Horsetail Fall Firefall 2016

Yosemite Horsetail Fall Waterfall Magic 

Horsetail Fall Firefall by John P. DeGrazio

I’ve never been known to be avant-garde. My fashion sense on the trails leaves a little to be desired, but that’s a topic for a different day. When it comes to photography, it seems I also have a lot of catching up to do, especially if you talk to my good friend and mentor, Walter Flint. I just purchased a Gitzo Mountaineering Carbon Fiber Tripod as an upgrade to my previous and much heavier starter tripod. That pleased Walter who is hard to impress. The Gitzo is very light and it fits very well on my Mindshift Gear Horizon backpack. I mention these two products because a tripod is essential for capturing a photo of Horsetail Fall, and my backpack was imperative for bringing my gear to the location from where I was shooting. The Horizon is very well designed and easily fit my camera, both lenses, and the aforementioned tripod.

I recently had a conversation with another friend, Steven Bumgardner, who many in the Twitterverse refer to as Yosemite Steve. Steve and I were sharing the story of our Twitter bromance in Yosemite Valley last week with a couple of his friends. We laughed about meeting each other on the Upper Yosemite Fall trail while I was leading a couple to the top. We both made eye contact and immediately knew who the other one was. There are so many stories like that, but I will get back to the point. I mentioned that I finally got a photo of Horsetail Fall that I am going to release. His response was “Horsetail Fall is so last week”. We all laughed while I explained that in an effort to stay up with the times, I had the YExplore website redesigned and could not make any Can O Peaches blog posts for three weeks. Anyway, here we are with the soft launch of a new cutting edge design and my first post which will share my story of this capture of the “firefall effect” on Horsetail Fall.

Many in Yosemite know this has been a wonderful year for rain and snow which means the waterfalls have come alive after 4 very dismal years of drought. You can hear thunderous waterfalls booming in every corner of Yosemite Valley right now, and it is such a welcome phenomenon. Speaking of which, Horsetail Fall “firefall” is one that occurs typically for two weeks in February during a period of optimal light at sunset. A convergence of several elements need to converge in order capture an image of the magical firefall effect.

I was in the Valley on February 20th for a tour so I decided to sit through tons of traffic to try to shoot the falls. This was from a new location that did not yield a positive result. Beggars can’t be choosers that close to sunset. I knew I wanted to try again, especially since I saw so many real (spectacular) and improvised (not so spectacular) images on my Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram feeds. I decided to go back on the 24th.

Horsetail Fall

When I arrived in the Valley on the 24th, I had some spare time so I naturally decided to hike. I have always wanted to photograph the Horsetail Fall from a spot that will remain nameless and actually heard some internet chatter that it was yielding positive results this year. Once I arrived at the spot, I wondered if I could move a little west to get a better angle. I soon found myself scrambling up some rocks and farther away from the trail. “How do I get down from here” and “You better not lose the trail at sunset” were my two most prevalent thoughts. I found a perfect perch atop a stable rock and set up my tripod. Then I waited. The beauty of this story is I waited alone. There wasn’t a soul around me so I was able to relish listening to the crash of Yosemite Falls from across the Valley and watch the magic happen.

iPhone image of sun setting on Horsetail Fall by John P. DeGrazio

I started taking some test images on my camera and even took out my iPhone for a couple of snaps as the light changed. Then the show really began. The light became an intense orange, and although I didn’t have the most optimal angle to shoot, I believed I was in the perfect place at the perfect time. The glowing mist danced as molten lava poured down the eastern flank of El Capitan. It was a breathtakingly transcendent moment. As the light left El Capitan, the lava flows were more impressive. I stood astonished and frozen for minutes with a smile as wide as Yosemite Valley until this magical occurrence expired. Time stood still, and I was entranced for what seemed like an eternity.

Coming to, I realized I needed to focus on route finding back to my main trail. My senses were heightened, and I easily navigated my way back to the path. I ran back to my Jeep, but it honestly felt like I was floating as I remained in a euphoric state. At that moment, I did not care if I made a good image. Although it is a great feeling to capture the event with a photograph, I was more impressed with the experience. In years to come, I will be able to look at this photo and use it as a trigger point to the emotional release I felt as I experienced total solitude in Yosemite Valley. I just pinched myself  as the words I just typed began to resonate.



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