the 80ºF Lazy River east of town, and continued our reverie of the outlandish day.

Almost nothing beats the Eastern Sierra in May.

This place bewitches this time of year.

May/June 2020 Trip Reports:

Photo Tour in Chronological Order:

Fire toes. image: snowbrains
Mono Lake from the vista point on hwy 395. image: snowbrains
Chutes off the Dana Plateau. image: snowbrains
Ellery Bowl with Banana Chute on far right. image: snowbrains
Breakfast Greggy-style. image: snowbrains
Breaky and Ellery. image: snowbrains
Greggy and Yosemite snow. image: snowbrains
Miles in the light. image: greggy
Greggy in the morning labyrinth. image: snowbrains
Greggy skinning grass. image: snowbrains
Miles loving it.image: greggy
Greggy at the drop in of Solstice with Mono Lake in the background. image: snowbrains
Dana lake and Mono Lake from the top of Solstice Couloir. image: greggy
Greggy about to drop Solstice Couloir. image: snowbrains
Turn #1 in Solstice with cornice views. image: snowbrains
Miles iceberging on Dana Lake. image: greggy
Dana Lake blues. image: greggy
Greggy and Dana Lake blues. image: snowbrains
Miles after iceberging on Dana Lake. image: greggy
Miles happy. image: greggy
Miles just above Banana Chute. image: greggy
Greggy on the walk from Glacier Canyon to Dana Plateau. image: snowbrains
Lichen on Dana Plateau. image: snowbrains
Greggy above Banana Chute. image: snowbrains
Top of Banana looking down to Ellery Lake. image: snowbrains
Greggy above Banana. image: snowbrains
About to drop Banana. image: snowbrains
Miles in Banana Chute. image: snowbrains
Ellery Bowl with Banana Cute on far right. image: snowbrains
The famous 395 house. image: snowbrains
Longhorns at the Lazy River. image: snowbrains
Apres ski at the Lazy River! image: snowbrains
Lazy River love. image: snowbrains
The east side. image: snowbrains
Home. image: snowbrains
Bed. image: snowbrains






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

  1. Thanks so much for this! I used to climb and ski down the north face of Dana in the early 1970s. Your line is ‘way more radical though; we had leather boots and wooden skis back then…

  2. Very nice!
    I skied the
    Dana Couloir in 1974
    Probably had 55 cm under foot Rosi 102’s and look nevada bindings
    Might have had plastic boots by then
    Really enjoyed revisiting my 20’s

    Many thanks Willie

  3. So, Miles – What do the bases of your skis look like after skiing all these bone-y spring descents?

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