American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Tobin Sorenson, 1955-1980

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  • Publication Year: 1981


On the mountain He will destroy the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations. He will swallow up death forever, and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces.

Isaiah 25:07

Tobin Sorenson was as much a deeply pious man as a brilliant climber —passionately committed to both. On October 5, 1980 he fell and died while solo climbing the north face of Mount Alberta. Presumably there was a Bible in his pack—for even on day climbs he’d take along a copy of the scriptures. Not only was Tobin bold as a climber, but as a smuggler of Bibles—notably to Central European countries in 1977.

He could lead 5.12 in Yosemite; he was superb on technical ice; and in short order he became a first-class alpinist, completing a remarkable five-day, alpine-style ascent of the Eiger, Harlan Direct, in 1977. In the last few years Tobin was getting into his stride at high altitudes. Typically, he kicked off at a level where more ordinary mortals would fear to tread. In the summer of 1978, he soloed a new route on the east face of Huandoy Norte.

Despite these achievements Tobin comported himself modestly as a climber. He was invariably cheerful. He was selfless and giving. Once I happened to leave my axe at the top of an ice climb; when I discovered this two hours later back at the car, he offered to fetch it himself. When I declined, he came along to keep me company in the twilight. At such times his faith seemed like a strong moral force.

Though one can only speculate, it is possible that his faith was intertwined with his attitude towards climbing. Objectively Tobin was a high-risk climber. Far from reckless or dangerous, he understood the state of the art today and the risky conditions under which the limits of the impossible can be pushed back. He dreamt of applying the severest rock-climbing technique to eight-thousand meter faces. Had he lived, surely he would have dazzled and amazed us with his gifts. (Just watching him on ice, his grace and poise, his economy of movement, the minimal protection, was a little awesome.) With his death we have a twofold loss:

one of the best all-round climbers of the youngest generation and a climber of rare unworldliness and nobility of character.

Ronald H. Sacks

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