John Cameron Oberlin 1914-2006
John Cameron Oberlin, President of the American Alpine Club from 1956 to 1958, represented the AAC at the centenary of the Alpine Club in London. He strongly supported the international aspects of mountaineering. He was best known for the second ascent of Mt. Alberta in the Canadian Rockies, with Fred Ayres, in 1948. It had first been climbed by six Japanese climbers and three Swiss guides.
John grew up in Cleveland, Ohio. As a boy he climbed trees, walls, and limestone ledges. After some early climbs in the White Mountains with fellow Clevelander David Green, a chance encounter with Fred Ayres led to the Tetons and Canada’s Rocky Mountains, where he climbed in the Selkirks and the Bugaboos. With the formation of the U.S. mountain troops in World War II, John was among the first to arrive at Fort Lewis to join the 87th Mountain Infantry Regiment. Happily, as a private, he was assigned to instructing rock and ice climbing on Mt. Rainier. When he left for OCS, he had expected to return to the 87th Infantry but was instead assigned to chemical warfare because of his chemistry degree from Harvard and his experience as a patent lawyer dealing with chemical companies.
After the war he returned to climbing in the Canadian Rockies, making first ascents of Mt. Erasmus and Oppy Mountain, the highest unclimbed peak in the Canadian Rockies, as well as a determined attempt on the Wishbone Arête of Mt. Robson. His climb with Fred Ayres of Mt. Alberta in 1948 led to one of the most pleasant episodes of his climbing career: contact and friendly exchanges with the four remaining members of the 1925 Mt. Alberta first ascent team, of which Yuko Maki was the Japanese leader. There was an exchange of gifts, including a “silver” ice axe sent to the Japanese as it had been rumored that one had been left on the summit in 1925.
In the early 1950s, he was among the earliest Americans to climb in the Peruvian Andes. He joined the French-American expedition to Salcantay, which included the French climbers Bernard Pierre and Claude Kogan. In the 1950s he continued climbing in the Wind Rivers and the Alps with his brother-in-law Bob Bates, and he climbed the Matterhorn by the Zmutt Ridge with Bob Dodson.
After marriage to Corinne Albinson, he settled in the hills south of Palo Alto, enjoying another consuming interest: horticulture, and growing all of the exotic plants he could establish in that climate. He leaves his wife, daughter, and two grandchildren.
Robert Bates and Gail Oberlin Bates, AAC