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Backpacker Magazine – March 2011

Right Place, Perfect Time: Frazil Ice

Witness a river of slush flow through Yosemite Valley.

by: Charlie Wood

Frazil ice pouring from Yosemite Falls. (Kirkendall-Spring)
Frazil ice pouring from Yosemite Falls. (Kirkendall-Spring)

Most Yosemite hikers get sore necks from looking up, but travel here as the valley awakens from winter, and you’ll be captivated by an ephemeral showstopper at your feet: frazil ice. Mist from Yosemite Falls freezes and reenters the creek to create an alpine Slurpee of epic proportions. The ice lava meanders through the forest with a consistency that oscillates between soup and cement. Mist also freezes to the cliff face next to the falls, then flakes in the midday sun—crashing loudly atop a snow cone that grows to 100 feet or higher.

Get close to both on an overnighter up Yosemite Creek in late March or early April. From the visitor center, walk west and cross several footbridges over the creek—and the frazil ice—and continue a mile to Camp Four. Follow switchbacks toward Lower Yosemite Falls and a view of the massive snow cone. More switchbacks take you past the upper falls and a perch overlooking the valley at mile 3.5. Continue a half mile to multiple camping options, just before Yosemite Point, with vistas of Half Dome and other granite icons. Caution: Be prepared for icy trails above the falls.

Map Trails Illustrated Yosemite SW ($10, Info (209) 372-0200;

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Michael Dotson
Dec 30, 2011

Hiked to the top of Y Falls on Sat. 12/24, and Vernal Fall on Mon. 12/26. The ice crystals were spectacular. It looks like Lower YF to me

Aug 06, 2011

I Beg to differ. I believe this is lower Yosemite Falls.

May 30, 2011

Did they change the picture? because that sure is lower yosemite falls.

Apr 14, 2011

See it in motion:

hiking girl
Apr 14, 2011

I actually did this exact hike this past weekend. There is quite a bit of snow and ice past the lower falls, and coming back down from Yosemite Point back to the lower falls was quite difficult - lots of slipping. Be sure to bring trekking poles if you attempt this any time soon.

Heather Smith
Apr 14, 2011

While the "snow-cone" that forms at the base of Upper Yosemite Falls is quite majestic and awe inspiring. The photo being represented as Yosemite Falls, is most definitely not. Having lived and worked in Yosemite for almost 7 years, and being a tour guide for 4 of those summers driving past it is in actuality Bridalveil Falls. It is also apparent by the alluvial moraine visible at the top of the fall. That and the vegetation visible on the right side of the frame, the falls of upper Yosemite are sheer, and their are no large outcropping visible.

Bridalveil Falls may not have a sheer drop of 2425 feet, but it is just as majestic, and during very cold winters can become frozen from top to bottom, 617 feet, of ice!

Apr 14, 2011

That picture is not Yosemite Falls, it's Bridal Veil falls.


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