Stonemasters Article in R&I


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Mountain climber
Templeton, CA
Topic Author's Original Post - May 27, 2006 - 08:07pm PT
John, that was an incredible read! I especially enjoyed the expose' on Tobin. Of all the climbers that have passed away, he is probably the one I would most like to have met. What an intriguing character. I especially liked the line, "His impulses always toggled between a wildcat and a saint, but when Tobin tied into a rope he was all wildcat." Kind of describes me in reverse.

BTW John, I just picked up old VHS copies of "The Art of Leading" and "Basic Rockclimbing" on the discard table at a climbing shop. Are they worth watching? :)

Mountain climber
Templeton, CA
Topic Author's Reply - May 27, 2006 - 09:41pm PT
The other one that jumped out me was, "...Tobin had some strange and dreadful need to square off with his maker every time out."

I knew a guy like that when I was in my 20's. I wonder if he met the same fate as Tobin...

Social climber
So Cal
May 28, 2006 - 12:25am PT
Once at a bivy on some climb that I can't clearly remember now other than it was something insignificant and had turned into a mini epic, (neither one of us really knew what we were doing), Tobin remarked that he really admired my climbing.

I was struck silent for an instant and then told him that he was more talented and skilled after a few months at it than I'd ever be or anyone I knew for that matter. His reply was that I didn't understand.

You are just having fun at this!

I have to do this!

I've had the honor of knowing several other athletes in other disciplines that performed at the world class level and that is the one thing that separates them from the rest of us.

They have to do it!

Don't know where that comes from. I am sure there is no single source. With Tobin I have my theories but respect him and his family enough to not engage in amateur psycoanalysis, at least in public.

Lets just leave it at honoring that drive and the legacy it produces.

Still, "having fun at it" almost every weekend in complete gumby style creaking joints and all.

Trad climber
May 28, 2006 - 07:34pm PT
BTW John, I just picked up old VHS copies of "The Art of Leading" and "Basic Rockclimbing"

Jody, Basic Rockclimbing is a hoot.

Trad climber
May 29, 2006 - 12:44am PT
I read the remainder of Stonemasters in the john tonight and I nearly collapsed as I got up from my legs falling asleep.

I am turning 40 this year and have been struggling with memories of the past lately. I was never a great climber but considered myself a adventurer of the obscure. From climbing Mendenhalls routes on the backside of Strawberry Peak to racking up several kayaking first descents of overlooked creeks in Southern California.

10 years and 30lbs later I find myself longing to repeat those feats. Once in a blue moon when I do get the time to get out there and repeat the past I always come away feeling short changed. It wasnt until I read the line about playing grabass with the past that I realized why. I had been going out trying to relive the past instead of savoring the now and drinking up every new experience.

The feeling in my legs is just about back now.



Mountain climber
Templeton, CA
Topic Author's Reply - May 29, 2006 - 01:13am PT
Kevin, that was a great post! I can especially relate to this line, "10 years and 30lbs later..."

I have never been a great climber either. My adventure has generally been limited to easy climbs on obscure peaks in the Sierra, usually solo(I am too lazy to haul in gear on my back). You know, peaks with names like 10,320' and 12,343' etc.

I sometimes get depressed when I hear my dad talking about the adventures of the "Good Old Days" when he climbed with Gill, Unsoeld, et al. But your admonishment about just savoring the "here and now" is well taken. I need to dwell on that aspect more.

Glad you didn't meet Elvis' fate while reading that article.

Trad climber
one pass away from the big ditch
May 29, 2006 - 02:47am PT
Zen, and zen with a goal that is not obsessive to your detriment.

Trad climber
Portland, Oregon
May 29, 2006 - 03:01am PT
Batrock, turning 54 this year (and there are plenty of other folks older than me here) and just got up from the toilet trying to remember when I was 40. I'm coming off 6 months of staying off my shoulder and have to lose the weight yet again myself. Get off yer ass, lose the the weight, and take advantage of it all while you're still young...

Trad climber
Mammoth Lakes, CA
May 29, 2006 - 01:52pm PT
Haven't seen this yet. R&I called me a while back with tons of questions though...can't wait to see it!

"Jeepers Wally, those Stonemasters are scary looking."

right here, right now
May 29, 2006 - 02:16pm PT
Scary Looking Indeed:

Say what Buddy?
You Talkin' Teh Me?!
Come a little closer...

bachar man, bwahahaha.

Trad climber
May 29, 2006 - 03:43pm PT

I'm tryin man. I had back surgery a few years back and have never been the same, kinda through me for a loop. The back injury combined with a former active lifestyle made for a bad combo. I am slowly starting to lose the weight again. I am planning on spending some time exploring a untouched valley near Bishop this summer climbing and flyfishing and it's not in the Sierra's:) Thats why this article was timely for me, to remind me to stop living in the past and look forward to the future.

right here, right now
May 29, 2006 - 03:47pm PT
"untouched valley near bishop"
that sounds outstanding and worth looking forward to...

Trad climber
May 29, 2006 - 05:20pm PT

I'm not saying anymore than that. It may be known to some locals but not many. I'm taking my dad and my kids up there to do some climbing. My dad got me into climbing and I am kinda repaying him the favor and introducing it to my kids now.

right here, right now
May 29, 2006 - 05:39pm PT
Good for you Batrock.
Stick the knife of good living to the hilt I say.
I'm a long way from Bishop and somewhat struggling with living in the past myself.
Even so, I still get out and have a lot of fun.
Happy Holiday!

Mountain climber
Templeton, CA
Topic Author's Reply - May 30, 2006 - 07:28pm PT

Trad climber
May 30, 2006 - 08:09pm PT
Nobody else read it?

Gym climber
Otto, NC
May 31, 2006 - 11:53am PT
Does this mean I need to find a new obsession now? Cuz drywall and spackle sure ain't cuttin it.

Rob, still dreaming of grabass, at 37.

Flagstaff, AZ
May 31, 2006 - 12:09pm PT
I no longer open the pages of R&I or Climbing even if given the opportunity to do so at no cost. Is this article in the latest R&I? I'll make a point of reading it (JL's stuff is always worth the read).

I guess I've been lucky enough to avoid surgery of any kind, kids and other life occurances that otherwise might "slow me down". I feel pretty good as I turn 40 in mid-july. I've certainly abused my body over the years and the joints are getting a bit creaky at times. The rest of my family has done a fine job of turning/getting old so I don't think genetics is at play here. The difference I think is attitude and healthy diet.

Batrock - I'd love to hear about your SoCal first decents. Boating is working it's way back into my life. I hope this doesn't mean another hiatus from climbing.

Trad climber
Degnan's Deli
May 31, 2006 - 01:12pm PT
Lotsa Guys with back surgeries (like me) who have gotten back into the games.

You will have to go easier on yourself, but that is a given at the advanced age we are all going to see, and being reminded is not a bad thing. Going easier may keep me alive a few more years than if I continued on at the pace I had been setting.

Mountain Biking has done great things with my back strength, and is good therapy, especially for my atropied adrenals. (HA!) I just broke/dislocated my thumb and cracked a rib a few weeks ago. And that aint easy for an old man to do, so I am impressed. Viva my mountain bike.

Hardest thing about getting back in the game is finding a partner.

Just "get 'er done". After all, after 40 - We are ALL stonemasters!

3hrs to El Cap Meadow, 1.25hrs Pinns, 42min Castle
May 31, 2006 - 02:13pm PT
Okay, I'm lost. Will someone please say what issue number this article is in. The R&I website doesn't list in at all in the current issue...

right here, right now
May 31, 2006 - 02:35pm PT
The cover has a picture of Dave Graham doing a Wicked high ball on a big sandstone Boulder, looks like flash was used. Crash pad, spotter.

Social climber
The West
May 31, 2006 - 03:40pm PT
B-goat, I noticed that too. I think it is just passing the 1st to subscribers then into the stores, cusp. They didn't have it @ borders, yesterday.

It takes something like this to get me actually consider this purchase.

Mountain climber
Templeton, CA
Topic Author's Reply - May 31, 2006 - 07:46pm PT
It is in the July issue that just showed up in my P.O.Box although I haven't paid for an issue in years. Not sure why they keep sending it. I might renew if they keep having articles like the Stonemasters one in there.

The David Graham article was an eye-opener. Made me change my opinion of him.

Trad climber
May 31, 2006 - 09:58pm PT

Kayaking is actualy what took me away from climbing many years back. Only in the last 6 years have young kids and injury kept me away from it, mostly the injury though, the kids are great.

I think kayaking is a natural alternative for many climbers, it offers exploration and problem solving but in my opinion is much more commiting than climbing except for free soloing.

About 15 years ago with the evolution of shorter boats I started to explore the creeks near Los Angeles. Fist was Upper Big Tujunga Creek from Camp Colby down to the resivoir through the Narrows. We then turned our attention to the East and West Forks of the San Gabriel River as well as the Bear Creek drainage. By far the best river in So Cal and maybe all of California is Sespe Creek. Sespe is 35 miles of class V whitewater through a spectacular sandstone gorge. It normaly takes 3-4 days to comlete and it is about as commiting as anything in the Sierra. Just over the ridge ffrom Sespe lies Piru Creek, it also offers several miles of great paddling.

Arroyo Secco behind Pasadena is a great little run that ends up in the parking lot of JPL. Lots of great runnable waterfalls.

Now that my back is jacked up climbing has been easier on my back than boating so I hope to do alot more climbing in the future.

Go to and follow the link to Southern California creeking

climber a single wide......
Jun 19, 2006 - 08:21pm PT
I NEVER buy any of the rags anymore. They are a waste of trees ('cept Alpinism).

But i DID buy the recent R&I issue with the John Long Stonemaster acticle. Something to show my grandkids in 2036..... "Son, these were real men...."

Trad climber
Fort Mill, SC
Jun 22, 2006 - 10:47am PT
I did someone’s kid a favor and coughed up 30 bones for a Climbing subscription last year for a school fundraiser. Waist of money and waist of junk mail space. I wouldn’t pick up after my dogs with it. In all the issues I actually receive (only about half) the highlight article was the Russian story which was mostly review anyway (not bad though). The rest was about as useful as the Scientology junk mail I keep getting because I knew someone who knew someone who put my address in their mailing list back in the mid 90s. They keep better track of me than the IRS!

Anyway I’ve always enjoyed John’s writing. Even his non-climbing related stories are great. He’s a guru for the climbing generations that follow and a masterful storyteller. I look forward to reading the article.

Thanks again John for all the good work. BTW, one of my all-time favorite short stories is still Requiem for Ronny.

Trad climber
Fort Mill, SC
Jun 23, 2006 - 10:10am PT
okay, I went out for lunch yesterday and bought the July issue of R&I.

Largo, The Stonemasters really is an exceptional article. You had me laughing out loud, and you sank my ship too. It definitely brought back feelings churned in me when I read Rock Jocks. I was left with a similar feeling I had when I read Catcher in the Rye. Is the real story really centered on Tobin? I mean was his death really the end of innocence for many of you?

So when’s the movie coming out? I mean how many movies have been made about Dogtown and the Z-Boys. There is plenty of material in all that is the Stonemaster(s).

Trad climber
Austin, TX
Jun 23, 2006 - 10:15am PT
I don't know Jody, I am happy to climb those obscure peaks as well, and mostly with obscure people.

right here, right now
Jun 23, 2006 - 10:32am PT
real fun to read.
nice effect with the stonemaster as some kind of wraith or dark spirit.

hey, hows comes there ain't no photo credits?
ok, it's very discreetly set on the lower left margin.
dean fidelman.

Social climber
Ventura, California
Jun 23, 2006 - 01:15pm PT
Roy, Good point on the Lack of Photo Credits. It was John Mireles who took all our portrait photos. Dean had all the historical (hysterical) JT shots and the one Shot of Tobin should have been credited to Bruce Adams a close friend of Tobin’s and climbing partner.

right here, right now
Jun 24, 2006 - 02:29pm PT
Yes Mike Thanks.
Among the many neat things about that piece is the nod to the enduring nature of Richard Harrison's participation.

Also, a pretty good look at Tobin's unique nature.

Here's Yabo and Richard, mid eighties camp 4:

Social climber
So Cal
Jun 24, 2006 - 10:28pm PT
The only thing that did not have the ring of truth was the reference to an old guard that looked down on a reckless new guard. I started climbing a couple of years before the stonemasters and climbed with Tobin pre stonemasters then got married and backed off on the climbing at about the time the whole scene got started. John caught his personality quirks pretty much spot on.

The only real "old guard" back then was the old RCS. It included the Mendenhalls, Wilts' and about half a dozen other older climbers that were Tahquitz regulars. There wasn't much interaction,a generational thing. They were never anything but supportive though when there was brief conversation. They did repeat routes over and over, not just the easy ones. Just none cutting edge for the time. Now that I'm their age I can appreiciate that.

The only sniping comments I ever heard were from the less talented in our own age cohort that couldn't keep up. That there was an intrenched "old guard" that looked ascance at the "new guard" is a self made myth or maybe only existed in the pages of Off Belay. And, in those days the hard core pretty much had Suicide to themselves.

Trad climber
Jun 24, 2006 - 10:38pm PT
TGT- hey Like how you say it.

you remind me of the old-school farmers. I grew up out here in some pick'n town.
ole-farmers were the only one's allowed to drive the John Deer!.
have a good day!

Social climber
Ventura, California
Jun 25, 2006 - 12:16pm PT
John pointed out to me A few months back as he was writing the article that this was really just his perspective on how he remembered it, others will have their own.

I use to enjoy running into Larry Reynolds, Mike Dent and Mark Powell. To Bud Couch we were probably just more snotty nosed kids like the ones he was stuck teaching all week so I could see where he was coming from.

I had the pleasure watching Dent and Powell put up a little one pitch variation route over around the Traitor Horn called “Sh#t for Brains” What was cool about it was that they were looking for the harder moves. They were not so intent on the conquering aspect of the peak itself. That was the left more to the Club goers. To the point, it was very influential for some of us 15 year olds. They were not so much the Old Guard but more the teachers and they captivated some eager students.

I was pretty stoked to bag the second ascent of that jewel a week later. Mostly in an effort to follow their footsteps.

climber a single wide......
Jun 25, 2006 - 07:29pm PT
Bud "Ivan" Couch was pretty mellow guy by the late 70's when I got to know him. Maybe stepping out of the top echelons of the sport had something to do with that. I'd see him enjoying his end of the day beers with his builder friend Howard, always with a smile on his face.
Ed Hartouni

Trad climber
Livermore, CA
Jun 25, 2006 - 09:21pm PT
Rock and Ice #152, July 2006

When we are young we think adults are adults, that they are already fully grown and have stopped developing. When we are adults we realize how much we change from that early adult person to the older adult... something the kids miss.

Great article John, very good story, leaves me wanting more but probably for that which can't be written.


Jun 25, 2006 - 09:57pm PT

Like a lot of others, I found your Stonemasters story in R&I a great read. Thanks. It made me remember the few times I crossed paths with members of this legendary group.

• The first was when my good friend, the late Al Chase, returned to Maine from trips to Yosemite with tales of sharing a rope with you – according to him, snatched up as you trolled Camp 4 looking for partners.
• In the late 70’s I watched Bachar glide up the Smith Overhang on Flagstaff while I bouldered nearby. I’m still dumbfounded by the way he inverted his arm on the mantel – elbow pointing straight away – and rested in the middle of the crux to chalk up. Afterwards, he played his sax as the sun set over Boulder.
• A house where I rented a room in Boulder in the early 80’s had a backyard that abutted Rick Accomazzo’s. I saw him a few times when we were at a pull-up bar we had in a tree in the back – he was at his kid’s swing set.
• Mike Graham once played his sax (or some other horn instrument, I forget) in my basement and crashed on my floor in Bar Harbor while on a swing through the east coat visiting Gramicci dealers.

But among the other Stonemasters I never had an opportunity to meet, Tobin Sorenson was always at the top of the list. The photo used in your article has always been my favorite – the first and last time I saw it was in an obituary in Climbing shortly after Tobin’s death.

Since then, I have often hoped that someone would write the full story, in book length, on this fascinating character. From the Green Arch, smuggling bibles, to the ping of the single pin belay pulling on Alberta, and everything in between, his story, in my opinion, is equal to those of Chris McCandless and Junior Johnson. And there’s only one writer alive to tackle it. Largo, I don’t expect that writers are into taking requests, but if so, I cast my vote.
steve mawn

Trad climber
South Pasadena
Nov 7, 2008 - 08:59pm PT
Hey Batrock,

I've been climbing off and on since 1975 and that's the FIRST TIME I've heard ANYONE mention the beautiful mini-Tahquitz that's located on Strawberry Peak's shady north side (I'm not talking about the summit boulders...this is an actual 180' crag!) Check out a real good color photo of it in Roy Murphy's coffee table book--"Angeles National Forest," on page 59.

Does anyone know much about this crag? I've been up to it alone, and it was a little too loose and sandy to solo, but I could see the obvious potential for some aesthetic routes. The 4-mile wilderness hike should deter most bolt-drilling morons! But if some tough old trads went up there...I'll bet they find some fine run-out slabs and a five-star fingercrack or two (the rock reminds me of the "Fred/Jonah" area on Tahquitz).

After 30 years of the same boring drive to Josh and Idyllwild, I started looking for adventure/wilderness climbing in the local San Gabriels. About the best I could find was soloing 35 degree soft ice above Baldy Bowl, and some solo low-angle pure water ice at Williamson. There's also steep blue ice that sets up high on craggy N. side of Baden-Powell.

Has anyone checked out the really spectacular south face of Mt. San Gabriel, with its super-coulouir? Very steep, solid-looking diorite, but with not many obvious cracks. East face of Mt. Markham also has good granite; it's scary S face looks treacherous and cuts loose with BIG rockfall.


climber a single wide......
Nov 9, 2008 - 03:04pm PT
Steve, Steve, Steve......

You are suffering from a common malady found amongst San Gabriel Mountain locals. Stare at them long enough and you start seeing climbable features. Dirt turns to sandstone. Choss into granite. Dreams of glory take flight, only to crumble under foot.

No lack of climbers have journeyed up Strawberry Peak’s north side. Every few years somebody actually takes a rack and a partner and reports back the findings. This tends to be enough for the rest of us. I mountain bike the trail along it’s base and peer up at the wall every few months, wondering if anything has changed. Maybe the last earthquake cleaved a couple Hotline-type cracks? Nope, sorry…..

If you wanna…. I think the best unloved rock in the San Gabriel’s for a slab–climbing traddie might be Cascade Canyon on Ontario Peak. Uplanders Keith Cunning and Ed Coffer spent some time bolting routes- presumably on lead- in the late 70’s and early 80’s. Ed used to compare it to the mottled orange rock found on Middle Cathedral, but I’d consider the source. I never made the journey (tried once, got lost). Only person I know who has BITD was Tarbuster. No doubt the bolts are now junk, but that is easy to fix. Matter of fact, modern tactics (glue, crowbar, wire brush) could yield something worthwhile for the masses.

In the Best Adventure thread, I think it was Batrock who mentioned “Bear Heaven” above the Sespe. Every time I fly over that region, I spy some purple conglomerate-looking crags in the general region. Could be choss. No doubt it’s approach is many long miles from any trail or dirt road, guarded by untold legions of rattlesnakes and chaparral.

A sport crag that awaits being adopted is found in one of the canyons a bit south of the Hungry Valley off-road area south of Frazier Park. I forget the name (would have to eyeball a map). I lived up there on Mt. Pinos for a couple years, and fisherman I knew would report back overhanging rock sightings.

For more local pickings, Mt. Pacifico actually has some large boulders and even tiny spires apart from the actual TR crag (which likely sees about 5 parties a decade).

People occasionally scour Mt. Waterman. Bouldering akin to the Tramway boulders, but spread all over the west-side of the mountain. Top-Roping as been done here and there. Not sure which obscurity is the premier crag, but I am thinking it is the pile that is actually on the north side of ACH. Shortest approach, for sure.

Alder Creek Crags have a long history. I’ve heard the place has been receiving some recent visits. I’ve been through there on my mountain bike 15 times in the last year, but have yet to make the ½ mile trip down canyon. I need to this winter while the rattlesnakes are sleeping….

North Fork of Alder Creek (aka The Sandy Bottom Boulders) used to be a nice bouldering destination before a flood scoured all the nice sand landings away. There are a couple roped leads downstream from the bouldering walls, plus a small face to TR (10c) and a thinner tip’s crack (12? Or A1).

As I once described it before, climbing in the San Gabs = fair fun for bored boys.

Ice climber
chingadero de chula vista
Nov 13, 2012 - 11:49pm PT
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