Crown over Yosemite Fall & Snowy Merced River

Crown over Yosemite Fall & Snowy Merced River

full print size of 29.6x37.6 inches @304.8ppi, above displayed at 1/178
Copyright © David Senesac 2006   view detailed crop

geranium Yosemite National Park, Mariposa County
early morning Saturday March 4, 2006, slide 06-E-9
Wisner 4x5 Expedition, 90mm Caltar, Gitzo G1325 Mk2
Tango Drum scanned Fuji Provia 100F 4x5 film to 300mb RGB file
Adobe Photoshop 6.0 processed for accurate image fidelity
Lightjet5000 printed on Fuji Crystal Archive paper
signature above bottom right

The first of a series of cold storms began sweeping across Northern California in late February and would not let up till mid March. Many of these modest storms put a few inches of snow on the Yosemite Valley floor at 4000 feet. However a large cold storm occurred March 3. The storm began Thursday March 2 with passage of a warm front as 0.81 inches of moderate rain. After 4am Friday March 3 temperatures dropped and the resulting 2.03 inches of precipitation recorded on the remote valley rain gauge was all cold fluffy snow. That is about 20 inches of snow. Heavy snow continued through daylight hours until early evening after which calm clear starry skies promised an exceptional Saturday morning. That evening I tented for a second night among just a few others at icy Camp 4.

As the dawn of Saturday March 4 broke, I forced myself to quickly escape with gear. Walking back and forth to my car in temperatures in the teens through fluffy knee-deep snow was of course an effort. I had several ideas about where to shoot first. Upon slowly driving around the as yet barely plowed valley loop road, it seemed the only subject to offer good illumination was the Yosemite Fall cliffs. Thus I got out at the long south side meadow before the chapel. One advantage to this north northwestly side lit orientation given the east position of the sun, was the bright fresh snow was far less contrasty than subjects to the west. Wearing Sorel's and my usual ski clothing, I struggled through thigh deep snow to reach the banks of the Merced. There I found this winter wonderland where I didn't waste time setting up a shot.

After the snow had stopped, breezes became minimal so very little of the heavy snow had fallen off any branches. And that snow was impressively thick on all trees causing them to bend radically in arcs. In fact the sound of large tree limbs cracking had echoed against the great walls throughout the night along with the sound of huge blocks of ice falling from the cliff heights. The surface of the river was a fascinating slurry of snow floating along and damming up against objects.

Sunlight had only reached the base of the cliffs about a mile north. That left all the fore and middle ground trees, and the river still in the shade. However that was fine because the covering of snow provided adequate illumination. A layer of clouds developing over the east end of the valley quickly ended the blue skies. The thin clouds however helped create more diffuse lighting below in my frame's near shadows. I preferred at least some blue in this otherwise monochromatic scene. After waiting about 10 minutes, I noticed an interesting blue hole with wispy clouds was slowly moving across the sky into the top of my frame. I wanted to take the shot and move on to several other locations before the sun became too harsh. Knowing the image on my ground glass was exceptional, I resisted that temptation so instead waited another 20 minutes until the small blue hole was directly above Yosemite Fall. As that occurred the wispy clouds had the fitting shape of a crown.

I placed my tripod atop an abrupt bank about 6 feet above the river with a long log, part of a logjam spanning the deep river, in my frame's foreground about 15 feet away. Having the near foreground that far away allowed a quite good focus and sharpness across the whole frame. By time I made the image, sunlight had not quite reached trees in the frame's middle ground. Upper Yosemite Fall is about 1.5 miles distant. Wet rock behind the fall is ice free with large blocks of thick ice coating the spray zone just beyond. Trees at frame right are cottonwood while the bushes across the river willows. At lower center etched in white are more cottonwoods and black oak while some white fir and incense cedar form a shadowed line of conifers lower mid frame left. Above on a distant sun lit cliff bench, dense ceanothus and canyon live oak are indistinguishable as mere bumps. And I was not alone as a raven with its reflection, can be seen taking a drink at the water's edge standing on an ice covering at the river edge lower mid frame right.

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   David Senesac

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