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Milestone: Yosemite's Half Dome First Climbed on This Date in 1875

It was on this date 136 years ago that Half Dome, that massive granite bulb at the northeast end of Yosemite Valley was first climbed.

On Oct. 12, 1875, a Scotsman named George Anderson made the first ascent of the 8,842-foot summit, using a rope he fixed on the route's final 400 feet after hand-drilling an estimated 40 holes and inserting spikes equipped with eye bolts to hold the rope.

Believed to be George Anderson on summit of Half DomeJust 6 years earlier fellow explorer Josiah Whitney had declared Half Dome "perfectly inaccessible, being probably the only one of the prominent points about the Yosemite which never has been, and never will be, trodden by human foot."

When Anderson finally made the climb, he did it barefoot. The first female to reach the summit, Sandy Dutcher, followed Anderson's route later that same year, climbing in a long dress. The route served as the forerunner of the modern-day cable route that Half Dome visitors climb today.

Anderson and Dutcher must have had better weather in 1875 than Yosemite National Park is experiencing this year. A park official confirmed to The REI Blog that Half Dome's handrail-like cables were taken down on Tuesday (Oct. 11) due to snow and ice. A storm last week dropped 10 inches of snow on Glacier Point and up to 2 feet in Yosemite's high country.

Climbers on Half Dome's cablesThe anniversary serves as a reminder that climbing Half Dome, even with the convenience of cables, is an arduous challenge for most people and one fraught with risk when weather is unfavorable.

A recent Associated Press story points out that 2 people in 2011 died during Half Dome excursions. It also explains that many of today's Half Dome climbers are outdoor newbies who don't fully grasp the challenges involved in the long hike (16 miles round-trip) and climb (ascending the final 400 feet on a 40-degree incline).

The article reports that many new-to-the-outdoors visitors attempt the trip with the mistaken impression that they can call 911 and obtain assistance if they get tired or feel they need help ascending or descending. Not true; rangers are only dispatched for emergencies that involve serious injury.

Thinking of climbing Half Dome yourself some day? You'll need to obtain a permit, for one thing. After that it's important to know your abilities, be sure you're in good physical condition, understand the risks, be self-sufficient, competent in self-rescue, and be quick to turn back if weather looks at all threatening. It's likely George Anderson understood all these factors back in 1875.

Photos: Top (believed to be George Anderson on the summit of Half Dome) and middle (a thick stream of climbers on Half Dome's cable route) courtesy of Yosemite National Park; below (Half Dome from the Yosemite Falls Trail) by T.D. Wood. 

Posted on at 5:24 PM

Tagged: Climbing, George Anderson, Half Dome, Yosemite and national parks

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