Author Archives: Mike Piatek-Jimenez

Hiking Yosemite Falls

There are several Yosemite hikes that stand out as something more than the typical nature trail. One of our family favorites is to hike the John Muir Trail up to Nevada Falls and then back down the Mist Trail to Vernal Falls. It’s a long day hike with plenty of rewarding views, and probably one of the most popular hikes from the valley. My most memorable Yosemite hike was climbing Halfdome back in 2011. We backpacked up past Nevada Falls to Little Yosemite Valley, where we camped the night. Then the following day we were up at 5am to hike the rest of the way to the summit and then all the way back down. It was a hike I’ll never forget.

Ever since making it to the top of Halfdome, I’ve wanted to hike to the top of Yosemite Falls. I’ve been to the park several times in the past 13 years, but I just haven’t had the chance to tackle that trail. A few weeks ago, in April 2024, I finally had the chance.

My parents were up to visit our house in Oakhurst for the week. The weather was iffy, but I determined that Wednesday would be the best day to do the hike: there was a small chance of rain, but not until the afternoon. High temperatures were supposed to be around 65° in the valley.

We woke up early that morning. Oakhurst is about an 1:30 drive from Yosemite Valley, and I wanted to get an early start. The sun rose at 6am, so we set the alarm for 3:30 in order to get there in time to watch it. I started the hike around 8am.

Watching the sunrise from Tunnel View.
Upper Yosemite Falls from Swinging Bridge. Yosemite Point is the highest peak in the far upper right.

The plan was to hike 3.4 miles with 2,700 feet of elevation gain to the top of Upper Yosemite Falls. If I had the energy after getting to the top of the falls, I hoped to continue an extra 0.8 miles and up another 300 ft to Yosemite Point, which is the higher peak in the upper-right corner in the photo shown above. That would make 8.4 miles round-trip with an even 3,000 feet of elevation gain.

The trailhead. And so it begins…
This being springtime, there were plenty of seasonal waterfalls draining across the trail. Here’s the first stream crossing I came to.
Most of the lower part of the trail was this a mix of sand and gravel. A little slick on the way up, but coming down it was much easier on the knees than the granite further up the trail.
The views on the way up were incredible.
The only drawback to hiking this time of year is that I was taking photos into the sun. You can see the Ahwanee hotel on the left side and the valley meadows pretty well in this one.

The weather was a big question mark still, so I brought lots of layers. I started the trail with a long sleeve shirt and a jacket on, as it was still in the lower 50s. The jacket came off within the first 20 minutes though, as the trail had countless stairs and switchbacks. By the time I was about halfway up, it felt like it was in the 60s and I changed into a short sleeve shirt. Continuing upward though it dropped back into the 50s and I was happy to have the jacket on again.

The second stream crossing was a little more involved. The trail here was only a few feet wide, and there was a pretty significant drop-off to the right.

For the first mile or two of the trail, you can’t see the falls. Then you round the corner at “Oh My Gosh Point” hear the roar of water falling 1500 feet, and see this…

I was thrilled to see the falls closer than ever before, but I also realized how much elevation I still had to climb.
The gully carved out by the river below the Upper Falls was really deep.

It was at this point that I got to take one of my bucket shots. I’ve always wanted to take a photo of a small horizontal band of water out of a larger waterfall. Yosemite Falls is perfect for this. I didn’t quite have the reach on my 24-105mm lens, but I was able to get this 15 megapixel crop from my camera’s original 45 megapixel image.

After Oh My Gosh Point, the trail started becoming much steeper and there was a lot more water on the trail. There would be entire switchbacks that would be streams. I was glad to have good hiking boots to get past this part of the trail without getting my socks wet.

The stream…err trail…I was hiking.

Did I mention it was steep?

About 2/3rds the way up the trail, I saw a bear. It was maybe 100-200 yards away, and moving away from the trail. I stopped for about 10 minutes just to watch.

As I got close to the top of Yosemite Falls, there started to be a good amount of snow on the trail. At this point, it was still pretty easily to figure out where to go. That wouldn’t be the case later on…
I finally reached the top! A lot of folks were resting here, and I stopped to eat some lunch.

After hiking all the way up, you have to hike down a little bit to get to where the water drops off the edge. There was one section of trail that was a sheer drop on one side, and hardly a foot wide to stand on. There was only an old railing to hold onto. I was ready to turn around, but was determined that I didn’t come all the way to not make it the last 50 feet of the trail.

So sketchy!
I was rewarded with an amazing view from the top of the falls. I made it!

Here’s a video I took from the top…

Now I had to make a decision of whether to go on to Yosemite Point. I was exhausted at this stage, and part of me thought not going to the point would be a good excuse to do the hike again someday. Ultimately I decided that if it had taken me over 10 years to do this hike once, it would take a lot longer to find a chance to hike it again. I crossed the bridge and continued to Yosemite Point.

The bridge that crosses the river at the top of Yosemite Falls.
On the bridge, looking upstream.
On the bridge, looking downstream. The falls are just past the edge there.

Up past Yosemite Falls there was a lot more snow on the trail. Some sections my foot would sink in 1-2 feet, and other spots weren’t marked which made it difficult to follow the trail. I had to be careful. It made the last 0.8 miles a lot slower going.

About 45 minutes later I made it to Yosemite Point…

Looking down toward the valley meadows. I remember being chilly at the top and thinking how warm it looked in the valley.
The Halfdome cables weren’t up at this point. There was still a good amount of snow at higher elevations.
Looking from Yosemite Point back down toward Yosemite Falls. If you could see the falls, they would be just above the rock jutting up in the center of the frame. That rock had ropes on it for climbers. In the distance, you can see the steep switchbacks I hiked up earlier.
On the way back down, some rain was moving in. The view of Halfdome was quite incredible with the layer of clouds.

That picture of Halfdome was my last shot of the day. Coming back down was easier on my lungs, but harder on just about every other part of my body. I started the day with 2 liters of water and a 20 oz Gatorade. I drank the Gatorade and about 3/4ths of the water by the time the day was done. I imagine if I was doing the hike in the summer, I would have gone through a lot more water. It might have been better to carry a water filter and start with less water to save on weight at that point.

Overall, it was an amazing hike–one I’m sure I’ll never forget. Now I just need to figure out which Yosemite hike to do next…

A Kp9 Solar Storm

Like many people in the northern hemisphere, our family went out to view the aurora last night.  I’m used to seeing Kp5 storms with an occasional Kp6.  However, it takes a solid Kp6 storm to see the northern lights here in Central Michigan, and I’ve only been able to really catch seeing some lights along the northern horizon once or twice in the 20 years we’ve lived here.

That changed last night with the Kp9 storm.  Not only were we able to see the aurora, they spanned the entire sky.  It was beautiful.  

For camera setup, I started with a 24-70mm f2.8, but quickly found that 24mm wasn’t wide enough.  I was glad I had thrown the 16-35mm f4 into my bag.  I lost a stop of light, but exposures were still in very reasonable range: most of my images were taken at f4 at 800 ISO for around 5 seconds.  Post processing on these were pretty minor: I adjusted the exposure and bumped up the Clarity and Dehaze in Lightroom to highlight some of the streaks of light.  I left the Saturation alone without any adjustments, because it’s way too easy to overdo the aurora colors.

The last image was a multi-step process to get right.  I ended up having my family pose, then I switched to auto-focus, shined a phone flashlight on them to allow the camera to focus, then turned off the flashlight and switched to manual focus before starting to take the picture.  It took some trial-and-error, but I’m happy with how this one turned out.

Hope you were able to enjoy the view as well!

Photo Friday – Sunset at the Pier

This shot was taken the same evening at Pismo Beach as last week’s photo.  I captured a few photos from this vantage point.  One was at a longer focal length, just focusing on the light at the end of the pier.  It was a less busy image, but I feel like it lost something to this one with the sun actually in the frame.  So I prefer this one…which is captured at a narrow aperture (f16) to get the sun beams to become more pronounced.

RRR 5706

Gear: EOS R, RF 24-105mm f4L IS.