The climbing industry is full of interesting characters. The desire to sort out emotions and push oneself physically while climbing a cliff face draws in an eclectic crowd. While the community feels small at times, surprisingly connected despite how far it reaches, there is an incredible amount of untold stories of people that dedicated their lives to the passion.
The story of John C. Case’s life plays out like the type of movie an actor would sign on to because of the guarantee for an Oscar win. Though born in Upstate New York, he spent most of his formative years in England and Switzerland where he studied in school and learned to climb. Among the likes of future well-known alpinists such as Geroge Finch, he explored the Alps and made guideless ascents on formidable peaks such as the Matterhorn and Monte Rosa.
He returned to the United States after his father’s death. That part would surely get a dramatic scene in a movie, as his father went down with the Titanic. Case took a job with what became Mobil Oil where he worked his way up to be vice president of the company. While the desire to provide for his mother pushed him to start working, Case never surrendered his passion for alpinism. Mountains made up many moments of his life, from where he found a home to where he was when the first World War began.
After serving in World War I, Case aided in training for the second one. At that time he was the president of the American Alpine Associate and able to use his influence and knowledge to aid in creating an American Mountain Division to send off to fight in World War II. His expertise in the training for the division was in mountain warfare, only adding to the list of obscurities that Case was qualified for in life. In an old copy of the American Alpine magazine, there was a copy of a letter from a general written to Case thanking him for his efforts and aid in the war effort.
The Adirondack Peaks are where Case put down roots and put up routes. The vast state park became a stomping ground for him and his troupe of young climbers that he took under his wing to teach all of the methods of climbing that he had learned abroad in his own youth. There was many a first ascent on now-iconic climbing crags in the Adirondacks done by Case. His proteges were not far behind, leading a new generation of climbers in the area and setting up many well-known routes today.
Even after Case retired from his job he continued to explore the mountains and push himself and his alpinism. The Himalayan mountains were a goal of his that he climbed at an age that could be considered past peak. The rest of his years continued to be filled with adventures even in his home in the woods. He was known for being an active and restless old man who had a strong presence in the community. He continued to hike, canoe, ski, and manage his camp in the Adirondacks while in his 90’s. What was perhaps most remarkable about Case, and what would make him a likable hero in a film, was his humility about his life. Despite all of his accomplishments, his active lifestyle was simply the latter- just his lifestyle. It was how he lived, not something to be revered as unusual. As such, his story fades with many a lost climbing legend- which in some senses maintains the tone of the culture itself. Many great climbers found their purpose in sharing their passion for the sport instead of making sure that their names lingered longer on the lips of the living.