Posted by: kerryl29 | July 17, 2017

Yosemite Day 4: Theme of the Day – Mist, in the Morning and on the Trail

As I mentioned in my description of Day 3 at Yosemite, there was valley mist early in the morning.  A perusal of the expected weather conditions at daybreak on Day 4 suggested that there would be fog again, so I planned accordingly.  I had scouted El Capitan Meadow a couple of times earlier in the trip, and photographed there briefly on Day 3, but on this occasion I decided to make it my sunrise destination, in the hopes of catching the light/mist combination that can make mornings so enchanting.  Given that the fog had prevailed at El Capitan Meadow longer on the morning of Day 3 than at any of the locations further east in the valley, I thought it would be a good option.

Misty El Capitan Meadow, Yosemite National Park, California

It turned out to be a good call, because as the light came up I could see that there was indeed copious mist in the meadow.   My previous scouting sessions had shown that, due to some minor flooding of the Merced River, there were areas of the meadow with pools of water that ordinarily would be dry…or, at the very least, not wet enough to produce reflecting pools.  I had donned my rubber boots before wandering into the meadow and they allowed me to wade into some marshy areas that I otherwise would have avoided.

Misty El Capitan Meadow, Yosemite National Park, California

Misty El Capitan Meadow Black & White, Yosemite National Park, California

When the sun rose high enough in the eastern sky its beams started to kiss areas of fog and low-hanging clouds to the west, making for some occasionally dramatic backdrops.

Misty El Capitan Meadow, Yosemite National Park, California

One of the nice things about El Capitan Meadow–and most, if not all, of the meadows in Yosemite Valley, for that matter–is that there are compelling views in just about every direction.  Cathedral Rocks lies to the south and the edifice of El Capitan itself is to the north.  A pleasing view down the valley is the payoff to the west.  The view to the east is probably the least interesting, given the presence of a road, often filled with parked cars, representing the cutoff between the one-way passages of Northside and Southside Drives.  But given what I had at my disposal, I often found myself looking to my left or right, or turning around completely to make sure that I wasn’t missing something behind me.

Misty El Capitan Meadow Black & White, Yosemite National Park, California

Misty El Capitan Meadow, Yosemite National Park, California

The mist was swirling around, changing even now-familiar scenes by the minute.  Every time I thought that the fog was lifting for good, a new curtain would lower, making the misty conditions persist for several hours after sunrise.

Cathedral Rocks from El Capitan Meadow, Yosemite National Park, California

Cathedral Rocks from El Capitan Meadow, Yosemite National Park, California

I used all three of my lenses in the meadow that morning, and was just wrapping up with an ultra-wide perspective (see below) when I noticed a park ranger approaching me.

El Capitan Morning Black & White, Yosemite National Park, California

He asked me if I wouldn’t mind clearing out of the meadow as a helicopter was coming in to land at about 9 AM (just a few minutes away by this time) to assist in a rescue training operation they were going to undertake.  So, I gathered my things and returned to my car, then made my way down the road a short distance to stop, for the second time on this trip, at Bridalveil View to photograph Bridalveil Falls, under significantly different conditions than those I had encountered on my first full day in the valley.

Bridalveil Falls from Bridalveil View, Yosemite National Park, California

There was still a significant amount of fog in this part of the valley and I tried to take advantage of it.

Bridalveil Falls from Bridalveil View, Yosemite National Park, California

Bridalveil Falls from Bridalveil View, Yosemite National Park, California

From here, I looped around the Pohono Bridge to head back to the eastern part of the valley and spent most of the rest of the morning there.  It was now hours past sunrise but there was still some lingering fog here and there.  I stopped when I got to Sentinel Meadow, got out and wandered around for the duration of the morning.

Sentinel Rock Moonset, Yosemite National Park, California

Upper Yosemite Falls from Sentinel Meadow, Yosemite National Park, California

Upper Yosemite Falls from Sentinel Meadow, Yosemite National Park, California

I found another unexpected pool of water in Sentinel Meadow, and made use of it to nab reflections of Yosemite Falls and some of the elm trees in the meadow.

Upper Yosemite Falls from Sentinel Meadow, Yosemite National Park, California

Upper Yosemite Falls from Sentinel Meadow, Yosemite National Park, California

I gradually worked my way west in the meadow, until I reached the area around Swinging Bridge, and stopped there to make some images looking both up and down the Merced River.

Merced River from Swinging Bridge, Yosemite National Park, California

Merced River from Swinging Bridge, Yosemite National Park, California

Yosemite Falls and the Merced River from Swinging Bridge, Yosemite National Park, California

I crossed the river and gradually wound my way toward Cook’s Meadow, stopping near Yosemite Village to make an image of an incredibly full dogwood tree with Yosemite Falls in the background.  The light for this shot was harsher than I would ordinarily like, so I converted the image to black and white for presentation.

Yosemite Falls and Dogwood Black & White, Yosemite National Park, California

I reached Cook’s Meadow after exploring a few spots along the Merced River, and when I reached the meadow I focused my attention on more pools of water…

Yosemite Falls Reflections from Sentinel Meadow Black & White, Yosemite National Park, California

Yosemite Falls from Sentinel Meadow, Yosemite National Park, California

…before taking aim at Yosemite Falls directly.

Yosemite Falls from Sentinel Meadow Black & White, Yosemite National Park, California

It was somewhere around noon when I wrapped at the meadows and I decided that this was the time to take on the Mist Trail.  The Mist Trail is a very popular hike in Yosemite Valley that winds its way past the thundering–at least in the spring–cataracts of Vernal Fall and Nevada Fall.  It runs about seven miles in a loop, past around and above both waterfalls and and back to the trailhead; the route involves approximately 1900 feet of elevation gain (and then, on the way down, loss).  It’s a steep hike.  I drove to the closest area allowing parking and it was completely full, so I ended up having to back track all the way to Stoneman Meadow to ditch the car.  I could have taken the valley shuttle bus to at least get me closer to the trailhead but I didn’t feel like waiting for a bus to show up so I simply walked the mile or so to the trailhead.  Given my parking position, I was looking at a nine-mile round trip hike.

Many–most, in fact–of the people who hike the Mist Trail either stop at the base of Vernal Fall or hike to the top of Vernal and turn around.  I’d estimate that no more than 25% of those who start on the trail continue on to Nevada Fall.  I planned to do the entire hike.

The light was harsh when I set out, but there was no avoiding this.  Given the length of the hike, to obtain good light–think late afternoon–for any part of the scenery, it’s necessary to set out by early afternoon, as I was doing.  It’s also impossible to take the trail past Vernal Fall without getting wet, at least in the spring.  The mist coming from the waterfall, along with the wind created by it, is so strong it’s like walking through a heavy rain shower for the better part of ten minutes as you climb the numerous steps cut into the cliff face.  I knew this, so I brought a hooded, waterproof jacket with me and carried a garbage bag to protect my tripod (same bag I used at Tuolumne Grove in the rain a couple of days earlier).

Before you get to the point where you get soaked, there’s a rocky outcropping that reaches into the waterfall’s outlet stream.  Basically, you’re standing atop a huge boulder, which is quite slick, even when bone dry.  Still, it’s a good spot to get a look at Vernal Fall, so I ventured out there with my tripod and produced the below image.  The breeze was causing the foliage to blow, but–given the bright light–obtaining a shutter speed to freeze the leaves wasn’t difficult.

Vernal Fall, Mist Trail, Yosemite National Park, California

I made my way back to the trail and resumed the climb, stopping part way up to don my rain gear.  I saw several spots in this area that would have made for good vantage points for photographing the waterfall but there was far too much spray to be able to keep the lens element dry, so I kept climbing the stairs until I reached a natural platform, about 2/3 of the way up the falls.  This spot remains dry as the breeze blows the mist downstream.  At this point I pulled off my rain gear.  I noticed that, when the sun was out (it was occasionally ducking behind a stray cloud), a rainbow formed at the base of Vernal Fall.

Vernal Fall Rainbow, Mist Trail, Yosemite National Park, California

When the sun went behind a cloud, I pulled out the long lens and produced the intimate shot you see below.  It took several tries because I needed a slow shutter speed and the wind was causing the conifer branch to dance.  I finally got a lull and was able to successfully execute the image.

Vernal Fall Intimate Black & Whie, Mist Trail, Yosemite National Park, California

The area above Vernal Fall is a rocky spot that many people use to sunbathe.  I focused my attention on the creek (technically the Merced River) above the falls and the top of the waterfall itself.

Merced River Above Vernal Fall, Mist Trail, Yosemite National Park, California

Vernal Fall Black & White, Mist Trail, Yosemite National Park, California

Vernal Fall, Mist Trail, Yosemite National Park, California

Merced River Above Vernal Fall Black & White, Mist Trail, Yosemite National Park, California

Hiker volume drops off dramatically as one follows the trail above Vernal Fall on the way to Nevada Fall.  The trail initially passes through an area of the river known as the Silver Apron, a long slide that runs over slick rock.  I spent some time here to make a few images of features that I found of interest.

Silver Apron, Mist Trail, Yosemite National Park, California

Silver Apron Abstract Black & White, Mist Trail, Yosemite National Park, California

The trail climbs steeply above the Silver Apron, up to Nevada Fall.  The sound of the 600-plus foot waterfall is evident before it comes into view, but eventually you see it.  I stopped along the trail in a couple of spots to photograph Nevada Fall.

Nevada Fall, Mist Trail, Yosemite National Park, California

Nevada Fall Black & White, Mist Trail, Yosemite National Park, California

Nevada Fall, Mist Trail, Yosemite National Park, California

Eventually the trail, which at times seems to go straight up, crests the Nevada Fall cliff face and, after walking down a short spur, you find yourself almost directly above the waterfall, looking down in the general direction of Vernal Fall.

Nevada Fall, Mist Trail, Yosemite National Park, California

I spent some time examining the stream above Nevada Fall.

Above Nevada Fall, Mist Trail, Yosemite National Park, California

You have a choice here of returning the way you came or hiking a segment of the John Muir Trail which forms a loop that will eventually take you all the way back down to the point below Vernal Fall, several miles away.  If you take the Muir Trail, as I did, along the route, you have to walk through an area where–in years following heavy snowfall–the melt runs right down a rock face over the trail itself.  It’s like walking through a downpour for about 20 seconds.  I again donned my rain gear, covered the tripod with the garbage back and put my head down until I cleared the several hundred feet of cliff face runoff.

By this time it was late afternoon.  Scarcely past the runoff area I found an overlook that provided wonderful views of Nevada Fall with Liberty Cap astride it.  The light by this time was nice and getting nicer by the minute.

Liberty Cap and Nevada Fall from the John Muir Trail, Yosemite National Park, California

Liberty Cap and Nevada Fall from the John Muir Trail, Yosemite National Park, California

Liberty Cap and Nevada Fall from the John Muir Trail Black & White, Yosemite National Park, California

I again pulled out the telephoto lens and spent some time isolating Nevada Fall from this point.

Nevada Fall Intimate, Mist Trail, Yosemite National Park, California

Nevada Fall Intimate Black & White, Mist Trail, Yosemite National Park, California

Further down the trail I found another perspective, one that allowed me to incorporate a foreground.

Liberty Cap and Nevada Fall from the John Muir Trail, Yosemite National Park, California

Eventually, the trail reached a point where it was astride the Merced River, not far above the location where a footbridge provides a view of Vernal Fall, only a mile or so from the trailhead.  Before reaching that point, I found a spot along the river that took my breath away and I stopped to create a memory of it.

Merced River, Mist Trail Yosemite National Park, California

Merced River, Mist Trail Yosemite National Park, California

I reached the footbridge–a spot I’d crossed on the way up, nearly seven hours earlier.  When I’d reached this spot early in the afternoon it was teeming with people.  At this point, after 7 PM, I had the place entirely to myself.  On my earlier visit, the light had been harsh, but now it was even, except for the rocky edifice behind Vernal Fall which was lit up with directional sunlight.  The strong contrast required a series of bracketed frames for later assembly.

Vernal Fall and the Merced River from the Mist Trail, Yosemite National Park, California

I eventually made my way all the way back to my car at Stoneman Meadow.  My plan had been to race to Valley View, a location alongside the Merced at the western end of the valley, to shoot sunset but what unfolded in front of me at Stoneman caused a reboot.

Yosemite Falls from Stoneman Meadow, Yosemite National Park, California

I started off with a shot of Yosemite Falls, as a set of clouds, lit up by the setting sun, drifted by.  Then, as I walked to the northern end of the meadow and turned around, I saw what was going on to the southeast.  Half Dome, partially obscured by low-hanging clouds, was accepting the last light of the day.  My eyes nearly bugged out of my head and I scrambled to find a suitable vantage point.

Stoneman Meadow at Sunset, Yosemite National Park, California

Stoneman Meadow and Half Dome at Sunset, Yosemite National Park, California

At some point, a “hole” in the clouds allowed direct light to fall on only a small portion of Half Dome’s iconic face.

Stoneman Meadow at Sunset, Yosemite National Park, California

Stoneman Meadow at Sunset, Yosemite National Park, California

After a few minutes, the light faded as the sun dropped below the cliffs at the southwest end of the valley and the show was over.

It had been another day of epic length–roughly 16 hours in the field.  It wouldn’t leave me much rest for the next day, which would prove to be more or less as long.

 

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Responses

  1. I’m really enjoying your photos in Yosemite National Park. It certainly is beautiful.

  2. There are some great examples in this set of how to get something more than the traditional views and iconic images of a very well known location. The photo from Bridalveil View with the dogwoods in the foreground is really amazing. The pools of water in the meadows were definitely a bonus. I didn’t hike the Mist Trail…we had left it for our last day of the week we visited the park, and we were tired and the crowds had arrived. Your photos of Vernal and Nevada Falls and other views along the hike may provide sufficient motivation to get back there.

    • Thanks, Ellen!

      I’d hiked the Mist Trail once before, with my wife, on my only previous visit to Yosemite (16 years ago). It’s well worth doing, IMO, as long as you give yourself enough time and are prepared for how strenuous it is…and for the soaking mist/runoff, depending on the time of year you do the hike. 🙂 In any event, I hope you do have the opportunity to go back.

  3. Stunning as always ! 🙂 Have a great week !

    • Thanks very much!

  4. Kerry, these are magical, from the morning mists to the evening sunsets. Even the bolder scenes still have nuance and delicacy within them. Exquisite.

    • Thanks very much, Lynn. I was very lucky to experience this broad set of conditions on a single day.

  5. Incredible photographs, Kerry…what a treasure to have been there…..


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