View Full Version : Lower Brother & Washington Column

14-Jun-2014, 19:25
An esoteric question which I apologize for but is anyone aware of an exfoliation event occurring on either Lower Brother or Washington Column – both in Yosemite NP – in recent history? Comparing Watkins photo of Three Brothers taken in 1865 and reproduced in the recent Stanford Albums Exhibition Catalog with a contact print I took late last month it appears that there was an exfoliation event on Washington Column sometime after 1865 and that a similar event had occurred on Lower Brother prior to 1865. I examined my print with a 20x Lupe but my photo was taken in the mid afternoon (~3pm if IIRC) and Watkins apparently took his in the morning. Can anyone shed any light on this?


Note: Forgot to specify: West facing sides.

Robert Langham
15-Jun-2014, 06:19
Checked the Klett book on Yosemite? It might have something. Major rock falls in Yosemite pretty often. Glacier point has been really unstable for most of my life. They closed a major portion of Camp Curry just a few years ago.

Once, when I was trying to sleep through a cool Sierra night on the Diving board I listened to a minor rock fall on my end of the face of Half Dome. It sounded like a bowling ball clocking and knocking down a ravine. I had gone to sleep with a view of a solo aid climber bivouaked on the Tissiak Route with his light glowing on the face for quite a while after dark. I got up to look but he didn't flip on a light and I couldn't locate him. Just a random rock coming off.

Gravity: It's not just a good idea...its...THE LAW.

15-Jun-2014, 09:19
Thanks Robert I'm going to check out the Kleet book. I did an online search yesterday and checked the Yosemite website before I posted but came up with a blank.

The reason that I asked is because the west side of top portion of Little Brother appears as a "smudge" on the 8x10 contact print and the west side of distant Washington Column has (to me) an unsightly dark streak running diagonally down its side. Since its an iconic view, I thought that it could be due to vandalism but after carefully comparing Watkins image in my copy of the catalogue against the contact print it appears that the Little Brother "smudge" is thee result of an exfoliation event that occurred prior to 1865 and the Washington Column dark streak is due to an event occurring sometime after 1865. Also, while I can easily view the print with a 20x loupe for detail I get no added detail from the catalogue. The next time I go to the Cantor I'm going to bring my loups with me.

Watkins took his photograph in the morning when that section of Little Brother was in the shade and Washington Column appears to soft and blown-out in comparison to my contact print which was taken in the afternoon when the sun was in the west providing good profile lighting. This raises the (to me) interesting question: Did Watkins choose the morning light when the west side of Little Brother was in the shade to avoid the smudge?


15-Jun-2014, 10:17
There was recently a "gigapan" photographic survey of all the Yosemite Valley walls for just this purpose (or at least one of the reasons) -- to provide a baseline for future changes in the walls.

Unfortunately, my copy of The Three brothers by Watkins (the vertical one) has faded to where I can not make out the smudge you are referring to.

15-Jun-2014, 10:19
Thomas, I am unaware of any recent "exfoliation events", which I assume you to mean rockfall from slabs, from Washington Column or Royal Arches. I can only speak from the last 50 years or so – no telling what happened in the unimportant century between Watkins and me though ;). Regarding the relatively geologically unstable Brothers and Eagle Cliffs, there have been multiple rockfall events, at least two over the last 30 or 40 years. There was a major event in the early 80's (?) in the vicinity of Rixon's Pinnacle (Lower Brother) that closed North Side Drive for awhile with debris (e.g., vehicle sized rock) that nearly made it all the way to the Merced River. For many years after there were 'no stopping' signs posted along the road to protect visitors from lingering activity. Much of the most recent spate of large rockfall events seems to have coincided with the increased seismic activity originating in the Long Valley Caldera, immediately to the east.

15-Jun-2014, 10:29
I examined my print with a 20x Lupe but my photo was taken in the mid afternoon (~3pm if IIRC) and Watkins apparently took his in the morning. Can anyone shed any light on this?


Note: Forgot to specify: West facing sides.

Well, there you have it. Little light can be shed on west facing sides in the morning ;). Things can look pretty different without defining lighting. Why don't you post your pics and a link to Watkins pics, so we can all have a look?

15-Jun-2014, 11:01
I would have done that ROL but after 12 years I replaced my aging 32-bit XP computer system with a blazing fast new 64-bit system running Windows 8.1 and haven't as of yet purchased the Hammerick driver to run the Epson 3200 scanner. However if you goggled "Three Brothers, Yosemite" and clicked on the Photo's link you'll pull up a zillion images including those made by Watkins and other period photographers such as Underwood & Underwood (which, incidentally, was taken in the same afternoon light as mine) which shows the side in question. The surface of the rock there is very smooth and the angle is steep. Since it appears in that condition in 1865 I am attributing it to exfoliation and not to vandalism or other cause. The smooth surface contrasts with the more rougher surfaces of Middle Brother and the south facing surface of Little Brother and may have made the potassium feldspar in that area more pronounced resulting in a slightly different coloration compared to the surrounding rock. I'm bring my binoculars with me the next time I head up to the valley.


15-Jun-2014, 11:59
Here's a quick scan to show what I am speaking about:


Not the "smudge" as I call it on Little Brother and the dark wall on what I assume is Washington Column?


15-Jun-2014, 16:45
Thomas, huh?!? Washington Column is not in your pic. Your pic includes the Three Brothers and Yosemite Point Buttress (YPB) in the lower right (Yosemite Falls tucked under Lower Brother's lower shoulder). If your query only involves this one photo (I thought you meant two), that may be source of your difficulties. I am interested in your quest but it would be a lot easier for me to follow if you simply annotated the area(s) of concern and linked or posted the specific Watkins with same, or detailed description.

BTW, as a general rule, side lighting is best for bringing out specific detail, meaning that the best time to bring out featues from west facing subject matter using natural light would tend to be more within the center of the day, seasonally with low angle sun. :)

Washington Column below distant snowy Clouds Rest, with Royal Arches to left, in center of photo:

Merced River, Autumn
(5x7 Efke PL25M, N-1, D-76, Nikkor 300mm, Deep Yellow Filter)


Yosemite Point Buttress, middle right:

Clearing, Yosemite Falls


15-Jun-2014, 20:52
Thomas, huh?!? Washington Column is not in your pic. Your pic includes the Three Brothers and Yosemite Point Buttress (YPB) in the lower right (Yosemite Falls tucked under Lower Brother's lower shoulder)....

You're correct. After consulting my map, which I see now that I did rather hastily earlier today, it is apparently a protrusion of what is marked "Columbia Rock" on the map and probably otherwise known as Yosemite Point Buttress as you pointed out. But the "smudge" on Little Brother and the "dark band "on YPB is clearly visible.


Drew Wiley
16-Jun-2014, 13:37
Besides placing Washington's Column on the wrong side of the Valley, there are a couple other factors which might (or might not) be pertinent. One was that Watkins
used blue-sensitive films, which rendered shadows rather open compared to pan films. The other is that there can be subtle differences in the color of the granite in relation to the film sensitivity. This is because later glaciations did not scour as high as earlier ones - the Valley had not been fully carved yet - so higher rocks tend
to be more oxidized. The Three Brothers are more joint-scupted, while things like Washington's Column, Royal Arches, and the Glacier Point "apron" are basically
onion-peel exfoliation formed. And its just a matter of time before another layer to the skin peels off. Human activity has little to do with it unless dynamite was
involved. A conspicuous exception would be sonic booms, which could be a climbers worst nightmare back when B52 overflights were common in the Sierra.

16-Jun-2014, 14:23
Drew, A B-52's top speed, even in it's latest configuration, the H model, has a top speed of 650 mph, well below Mach 1. In those years, sonic booms were more likely to be caused by fighters-typically the F-4 Phantom, F-104 Starfighter, F-100 Super Saber, F-105 Thunderchief, the F-8 Crusader, plus a smattering of other types. I have seen all these aircraft over the Sierra at one time or another.

I had the crap scared out of me while climbing on Lempert Dome when an F-8 came over at very low altitude--and he was hauling butt.


Drew Wiley
16-Jun-2014, 16:23
No. We saw and heard them frequently. No mistaking a B52. And they certainly boomed dramatically. I don't know if Yos Valley was in their path, but the San Joaquin Canyon certainly was. Ironically, the first guy to ever break the sound barrier retired on the hill just above me. He (Col Comstock) and Chuck Yeager had a full bore hate relationship, cause the former broke it on a dive, the latter on free flight seven years later; so it just depends on how one defines the "rules". Several books were written on both sides of the argument. Yeager himself was sometimes encountered in the backcountry fly fishing. I've been deliberately buzzed at close range by fighters, once out on the dry part of Owens Lakebed. Fun n' games for those guys I guess. I didn't appreciate having the hell shaken out of either my ears or my Sinar. My mother was trained as an aircraft spotter during the cold war, so I got to know my planes early. Everybody was paranoid back
then, and even a little building was pitched on the hill to detect the invasion. Those Commies were comin' for the cows!

16-Jun-2014, 17:03
Drew, there is no way a B-52 can break the sound barrier--it was never designed to do so. At such a speed the wings would break up due to aileron buzz. If you heard a booming sound it was more likely to be engine noise. The old J-57's they used at that time were extremely loud--and there were eight of them. The latest model, the 'H', uses a turbofan engine--much quieter and more fuel efficient.

I was an Air Force jet aircraft mechanic and crew chief from '66-'70. Although I didn't work on the BUFF, I did some training on them. I did work on the F-4, F-102, F-100, and T-38, so I'm confident in my assertions about the B-52.

btw: Gen Yeager was my wing commander in the 405th Fighter Wing at Clark AB, in the Philippines. He always had great respect for his crews--both air and ground.


Drew Wiley
17-Jun-2014, 08:48
That B52 thing ... somewhere back in my memory there was a time they told them to knock it off; and there was no way to mistake a sonic boom - it shook everything ... suddenly. Heard them frequently, and there was always a B52 up there. They were landing at Castle AFB as I recall. A long long time ago. But just an academic point - I could check with some experts next time I'm in that kind of social setting, cause I never recall any accessory jets around those big things,
or accessory contrails. But I was just a kid. The booms certainly weren't academic. Not much fun up on a rock, cause I had it happen to me once, climbing on some dicey exfoliation stuff. Had no idea what plane caused that - more in my pre-teen years when I got addicted to climbing. But the speed barrier feud is a classic... not going to go into it here cause it ended up in some very very nasty bitterness. Maybe tell you the story in person some day. Or you can read about it, though the ending is rather hush-hush. But I last spoke at length with Col Comstock at my dad's 90th BD party, slightly over a decade ago. Had some amazing WWII flight stories... but the personal feud kept him boiling. Thought he was the one who correctly deserved to be labeled the "right stuff", and had his AF
supporters. But I'm not going to bother reading all the technical reasons. I'm obviously not a flight engineer and probably wouldn't understand the nuances anyway. His wife kinda explained them to me, and it did all pretty much depends on how the rules of the contest were defined in the respective instances. I haven't been back to the ranch since I sold it. Last time I heard about someone bumping into Yeager, he was fishing at Crabtree Lks, and yeah, very friendly. Otherwise, some fascinating history; and in one sense, glad to have heard it in person, even if it was highly colored with emotion by that point.

Drew Wiley
17-Jun-2014, 10:00
I notice that there is quite a bit on the web about B52 shock waves and sonic booms; but I don't have the time right now to digest it. Maybe supersonic speed was
not the only hypothetical factor. But I was jes a little feller. Another thing I remember is that my dad hating being on a ladder when the boom hit. If some other jets were up there and just didn't get noticed cause they were less conspicuous than a B52, it's probably something I wouldn't remember today. Will never forget the whole house shaking each time. And it was common.

17-Jun-2014, 20:30
This month, June 30th to be specific, is the 150th Anniversary of the Yosemite Grant and there is a lot going on in and around the park in its celebration. Nope, no B-52's, sonic booms or Chuck Yaegers I'm afraid, but ongoing events such as this at the Oakhurst Visitors Center:

The Lure and Lore of Yosemite is the most comprehensive exhibition to date of art, literature and ephemera relating to the history of the Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Big Tree Grove.* The Exhibit will be on display at the Yosemite Sierra Visitors Bureau in Oakhurst throughout 2014.

Materials on display range from Lafayette Bunnell’s account of the ‘discovery’ of the Valley, in 1851, to John Muir’s famous Century Magazine articles (published in 1890) that led to the creation of Yosemite National Park.
Visitors to the exhibit will get a powerful sense of the impact of tourism on Yosemite in the decades between 1870 and 1900. Examples of rare 19th century ephemera on display – rail and stage company brochures, guide-service pamphlets, stock certificates and trade cards for early hotels – all attest to the intense commercial activity of this period.

Yosemite was also a mecca for artists and photographers, many of whose works appear in this exhibit. Highlights include: lithographs by San Francisco artist George Holbrook Baker, magnificent mammoth plate photographs by Carleton Watkins, and an original pencil sketch (from 1855) by Thomas Ayres – who was the first artist ever to draw Yosemite.

Please join us in taking this unique journey back through time to experience the “lure and lore of Yosemite.”
The Oakhurst Visitors Center hours are:
mid-October to April 1st – 8:30 am to 4:30 pm Monday thru Saturday, closed on Sundays
April 1st to mid-May – 8:30 am to 5 pm Monday thru Saturday, closed on Sundays
mid-May to mid-October – 8:30 am to 5 pm Monday thru Saturday, and 9 am to 1 pm on Sundays

Note that original works by Baker and Watkins will be among those on display. Here's a link to Baker's lithograph of Three Brothers and Sentinel:



Greg Miller
18-Jun-2014, 06:35
Maximum speed of a B-52 is 639 MPH. Typical cruising speed is 525 MPH. Both well below MACH 1 (761 MPH). So unless they actually found a way to eek out 17% more flying speed, and actually routinely achieved that speed, (both highly improbable) there's no way anybody heard repeated sonic booms from a B-52.

18-Jun-2014, 07:09
I notice that there is quite a bit on the web about B52 shock waves and sonic booms; but I don't have the time right now to digest it...

If you take the time -- no sonic booms from B-52's...just booms from dropping bombs.

Drew Wiley
18-Jun-2014, 08:37
No.. there was a bunch of other stuff, mainly related to wing design, including from a former B52 pilot. I was well aware of the noises from the bomb tests out on Dugway or wherever, south of Salt Lake. I've even seen the lights from that kind of thing at night. But I generally avoid that hot drive by bypassing the Lake to the north - a rather pretty and quiet drive by comparison. I personally expect they were flying faster, but certainly don't have the qualifications myself to answer that.
I'll probably run into an old B52 pilot one of these days; or I can ask someone who has access to the old classified whatevers. I don't really care. I was just a little
tyke and my mom always pointed up to the B52 after the whole damn house shoot. There could have been other jets around we simply didn't notice. But it was a
rather common occurrence. By the time I was 8 or 9 I wasn't around much during daylight hours. Most of my garden chores were in the evening, and any time out
of school I was off hiking or fishing or climbing or whatever. Running a power mower or some other kind of equip you didn't hear much in the background.... made
your own sonic whatever. But weeds four feet high weren't exactly conducive for supersonic speeds.