Whenever I have camped in the Tuolumne Meadows-Tioga Pass region, my eyes and feet have been drawn to Mount Dana.
As I stand on the trail across the lush green main Tuolumne meadow, my gaze goes past the monolith of Lembert Dome on the left and up the drainage of the Dana Fork. High against the sky on the Sierra crest rise the rounded bulk of Mt. Dana and its companion, Mt. Gibbs. Framed by green forest and gray granite, Mt. Dana’s metamorphic rocks shine a warm reddish hue in the sun.
From the trail to Gaylor Lakes from Tioga Pass, the reddish bulk of the mountain rises high across the pass.
From Saddlebag Campground north of the pass and from the road to Saddlebag Lake, the mountain is a powerful lion springing into the air. Rising steeply at first above the pass on the right, its back then rises to the left. Then the summit mass rears steeply an additional thousand feet before dropping away. My sense is that this lion wants to keep rising into the limitless sky.
Leaving the road at the Tioga Pass entrance station, the trail winds for half a mile across the wide, flat pass. I pass through forest of whitebark pine and lodgepole, past small lakes and ponds, and through meadows dotted with small wildflowers. As I climb the trail up the lower slopes, I enter a lush wildflower garden fed by springs. Bright yellow and purple flowers bloom on stalks as high as my head.
The trail steepens and climbs a long rocky slope. Finally the angle lessens as I enter a steeply inclined bowl. I look around. Under the broad sky, the view stretches past the green of Tuolumne Meadows and far beyond. Above, the summit mass, the head of that lion who yearns to leap into the sky, sweeps upward in full cry.
Off to the left, a moderate slope rises to the northern ridgeline where I know I’ll have wide views in that direction. As I climb that slope I am amazed at closely-spaced matlike alpine plants, growing close to the ground to shelter from the wind, sporting masses of snow-white flowers. I have to step carefully to avoid them.
Finally, at just under 12,000 feet I step to the edge. The 220-plus degree view sweeps from the Kuna Crest to the south, over the forested drainage of the Tuolumne, and far along the dramatic crest to the northwest. Below the crest I follow the headwaters of Lee Vining Creek from Tioga Lake below the pass to Saddlebag Lake on the north. Still farther to the right, over the Dana Plateau and the shoulder of the mountain, are Mono Lake and more ranges stretching far into the distance.
I look at the wide, deep blue sky above and the scene around me. I am in a very privileged place. I remember that I have personally been made part of this wonderful whole–and that it stretches far beyond what I can see–one huge round planet set in an unimaginably huger universe. This whole, myself and each of my fellow human beings are in very good hands.