While Vernal Fall isn’t displayed quite so prominently in Yosemite Valley as are Bridalveil and Yosemite Falls, Vernal is most certainly among the most popular and frequently visited waterfalls in Yosemite National Park, if not all of California. Accompanied by Nevada Fall, its upstream sibling, the two lofty cataracts are known as The Giant Steps – a title drawing from the very distinct glacially carved cliffs over which the falls plunge almost back-to-back. While Nevada Fall maintains contact with its cliff for the majority of its fall, Vernal Fall is a truly free-falling waterfall and thanks to the large volume of the Merced River it is both the most powerful and broadest free-falling waterfall in California.
Like Nevada, Vernal Fall was first properly examined by USGS surveyor Francois Matthes in or around 1913, at which time he determined the height of the falls to be 317 feet, and that measurement has been assumed to be accurate ever since. However, topographic maps make it seem almost abundantly clear that this figure could not be physically possible and instead indicate the height of the falls to be more like 200-230 feet. Given what the Topo maps show, we were quite skeptical that a measurement taken 100 years ago would prove to be accurate, yet when we surveyed the falls in May of 2013 we measured the falls to stand 309 feet tall, so Matthes’ figure of 317 feet is not only within an acceptable margin of error, but is simply too close to our measurement to assume it to not be accurate.
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