The Yosemite firefall has amazed visitors as it appeared for the first time in four years. The natural phenomenon takes place at the Horsetail Falls in Yosemite, a seasonal waterfall on the edge of El Capitan. Occurring for only a few days each February, the setting sun hits the falls just right and lights up the water, giving it the look of falling lava. This incredible time-lapse video by Reetom Hazarika shows the firefall in all its glory.
As reported by the BBC, Yosemite park authorities explained the firefall.
“The Horsetail Fall phenomenon appears when the angle of the setting sun sets the waterfall ablaze with reds and oranges, like a fire was falling down the cliffs on the shoulder of El Capitan.”
The effect of the firefall is only seen when the weather conditions are good and then only if there has been a decent snowfall, as the falls are created from melting snow. The California drought over the last few years has prevented this incredible natural occurrence from taking place. Once hikers realized that the conditions were perfect, social media was lit up with pictures of the firefall.
— NBC Bay Area (@nbcbayarea) February 18, 2016
— Serac Hammocks (@SeracHammocks) February 18, 2016
— Andrew McDonald (@AHMcDonald) February 19, 2016
The name “firefall” actually originates in a man-made Yosemite phenomenon. According to YosemiteConservancy.org, the employees of the Glacier Point Hotel “became the keepers of ‘Firefall,’ the long-running tradition of pushing embers over the cliff’s edge to create the illusion of a blazing waterfall.”
Not surprisingly, the practice of pushing hot embers off a cliff into the wilderness below was not very good for the Yosemite valley, but visitors copied the hotel and the remains of campfires could be seen falling from many cliffs in the park. Luckily for Yosemite’s flora and fauna, the only firefall nowadays is natural, as the firefall evenings on Glacier Point and elsewhere ended in 1968, after crowds gathering for the firefalls became too disruptive.
As the firefall is only visible for around 10 days, photographers planned in advance for the event. Speaking to ABC30, Todd Beach said he took a day off work to to see the firefall.
“We’re out here, we’re all nuts, sharing the same dream…a little red…here we go…here we go…”
Tom Kelsey added that, whether he managed to get the exact moment of the firefall or not, the scene was still nothing short of spectacular.
“I want to show the majesty of El Cap…when you see it, you’ll say, that’s Yosemite.”
El Capitan, a granite rock formation, is one of the world’s favorite climbing spots. Its famous prow or “nose” is probably the best-known symbol of Yosemite, which welcomes around 4 million visitors per year, according to National Geographic.
With the buzz from the Yosemite Firefall still flowing over the Internet, the reappearance of the spectacle for 2017 isn’t guaranteed. As Yosemite Firefall reminds us, there needs to be a hard winter first.
“Horsetail Fall must be flowing. If there’s not enough snowpack in February, there will not be enough snowmelt to feed the waterfall, which tumbles 1,570 feet…likewise, temperatures must be warm enough during the day to melt the snowpack. If temperatures are too cold, the snow will stay frozen and Horsetail Fall won’t flow.”
Additionally, the sky has to be perfect, with a clear sunset – so absolutely no snow, rain or clouds. While the original inhabitants of the Yosemite valley, the Awahneechee people, certainly knew of the firefall there was no official documentation until the first photograph was taken by Galen Rowell in 1973.
— LA 2024 (@LA2024) February 20, 2016
There are few words which can match the stunning visuals of the Yosemite firefall, but those of John Muir, who lobbied for the creation of Yosemite in 1890, probably come closest.
“No temple made with human hands can compare with Yosemite.”
[Image by Shutterstock]