Illusive Firefalls Adventure
Written by GT Ambassador, Aaron O’Sullivan
Some adventures are focused on the unknown, and some have a very specific end-goal in mind. My most recent adventure is of the latter.
Every year in Yosemite Valley, during the month of February a spectacular natural sight blesses outdoors folks, tourists, and in my case, photographers.
Firefalls is a phenomenon that I have been preparing for now since 2017. Many of my great photographer friends and community have shared with me this majestic moment early in my quest to seek out and capture all of the beauty that surrounds us.
Ever since, I have planned and prepared for that small 2-3 week window at sunset when the red sunset beam of light closes in on Horsetail falls over El Cap in Yosemite National Park. Thousands of park-goers flood into various locations to witness one of mother nature’s greatest creations where amazing sunlight is focused on a waterfall right at sunset that creates a reddish-orange almost lava-like experience, appropriately named “Fire Falls”.
It has proven to be an illusion event to capture.
Getting to the right location, with the right gear, and at the right time is only half of the feat. Conditions like snowpack, weather, and temperatures all must be in sync for Firefalls to even happen. For 3-4 years I learned up on all of these details and in 2020 attempted my first adventure to finally capture this beautiful display of Mother Nature only to be skunked out due to no water flow because of California’s drought conditions.
I knew that someday, when the conditions were right, I’d drop everything and come back to try again. At the time I wasn’t sure when that would come to be.
So in 2021, after becoming acquainted with the Yosemite experience over years of visits, I saw my opportunity. As a 39th birthday gift to myself, I packed up my adventure rig with hammocks, photography gear, my trusty jet boil and all of the cold-weather gear necessary to survive the Sierra’s in late winter. Set out all alone in hopes of a memorable birthday adventure trip to one of my favorite places on earth. My church. “Yose” as we call it for short.
Upon arrival to the park, I patiently waited in a line of cars that had to be 1 mile long. 2 hrs later I was in with a newly purchased 2021 National Parks Annual pass and made my way directly to the valley floor. By this time the sun had already set, and I missed my window of opportunity. I’d be back though...the next days weather was forecasted for prime firefalls conditions(minimal clouds) and I was determined to be ready.
The following day I made it back into the park by 6am to avoid any long lines into the park(this is a “pro” tip) and shot some great morning shots...cuz why not...? Then spent a couple hours finding my shooting location for the big event. First , I setup my tripods and camera rigs. Yep two. One for random still shots and one for a timelapse. Once I felt good and prepared I knew I had some time to kill. So I grubbed on a couple granola bars and setup my hammock between two pine trees just below El Capitan. Nap-time engaged.
By the time I woke up from my nap, many others had congregated and it was obvious that we all had a great chance of witnessing this outdoors miracle.
As the sun focused in on what appears to be the smallest waterfall in Yosemite, golden light transforms into a deep orange and reddish saturation on the falls. It’s surreal. The colors that are present during sunsets in Yosemite are so saturated that unless you witness it with your own eyes, you might not believe it.
Somewhere around 800 shots into my timelapse we all hit that apex of the experience. People throughout the valley were hooting and hollering. Yeeeeeeewwwewww! I sounded out my stoke and at that moment, I was flooded with gratitude and appreciation. Appreciation for something so simple, and yet so complex too.
Once again, I was with my people. Although technically, I didn’t know anyone around me....I was so connected and experiencing the flow; synchronicity if you will. And yes, even with those folks who were double parked in the road blocking traffic cuz, ya know, influencers gonna influence.
Once the colors of “fire” subsided and all of the influencers packed up and left I still stood there. Behind my camera with the shutter still clicking every 2 seconds, I felt accomplished and proud that I pressed on for years with this moment in mind. Standing there in the near dark, I realized that moment was the culmination of my pursuit of foundational photography knowledge, outdoors preparation, and hours of support from Gary V that kept me trusting my own desires and wishes.
Manifestation is like that I suppose. Abundance was rushing over me and so starts a new chapter for me in Yosemite. Venturing off of the beaten path and getting into the back country to experience what’s next.
What does this experience feel and look like with even more preparation and conviction? More to come...
What is it that you are currently manifesting for yourself?