On a Saturday this past fall I had to travel to Groveland, California to photograph a wedding. Though the weather forecast was overcast with a solid chance of rain (not ideal for nuptials) the trip to the Sierra Nevada mountain town offered as good an excuse as any to tack on a side trip to Yosemite National Park, located nearby.
Fortunately, the weather held off for the bride and groom, but as my best homie and second shooter Chaney Zimmerman and I woke up the following morning and got ready to head to the valley, rain set in heavy. There was even snow in the high passes. I had never experienced Yosemite in such a state—the cloud coverage was so dense, El Cap and Half Dome weren't visible at all.
Still, we stuck around. And later that day friends Sho Niimura and Ace Catalan caught up with us to round out the group. The rain came and went but the cloud cover remained persistent, giving the whole place a moody feel you don't often see in photos from one of the most-shared national parks. We wandered around the valley and its numerous riverbeds, taking in all the angles.
As we casually walked around Yosemite Falls, an older gentleman approached us and asked us if we were ready for something he called "the atmospheric river." Taking the hint from our obvious confusion, he went on to explain that Yosemite Valley was projected to get six-plus inches of rain in a 36-hour period. We brushed off the short conversation and continued to the falls. As the evening came to an end, Sho, Ace, and I got a room at a hotel near Fish Camp called the Narrow Gauge Inn (10/10 would recommend), about an hour from the famous Tunnel View.
"It's impossible to describe the energy it filled us with—that feeling that nothing else mattered beyond one single view... except maybe the next one."
The next morning, we woke up to more rain and cold temperatures. After gassing up on Denny's in Oakhurst, we headed back into the valley. The snow line had dropped to around 4,000 feet, and as we entered the park from the south on highway 41 a wonderland spread out in front of us. We pulled over at Glacier Point Road to take a few photos, the clouds peaking in the distance, then continued on.
I've been to Yosemite many times over the last few years and have often told myself I need to go at the end of a storm to catch such beautiful, moody conditions. Finally, that moment had come: the low clouds, snow-capped mountains, and late-autumn trees hit us hard with mind-boggling vibes.
It's impossible to describe the energy it filled us with; that feeling that nothing else mattered beyond one single view, except maybe the next one.