One's first sight of Half Dome calls to mind those expressive lines of Doubleday's,
"How massively doth awful nature pile
The living rock."
Keeping watch over the rear of the Valley, even as El Capitan guards The Gateway, the ponderous immobility of this monster of granite inspires a feeling which defies analysis. From everywhere in the upper end of the Valley the eye is constantly drawn back to its impressive bulk, and who can doubt that if we were given, as was the heathen, to the practice of endowing with the personality and powers of a Deity inanimate objects of stone and wood, this inexpressibly sublime mountain would now be an object of worship.
Until the fall of 1875 the cloud-draped top of Half Dome had never known the tread of human foot. The ascent had baffled the attempts of all and sundry until it was accomplished in that year by Captain George Anderson. Captain Anderson was at that time a resident of the Valley, and it had been his desire since his arrival to scale the magnificent peak, not alone because of the distinction of being the first man to reach the top, but because it was tacitly understood that to the man
attaining this distinction would be granted a concession for building a hotel at the eastern base of the dome. In his effort Captain Anderson was opposed by some two or three others who were actuated by the same desire. One might almost wish that such a creditable ambition had been inspired by a less mercenary motive. However, be that as it may, one day Captain Anderson disappeared from the Valley without having told anyone of his intended departure or destination. This procedure was in those days unusual, and after some two or three days had elapsed without him having put in an appearance, grave fears were felt for his safety and a search party was organized to look for him. This party, composed of several residents of the Valley, concluded that the most logical place to look for Captain Anderson was in the vicinity of Half Dome, and accordingly proceeded in that direction along the old trail past Happy Isles and Vernal and Nevada Falls. On the trail near Nevada Falls they met Captain Anderson returning to the Valley, and in answer to a query as to where he had been, he said, "Gentlemen, I have been to the top of Half Dome." One can almost imagine the skeptical cynicism with which this statement was greeted. Here were a number of hardy western pioneers, inured to hardship and danger, and skilled in the ways of the mountains, who for days had exhausted every effort to accomplish just what this genial Captain was so calmly claiming to have done. But Captain Anderson smilingly promised that on the following day he would lead the party to the top and
they went back to the Valley and to their homes, hardly knowing whether to believe or not. However, on the following morning the party was again organized and proceeded along the old trail to the eastern base of the dome, where a strange sight met their gaze. Placed at regular intervals in an unbroken line straight up the glacier polished surface of the dome were a succession of small iron pegs, from each of which dangled a short length of rope. Captain Anderson had conceived this idea after days of the most painstaking exploration had failed to disclose any other way to the top. Taking no one into his confidence, he had, alone and unaided, gathered his materials, transported them over the ten miles of rough trail to the beginning of his ascent, fashioned the pegs, and slowly, step by step, had drilled the holes and built himself a ladder, nine hundred feet long, to the coveted summit. Can anyone imagine the sensations with which he reached his goal? The glories of the crags and peaks of the region seem if possible to be increased when their summits are reached by difficult and perilous climbing. Aside from the satisfaction arising from the accomplishment of a difficult task, let us hope he had his reward in the knowledge that never before had human foot trod the rock on which he stood--that never before had human eye from that far height ranged over the panorama of inspiring grandeur that was spread about him.
Captain Anderson, with the characteristic unselfishness of the typical westerner of his time, immediately set
about building a ladder to the top so that all might share with him this great privilege. But, while engaged in the work of preparing timbers for the ladder, he sickened and died. For many years his original ladder was the only means of attaining the summit, but his dream of a stairway by which all could reach the top in safety, was finally carried out through the erection by The Sierra Club, of a cable stairway, composed of two steel cables anchored, at a height of about three feet, to iron stanchions imbedded at intervals of ten or twelve feet in the granite. Up this stairway countless feet have climbed to the spot on which Captain Anderson stood, and the fame of the view to be had from that spot has crept abroad o'er all the world. And well it might, for if it be true that "Yosemite has not a rival on this earth," so is this view the culminating crown of scenic grandeur.
There is not only the breath-taking depth into which one may gaze, where a noble river is dwarfed into a silvery thread, where ten acre meadows look like postage stamps, where lakes take on the appearance of tiny pearls, and a myriad of trees of noble girth and height are blended into a living carpet of green, but the veritable forest of innumerable pinnacles of granite, of lordly peaks wrapped in a panoply of snow and cloud, of beautiful lakes sprinkled like a carelessly thrown handful of emeralds among legions and legions of magnificent trees that stretch away to the very horizon verge. The whole preeminently glorious scene sleeping, eternal, changeless, under an unchanging sky, and over it all the brooding,
Click to enlarge
SENTINEL ROCK (OR LOI-YA) AND THE MERCED RIVER
Photo A. C. Pillsbury
unbroken, trancelike, listening silence of the far places of the earth.