Alpinist 49

He Would Just Go: Tobin Sorenson and the Alps, 1977

Posted on: February 25, 2015

A portrait of Tobin Sorenson (1955-1980). [Photo] Alex Nabaum

When Tobin Sorenson came up the final pitch of the Dru Couloir Direct, I told him to wait while I grabbed the camera. The brilliant light illuminated a disheveled figure, entirely clad in wool and leather: a wool sweater, wool knickers, wool knee socks, leather boots, a leather belt with extra notches to fit his wiry frame, and on the belt, a leather holster for his piolet. From his wrists, Dachstein mitts of boiled wool hung on homemade tethers, like the ones mothers tie onto kindergartners. His smile was one of pure delight, the grin of a kid on the last day of school.

Finally, there was no need to press on, and I reveled in the warmth for the first time in three days. My last steps had been on soft snow instead of on hard ice. I had a flat, toasty slab of speckled granite for a seat instead of a torturous Whillans harness. To my bared hands, the sun was a revelation. A flinty smell rose from the warm, wet rock, and I felt a kind of benevolent sensation I hadn't experienced after a long climb before: I could have kept going for days. It was the pinnacle of my season (and, as it turned out, of my climbing career). I was heading back to California to start law school that autumn. But for Tobin, the 2,000 feet of ice we'd just climbed—a direct new route on the North Face of the Dru, done in alpine style—was only a warm-up.

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