For the past several years (so many that we’ve lost count), it has been one dry winter after another. Our Yosemite in Winter workshops have been more like Yosemite in Fall (not a real offering). The Yosemite in Spring workshops, where roaring waterfalls normally boomed throughout Yosemite Valley, had participants getting excited and pointing, “Look, I see a trickle of water on that fall!”

Yeah, it was bleak.

But no more! The big bully of the meteorological neighborhood has arrived on California’s doorstep and his name is El Nino. And this changes everything. Yes, it means more snow. More color. And more water. Lots of it. All of our workshops through June will be ones to remember for decades. Yosemite in Winter, Death Valley, and Yosemite in Spring will go down in the record books as the best conditions we’ve seen in over 20 years.

Yosemite Fall in Winter Snow - By Bob Melgar


Snow in Yosemite is a beautiful sight. And for those lucky few back in 2011 that last experienced a winter wonderland amid the granite peaks. And this year is shaping up to be the same.

Here at the HSW headquarters, we are literally giddy with excitement about what awaits us next month. And we aren’t the only ones, as there are only three seats left in the course. And that’s after we expanded the maximum capacity to 12 students since we will now have THREE instructors teaching the course this year, for a ratio of four students to each instructor. That’s like having a private workshop!

And we can’t ignore the elephant in the room … the Firefall opportunity at Horsetail Fall. This is the stuff of legends. The late photographer Galen Rowell first captured this rare phenomenon back in the 70s and every year photographers flock to the west end of Yosemite Valley in hopes of seeing the moment when the sun backlights Horsetail Fall into a glowing orange, much like fire falling down the granite cliff.

But the conditions have to be just right. A trifecta of opportunity, with there being enough water in the fall (the watershed is very, very small, encompassing only the top east half of El Capitan), clear skies (winter in the Sierra Nevada makes this a crapshoot), and those select days when the setting sun shines through a notch in the distant rocks to illuminate the water just as the sun sets.

For the past many, many years, the conditions have not truly lined up. Mostly it has been a lack of water, as the fall tends to dry up in February anyways, but in drought conditions it has been nothing more than a smear of wet rock reflecting sunlight … if we were lucky.

But this year … This year we stand to see what could be one of the top three greatest Firefall events ever since Galen first spotted this iconic photo opportunity, as the wet El Nino conditions are but guarantee for an ample supply of water. And with four opportunities over the course of the workshop, the odds are good that at least one of those days we will have clear skies. And, lastly, we always schedule this workshop course on the peak days for the Firefall opportunity. Yep, this is the year.

Elizabeth DeBruin Flowers Death ValleyDEATH VALLEY

One of the lessor-known sights in Death Valley is the spring wildflower bloom. Yes, Death Valley has an infamous wildflower bloom … but not every year. Just like the conditions for Horsetail Fall has to be just right, the conditions for an ideal spring bloom are even more finicky. There has to be just enough rain in the late fall, cooler temperatures prevailing through winter and early spring, and just enough moisture still falling to keep things blooming.

And guess what? All reports (“Wildflowers are popping in what may be an epic El Nino season”) are saying this is one of the best years ever. Michael Mariant, lead instructor for the workshop, says he hasn’t seen a impressive wildflower bloom in Death Valley since 1997, the last El Nino. And everything this year is shaping up to duplicate 1997.

The bloom typically begins with a scattering of wildflowers in late February with a peak in mid-March on average. But there are so many variables that can impact the bloom.

But this year, not only are the conditions ideal, but the bloom has already started! It’s moving at a slower rate than normal but with stunning starting conditions.

And when will it hit peak bloom? You guessed right! Exactly when we have scheduled our Death Valley workshop course!

Yep, this is the year.


Bridalveil Fall YosemiteYOSEMITE IN SPRING

When we hear El Nino, the first thing that comes to mind is “water, water, everywhere” … and nowhere is that water going to be as stunning as in Yosemite Valley as the waterfalls pour over the lip of the valley rim, some in sheer drops, others cascading, but all in just roaring glory.

Did you know that there are 17 named waterfalls in Yosemite Valley? (Note the emphasis on “named” waterfalls, as there are countless other ephemeral waterfalls that appear for short windows of time.) And during our Yosemite in Spring workshop course, we try to get to at least 12 of those 17 named waterfalls.

Yosemite in Spring is all about the water. From the Merced River to the iconic Yosemite Falls, this workshop focuses on water, and more specifically water motion. The academic curriculum has been specifically written for Yosemite in Spring, with an emphasis on learning how to capture perfect water motion, both in the falls and along the river. Oh, did we mention the dogwood flower bloom that happens at the same time?

Yep, this is the year.



And to help you ‘wet’ your appetite, (… you see what we did there? Yes, we know it’s spelled ‘whet’. Please don’t email us. It was a pun) we are extending our Holiday Sale of $150 off your course tuition for three El Nino workshops: Yosemite in Winter, Death Valley, and Yosemite in Spring.

But there are literally only a couple seats left in each course!

To cut your tuition by $150 for any of these three courses, simply use the promo code ELNINO when you are registering for the course. Get ready for a workshop course to remember forever!