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The Story Of George Anderson – The First Man To Climb Half Dome

Half Dome from a distanceWritten by Dave Hubbard —
The Yosemite Granite Icon represents such a dominating presence within Yosemite Valley that it is likely that the first adventurous human being to set eyes on it thought about climbing it…

But no one succeeded until 1875, over 25 years after the first white man entered the valley.

 


George Anderson was the first man to successfully climb Yosemites Half Dome.

Climb Half Dome…It was in the summer of that year that a local Yosemite guide named George Anderson decided to give Half Dome a try. He was a strong and fearless man and was a skilled outdoorsman.

Writer and Yosemite Valley resident James Hutchings had made an unsuccessful attempt at Half Dome himself.  

In his book entitled In The Heart of the Sierras he wrote the following historical account of the first successful ascent made by Anderson with the help of pine pitch to help him stick to the smooth granite surface!


Slathered In Pine Pitch

James Hutchings writes…

The knowledge that the feat of climbing this grand mountain had on several occasions been attempted, but never with success, begat in Anderson an irrepressible determination to succeed in such an enterprise.

Imbued with this incentive, he made his way to its base; and, looking up its smooth and steeply inclined surface, at once set about the difficult exploit.

Finding that he could not keep from sliding with his boots on, he tried it in his stocking feet; but as this did not secure a triumph, he tried it barefooted and was unsuccessful still.

Then he tied sacking upon his feet and legs, but as these did not secure the desired object, he covered it with pitch, obtained from pine trees near; and although this enabled him to adhere firmly to the smooth granite, and effectually prevented him from slip­ping, a new difficulty presented itself in the great effort required to unstick himself and which came near prov­ing fatal several times.

Mortified by the failure of all his plans hitherto, yet in no way discouraged, he procured drills and a hammer, with some iron eye-bolts, and drilled a hole in the solid rock; into this he drove a wooden pin, and then an eye-bolt; and, after fastening a rope to the bolt, pulled himself up until he could stand upon it; and thence con­tinued that process until he had finally gained the top – a distance of nine hundred and seventy- five feet!

All honor then, to the intrepid and skillful mountaineer, Geo. G. Anderson, who, defying and overcoming all obstacles, and at the peril of his life, accomplished that in which all others had signally failed; and thus became the first to plant his foot upon the exalted crown of the great Half Dome… This was accomplished at 3 o’clock P .M. of October 12, 1875.


Return From Half Dome

Anderson constructed a more sturdy and permanent rope so that he could begin leading others to the top. James Hutchings’ youngest daughter, Cosie, was also a skilled writer and remembered this preparation:

“Along the old plank walk between Hutchings’ old corral to Sentinel Bridge, Anderson stretched five separate strands of baling rope [a soft, loose-fiber rope about the thickness of a lead pencil, but strong and easy to use].

“With another strand he went along the 975-foot length knotting the five strands together with a sixth strand and a good sailor’s knot a foot apart – a convenient space for climbers to grasp as they made the ascent.

“The knotted rope was `coiled, tied together, put on a pack mule, and carried to the shoulder of the Half Dome. Here Anderson shouldered it himself, packed it to the top of the Dome, unloosed it, fastened one end to an iron pin in rock on the summit, slid it down, uncoiling and fastening it in other iron-pin eyebolts he had placed on his first ascent as he went.”


Yosemite Nature Notes

Half Dome, the man who first climbed it, and the cabin in which he lived were subjects of the October 1954 issue of Yosemite Nature Notes.

George G. Anderson is best known in Yosemite’s history as the first man to successfully ascend half dome of course. Interestingly though, the article entitled “The Historic Anderson Cabin” focuses more on his historic log home.

Written before the building was moved from its original site in Foresta, the article and the structure that is described are especially significant now that the tiny cabin is a part of the collection of early buildings at the Yosemite Pioneer History Center in Wawona.

For nearly 40 years Yosemite Nature Notes served the park and the National Park interpretive program. First mimeographed as a newsletter in July 10, 1922, Nature Notes evolved into a small booklet containing interesting Yosemite themed articles and was produced monthly.
The little publication was read in its various forms through the years by millions of park devotees.

In its more than 400 regular issues and 23 special issues can be found much of the story of Yosemite National Park — its human history, archaeology, biology and geology.

Revenues from Yosemite Nature Notes were dedicated entirely to assisting the park naturalist division in the furtherance of research and interpretation of the natural and human story in Yosemite National Park.

The article entitled “The Historic Anderson Cabin” written by Park Forester, Emil F. Ernst appears here in its’ entirety:


“South Dome”

George G. Anderson, who built and resided in the old cabin illustrated and described here, is best known in the Yosemite story for the first successful ascent of Half Dome in 1875.

Several attempts to reach the summit of this formidable granite monolith had been made previously, notably that of James M. Hutchings and  Charles L. Weed, the pioneer Yosemite hotel keeper and photographer, respectively, in 1859. Carrying bulky, heavy photographing apparatus, these two were stopped in their endeavor at the saddle on the east side of the massive formation.

Half Dome, then better known as South Dome, was considered unclimbable until Anderson, using rope and iron eyebolts inserted in holes drilled in the granite, succeeded in reaching the top. Since then thousands have made the climb, aided by cables installed in 1919, for an outstanding view of Yosemite Valley and the high country.

Anderson made a trail from Happy Isles to Vernal Fall for the State of California. Part of this trail is now in use as far as the bridge below Vernal Fall, the rest of it having been abandoned. Its construction, by 1882, had resulted in considerable financial loss to Anderson.

He died a short time after giving up his hopeless task of extending the trail to the top of the fall, which is now reached by a different route.


The White House??

The Anderson cabin was built of incense-cedar logs sometime in the middle 1870’s, possibly in 1876. It is a little over 20 feet long and 12 feet wide. It was formerly backed up by a huge boulder, 20 or more feet in height, against which a mud chimney was made for the fireplace.

The original roof was removed by Mr. George Meyer when he needed some material, and its nature is not known; however, the custom of the times would lead one to surmise that it was a sugar pine shake roof. A roof of this type was replaced by Mr. Fred McCauley and is the one now covering the structure.

The George Anderson Cabin at the Pioneer History Center in Wawona

The George Anderson Cabin at the Pioneer History Center in Wawona

The tiny residence at first was located on property of George Meyer at Big Meadow in a little clearing on the edge of a swampy place, not far from the Indian rancheria. As many as 131 mortar holes, or grinding depressions in the granite rocks used for preparing acorn meal, have been counted at this rancheria, which was known to the Indians as O-pim.

It is understood that this place-name carried the meaning “halfway between Yosemite Valley and the present Indian Flat on the All-year Highway in the canyon of the Merced River.”

The cabin was used by the two Georges, Anderson and Meyer, during the time that they constructed the latter’s homestead residence. This little house was painted white and it succeeded, in a joking way at first, to the title of “The White House.”

It withstood the storms of many winters and the heat of many summers until August 19, 1936, when a fire consumed it and its contents which included a rather large bearskin.

O-Pim

“The White House” was for some time a United States post office with the name of O-Pim, California. A postal inspector once came up to investigate the unusually small amount of business being reported by this station. He found that George Meyer believed that it was there for his own convenience and that public service was the last thing that entered his mind. Shortly after the inspection the post office of O-Pim was closed.

The old log shelter was well known as “Anderson’s cabin.” After his death, (thought to have occurred in 1883), a controversy sprang up between Thomas A. Rutherford and George Meyer over ownership.

The line dividing their properties was indefinite and it was allowed to remain so for a long time. The problem could have been resolved promptly merely by running a compass line from the quarter-corner on either the west or the east side of the section to its opposite on the other side of the section.

By the time that Dr. W. A. Setchell, a professor at the University of California in Berkeley, came to Big Meadow in 1909, the great question of the location of the cabin had been settled with the decision in favor of George Meyer.

Dr. Setchell took a liking to the old structure and purchased it from Meyer for $50. He arranged with Fred McCauley to move it, log by log, to its present site in the Foresta subdivision nearby, where Dr. Setchell had acquired home lots.

The removal probably occurred in late 1912 or in 1913. By 1929 Dr. Setchell reached the conclusion that he was getting too old to go to the mountains any more, and he felt that the cabin would have a better chance for survival if it were in the custody of the government. He donated his three Foresta lots and the picturesque old dwelling to the United States in 1929. Since then the unmolested cabin has stood lonely and all but forgotten.


Remembering Half Dome Before Anderson

Yosemite Panorama from Glacier PointThe climb up Half Dome has become the goal of many who now come to visit Yosemite.

Though a challenge to complete without a doubt, most “climbers” do not stop to think about Half Dome as it naturally exists… without cables.

Cables to the top of Half Dome now assist climbers unlike in Andersons day!Half Dome’s sheer granite surfaces not only required first climber George Anderson to make his ascent barefooted, but slathered in sticky pine pitch. How many would attempt to climb Half Dome today if this preparation was still necessary?

Planning to climb Half Dome? Permits are now required by the National Park Service…Find the necessary Half Dome information here.

The Indian Legend Of Tis-sa-ack

Tis-sa-ack on Half Dome

Have you heard the legend of Tis-sa-ack?

 

Click the links in this story for more fascinating history about Yosemite National Park.

For more first-hand stories about growing up in Yosemite, visit Dave Hubbard’s website www.undiscovered-yosemite.com and like them on Facebook at www.facebook.com/ouryosemitefamily.

(Republished with permission from undiscovered-yosemite.com)

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