The High Sierras cast their moisture-catching net each fall. They haven't caught much in recent years, but every so often--this winter, for example--El Nino awakens, and vast snows accumulate, waiting for a spring that will create oceans of whitewater and waterfalls of astonishing power, particularly in Yosemite National Park.
I observed this year's spectacle in early May. It was my first trip to the venue, but, like most of us, I had been there vicariously through the works of one of the great photographic technicians of our time, Ansel Adams, whose speciality was Yosemite, both as preservationist and photographer.
Upon seeing the subject firsthand, the shortcomings of Adams' work become evident. Photographs, at least unretouched ones, prepare one for the visual impact of Yosemite about as well as an umbrella prepares one for a typhoon.
At lower right is one of the park's best-known features, though it's hard to see why from this original image. Fortunately, the yellow circle gives us a hint.
The tiny speck inside it is a lunatic. The photograph can't capture what he's trying to climb, El Capitan, because it's a sheer cliff 3000 feet straight up; taller than two World Trade Centers; perhaps the toughest, definitely the most legendary rock climb in the world. Very good mountaineers can ascend El Capitan in five days of extreme discomfort, should they be fortunate enough not to fall off and kill themselves.
In summertime, the climbers actually line up for days for their chance to try it. One might surmise that Yosemite is so madly beautiful that it provokes madness in its visitors, as it did to …