They Used to Pour Fire off a Mountaintop

I was on a wiki walk when I came across this fascinating, but long gone, summertime event that used to happen inside Yosemite.

So, they used to pour still-burning embers off the top of Glacier Point at nightfall every day during the summer to make, what they called, a “firefall.”

Firefall - The real one!

This image is from Flickr user Cliff Stone (his real name!) taken in the summer of 1962 before the event was banned.

The firefall began when people down in the valley would see the embers from the nightly bonfire from the Glacier Point Mountain House kicked off the cliff’s face and then people would start specifically asking for it to happen, as seeing a river of fire coming down the face of cliff was quite the spectacle.

There were various attempts to stop the firefall between its inception in 1872 until its demise in 1968, mainly citing the crushing traffic of the sightseers and the fact that it was a man-made event in a setting that the rangers wanted to be celebrated for its natural beauty.

Even President John F. Kennedy saw it one night on a visit to the park while in office, but as he had to finish a phone call, they delayed it from its usual time of 9pm to 9:30pm.

The ritual usually kicked off at 9pm with a call-and-response, with someone in the valley yelling, “Let the fire fall!” with the response from the top of the mountain with, “The fire falls!”

There are so many things I enjoy about this. Don’t get me wrong, if they tried to start this again, I’d be first in line to protest, but in retrospect of it actually happening, it’s fascinating.

I can almost see the kitschy 1950s postcard saying “Come see the great Yosemite Firefall!” and the hordes of middle America in their station wagons parked on the road at nightfall. And it’s so audacious to think that that they used to allow a hotel to dump burning embers off the top of a mountain, especially when park rangers will definitely ticket you in most national parks for having even small campfires.

Now, people come to see a natural version of this, when the late winter February sun strikes Horsetail Falls just right, and sets the flowing water seemingly aflame. I’d like to see this one day and, in a small way, I’m sad I’ll never get to hear the people yelling and then pouring fire off the high peak, purely for amusement.