American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing
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Oscar A. Cook, 1920-1952

  • In Memoriam
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 1953

OSCAR A. COOK

1920-1952

It is beyond doubt that a lover of the mountains would wish, if he could, to spend his last days in high alpine surroundings. In July 1952, in spite of the heroic efforts of his companions to carry him down from the 16,000-foot camp at which he became ill, Oscar A. Cook quietly succumbed to pneumonia in a remote Peruvian meadow overlooked by the gleaming snow-capped Andes. His cairn stands in these magnificent surroundings.

Oscar’s mountaineering experiences began early in life on the slopes of Mt. Tamalpais, north of San Francisco, with the California Alpine Club, a local hiking group of which his parents were active members. After World War II and his work with the Manhattan Project at Oak Ridge, Tennessee, he developed a serious interest in skiing, rock-climbing, and general mountaineering, and together with other young members of the Sierra Club engaged in major expeditions to the Mt. Waddington region of the British Columbia Coast Range in 1947 and 1950. These trips revealed his cheerfulness, good judgment, and stability, qualities that earned him the widespread respect and confidence of all his friends. Oscar joined the American Alpine Club following the 1947 Waddington trip and was active in the leadership of the Sierra Nevada Section, serving as secretary in 1950 and as chairman at the time of his death.

He was concerned over the lack of contact between members of the AAC in different parts of the United States and did much to bring about the highly successful A.A.C. 1951 summer camp in the Wind River Range of Wyoming. One of his greatest hopes was for the continuation of these camps and the further broadening of A.A.C. friendships.

Oscar’s life, although extending over only thirty-two years, was wide in its interests. In addition to teaching, research, and mountaineering activities, he organized and coached the California Aggies swimming and water polo teams which, incidentally, were league champions in 1950. He gave unselfishly of his time in order to encourage others to enjoy the out-of-doors and served on the Rock- climbing and Mountaineering committees of the Sierra Club, as well as the California Himalayan Committee. He was an outspoken advocate of active rather than passive participation in both sports and organizations. We can still hear him saying “What all sports need is more players and fewer spectators.”

It is not span of years, but what is put into those years that counts the worth of life. Surely Oscar put the full measure of life into his few years. We who are fortunate to have known Oscar will always remember him for his quiet humor, and a very gentle and kindly perceptiveness of other people’s needs and wishes, which made him not only a good expedition man but a far more skilful organizer than one might suspect from his unobtrusive ways. It is almost characteristic of him that his companions did not know that he was becoming ill, that he went without a word of complaint. And it is through his shy, unfailing sympathy for others that the world is poorer for his having gone.

Kenneth D. Adam

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