Standing 8,842 feet above sea level Half Dome is as much an icon of Yosemite as anything else. Even here in the High Sierra Half Dome looms another 4,800 feet above the Yosemite Valley floor.
From most angles the peak looks like a dome sliced in half. Actually it is more of a long, rounded ridge with the back side nearly as steep as the more visible front. The view from Washburn Point near Glacier Point gives a better idea of the actual shape.
The characteristic sheer face we all see was probably always pretty flat and the effect was only augmented by erosion and glaciers during the ice ages moving down the valley. Probably no more than 20% of the face has been chipped off over the eons, not nearly half.
Climbing Half Dome has been one of the goals of mountaineers since 1868 when geologist Josiah Whitney proclaimed that Half Dome would probably never be climbed. But in 1875 a Yosemite Valley blacksmith named George Anderson came up with a system of drilling a series of holes into the granite on the back surface of Half Dome and inserting iron eye-bolts strung together with rope.
He eventually reached the top and a slightly modernized steel cable version of his system has been in place ever since. Now anyone in excellent physical shape can follow in Anderson’s footsteps and stand on the very peak of Half Dome.
The route has become so popular that in 2010 the Park had to implement a system of permits. The crush of people trying to make the final ascent up the cables has created a severe safety problem. Check with the National Park Service for the latest in their ongoing quest to find a solution to the popularity of this route.
Amazingly very few people have died getting to the top of Half Dome but one of the biggest dangers is lightening strikes from storm clouds that can form very quickly. The odds of surviving a direct lightening strike on the top of Half Dome are low.[sam id=1 codes=’false’]
Climbing the sheer east face of Half Dome took longer. It wasn’t until 1957 that pioneering climber Royal Robbins lead the first successful team to the top in five days. At the time this wall was considered the hardest climb in North America.
Ten years later his wife Liz became the first woman to also make the ascent. Today many experienced climbers make the ascent in a few hours.