AC Pillsbury on top on Half Dome, 1915



As of 10:30 am 3/21/11,  all roads into Yosemite are closed due to snow and dangerous conditions. <MORE>


Half Dome – Yosemite Musing

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     From our studies last term we know that the cables on Half Dome were put up in 1919. We also know that George Anderson was the first man up top on October 12, 1875. We learned that his rope frayed and was replaced in 1884, then it was hit or miss if anyone could get up on other replacement ropes by unnamed individuals. A tip of the Cardinal hat to Harv Galic of Stanford who has done a superb research effort in documenting Yo Semite visitors who went up the rock in the early days. Turns out that the subject of yesterday’s lecture, reknowned photographer AC Pillsbury, took a groupup  before the cables were erected. News accounts are sketchy and conflicting.  Pay attention – this may be on the quiz.

    On August 7, 1915, Pillsbury led a group of 17 young Stanford students (including 6 women) up the backside of Half Dome using the rope remnants, their own rope and a few of the Anderson spikes that were still present. Remember, the cables were not installed until 1919. AC took photos and motion pictures. He took several reels of film depicting the clouds and moonlight effects, as well as the vistas observed from the Visor. He reportedly was suspended by rope to take some of the photos. The students also carried wood up and at midnight lit a huge bonfire and shoved embers over the face, resembling the then-famous Glacier-Camp Curry “firefall.”  This fuzzy photo is all that remains to document the day. Recall the huge 1927 fire that destroyed 70,000 images in AC’s warehouse?

Click to enlarge

     The Half Dome movies were shown several times after the hike. They were shown at Camp Curry and at San Jose’s First Methodist Episcopal Church among other venues. Pillsbury called the show “Yosemite in Pictures and Story.” The 5-reel event featured colored views of Yosemite and the High Sierra. He also showed motion pictures of the climbing of Mt. Lyell. We know the above is true, but any tangible evidence has disappeared – just like storage box with the Holy Grail at the end of the first Indiana Jones movie. If you know of any postcards or maybe your grandpa’s story about this – let us know. 

Unrelated thought worth quoting: “Every feature of Natures’s big face is beautiful – height, hollow, wrinkle, furrow and line.” – John Muir, 1902

*MrHalfDome – Rick Deutsch –


2 Responses to “AC Pillsbury on top on Half Dome, 1915”

  1. Norman S Says:

    On Aug 8th 1932, the S.F. Chronicle published an article on the history of early HD ascents in which they credited Warren Loose, Jean Husted and Elden Dryer as having been the first people, since George Anderson, to summit HD without aid of a preexisting rope or cable. Five days later, the Chronicle published a letter to the editor by Charles Thomas Vandervoort. Vandervoort described how eight college men, members of the Pillsbury Party, installed iron pegs, soldered with melted sulfer and then attached 900 feet of ‘substantial rope’ to the mountain. Vandervoort listed six others who had used the “Pillsbury rope’; Francis King Murray, Roland Marx, Wilmur Anspach, Robert Templeton, Dorothy Putnam and Ann Brake.

    • mrhalfdome Says:

      Good work Norm,

      The seminal work done researching the early people up Half Dome was done by Harv Galic of Stanford – as a hobby. He’s not a history prof, but a physicist. We did a hike up Windy Hill last year to muse on HD and life itself. He’s dug out tons of news reports of the era and documented most summits when the world was in black and white. I refer readers to “Chronicles of Early Ascents of Half Dome.” Harv shows the SF Chron article you mentioned. What I’ve learned is that many NEWS reports were stretches and often 3rd – 4th party interpretations of events that occurred many years before. The claims of men going up “unaided” without rope etc. seem questionable. The Indians had a few centuries to try it and they didn’t make it. Pine tar on their feet or not. The 900 foot rope figure always pops up. Why 900??? It’s just a bit over 600 from the saddle to a good strong rock cluster to tie the rope to. Me thinks there be some poetic license here.

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