Yosemite Spring Hike, Chilnualna Falls

This is one of those stories that feels like it deserves a much longer post. For the past few years my cousin Debbie and I have ventured into Yosemite looking for wildflowers in the spring. This year was a little different. We had a little extra time, we were excited about exploring parts of Yosemite that we’ve never really spent much time in, and we were both in really good physical condition.

I found a good deal on a stay at the Wawona Hotel (now known as the “Big Trees Lodge”) so we could hike up to Chilnualna Falls. We did our research, and had some pretty good ideas. We both also felt up to the challenge of carrying our favorite gear.

Wawona Hotel (Big Trees Lodge)
Starting at Wawona Hotel was a great idea. Charming and historic. We met some wonderful people here.
Wawona Hotel hallway (Big Trees Lodge)
Wawona Hotel Detail: Honestly, if you get the opportunity then stay here. The place is amazing.

The stretch goal

We had a stretch goal depending on how long it took us to get to the main fall. Above the waterfall are the streams that flow into the falls themselves. I wanted to visit here mostly because it seemed like it would be remote and uncrowded. That was an understatement. We encountered very few people the whole trip and none at all after passing the main waterfall. We had this place to ourselves and it was glorious.

Debbie crossing a seasonal creek
Debbie crossing one of the seasonal creeks that made the trail interesting.

Actually getting to our stretch goal destination was something of a comedy of errors. Note, that’s absolutely normal for us. The trail was washed out and we had to do a little bushwhacking. That meant getting creative crossing yet another stream then essentially losing the trail once we got to the other side. Thankfully some hikers before us stacked up some stone ducks pointing the way.

That water is freezing cold. I had my heart set on wading out there. I think I remember letting out a shriek. It was worth it. I think Debbie has a picture of me doing this which I’ll share some other time.

The primary goal

The primary goal was of course Chilnualna Falls. We backtracked our way here with a minimum of mishaps. I envisioned a long exposure of the water rushing over the middle cascade and flowing to the lower cascade behind me. I had a very wide angle in mind. 17mm on a full frame Canon is really wide and distortion was expected. I liked it and ran with it.

The primary goal: Chilnualna Falls.
This photograph is available on my sales site:
https://www.coastalimagesbysean.com/Landscapes/Yosemite/i-FDmzjMM/A

I switched lenses to my Canon 70-200. For some reason I chose to bring my obnoxiously heavy 70-200 f/2.8. In retrospect my 70-200 f/4 would have been a better choice for any of a dozen reasons, but hey this is what I brought and fitness-knucklehead me, I was up for carrying it.

Portrait orientation shot of the middle cascade with the telephoto.

Time to go.

We stayed for a while and enjoyed the place until it was obviously time to go. We needed to hussle back downhill before we ran out of daylight entirely. Along the way I couldn’t help but stop and photograph the beautiful scenes unfolding in front of me.

The sun dips low between trees along the Chilnualna Falls trail, Wawona, Yosemite

My tripod was strapped to my pack and I just didn’t have time to dawdle much. The remaining shots where hand held at higher ISO. These were moments that I just wanted to capture. It was something of an attempt to take this home with me and remember the experience.

The sun sets on Wawona Dome with trees in the foreground.

While passing these last scenes I could here the voice of Gary Crabbe reminding me these words of wisdom:

If it looks good, shoot it. If it looks better shoot it again

Tree snag and distant hills bathed in warm sunlight.

Author: Sean McLean

Photographer from Santa Cruz, California. Sharing thoughts and photographs.

4 thoughts on “Yosemite Spring Hike, Chilnualna Falls”

  1. Awesome story and wonderful pics to illustrate it. Now I’m jealous again. I love Yosemite. I will get back there. Oh yes, I will return.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.