Tobin Sorenson


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Alta Loma, CA
Apr 21, 2016 - 01:17pm PT
Amazing story by Largo at the start of this thread.

My old man knew Tobin back when he used to climb out at J-tree in the 70's.

Tobin took him up the North overhang his first time.


The state of quantum flux
Apr 21, 2016 - 03:10pm PT
Thank you again to Brunosafari (where are you these days, Bruce?), and to all those who've been bumping and posting on the thread in honor of and in memory of Tobin.

These two old photos are from sometime in late August, 1980. Mom and our Grandma Wynne, along with youngest brother Tom, were driving Tobin up to Edmunton, Alberta for his counselor job at the Christian retreat there, and where he planned his fateful attempt on Mt. Alberta.

They came by the fire station where I worked in Nipomo near Santa Maria, California, and I was so stoked that he was there to visit me. Tobin was always respectful of his family like that. Little did we know that we were never again to embrace on this earth. In Tobin's words I have to say, "Fudge, this is hard!" I still choke back tears thinking about it after all these years. Mom took the photos with Tobin's Cannon 35mm. It was the last time all the Sorenson brothers were together.


Trad climber
Marshell islands atoll
Apr 21, 2016 - 04:54pm PT
first of all thanks for signing my copy of your book (Stonemasters) my climbing career started out at T&S as many others have. I met all of you guys at one time or another at the Craig, all but Tobin. I have lead almost all of your routes there over the years including Green arch, late 70's and early 80's every weekend was spent there camping illegally a top Suicide and climbing all day. You guys and Darrell Hensel were for sure my heroes of the day. Wish I could of met Tobin, I must say some of the stories you have wrote about him have been more than entertaining.

The state of quantum flux
May 29, 2016 - 10:05am PT

Tobin and his Acapulco Sunset on Intersection Rock

Of recollections dulled by living, and memories roughed by the drugged abuses of my youth, there are still some that work their way through the fog of time with near clarity, albeit a few minor inaccuracies, to recall once more here. Growing up with Tobin Sorenson was rarely dull and for most climbers and those afflicted by the adventure gene, there are many firsts along the way. Experimentation with disaster and mortality are the common thread of our experience. Though some considered Tobin as somewhat chaste and unworldly, this was not completely the case. He always had a gamblers heart and did partake of the herb, only once that I recall, at the behest of his friends before the bible and its work almost completely took hold of his life.

To my mind, Tobin never had a top rope from God, as this would bear out later on with his tragic accident on Mount Alberta. But his conviction, whether for climbing or for his faith in Christ, though he never made it his business to preach to me, was illustrated by his well known talent for commitment both on and off the rope, which was culminated by a short and momentously spectacular alpine climbing career. But this story is of a more innocent time, when the Stonemasters were in their formative beginnings, and soloing 5.11s and 5.12s at Joshua Tree was not yet de rigueur for the day.

It was circa early 1970s and there I was tagging along with my big brother, Tobin, and the Stonemasters again. We were eating and hanging at the site beneath the big boulder under the Blob, on the northwest end of the Hidden Valley loop at sunset. The usual communal meal had been donated to, and/or bummed and scarfed by the usual peanut butter and air-bread crowd, Tobin and I, Bullwinkle, et al. Pipe loads were being passed and new among the imbibers, the normally abstinent Tobin consented to a long and choking lung full of the Mexican bud du jour.

"I see green spots!" Tobin exclaimed after catching his breath. "Whoa, you better take it easy there, son," a seasoned member of the group cautioned. But Tobin announced to their chagrin that he was going to solo the North Overhang on Intersection rock and off he was like Dorothy exiting up the yellow brick road as if to find a wizard. I stepped out into the road and looked south towards the brooding slot at the top right corner of the formation already mostly in shadow, it's cap still bathed gold and red by the sunset as Tobin ran down the road towards it with just his sneakers and a chalk bag.

Worried friends started after him, one or two followed quick on his heels in the hope of dissuading him. "Let's solo Mike's Books and throw him a top rope!" someone yelled from the group. Free soloing easier routes were by then a common practice among the Stonemasters crowd, but in Tobin's altered state it was of some concern to me as well others in that instant and I followed along knowing that I could be of little help with my scant experience having only climbed roped on easier fifth class routes during that juncture.

5.9s were still out of my league and I had no idea that Tobin had probably soloed the North Overhang countless times at the end of many a hard day's climbing. By the time I got halfway to Intersection, Tobin was already up under the big overhang above the ledge at nearly a hundred feet above the ground, and reaching out left to the crack. I had only followed the easier traverse out right on a top rope before and I could not imagine that what he was doing was sound in his condition. I had never seen Tobin intoxicated except for the time when we were boys out to test a theory we had heard, and we got drunk by rapidly chugging large quantities of plain water. The intoxicating effect was minimal, but the after effect was not.

Up on Intersection, two or three other climbers were still working their way up to the ledge, and as I stood with a group from a distance staring up in silence, Tobin hung off the first jams moving his feet up the face on smears, and there he paused long enough for someone near me to say in a hushed voice, "C'mon Tobin." And then Tobin proceeded to smoothly climb up and left, he swiftly scrambled to the top, and he turned and faced the sunset in the fading light. As Tobin ran off east to descend Mike's Books, a climber with rope in tow was just making his way up from that direction, obviously too late to give Tobin any assistance. The climber continued over to the top of North Overhang, if for nothing but to offer a rope to the stragglers below. Back at where we were, Tobin ran up to us in the dwindling light and between deep breaths asked, "What's next?" and not waiting for an answer, he headed off towards another formation.

If this tale is off by more than a few characters or sentences, it might serve to bring some of Tobin's friends out of the woodwork and I would happily rewrite it again. For what is writing if not crossed eyes at midnight and a headache at four am, if it serves to bring to light a small truth, or a chuckle to the writer at the very least.

-Tim Sorenson

Edit; Afterword;

It was several years since that day in Joshua Tree and a year or more after Tobin died before I climbed out under that overhang, and contemplated doing what he and so many others had done before. My climbing years were at their peak in the early '80s and I found myself soloing every so often, but only on crack climbs with good jams and face climbs with solid holds. On this particular day I had been soloing with a group of regulars in the afternoon around the campground. After soloing the Eye, Geronimo, and Double Cross, we headed over to Overhang Bypass on Intersection. It was at that point a few of us decided to take the North Overhang option. I had led it several times by then and the crux had become comfortable and easy to me with a rope. But here I was at dusk, on a day not unlike that day I first saw Tobin solo it.

As my friends disappeared above me, I looked forebodingly at the crux moves around that corner onto the open face and longed for the easy option out to the right again. But my ego got the best of me and I took the jam and pulled around left with my feet on friction. As I held myself in with one good jam, I trusted my feet long enough to reach for the next good jam, and I knew for certain in that moment that I would never climb like my brother. I felt safer again higher up, but would never solo the route again after that, nor any other where I felt so insecure or in such a predicament.

I never mentioned it to anyone that day, how I felt vulnerable, exposed, mortal, and I wasn't likely to. On other solos I did during those years of equal or more danger, I can only say, I must have just put the relative danger out of my mind. I may have only been soloing easy routes by the standards of the day, but hard 5.10 was almost my limit while climbing with a rope. I really had no business soloing some of the things I did.

I don't know how Tobin had the courage to pull off the things he did during his climbing career except to say, it was in his nature and his outlook. He put everything he had into climbing, as if it was expected. That was the major difference between him and me. I was only infatuated with climbing, but he was completely enraptured.


Trad climber
Santa Clara, CA
May 29, 2016 - 10:43am PT
I wish I could have met Tobin. Seems like such a interesting dude.

Thanks for sharing, Tim!

Sport climber
May 29, 2016 - 11:38am PT

Many great Tobin stories shared on this thread. Thanks to Bushman et al!
mouse from merced

Trad climber
The finger of fate, my friends, is fickle.
May 29, 2016 - 02:03pm PT
A little desert polishing of the Tobin myth can't hurt.

This was neat and sweet, like a puff of Acapulco Gold, Tim.


Social climber
NZ -> SB,CA -> Zurich
Jun 6, 2016 - 01:40pm PT
I was packing some old books into boxes and came across "Canterbury Rock" (1989) guidebook which I couldn't resist flicking through. I was climbing there in a late seventies and was surprised to find that Tobin was too. Judging by the many comments above I'm sorry not to have met him at the time.

Cheers, Roy


Trad climber
Golden, CO
Jun 7, 2016 - 07:03pm PT
Right now, as I try to get in-touch with my 18-year-old self, I'm thinking that Tobin was the individual on this planet who I most wanted to be like (except for maybe the religious part).

The state of quantum flux
Oct 5, 2016 - 04:25am PT
Bump for Tobin Sorenson
06/15/1955 - 10/05/1980

It was a recurring dream that started about a year after Tobin died and continued in one form or another for about twenty years. It usually started off like this;

Tobin suddenly is suddenly alive once again and has come back after he's been missing for many years. He tells me about his adventures. He has led a secret life all along, wife, kids, job, the whole shebang, all in a distant country and completely under the radar. He didn't really die in the accident and after disappearing, he quit climbing and became a salesman or some such thing.

The dreams were vague to remember as dreams go, but always the central theme was that somehow he escaped death, went incognito (which explained the disappearing act), and led a secret normal life (very un Tobin-like).

I always became miffed at him at some point during the dream, blaming him for leaving us all in the lurch. "How could he do this to us?" I always thought. "But I was there at the funeral!" I thought, puzzled. Soon the mind would reel at the absurd logic of it all and the dream would change, or I woke up, sometimes with tears in my eyes.

I don't think I've had the dream for ten or fifteen years now. Perhaps the subconscious mind finally began accepting reality, even though it happened half a lifetime ago. This dude was, after all, like an extension of myself for the first several years of my life. I remember his breath, his blue eyes, his brown hair, and his tanned skin so unlike my own pale freckled hide.

Forever ripped away by the harsh cold wind whipped sands of time, he will always be in my thoughts and I, along with my family and so many of his friends, still mourn his loss.

-Tim Sorenson

Gnome Ofthe Diabase

Out Of Bed
Oct 5, 2016 - 04:56am PT
I said shebang today before I read it here.
The way that Tobin's life unfolded and then passed into legend will always scare me.
I loved that young man all of you really,
The dreams and hopes of a generation of 'climbers for the rest of our lives' were carved by the rumors of his exploits.

Kids, playing on snow piles, made by plows pushing snow off the sides of gorges, that begat our mountains
We were Tobin

rock rats ,we scurried around looking for our own " Green Arch"
We were Tobin.

I've never forgotten that,
for why ? we Climb?
The answer for me has to be
For Tobin.
Charlie D.

Trad climber
Western Slope, Tahoe Sierra
Oct 5, 2016 - 05:29am PT
Tim your heart felt words are so very much appreciated. We all get busy and fuss about with all the stuff in this world that has little value. Thanks for the reminder of how fortunate I am to have my brothers and for our loved ones gone how each sad thought is the cost of that love, you're a great brother.

The state of quantum flux
Oct 5, 2016 - 05:47am PT
I wrote a short bio piece about Tobin and I, along with a brief account of the first free ascent of the Cobra back in the spring of 2014 titled 'The Last Time I Saw Tobin.'

After submitting the piece to Rock & Ice and Climbing magazine, a polite rejection followed, and so I submitted the story abroad where it was printed first in the UK, and then in Canada.

Previously, Mike Graham wrote a short piece that was published in 'The Stonemasters' book called 'The Last Time I saw Tobin Sorenson' (2010). I did not realize until after my piece had been published at a later date, the close similarity to the title of Mike's piece. This was not intentional, but possibly subliminal on my part. My sincere apologies to Mike Graham, John Long, and Dean Fidelman for any perceived infraction.

At any rate I have decided to post the piece on Supertopo at this time in honor of Tobin's memory on this day.

First Published in Climber Magazine UK, June 2014. 2nd Publishing Gripped Magazine, December/January 2016.

The Last Time I Saw Tobin

By Tim Sorenson

The last time I saw my brother was in September of 1980, about three weeks before he went to climb the north face of Mount Alberta in the Canadian Rockies. My mom, younger brother Tom, and grandma Wynne were driving him up to Edmonton, Alberta, and they came by the fire station in Nipomo California where I worked as a firefighter for the Department of Forestry. He was taking a job at a Christian youth retreat in Edmonton as a counselor, said he might need a climbing partner, and asked me if I wanted go to climb with him. As hard as it was to decline, he understood that I was trying to make a career in the fire service and couldn't leave my job at the drop of a hat to join him in his adventures. This is a story about some of my climbing experiences with, and the loss of, my brother Tobin Sorenson, one of the most energetic and iconic climbers of the 1970s.

Being the oldest child and two years my senior, Tobin was the closest to me of any family members I had in the early years, and we fought and wrestled like two wild bear cubs about everything. He showed me how to build models, fly model airplanes, ride a skateboard and a unicycle, and we attempted all manner of reckless stunts together. We tried almost every crazy idea we saw, and made the inventions and discoveries of our early youth together. Pyrotechnics, riding a sled off the roof, smoking coffee grounds, pounding pitons up the side of a conifer, or bolting the side of a concrete wall in a Southern California name it, we probably tried it. Where Tobin led, I would follow without question, and being less agile, less athletic, and less experienced, it was always me who ended up in the emergency room with the broken bones, burns, or gashes.

We had to be no more than 12 to 14 years old at the time when Tobin said we should go climb Mount Baden Powell, in the middle of winter. Mom and dad must've been really busy, because Tobin and I packed up our backpacks, called mom at her work and told her we would be back in three days, and hitchhiked across the LA freeways and up the Angeles Crest highway to the trailhead. We spent two days backpacking in the snow trying to make the peak, only to turn back because it was snowing again and the snow was up to our hips. We had no snowshoes and were breaking trail in spongy old mountain boots with freezing toes. Our winter camping gear being pretty miserable, we were lucky to get home with only frost nip and not hypothermia.

Later in high school, as our circle of friends grew, Tobin had his friends and I had mine. He being into sports, girls, and religion while I was still into comic books, drugs, rock 'n roll, and trouble, we grew apart. Tobin attempted to teach me about serious rock climbing and it was a hard slope. My first few attempts were met with injury or near calamity, and later, some fellow novice climbers and I endured a humiliating rescue on Tahquitz rock at the hands of Tobin and his hard-core climbing friends. Being stuck at night on a ledge several hundred feet above the ground, with only T-shirts in forty degree weather wasn't too smart. But I don't know which was worse, the terror of being keel-hauled up into the darkness, or the shame of being berated by my brother and his friends after being pulled to the top.

So after that, my brother told me that he didn't want me around him if I was going to embarrass him that way. It was not until a few more social indiscretions on my part that I finally did take my leave of him for awhile, much to his relief. With my tail between my legs, I went off to try and prove myself with other climbing friends and climbing adventures. While sustaining some injuries and surviving a few calamities along the way, I managed to improve my climbing to some degree, and was starting to get up some Yosemite climbs by the time Tobin came around asking me to go climbing with him again.

He really didn't ask...He would just say, "Hey, Tim, let's go climbing at this place by Riverside, there's a crack there I want to try," and it pretty much went like this... It was in a quarry, it was overhanging, it was loose, it needed a top rope, it hadn't been done before, Tobin led it, there was blood, I couldn't follow it without falling all over the place, and it was desperate." Later, sometime around 1975, I was hanging out and climbing in Yosemite valley when Tobin took me aside and said, "I noticed that you have been climbing really well lately," and he asked me if I wanted to try and do the first free ascent of 'the Cobra' with him. There have only been a handful of times in my life when I felt as proud as I did then. That was the effect he had on me, the influence he had over me, he could be so humble and self effacing, that follow him I would. But if he chided me, being his little brother, it cut like a knife, and I did not want to disappoint.

The Cobra was a Powell/Kamps route done in 1966. There were four or five pitches of run out 5.8 and 5.9 face climbing that started diagonally up and right across slabs from about pitch eight of the Royal Arches route, followed by four pitches of aid in a cobra shaped corner system that had never been free climbed. We made our approach and began climbing at first light with Tobin leading as we simul-climbed the first several pitches of the Royal Arches, then we swapped leads on the face climbing until we reached the Cobra cracks. I remember Tobin’s only comment as I grumbled about the fact that the bolts were pretty poor and very far apart up to that point. He just said, "So don't fall Tim." It was late morning, and the belay anchor at the start of the corner system was two opposing nuts along with an old piton pounded down into the top side of a flake.

As I was belaying him from a butt bag, Tobin led out above in the left of two corners. He had lay-backed for 40 feet up a shallow four-inch wide groove of a crack and was run out off a large hex, with no other protection on the pitch save for a couple of badly placed nuts near the top. I distinctly recall thinking to myself then, while looking down over the slab as it fell away above the huge arch and into the void, "If he falls now and these anchors pull out, were both doomed!" I jugged the pitch and from what I could see, it was at least 5.11. I took the next lead up a crack with better protection and then onto a greasy 5.10 aręte, but the somewhat run out and steep face climbing left me exhausted. We took a short lunch break on a ledge as the afternoon was getting late. "There are rocks and sticks in the pack,” I exclaimed in disbelief while unpacking our food, and carefully stowed the surprise baggage against the back of the ledge. He never said a word, but I thought I saw him grinning at me, childlike, as he looked away.

Leading again, Tobin furiously jammed and lay-backed the long corner above and then set up a belay. He said it was 5.10, but we agreed I should Jumar it to save time because it was nearing sunset. On the last pitch, the corner hooked to the left and overhung to the top. It was the crux pitch, the Cobra's head. In the dwindling light, I kept the rope running as Tobin quickly lay-backed and under-clung the corner. Several feet above the belay as he held himself into the corner with one arm, he quickly placed some protection with the other hand. Farther out, he blindly stuffed a small hex or two up into the crack, and with feet swimming against the wall, he climbed out past the lip and out of my sight. Fifteen hundred feet above the valley floor, I cleaned and jumarred the mossy, lichen covered 5.11 pitch alone in the twilight, and joined him at the top, where we carefully scrambled our way down the descent in the dark, and caught the last shuttle bus from Curry Village to Camp 4.

I never thought about it until recently how Tobin led a first free ascent that day, of a grade IV 5.11, with no falls, with a far less experienced climbing partner, no siege tactics, no top ropes, no pre placed bolts, nothing, he just went for it. It just never occurred to me before what an amazing climber he actually was. You know how you can be so close to something you never really look at it, and then it's gone.

We saw each other infrequently over the next five years, Tobin was at college and I was still trying to figure out my career. I lived on the central coast and in Northern California and Tobin lived, well, all over the world. And when I saw him, I saw in him a man who lived in quiet desperation and joy, desperately in love with climbing and joyfully in love with his god.

The last time I saw Tobin, I would have followed him anywhere; but the constraints that act on most men acted on and grounded me. Three weeks later, on a fluke, I went to Southern California to visit my mom, and was there the day the police came and gave her the news that Tobin had fallen and been killed while soloing on Mount Alberta. I don't believe in religion, or luck, or providence, but for whatever reason circumstances warranted that I be there that day. I've been through some hard things in my life and losing my brother was bad enough, if I didn't have to see how it affected the rest of the family. But I had climbed for years and had worked as an emergency medical technician, I had seen death and loss, and knew what the risks were. So being a young man, I climbed on and off for many more years until work, family, and repeated injuries outweighed the risks involved with continuing climbing. Now, as I near my retirement years and reflect on those times growing up with, and climbing with Tobin some forty years in the past, it seems like almost yesterday, but the last time I saw Tobin was so very long ago.



Oct 5, 2016 - 06:03am PT

Great read Tim, thanks for sharing it.

Bruce Nyberg, the worst stonemaster

Trad climber
Jun 18, 2017 - 05:49pm PT
Yo Dibs! I still remember Tobin often. A few years ago I sent Bullwinkle some photos of Tobin freeing the Vampire on Tahquitz with Gibb and Eric, through Robs Muir. Also on Insomnia crack later. I wish his story were told . An incredible soul. One of the best chapters of ,my life. Bruce Nyberg , the worst Stonemaster .

Sport climber
Sands Motel , Las Vegas
Jun 18, 2017 - 07:53pm PT
Let's see those pics...

Social climber
Moorpark, CA.
Jun 19, 2017 - 08:50am PT
Tobin bump.....

Good story Tim.

I also miss him, I often wonder how a grown up Tobin would be?

The kid lives on in all of us.

dee ee

Mountain climber
Of THIS World (Planet Earth)
Jun 23, 2017 - 09:38pm PT
Tim, I still think that is one of the best pieces of climbing writing I have ever read.

Social climber
Ridgway, CO
Jun 23, 2017 - 11:06pm PT
Tobin was blessed with some amazing eyes . . . just the tip of the iceberg for that fine lad.

The state of quantum flux
Jun 24, 2017 - 05:57am PT
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