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Waterwheel Falls

Posted by
Don Smith (California, United States) on 4 July 2008 in Landscape & Rural.

Last week I decided to make the 18.5 mile round-trip trek to Waterwheel Falls in Yosemite's high country. This had been on the "to do" list for quite some time. I was in Yosemite on a short family holiday and had hiked the 13.8 mile Pohono Rim Trail along the south side of Yosemite Valley the day before. Perhaps feeling a bit more spry than my age should allow, I decided to set out alone (my wife and kids were smarter than me) for an afternoon/evening trip starting from the top of Tioga Pass at 8500 feet. I was well stocked with power bars, trail mix, bottled water, head lamps, map, and a water purifier. I knew the Tuolumne River would follow the path so I would never be without an adequate supply of drinking water. It took 4 hours of steady hiking (stopping only twice along the scenic trail) to reach my destination. I allowed myself one hour shooting time (not nearly enough in retrospect) and had my planned departure at 5:30pm (realizing it would take a minimum 5 hours to get back to my car as I would have 2600 feet of elevation gain). The Falls were awesome but I have seen even more impressive images on huge snow years. I wanted to convey the power and grace that the waterwheels (some as high as 20-feet as the cascading river hits deep ruts in the granite surface) and decided to use a Singh Ray variable neutral density filter where I could dial in -2 to -8 stops of light and allow for motion with the water. The cool thing about these falls is that there are no railings. I had to be careful on the granite because it had some black algae growing in spots and also, it was slick from polished glacial. I actually slipped once and took a 30-foot slide on my rear end! I got as close to the water as I could (basically right to the edge for this image) and just tried to play with various compositions and shutter/aperture settings. Unfortunately the trip back was fought with problems. Parts of the trail were under water and my wet socks soon led to painful blisters. I also came face-to-face with a somewhat aggressive bear (throwing a huge rock finally scared it away), fell into a creek when a log I was crossing unexpectedly turned (fortunately my Tamrac backpack which was 3/4 submerged protected my camera and lenses), and got lost for the final three miles as I made a wrong turn off my trail (it did not show on the map). The total time of the hike was almost 11 hours and I finally made it back to my car at 11:00pm thoroughly exhausted. A lesson was learned the hard way: NEVER HIKE ALONE! I at least hope you like the picture! I'll be posting more in the next couple days. As always, I welcome you to please visit my website at

Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III 1/10 second F/22.0 ISO 50 35 mm

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