Chronicles of Early Ascents of Half Dome:
The Conways

An early (unsuccessful) attempt of scaling the Dome was described in the 1874 edition of The Yosemite Guide-book by Josiah Dwight Whitney of the Geological Survey of California. On page 96, Whitney describes Half Dome as "a crest of granite, rising to the height of 4737 feet above the Valley, seeming perfectly inaccesible, and being the only one of all prominent points about the Yosemite which never has been, and perhaps never will be, trodden by human feet". (The word "perhaps" was added in the 1874 edition; earlier editions conclusively declared "...and never will be trodden..."). Whitney than adds the following footnote that complements John Muir's description of Conway's attempt in the Daily Evening Bulletin (see the main page):

An attempt was made in September, 1871, by Mr. John Conway and his son, Major, aged nine years, and extremely active and daring climber, to get to the top of the Half Dome. They were furnished with a rope and eye-bolts, by which the hazards of the descent were to be in some measure provided against by carrying the rope through the bolts, driven in as occasion offered, and securing it at the upper end. Major reached an elevation of about 300 feet above the saddle or shoulder on the northeast side of the Dome, and thinks that he might have attained the summit; but the father deemed the risk too great, as the boy had reached a point where he could find no projection to which the rope could be made fast, and the return without its assistance was extremely hazardous.

Major Conway (1862-1911) Obituary

Mariposa Gazette, Saturday, November 4, 1911

Major Conway Dead

Major Conway, a native of Mariposa county, died at his home in San Francisco, Monday last [October 30], and was buried under the auspices of Pacific Parlor, N.S.G.W., Thursday, November 2d, in Cypress Lawn cemetery. Deceased was aged 49 years, 7 months and 4 days [born March 26, 1862, at Upper Sherlock's, Mariposa County]. He spent his early manhood in Mariposa county and leaves many boyhood friends here who will sincerely regret his death. He was a son of John [Conway]... He also leaves a widow to mourn the loss of a kind and loving husband. He was a member of Pacific Parlor, N.S.G.W.; Court Wayside, A.O.F. and Phoenix Lodge, A.O.U.W.

John Conway (1831-1917) Obituary

Mariposa Gazette, Saturday, March 17, 1917

Sturdy Pioneer Passes to Great Beyond

John Conway, sturdy mountaineer and pioneer road and trail builder of Mariposa county, died at the home of his son, U. S. Conway, at Cold Springs, last Sunday night [March 11] at about 11 o'clock. Infirmities of old age was the cause of his death.

John Conway was for many years employed in Yosemite as a builder of roads and trails to the many points of interests in that vicinity. Among these being Cloud's Rest trail, Glacier Point trail and Eagle Peak trail. In later years he was employed at Wawona, having had charge of a portion of the Washburn roads.

For some time past, being unable to longer perform manual labor, he has made his home with his son at Cold Springs, where he has given every attention. Mr. Conway was a native of Pennsylvania and 86 years of age [actually, 85; he was born May 3, 1831]. He is survived by two sons, George W., of Merced, and U. S. Conway, of Cold Springs.

The remains were brought to Mariposa on Tuesday, internment being in the public cemetery at 2:30 P.M.

Chronicles of Early Ascents of Half Dome