Yosemite: Winter Storm

I made two trips to Yosemite in January, the first for the full moon rising at sunset and the second to try to be in the valley during and just after a winter storm. The storm took its sweet time arriving on the second trip, so I ended up spending six days in Yosemite that trip… which was a whole lot of cold, cold nights in a tent in Camp 4! And a second storm followed the day after I left, so I really wish I could have stayed longer!

The storm hit with a vengeance on Friday. I spent the day Friday photographing low clouds shrouding the granite valley walls, during sporadic rains… and by evening it was POURING. I went to a Ranger presentation at Yosemite Lodge, then around 8 or 9 PM I headed back to Camp 4 for the night. That the path from the parking lot into the campground was more lake than path was a bad sign… and when I got to my campsite I found my tent in the middle of a river! In fact, most of Camp 4 was either river or lake, with only a few high spots. Fortunately, the river was only 3–4 inches deep, and the waterproofing on the bottom of my tent was 6–8 inches. The inside of the tent was dry! The only other guy camping in Camp 4 that night helped me pick my tent up and carry it to one of the few high spots, where I spent a nearly sleepless night listening to the monsoon that went on all night. Many inches of rain fell that night, and I have to admit to having had some concerns of dying in a flash flood overnight!

I dragged my sleepless self out of the tent an hour before sunrise the next morning and headed towards Tunnel View. After the turn at Bridalveil Falls, the rain turned to snow… coming down hard! The valley was almost completely obscured by clouds and falling snow, but a guy from San Francisco and I had fun taking photos of snow and waiting out the sunrise just in case.

As the day progressed, the storm began to break up and great photo opportunities were everywhere. The waterfalls, that had been barely perceptible trickles the day before, now gushed as if we were in the middle of the spring melt. I shot all day, then late afternoon took a break in the Yosemite Lodge to check out my photos… only to discover that somehow, at the very beginning of the day, I had gotten an entire constellation of either water droplets or snowflakes directly on my camera sensor. Every single photo was ruined. I was literally sick to my stomach.

I was so dejected that I nearly didn’t go try to shoot sunset. Reluctantly, I told myself that I was here to shoot, so get up and go shoot. Off I went again to Tunnel View, where there were surprisingly few photographers. Three of us waited it out in the cold, watching the completely clouded over/fogged in valley as the minutes ticked by past sunset. One tiny break in the sky was all we got. The other two packed up to go, but I figured I was there anyway, so I ought to wait it out until well past sunset—just in case. I saw the more experienced of the other two hesitate at his car, and then moments later the sky parted and we were treated to the most amazing view of Yosemite Valley! The other two jumped back out of their cars and set up as quickly as they could. For the next 20 minutes, as the sky darkened, the clouds moved back and forth and showed us varying parts of the valley—in about as perfect of a view as one could hope for.

I shot in ways that minimized the effects of the gigantic constellation of blobs on my sensor (placing them outside areas of greatest interest and not shooting with a small aperture) and was able to recover some of the sunset shots!

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