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Beowulf: Tobin Sorenson, older you, and me

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Always on a Quest Looking for a Grendel to Slay

History has a bad habit of being ignored. I write this essay in my fiftieth year, after seeing the movie, Beowulf, and rereading the great tome that was written about fifteen-hundred years ago.

“I risked my life fighting dragons when I was young. Now I am old.” —Beowulf

In my youth — 1970’s — to touch stone was to fight dragons, a need only a fiend could tell. I had the skill, psych, and spirit to go the heights (and I did!). I never wanted to be great. That was too much of a Type A goal; I just wanted to be good as I had other passons such as girls, books, alpine botany, nature photography, telemark skiing, and fly fishing. Tobin needed to be great. No, I think the greatest. Sorenson was a Viking, like Beowulf, on a quest over the ultimate thule, always looking for a Grendel to slay.

“A daunting man, dangerous in action and eager for it, always.” —Beowulf

Ever been over the ultimate thule?

I met my friend once. I climbed with his countrymen Bruce, Yabo, and Will. Tobin was a warrior I’m told, whose sign was, “Any one with gumption and a sharp mind will take the measure of two things: what’s said, and what’s done.” —Beowulf

At our campfires, talking of days conquest we can throw out boasts without deed and make them sound true. Or we can shut up and enjoy the warmth of the embers and the company, drinking our Falstaff mead, knowing full well we squirted out alive, in one piece, and glad the ordeal was done. Tobin was full of ordeals.

“I was worn out, I survived, came out with my life.” —Beowulf

Dragons today are no different than days of old. “I battled and bound five evil beasts, raided a troll nest, and slaughtered sea brutes. I have endured extremes.” —BeowulfAlternate translation: I battled up five off width pitches from hell, beat the hideous troll crack, and ascended Pacific Ocean Wall, El Cap, Yosemite. I am extremely tired.

“We have gone through with glorious endeavor . . . In this fight we dared against the unknown.” —Beowulf

In the 1970’s, [and today] at the General Stores of Tuolomne Meadows and Yosemite the “so called” climbers used to parade up and down the three aisles wearing their rack of nuts and ‘biners, barely used. Little gumption, I thought then, few battles scars, and no extremes. Their nuts were puny.

On Tobin, “This is no mere hanger on in hero’s armour.” —BeowulfHow many of us hang on, wrapped in hero’s armour bought at REI, but are really tin soldiers? A lesson from Alcoholics Anonymous, take a deep and fearless moral inventory. Jung called this the adventure of the spirit, few go in, many run away. Sorenson was pure Titanium. Ask John Long.

Largo loved Tobin because they were stone masters whose lives they held in one anothers hands (body belay). Belay tools with auto lock-off capabilities have somewhat robbed us of this gift. John the bard, has often sung of Soren’s episodes. We need to write our own episodes, no matter our age.

The Third Pillar on Mt. Dana might be calling, or The Line at Lovers Leap, the Bastille in Eldorado Canyon, how ’bout a Gunk dragon to slay, any number of sport routes across our great land. I can hear Wagner’s Throne Room of the Mountain Gods as I write this piece.

If you are getting up in your years, find a youth to help you out. The young Viking, Wiglaf to the old Beowulf in his last fight, er, ascent: “Go up dear Beowulf, climb everything you said you would when young . . . Stay stout with the whole of your strength. On belay.”

Go a viking. Skol! (Norse, cheers)

—David Sweetland, San Luis Obispo, CA.