Today is the anniversary of George Anderson’s first summit of Half Dome – Oct 12, 1875
From my book, One Best Hike: Yosemite’s Half Dome –
In 1869, Josiah Whitney, the Chief Geologist for California, looked up and said: “Half Dome is perfectly inaccessible, being probably the only one of all the prominent points of Yosemite which has never been, and never will be, trodden upon.”
Many early settlers attempted to scale the 45-degree backside of Half Dome, including James Hutchings and Charles Weed in 1859. They brought Weed’s photo gear but were unable to ascent the steep backside. In the early 1870’s John Muir’s climbing buddy, expert climber George Bayley, also tried with the same result. This shows the difficulty of the task; Bayley was good enough to later be the first to get to the top of Mt. Starr King. Perhaps John Conway got the closest. In September 1873, Conway, who also later crafted many trails at Yosemite, had his young sons attempt the feat. Led by 9-year old Major Conway, the “lizard like” boys scrambled barefoot up the rock and inserted steel rods into cracks to which they attached a rope. Major reached an elevation of about 300 feet above the saddle, but father John mercifully called him back when he reached a point where he could find no projection to attach the rope.
It was just five years after Whitney’s proclamation that George Anderson set out to top out on the mountain. Anderson, like John Muir, was a Scottish immigrant and he was a former sailor. Third party accounts and writings years after the event make the facts blurry, but we believe he quietly set up his work area in a small cabin he built nearby (the location has not been discovered, but is believed to have been near a stream on the east side of the current Half Dome trail). Another cabin that Anderson later lived in at Foresta is now on display at the Yosemite Pioneer History Center in Wawona.
A tip of the hat to George.
Unrelated thought worth quoting: “I want to take you higher. Baby baby baby light my fire. Boom shaka-laka-laka Boom shaka-laka-laka.” – Sly & the Family Stone
Read “One Best Hike: Yosemite’s Half Dome