Saturday, February 21, 2009

Firefall at Horsetail Fall - Second Attempt, A Little Love

I just got back into town from my second attempt to photograph the Firefall at Horsetail Fall in Yosemite. I'm going to make this quick and follow up with more details later. Of the two nights, tonight's Firefall was the best, although it was more of a spark then a fire, I really got to get an idea of what this phenomenon can do. There was light on Horsetail Fall the entire first night, but it never really lit up just the "falls" to create that Firefall efect. However, it was still beautiful none the less!

Tonight, the light on the falls disappeared just before sunset, but as our group waited, a slight glow started to appear in the water and then you could see it start to glow a faint orange. Unlike the previous night, only the falls lit up and not any of the granite around it. We were at a different location from the previous night with a different vantage point and a different look. Below are a couple of photos I quickly picked out. I've done some "normal" processing to the shots and warmed them up a bit to try to show what we saw there.

So I didn't see the blazing Firefall, but I did get a little taste of it and I liked it! It was definitely an enjoyable trip that I will make again next year.

Taken Feb. 19, 2009 from the El Capitan Picnic Area

Taken Feb. 20, 2009 from East of the El Capitan Picnic Area

Monday, February 16, 2009

Firefall at Horsetail Fall - First Attempt

I mentioned last week that I was heading to Yosemite to capture the elusive Firefall at Horsetail Fall. The weather forecast for the weekend was pretty gloomy, 80 - 100 percent chance of snow showers each day. Of course, with snow showers, brings clouds. Clouds block the sun and the sun is a primary requirement for capturing the Firefall. That really didn't matter to me, I was still heading out to the park with my photography (and backpacking) buddies, Tim and Tony.

We left the very dark East Bay at 4:30, hoping to get in the valley early enough to take advantage of any morning light we could find. We were not disappointed! Saturday was a beautiful day. To top it off, Friday saw some pretty heavy snow fall so we were able to view a true Winter Wonderland. We enjoyed light on El Capitan and Yosemite Falls and enough blue skies and sun to really brighten our day.

The evening was fast approaching and we headed out to the El Capitan picnic area to join the dozen or so other photographers patiently waiting (and praying) for clouds to stay away. I was able to meet up with Chuck Cagara, the photographer who took the magical Firefall photo I posted last week. It really was a pleasure talking with him and getting his take on the Firefall and Yosemite. Okay, back to the Firefall. When we arrived at the picnic area, there was a lot of light on Horsetail Fall. However, there was not a lot of water coming down the fall, but it was enough to reflect the sunlight shining on it. Now we just needed to wait for the red glow to appear as the sun set. A couple of times the clouds passed in front of the sun and the fall went dark (Boo!). The sun came back (Yeah!). However, about 20 minutes before sunset, the approaching storm decided to make its advance known and we never saw any other light on the Fall. I did get a nice photo of Horsetail Fall in full light.

We still had two other opportunities for catching the Firefall, unfortunately, the storms coming in were too much. All is not lost though. I had a great time with my friends and filling up the 16GB SD card in my camera (a quick selection of photos below).

I am not done though. I am headed back to the Yosemite later this week. Check back for Firefall at Horsetail Fall - Second Attempt.

Valley View

El Capitan in Morning Light

The mists from Tunnel View

Yosemite Chapel under heavy snowfall

Contrast in Yosemite Meadow

Tuolumne Grove in snowstorm

Majestic (and fearless) Buck

Snowy Merced River

Did I mention it snowed hard?

Upper and Lower Yosemite Falls

Bridal Veil Fall

Lower Yosemite Falls

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The Firefall at Horsetail Fall - Yosemite Valley

For those that have followed this site, you probably have figured out that I have an affinity for Yosemite, some, like my wife, may say an obsession. Most people experience Yosemite in the Spring and Summer but I'm told the best time to see Ansel Adam's playground is the Winter. One of the most spectacular, and elusive, Winter highlights in the valley is the "Firefall at Horsetail Fall".

Not many people even know that there is a Horsetail Fall in Yosemite! Horsetail Fall is an ephemeral fall and usually gone by late Spring. The firey glow happens when the sunset hits the ribbon stream coming down the eastern side of El Capitan.

Yosemite's original Firefall was a real bonfire pushed over the cliffs at Glacier Point where eager spectators watched the glowing embers fall to the valley below. The first firefall, using real fire, started in 1871 and eventually it was a staple attraction in the valley until 1968 when the event was stopped because of the damage it was doing to the valley's meadows.

The first time I heard about the "natural" firefall and saw images of it's existence was last June while in the Ansel Adams Gallery in Yosemite Village. I was there with a few friends preparing for a 5 day trek into the back country and saw a stunning photo of a glowing ribbon of fire. After seeing that, I knew I had to experience it in person.

I started doing some research and found that the best time to see the Firefall was in February. The best information I found was at and Edie at LittleRedTent is a Yosemite Valley resident and a regular contributor to YosemiteBlog. She has a very informative article on How to Photograph Horestail Falls and also has many galleries of beautiful photographs. has always been a favorite site of mine and Lyod just started a forum and someone asked a question about the Firefall and a wealth of information was presented from a number of different sources. Rather than rehash all the little details, I'll get down to the point. The best time to view the Firefall is in the middle of February. This year's optimal time is February 12 - 22. For a detailed explanation why this is the case, check out Photographer Michael Frye's excellent article on Photographing Horsetail Fall. There are two locations to photograph the Firefall: the El Capitan Picnic area on Northside Drive and near the Merced River on Southside Drive. Just look for the mass of photographers. One word of caution, getting to these locations can be trickier than you think depending upon the traffic pattern setup in the valley. Sometimes all traffic is routed on one road or another which means a one mile hike to get to your spot. Bring snowshoes just in case!

Knowing the time and place is all well and good, however, the weather must cooperate. The Firefall does not exist if the sun is not setting on it. This weekend's forecast is for snow showers off and on so there is a good possiblility I'll be looking at gray clouds and snow flakes, but heck, I've got to try. I think now you know why I called the Firefall elusive.

The spectacular photo above of the Firefall is courtesy of CHUCK CAGARA from Chuck is a marvelous photographer and I encourage you to check out his website. His work has inspired me and I am hoping to experience something similar, wish me luck!