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Re: Trip Report: Tenaya Canyon, The Grack, Mt. Dana

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Trip Report: Tenaya Canyon, The Grack, Mt. Dana
October 05, 2011 09:44PM
Picture Album here: Tenaya Canyon, The Grack, Mt. Dana

September 30, 2011

Departed from Chicago at 6 am and via San Francisco arrived in Yosemite by 2:00. My parents picked me up at airport and we stay in Curry Village.
Wickett set up a practice rappel for me in the Devil’s Bathtub behind the Ahwahnee Hotel. I had done my first ever practice rappel on a climbing wall in Chicago a few weeks ago and this was a first time outdoor rappel. We went over some basic safety issues and commands.

Day 1: October 1, 2011 Tenaya Canyon

Three of us (Wickett, Ross and I) attempted Tenaya Canyon. We intend on starting at Sunrise Trailhead near Tenaya Lake, descending Pywiack Cascades and finishing out at Mirror Lake in the Valley. My dad drives us to Sunrise and we start sometime about 8 am.

Somehow we missed the sign warning hikers to stay out but enjoyed the view. My dad actually hiked in with us until the first view of Half Dome and then turned back. We continued and reached the Lone Boulder with some great photo ops. At this point we started our descent much too sharply instead of traversing further left. Soon we realize that it is too steep and Wickett and I shoes are close to slipping. Ross (an 18 year old awesome climber) is wearing approach shoes and has much surer footing.

So we end up setting up three rappels—anchoring on two different trees and a jutted out rock. Ross down climbs to us after each rappel and sets up the anchors for us as we go. Took us about 6 hours to reach the
bottom of the slabs and hike a short way in to the Inner Gorge. Ross free soloed the entire Slab! We do a time check, it is 2 pm and Wickett realizes he is usually at this point by 10 am. This projects to a 10 pm finish and includes mandatory wet rappels at or just before dark followed by tough bushwhacking.

So we turned back. No, not up the Pywiack Slabs! We head up Airplane Gully. This ends up being a Class 5 Scramble and was a totally new experience for me. It was quite a climb and involved three or four tough climbing moves requiring exposure that I was not comfortable with. It was mostly just momentum moves without hand holds that if I didn’t catch my balance I could fall 15-20 feet on my back or head. At some point we also ran out of water but were pushing hard to finish by dark. We were each carrying only one liter nalgene bottle. We also ran into a party of 5-6 who were headed down but were going to spend the night. One of the party was ahead of the rest and I had to ask to make sure, “Are you Chick-On?” He gave me a weird look and said no. After that, he mentioned there was a group behind him and they arrived shortly.

We reached the Airplane Engine and not long after that finally reached mostly level ground. We made it to Olmsted Point at 6:50; it was pretty much dark shortly after 7, and my dad arrived to pick us up within 20 minutes.

By the way, it was pretty amazing to see the fire alongside the road. Some flames engulfed trees and were fascinating after dark.
Although we didn’t make it all the way through the Canyon the hike up Airplane Gully was just amazing. I have absolutely no disappointment at all. Gives me a great reason to need to go back and finish the Canyon. I’d also like another try at Pywiack but Wickett said he won’t do Pywiack again. We’ll see if he changes his mind after he gets home next week.

Day 2: October 2, 2011 The Grack

After returning to Curry Village and some initial discussion on the Pizza Deck during dinner we decide to not attempt Tenaya Canyon again. Ross offers to take me to the Grack on Glacier Point Apron. The Grack is a 5.6/5.7, 3-Pitch crack climb. I had not climbed outside in over 20 years and never had done a pitch.

So after a leisurely morning we head over to the Grack about 2 pm and arrive just as a 5 person party is finishing the climb. I spent all morning going over basic climbing stuff with Wickett who answered all my dumb questions. He also told me the standard climbers etiquette, “You drop a cam , you replace it!” I had never so much touched a cam but I was determined not to let it happen. So I made sure I asked a lot of questions and Wickett and Ross gave great advice on the proper procedure such as take the cam out of the rock before you detach it from the rope. At some point someone showed me how to set up a rappel just in case I dropped my ATC. Ross also showed me how to use an anchor removal tool.

The Grack is approximately a 400 foot climb. It overlooks the Mist Trail across the Valley and also just to the right of the trees that were snapped in half by the force of the wind of the rock fall years ago. From the bottom, you can just barely see Half Dome’s top peeking out. I didn’t bring my camera on the climb but took several pictures of the party before us and Ross setting up the first pitch anchor.

I can’t express how fun this climb was for me. I had no trouble at all and zipped right up. I successfully removed each anchor cam and didn’t drop anything! My trouble came when rappelling down. On the second rappel I kept on twisting my ropes. The issue was the weight of the ropes was making it difficult to thread the ropes through the ATC so I would attempt to do them one at a time and then get it backwards, twisted or somehow messed up. I knew enough, and Ross and Wickett had taught me well enough, to know it wasn’t right, so after 3 times starting over I finally got it right. Simple things like staying anchored in while you do all this in order are so very important.

The entire climb and rappel I believe took just under 3 hours. We finished with headlamps on and hiked out for more pizza at the Curry Village Deck. So that was my first experience with” Big Wall Climbing” in Yosemite. Ross was just incredible and is already working to be a Certified Climbing Instructor. My next goal is Snake Dike.

Day 3: October 2, 2011 Mt. Dana

On my last day in Yosemite for the year I am attempting a hike up Mt. Dana with my parents. Mt. Dana is a six mile hike starting at about 10,000 feet and ascending to just over 13,000 feet. Dana is the second tallest peak in Yosemite. The reason for this particular hike is important. My dad and I hope to hike Mt. Whitney next summer and this is a test for both of us. Neither of us has ever hiked above 10,000 feet and we wanted to test our bodies for elevation sickness symptoms. Mt. Dana really is the perfect hike for this kind of test. It is right off the road and as we find out later the Rangers can watch you the entire hike.

We leave Curry Village early Monday morning. My flight out of San Francisco is at 11:00 pm so we set a target finish time of 4:00 pm. When we arrive at the Tioga Pass Ranger Station the ranger was just setting up in the booth. He asks if we are hiking Dana and says, “The conditions are terrible”. It is very windy and he later tells us it was 30-35 degrees with 30-35 mph winds. All of us put on more clothes, layers that is, and we are well-prepared for the conditions. I’m also carrying 5 liters of water and even more clothes. I couldn’t figure out how much water to bring so I filled up every container I had (my three liter Osprey that goes in my Gregory Z40 Pack and two Nalgenes.)

At over 11,000 feet I convince my mom to turn back. We can watch her for quite a while and she was doing great but we knew we had some tough work to do. My dad and I continued on and eventually one other hiker caught us. A 64 year-old. By the way, my dad is 66! The air in thinner but my dad is doing great. I understand that they have done quite a bit of work on the trail but at times it is still difficult to follow. But we made it through the Small Boulder fields without turning any ankles! I pushed forward to the top as my dad slowed down a bit and made the summit. There is a “false” summit that you view for quite a ways before the real summit appears. But the trail from the false summit improves significantly. I head back down to find my dad approaching the end of the false summit. I had timed myself up and down this section and started doing the math. And dad said, “My turn-around time is here!”

At this point I broke a hiker’s rule: stick with your turn around time. It is supposed to be non-negotiable. However, in fairness, my dad’s turn around time was based on my flight and not on darkness or safety issues. I did some math in my head and came up with a 6 pm go no go to attempt to catch the flight at SFO. So I convinced him to summit. We dropped our packs on the spot and went to the top.

It is cold and windy on top and to the West a storm is brewing. The clouds coming in were amazing. I was slightly worried about thunderclouds so we “raced” down the mountain. While there were no symptoms of elevation sickness, my dad’s legs were soon becoming a little wobbly. In fairness, we only planned this hike for a few weeks because this entire 3 day Yosemite trip was all started because of Wickett! (Thanks Wickett!) When he asked for partners on the Tenaya Canyon trip shortly after my Clouds Rest/Half Dome trip, I jumped on the opportunity. And then my dad came up with the Mt. Dana elevation acclimation test.

My mom had headed off to Lee Vining for a couple hours but became concerned after we passed our agreed upon finishing time. The Rangers ended up spotting us for her a couple times and around 4 or so told her we would finish at 5:20. Shortly after finishing off the boulder bed the storm clouds reached us—and it snowed! We were so excited. At this point, we knew we were going to finish and now we get to do it in light snow! At 5:20 we are next to the Lakes near the trailhead and I hear a calling whistle. I give an answering loud whistle and moments later my Mom is there waiting.

We quickly load up, put my suitcase and gear in the back seat and head to the airport. I had hoped for a shower but it wasn’t going to happen. My mom had made sandwiches for us to eat so we did that. I changed in the back seat of the car and packed all gear while we travelled. Finally, we reached San Francisco Airport at about 9:45 for my 10:57 flight.
I arrived in Chicago at 5:00 am. I came home, took a shower, and was off to my desk job at work.
Re: Trip Report: Tenaya Canyon, The Grack, Mt. Dana
October 18, 2011 07:10PM
So my dad, mom and I have been discussing our Mt. Dana hike and I have a couple questions for anyone who may have done this hike in past years and re-done it more recently:

1. What "Class" scramble would you consider the last portion of the hike over the "false" summit and then up the final summit. Especially if one had managed to lose the "trail" and headed straight up instead?

2. I've heard that the trail has been vastly improved over the last year or so but it was still difficult to follow in place through the rock fields. Does anyone here remember

3.. This is an odder question but looking for feedback: how do you tell the difference, or is there one, between thunderstorm clouds and what ended up being snow clouds? My dad recently sent a trip report of a group that fought their way up (and down) during a thunderstorm and it led to the discussion of our trip and the danger we may have been in.

When my dad and I made the summit I distinctly remember seeing the clouds in the distance and being concerned about thunderstorms. My dad remembers not thinking about thunderstorms but instead assumed rain or snow. My sense of urgency was higher and I urged him down the mountain even though his legs were tiring.
avatar Re: Trip Report: Tenaya Canyon, The Grack, Mt. Dana
October 18, 2011 09:31PM
1.) There's no exposure, just a rocky scramble. That'd be a class 2, or maybe 3.

2.) I don't know anything about work on the trail, or improvements, but as I remember the trail it was pretty easy to stay on a pretty obvious trail all the way up to the plateau, which might be the "false" summit you mention. The plateau is actually only about half way up. From there on up though you have a line-of-site of the entire climb. From there on up I never found a trail for long. It's too rocky for a usage trail to stick. If they've worked along here it'd be a tremendous help for finding the trail, but I hate to think of the amount of work it would take. Hard work too!

3.) I think a dark cloud is a dark cloud, regardless if thundercloud, rain, or snow, and if you see it you should seriously question being at a high point.

YMMV Have fun, but keep it safe!
avatar Re: Trip Report: Tenaya Canyon, The Grack, Mt. Dana
October 19, 2011 07:44AM

3.. This is an odder question but looking for feedback: how do you tell the difference, or is there one, between thunderstorm clouds and what ended up being snow clouds? My dad recently sent a trip report of a group that fought their way up (and down) during a thunderstorm and it led to the discussion of our trip and the danger we may have been in.

When my dad and I made the summit I distinctly remember seeing the clouds in the distance and being concerned about thunderstorms. My dad remembers not thinking about thunderstorms but instead assumed rain or snow. My sense of urgency was higher and I urged him down the mountain even though his legs were tiring.

This link contains some useful information:
Re: Trip Report: Tenaya Canyon, The Grack, Mt. Dana
October 18, 2011 10:08PM
The lower trail all the way up to the plateau is in great shape. I haven't seen any changes over the years from that point on. As qumquats mentions from there it's line of site and once you reach the rocks there are multiple use trails that all seem to end and begin again so simply choose the path of least resistance. I highly recommend veering all the way to the left (east) once the main trail peters out at the rocks. At first it's a little harder because the rocks are bigger but once you gain a small ridge and reach the cliff above Dana lake you pick up a use trail all the way to the summit. The reason I go this way is I never want to miss the chance to peer down at Dana lake - it's an amazing purple blue color from glacial runoff. It also gives you the chance to see some of the Dana coulier and to see the east cliff face of Mt Dana. I like this view almost as much as the summit and most people miss it. It might add 15 minutes to your hike.

Thunderstorms in the Sierra are all about common sense. Sometimes there are clouds as an obvious indicator and sometimes there aren't. The biggest lightning storm I was in started as a cloud free day and my hiking partners hair started sticking straight up so we ran off the top of the peak we were maybe 10 minutes from summiting and within an hour the skies opened up and there were multiple lightning strikes on the summit we were attempting. You have to be willing to turn around and live to hike another day. Always check the forecasts but don't trust them completely. Summer Sierra thunderstorms are usually very reliable. They tend to hit early to late afternoon. If you are peak bagging or have passes to get over you are almost always thunderstorm free until at least 2 pm or so and after that you need to pay attention. That being said I was pinned down on Glen Pass at the end of August for 2 hours at 10 am despite the forecast saying evening thunderstorms. We got off the ridge and waited it out in a safe place until it passed. I love the storms but respect the hell out of them.
Re: Trip Report: Tenaya Canyon, The Grack, Mt. Dana
October 19, 2011 07:22AM
Have either of you hiked Mt. Dana in the past year? My understanding is that there is a significant improvement in the trail after the plateau and you no longer need to rely on line of sight. Basically, unless I am just confused, they did do all the work to create a usage trail but in some places it is relatively easy to lose.

If I remember correctly, I think I managed to stay on trail most of the way up but my hiking partner (dad) didn't do as well as ended up using the more line of sight approach.

In any event, we definitely did get the Dana Lake view and the awesome colors.

I'm still trying to sort through my thoughts on the storms that were coming in that day. It was definitely not a typical Sierra Summer day. The temp was about 30-35 and winds were 30-35 mph (according to ranger at Entrance Station we talked to after the hike). When we started the hike it was very sunny but already cold and windy. The storm didn't actually hit us until we reached the plateau on the way down. And when I say "hit" us I mean we only got a light snow----unfortunately the snow didn't come out very well in my pictures. At the time we were excited it was snowing but the big snowfall didn't really hit the area until the following day.
avatar Re: Trip Report: Tenaya Canyon, The Grack, Mt. Dana
October 19, 2011 08:04AM
IMO there was a trail all the way to the top already in 2009.
So it is probably even more "traily" now....

What apeguy said tho is a most excellent way to go.

Definite class 2 imho.

Chick-on is looking at you!
avatar Re: Trip Report: Tenaya Canyon, The Grack, Mt. Dana
October 19, 2011 08:07AM
One other thing... also, just my opinion... since I've been in both...
Sierra thunderstorms are tame compared to Midwest.
At least typically...

Midwest... thunder thru the night... rain/thunder/lightning... thru the night...
one of the most memorable nights I've ever had sleeping in a tent.
(and something I really don't want to repeat)

Sierra... 100s of nights out there... never had anything that compares.

Also... am chuckling at your asking those guys heading down to Pywiack.
Saw them camped down there the next day... took a picture... wasn't too amused though
at that on account that, although that is pretty sweet spot to hang out and sleep...
I'm just thinking what the heck they doing when they gotta drop a duece... not a pretty sight.
(also I don't have that many friends... so def. wasn't me)
(why you think I fly solo so much?) (plus I'm act. a very shy bird)

Have fun

Chick-on is looking at you!

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 10/19/2011 08:10AM by chick-on.
Re: Trip Report: Tenaya Canyon, The Grack, Mt. Dana
October 19, 2011 09:23AM
I never had seen a real thunderstorm growing up in California. Not until college in Tennessee and now living in Chicago did I ever see a big thunderstorm. The other troubling part of my question on whether or not it was snow clouds coming or thunderstorm clouds is that I've also seen the occasional ThunderSnow Storm here in Chicago.

Remember when I asked the question "Are you Chick-On?" it was only one guy, the others had not appeared yet. I knew or at least assumed you were alone because of your reputation. Wickett kind of looked at me funny when I asked the question also. The problem was you had told me you were doing the trek the next day but I had to ask just in case you changed plans. I had even remotely thought about trying to connect with you for the hike but had no way of contacting you.
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