Horsetail Firefall

Yosemite puts on a unique show this time of year.

 

Horsetail Falls is a small seasonal waterfall that only appears in late winter and early spring. It flows over the east side of El Capitan, so as a backdrop it has one of the most impressive walls of granite in the entire park. Then – only for part of February, and only when the sky is clear – the very last sunrays of the day selectively linger on the falls, lighting it up with a golden glow that makes the water look like lava.

 

After seeing amazing photos of this scene from many different photographers here on Flickr, I decided to try my hand at it too. Originally I planned to drive to Yosemite this past weekend, but the weather forced me to reconsider. On Thursday the forecast showed clouds and snow moving in on Friday and potentially sticking around for a long time. So I pulled the trigger early.

 

I took Thursday afternoon off work, rushed out of San Francisco just before 1pm, and found myself in Yosemite Valley a little after 4pm. The sky was not encouraging. A hazy layer of high clouds covered the entire route from San Francisco to Yosemite and I began to worry that the odds of catching the full ‘firefall’ effect were slim to none. But you don’t know if you don’t go, so I crossed my fingers and kept driving.

 

By 4:30 I’d joined a crowd of 20 or so other photographers who had gathered near a pull-off on the south side of the valley loop road. It wasn't easy to find an unoccupied spot with a clear view of the falls, but I scouted out an ideal location right on the edge of the Merced River. At this point the sun started to peek through, and – at the risk of jinxing it – I let myself begin to hope I might actually get the shot.

 

The layer of high clouds never backed off, but an opening on the horizon let direct light pass through once the sun dropped low enough. At about 5:20 the firefall effect started to emerge, followed by the sound of rapid clicking from all 20 cameras around me. I took this shot at 5:28, which turned out to be the peak. A minute later the clouds shut down the show.

 

I’m thankful the clouds opened as much as they did, but I really wish I could have captured the effect at full strength... I've been ready for a second try, although it’s looking like the weather may not cooperate again this year.

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Taken on February 18, 2010
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  • 95.0 mm
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