October 12 – George Anderson Day: the first man on top of Half Dome

George Anderson gets nil treatment at the park. His grave in the Yosemite Cemetery is identified by a small granite boulder. No mention of him in the Visitor Center. I think he needs some recognition for his singularly extraordinary feat – accomplished in 1875. To that end I include an excerpt from my award-worthy book: “One Best Hike: Yosemite’s Half Dome.”

….. George Anderson set out to top out on the mountain. Anderson, like 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.

Working alone, he brought his forging station up and crafted dozens of 7-inch iron eye-bolts on-site. Anderson ascended Sub Dome and began his quest using the remnants of the Conway rope. He pulled himself up as far as he could safely manage. Using a method called “single jacking” he held a chisel and hit it with a hammer to drill shallow holes into the granite. They were about ½-inch wide and about six inches deep. 

He slid small wooden pegs into the holes he drilled into the rock and then hammered in the eyelet spikes. They were placed where needed – about 5-feet apart. Next, he attached a rope to the eyelet and himself in case of a fall. He had to balance himself and stand on one spike to hand drill the hole for the next spike above. Each spike only stuck out about 2 inches. Up and up he went, building a crude ladder with about forty of these eyebolts. Occasionally, some irregularity in the curve of the rock or slight foothold would enable him to free climb twenty or so feet independently of the rope, where he would begin drilling again. He progressed over 450 feet up the sloping granite, belayed only by the rope he tied to the spikes. 

Once his spikes and “pilot” rope were in place, he returned to the valley to rig up a more sturdy rope. He modified a 900-foot length of ½ inch hay-bale rope by knotting five strands together with a sixth strand and a 3-inch sailor’s knot a foot apart to allow a hand-over-hand traverse. This was a convenient space for future climbers to grasp as they made the ascent. His mule hauled the new rope up to his cabin and Anderson carried it to the top using the spike ladder. He tied one end to the uppermost spike and slowly uncoiled and attached the rope to the eyelets with lashings. While all this may seem unbelievable, Anderson had been described as “a brawny, powerful man with tattooed arms, a splendid specimen of manhood.” Although it was a crude device, it worked. At 3 pm on October 12, 1875 he erected a crude flagstaff and stood on top, “waving the starry flag of his adopted homeland.” 

Unrelated thought worth quoting: “We must build dikes of courage to hold back the flood of fear.” – Martin Luther King, Jr. 

MrHalfDome™ – Rick Deutsch – www.HikeHalfDome.com

One Best Hike: Yosemite’s Half Dome

About Mr Half Dome - Rick Deutsch

Mr Half Dome. Has written the only half dome hiking guide, One Best Hike: Yosemite's Half Dome. Has hiked it 31 times to day. Lives in San Jose, CA Available for presentations. Carpe Diem Experience, LLC
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