Tobin Sorenson / David Goeddel - Astroman. May 1978


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David Wilson

Topic Author's Reply - Jun 20, 2012 - 10:48am PT
Thanks Clint !

right here, right now
Jun 20, 2012 - 11:07am PT
Well done Clint!
Gotta love the keepers of lists, exemplified by such cool cats as Clint and Ed Hartouni.

That is far fewer ascents than I would have expected by that time.
Probably not complete but still a good thumbnail sketch to start off with, putting Tobin right there in the first 10 ballpark as you suspected, David.

Trad climber
Hodad, surfing the galactic plane
Jun 20, 2012 - 11:28am PT

Regarding the Tobin article, the only one I can recall reading about Tobin back then was an obit written by Bruce Adams(Brunosafari)one of the origional Poway Mountaineers i believe. Anyway, I was just perusing the Poway Mountain Boy's thread that Mighty Hiker kindly posted here and came across his name and it reminded me of that obit/article. I haven't read the article/obit that he wrote in ages, nor do I recall which climbing rag it was in. But it was probably not long after Tobin passed in 1980. Maybe Mountain or Climbing magazine?? I don't recall when R&I started publishing. But i do recall that it was supurbly done. And perhaps they printed/reprinted an origional TS article with it, or Bruno would be aware of one since I think he was a good friend of his at the time of his death. He does post here off and on, and prollie lurks.

edit: A Tobin Sorenson biography is WAY overdue, yes!!

right here, right now
Jun 20, 2012 - 11:29am PT
Frankly, I find Tobin's on-site of Tales of Power, no falls, off the couch, all on nuts more impressive.

Astroman, not meaning at all to take the fire out of an early ascent, but the jamming isn't that technical, except for the boulder problem. (Caveat: it would be pretty darn technical for me if I were protecting with nuts!). Astroman is more about endurance and Bachar agreed with me on this appraisal. But then, factor back in Tobin off the couch coming from seminary school as a few of you have noted upthread, leading all of the pitches really fast on an early ascent and in shoes three sizes too big and it notches right back up.

Then, look at Tobin's feats in the Alps during 1977-1978. Let Ricky Accomazzo elucidate his firm position on Tobin's standing as one of, if not THE top achiever in the Alps at that time. Solo North Face Matterhorn. Dru Couloir Direct, hard new route on The Grandes Jorasses, second ascent of the Eiger Direct in a very fast time. (Some of this may need correction, I think I have it right as all happening in the same time span, if not the same year).

A Tobin Sorensen biography is overdue, no?

*Splitter: we will find the article/interview. You could be on the right track. I still have hopes that Grossman has it because he archives everything.

right here, right now
Jun 20, 2012 - 11:43am PT
And a lot of the original Stonemasters, those active between 1971 and 1976, such as Largo, Accomazzo, Muir, E, Hensel and etc. who have not been posting much lately and who knew Tobin personally haven't even chimed in yet, (DD and Warbler would qualify) ... except for Bullwinkle and he strives for brevity as we saw! (Probably too busy working on said biography if I had to guess, but I am NOT making any statements to that effect, just guessing).

I started climbing with the Stonemasters in 1977/1978, primarily in Southern California and Tobin had already begun to move on from that local scene so I never met him. But I heard all the stories from the principal players, many times.

Oh yes: then there is his ascent of the Grand Central Couloir on Mount Kitchener with Jack Roberts, also right in there around 1978. I have it in my photo bucket ready to post, Tobin's article "Witlessly Bold, Heroically Dull", or some such. If anybody wants to see it I'll post it up, but will refrain for the moment for the sake of avoiding thread drift.

Trad climber
Hodad, surfing the galactic plane
Jun 20, 2012 - 12:23pm PT
I first met Tobin and many of those other guys while I was staying in Idylwild off and on during '72'73. Bouldered with him and others. Recall getting one move higher then anyone had at that point on one of their bouldering projects the first time i tried it(wow,lol). But, obviously, all those doods were way out of my league. Perhaps one or two of them thought I had some potential, but they hadn't taken into consideration that I was a big chicken sh#t, lol.

They were all great guys/people. I did climb with Tobin once. Myself and another guy were up at Suicide and Tobin wandered up. He asked if he could join us. it was towards the end of the week and the rest of his crew were not gonna show up till the next day/weekend. I was about to lead Hair Lip. I can't recall what my partner and Tobin led. I think my partner led the flared chimney to the right of Hair Lip(Hot Buttered Rump). I don't recall what Tobin lead. Perhaps something I had already done, or I totally flamed/spazzed out on it and have blocked it from my memory.

I do recall the three of us went to dinner at one of the local Idylwild restaurants afterwards and I got stuck with the check. So I must have made a pretty big fool of myself and bought their silence, lol! Tobin was very quiet and very humble that day as i recall. Always had a big smile on his face, and whenever my 'buddie' managed to humiliate me in front of everyone(which was often)and which was supposed to produce laughs, Tobin would look at me with the most compassionate & saddest look. I never forgot that. Crossed paths with him many times after that.

Gym climber
Jun 20, 2012 - 12:25pm PT
All on nuts.

Fo shoor, impressive!

6th? FA - Max Jones, Mark Hudon, Fall 1977

It was the old Western Mountaineering store in Santa Cruz that these two blokes rolled in with a slideshow.
I remember them showing some photos of Astroman and one, in particular, of the Harding Slot.

Max or Mark, one of 'em said,
"Then we got under this thing and said 'Whatt?' Nobody said anything about a gaping maw..." (or some such).

They were totally taken by surprise by the OW/squeeze, but apparently, why should that slow them??

All amazing ascents, on nuts.

Jun 20, 2012 - 02:51pm PT
Nuts: people were better at placing them, I suspect, and people got strong as hell placing them--a nice feedback loop.
Tales (never seen it in person) always sounds so hand-size dependent. Ron has normal/big hands. I think it's been flashed by quite a few who have small or thin hands.
Anyhow, just trivial details those.

What is so impressive to me about this story is just the idea, the plan, the concept: Tobin deciding that day was the day, shoes a technicality, that he was going to bite off a big chunk and chew it up. The boldness of going to the rock.

Closest modern equivalent I can think of is a young Leo Holding and partner jumping on El Niño and nearly onsighting its second ascent.

Mountain climber
San Diego
Jun 20, 2012 - 03:18pm PT
I would like to say that a very complete biography of Tobin is way over due.

A biography all about the boy, the Stonemaster, the man, the alpinist, the Christian, the evangelist, from the point of view of fellow Stonemasters, Poway Mtn. Boys, his father, his family, his brother, his friends, his fiance.

Would like to know what he wrote in his last journal found at the accident site.

It would be an incredible read. Brono's obit has always had a big impression on me. I would have liked to have known Tobin.

Hopefully someone could take up this challenge. Tobin was way ahead of his time in many ways seems to me.

right here, right now
Jun 20, 2012 - 03:31pm PT
Found the interview!
*Thanks to Accomazzo.

I've linked the full interview and pulled out the salient passages referring to some of our questions in this thread. Tobin does not speak specifically about Tales of Power.

Either there is another interview extant, or this is the interview to which I was referring in total. (Likely the latter).

The timeline of his talking about 5.12 clearly predates his "big European season", which is perhaps circa '77 or '78. If that's the case he's not necessarily talking about Tales of Power, if Tales happened in spring of 1978 and his "big European season" transpired in 1977.

Conversely, Tobin's statements could be inclusive of Tales, if his "big European season" was meant specifically to denote summer and fall of 1978 and not that of 1977, with Tales, again unfolding in spring of 1978. Essentially, it's unclear to me, perhaps due to the year and a half time span he says he elapsed between his 5.12s and the subsequent tremendous effort in the Alps.

But perhaps you can see where my recollection of the interview points to Tobin as having been in excellent shape prior to his best 5.12 efforts.
Alas, he does not call out Tales or Separate Reality by name. There's nothing specific about his training (or not) for Astroman.

I will let Ricky interject with his opinion on Tobin's preparation for those three climbs.

Regardless, the entire interview is a real jewel. And now more so due to the recent TR by David Goeddel, which brings it all to life 34 years later.
Please go to Mike Graham's Stonemastergear website for the full enchilada!

Interviewed by Joe Friend
Spring 1979 for Thrutch Magazine

The complete interview found here at

Excerpts below:

Q. Can we go back a step, to the epitome of your career as a rockclimber, in Yosemite when you were leading 5.12. You had mentioned that something had clicked for you, that you weren't getting as much out of climbing. Can you expand on this?

A. I had had a very intensive season. It was all climb, climb, climb and not looking back at all on what I was doing. Climbing had become everything to me. It was my God, and I looked to it for my meaning, my existence, my social life and my eternity. I'd finally gotten to the point of where I had always wanted to be. I stood up on this little mountain of mine, of fame and ability. I soon realized the emptiness and began to see just how puny my little world was. I had found nothing and there was still a giant gap in my life.
I packed my bags and went home. It was there I was confronted with all that Christ had to say. Since then my life has taken a big turn. I quit climbing for a while and began to get to know God through the Bible. A year and a half later God seemed to throw me right on back into climbing with my big European season.

Q. What are your most memorable leads in the States?

A. Last spring I did Astroman, leading all the pitches, with my second jumaring. I think it's one of America's best in the sense that it's all overhanging and has five pitches of 5.11, hard 5.11 plus several pitches of 5.10, just a few of 5.9 and one 5.8. It's a long and severe climb.

Trad climber
Hodad, surfing the galactic plane
Jun 20, 2012 - 07:17pm PT
Splendid! Thanks for persevering and locating it. Perhaps we will be able to connect a few dots.

edit: Yes, much thanks Mike G!!

right here, right now
Jun 20, 2012 - 07:26pm PT
Excellent Supertopo thread on the climb:

I was so excited to find it and right under our noses!
Longer than I remembered and it really brings out very nice detail about the man's internal state.
I'm thinking I may have read an abridged version republished in a US magazine about the same time, 1979.

BIG kudos to Mike Graham for archiving it on his website.
Steve Grossman

Trad climber
Seattle, WA
Jun 23, 2012 - 11:30pm PT

Trad climber
Millbrae, CA
Jun 23, 2012 - 11:45pm PT
Tarbuster, thanks for posting the interview.

Great thread, a window into climbing history.
Todd Eastman

Bellingham, WA
Jun 23, 2012 - 11:48pm PT
1977 was Tobin's big Euro season.
Rick A

Boulder, Colorado
Jun 24, 2012 - 10:38am PT
Here is a group photo, including Tobin, taken in the late spring or early summer of 1978, during the same week that Tobin had climbed Separate Reality and Tales of Power. I think he had done Astralman earlier.

I had just finished my first year of law school and Dick S. and I were about to go up on the Salathe. Tobin had recently returned from his unprecedented season in Europe, which took place from August to December of 1977.

He was in great shape after Europe and my memory is that he was climbing a lot after he got home. He had received some sponsorship from various climbing businesses and this meant he could raise his sights as to climbing goals.

Tobin had asked me to go with him on a trip to climb Shivling, in the Garwhal Himalaya during the summer of 1978. But that trip was cancelled due to the disclosure that spring of a CIA sponsored “climbing expedition” that had secretly planted, on Nanda Devi in the early sixties, a device to spy on Chinese nuclear tests. I am not making this up: Pete Takeda documented this bizarre event in his book, An Eye at the Top of the World. When that trip fell through, Tobin turned his focus to rock climbing.

I remember the day he succeeded on Separate Reality and Tales of Power because Tobin celebrated by going off his training regimen, which had included dieting to increase his already formidable strength-to-weight ratio.

I have a picture in my mind of him perched on a boulder in the C4 lot, holding a large spoon in the palm of his hand. He is sitting there beaming, and relishing every moment as he methodically works his way through an entire quart of ice cream.
Jim Pettigrew

Social climber
Crowley Lake, CA
Jun 26, 2012 - 10:13pm PT
Amazing stories and times!

Trad climber
Golden, CO
Jun 26, 2012 - 10:44pm PT
Thanks for that picture, Rick! It's making me tear up. I don't know why, exactly.

Sport climber
mammoth lakes ca
Jun 26, 2012 - 11:30pm PT
That picture looks like a teen beat magazine cover....So young...geeze...

right here, right now
Jul 9, 2012 - 06:36pm PT
More on Tobin's disposition prior to Astro Man, Separate Reality & Tales of Power.
From Brunosafari/Bruce Adams here (post 115):

I believe Tobin had just returned from his spectacular season in the Alps. He had climbed the Eiger Direct, The Dru C.Direct, The Desmaison on the Walker and the N. face Matterhorn solo in the winter, among others, such as the famous Scottish ice gullies and Grecian sea cliffs. In the Spring he returned to San Luis Obispo and began bouldering and rockclimbing locally with us, his SLOtown roomates and buds. He was in the most splendid condition imaginable, highly confident and motivated. Seems to me he climbed "more monk den funk" at Josh around this time, and that would have bearing in relation to Separate Reality.

In late May, I think, he set about some business in Yosemite. After a warm up at the Cookie Cliff, he and I climbed The Crucifix. I believe the following weekend, he climbed Astroman, leading every pitch on sight with no falls in about five or six hours, I think. It seems to me, the following weekend he attempted to climb Tales of Power and Separate Reality together, though he had not laid eyes on them. There was another testpiece he attempted during this period, but I'm not positive of its identity. I only recall his seasoned belayer telling me he had taken three huge, terrifying, headfirst falls. (edit : maybe it was Crimson Cringe) Tobin just told me he failed because it was too hot and said little if anything at all about the falls. He knew I would not have approved.

By this time his E.B.s were thrashed. Amazingly, Tobin and I had the exact height, weight and shoe size. So of course I was honored to sponsor his attempt by providing the "all-the-credit-is-due-to," all important, footwear. That is, an identical pair of the blue magic slippers, only slightly less thrashed. I wished him the best, but was unable to join the spectacle of Tales and Separate together. This was during my finals in my fourth year and I was working. How very much now I wish I had attended anyways.

A couple of days later in the late evening, he stumbled into the house, but was in good spirits. I asked him how it went and he told me the story with full animation, showing the endless hand jams and how he had climbed all the way out to the very lip, had made the first toe hook...but on the next heel hook the rubber on the heel of my E.B.s had torn off suddenly and it had made him fall!

I can still see the gleaming fire in his eyes!

By this time my paternal instincts had often become exaggerated in respect to Tobin. You would have to know how raw his emotions were and how idealistic he was, how penniless we all were, especially him. Each of his victories had strangely become my very own; and now this failure too. We looked stupidly into each other's faces like a literal gold medal had just slipped through our fingers!

-Bruce Adams
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