Tobin Sorenson (June 15, 1955 – October 5, 1980) was an American rock climber famed for bold first ascents on Yosemite big walls, in the Alps, Canadian Rockies, and New Zealand. He is considered by some the best all-around climber of his time. A member of an informal group called the Stonemasters, Sorenson pushed risk standards in rock and alpine climbing. His long list of climbing accomplishments included the first ascent of the Dru Couloir Direct, the remarkable alpine ascent of the Eiger Harlin Direct, and a winter solo of the North Face of the Matterhorn in only 8 1/2 hours, to name only a few.
Despite these accomplishments, Tobin would speak of the emptiness of his earlier days of climbing. In an interview for an Australian climbing magazine (Thrutch No. 79), he said: “…it was climb, climb, climb, don’t stop and don’t look back. Climbing was my god, and I looked to it for my meaning, my social life, my every need. I finally got to this point of fame I had always wanted, but when I stood on this little mountain of mine, this summit of fame and ability, I began to see the emptiness of it all…” He went on to say: “… to me climbing is one of the ultimate challenges in life, but by itself climbing can be very meaningless…”
What is it that causes that feeling of emptiness deep inside a person after attaining the goal of which he has dreamed? Emptiness is experienced in our lives when we live without acknowledging our God, without walking each day in close fellowship with Him. It is this close relationship with our God for which were created, and to ignore it leads inexorably toward emptiness.
Intimacy with our God leads us inexorably toward a life of fulfillment and adventure. Tobin once told me that he pursued his relationship with his God in the same way he pursued his climbing and conditioning. As an athlete, Tobin spent hours each day in preparation and conditioning. Tobin was known for pursuing his climbing in a radical, push-the-margins approach. He pushed himself toward intimacy with his God with the same vigorous engagement. From the Thrutch interview, he said, “…I have often tried to say that in Christ we must live radically … Committed to him…” Watching Tobin for the short time I knew him made it clear that he lived this radical relationship with his God.
This, I say, is the great adventure. Tobin’s eyes lit up when talking about climbing, and when he spoke about his adventure with his God. We will never be fulfilled, and our hearts will be restless until we find the intimacy with our God for which we were made.
More on Tobin Sorenson in the next post.