In February of 2021, Sean Goebel and I made an attempt to photograph the Yosemite Horsetail Falls “Firefall” phenomenon from an angle that hasn’t been photographed many times before: the valley rim. It has been seldom shot due to the difficulty of accessing the crater rim when conditions are right. The road is typically closed from Badger Pass forward due to a thick barrier of snow on the road. We snowshoed nearly 11 miles from Badger Pass to Glacier Point with 2 backpacks and a sled full of gear and food to last 5 days and 4 nights. The hike in took 10 hours and was the most exhausting I’ve ever done. The all day rain made the snow extra soft, making my snowshoes sink in nearly a foot at times. It felt like walking through mud. We arrived to camp at Glacier Point for the night at 8pm and I was so tired that I felt like I was going to puke. We quickly setup camp and made dinner for the night.
Sean pulled the sled most of the way since my backpack was heavier. It snowed for a few moments during the hike so we had to stop and grab a few shots.
Photo by Sean Goebel.
It was my turn to pull the sled. Photo by Sean Goebel.
Taking a rest break on my knees. Photo by Sean Goebel.
Our camp at Glacier Point where we spent 3 nights. Photo by Sean Goebel.
Yosemite falls during our first morning at Glacier Point.
Leaving Glacier Point to our first spot to shoot the firefall at sunset.
My turn for a photo leaving Glacier Point. Photo by Sean Goebel.
A steep hike down a hill to reach our spot.
Setting up a line of cameras at a spot west of Glacier Point. We brought 6 cameras, 10 lenses, and 5 tripods. I would've liked to have 1 more camera for some extra shots.
Clouds began forming above El Capitan, making for some cool shots.
We had a nice show of light as the clouds passed in front of the sun.
A sunlit peak with Yosemite Falls in the background.
As the sun sets, the color warms up and the alignment for the firefall begins.
I couldn't help but be constantly hitting the shutter button to capture the changing light.
At 5:27, the sun faded away early without the firefall. We were bummed out. Sean stopped his timelapses, but I kept shooting just in case something was going to happen. 10 minutes later, a ray of orange sunset light hit Horsetail Falls and made a spectacular show. It only lasted 5 minutes and we could hear the cheer of crowds in the valley.
Our first location wasn't the ideal alignment of the firefall, but you can still see some of the water flowing down the cliff face, creating the firefall phenomenon.
The next morning was clear and I took some time to take photos from our camp site. The sheer size and magnitude of Half Dome always amazes me!
Rainbow on Yosemite Falls as the morning light hit the right angle.
Packing up to head to our second firefall location.
A picturesque road down to Glacier Point except covered in 5 feet of snow. You may recognize this iconic viewpoint where many people take pictures of cars or skating down this road with Half Dome in the background.
We arrived at our second spot and we began setting up before seeing a cool phenomenon called a Sundog. It's a type of halo that's caused by a refraction of light from ice crystals in the atmosphere.
We were east of our 1st location making for better alignment to see the waterfall. The weather was clear and the firefall was better defined this time.
About to pack up after a successful night of shooting the Firefall.
Our 3rd night had ideal conditions for photographing the moonlit landscape. This is about 30 minutes of exposure to capture the movement of Earth creating the star trails.
We transported most of our gear in a large case with the sled. I brought a Sony a7S, a73, and a6000 with the Sony 24-105, Olympus 200mm, and Nikon 500mm. Photo by Sean Goebel.
We ate our lunches at the parking area of Glacier Point. The trash and recycle bins made for a nice flat area to cook. We typically ate oatmeal and cocoa for breakfast, ramen for lunch, and a freeze dried meal for dinner. We heated up snow for water. Photo by Sean Goebel.
We moved camp for our 4th and final night so that it would be an easy trip back to Badger Pass the next day. I shoveled a hole in the snow to make a bench for added luxury.
Panorama view of the location. Because of the clouds, we were either thinking it was going to be a gorgeous sunset, or a dud.
The sunset ended up being one of the most gorgeous sunsets I've seen!
One more firefall shot and this one has the waterfall very well defined.
The sun went below the horizon but the light show didn't stop.
During our last day, we woke up early and hiked out to Badger Pass in a swift 5 hours. The freezing temperatures at night made the snow nice and icy for hiking. We drove into the valley floor and hiked up a sketchy rockfall area on the south side of the valley for sunset. The clouds obscured the horizon, unfortunately. You can just tell how exhausted and dirty I am from 4 nights in the wilderness without a shower.
I looked above me to see these towering faces of granite in the sun. This was the last bit of sun before being covered by the clouds.
We made a small detour during our 3rd day out. Sean had the wonderful and hilarious idea of hiking to the Yosemite wilderness webcam and getting shots of us sledding down the hill. We called a friend to assist us in framing the shot to be in the webcam. It was surprisingly hard to get a good shot because it only took a photo every 4 minutes. Photo by Sean Goebel.