On my first visit to Tuolumne this year I feel like I’m greeting old friends as I drive up Tioga Road. I round the turn after Olmsted Point, and the landscape of Tuolumne embraces me, comforting in its largesse of sublimity. Tenaya Peak stands proud above its lake while Polly and Pywiack Domes act as the gateposts to Tuolumne, two granite monuments on either side of Tioga Road.
As I enter Tuolumne Meadows, I become reacquainted with more old friends. The trio of Mt. Dana, Mt. Gibbs, and Mammoth Peak wait patiently for me to arrive, knowing it’s only a matter of time before I visit. The meadow is remarkably free of snow, but the proliferation of white peaks surrounding it demonstrate that winter has not yet fully departed from the region.
I decide to keep driving and begin my visit with a jaunt to Gaylor Lakes. Once I enter Dana Meadows, winter further asserts its reluctance to leave. Unlike Tuolumne, Dana Meadows is almost entirely covered with snow. When I get out of the car, a chilly wind greets me. I don a windbreaker and head up the mostly snow-covered trail to Gaylor Ridge. Mt. Dana keeps me company as I ascend. The Whitney Survey named the peak in 1863 for James Dwight Dana, a professor of natural history and geology at Yale. One of my favorite hikes in the park, the climb is one I usually make in the spring when enough snow has melted to make it passable, yet enough snow remains to allow for a fun (and considerably faster) descent of sliding down the snowfields.
At the top of the ridge, I peer into a frozen world. Snow still covers the basin and the lakes sleep under the ice. To my right is Gaylor Peak whose red metamorphic rock has shaken off winter. To my left a cornice curls over Gaylor Ridge, a wave frozen in motion.