Everest, The First Ascent
Where: The Explorers Club
46 E. 70th St.
212-628-8383 Price: $20
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Traditionally British Everest climbers always insisted that they abhorred competition. However, they were well aware that between the first and second World Wars the Alpine Club, the Royal Geographical Society and the British India Office shamelessly denied climbers from all other countries access to Everest—including USA climbers. Protected by their monopoly, the British sent seven major expeditions to Everest between the Wars which all failed, but they made no concerted effort to find out why they were failing. They were in the grip of the British public school amateur sporting tradition which abhorred the mixing of science and mountaineering and believed that success would ultimately come from the traditional British gentlemanly heroic qualities of indomitable courage, teamwork, climbing talent, and persistence in adversity
But then after World War II everything changed when for the first time Nepal opened the doors to competition from other countries and the British suddenly faced being beaten to the top and humiliated. Their ‘sporting’ facade abruptly crumbled and they promptly called in a physiologist to study the problems and make recommendations for the 1953 expedition which they saw as their last opportunity to get to the top first. The physiologist was Griffith Pugh.
On Cho Oyu in the spring of 1952, on a training expedition led by Eric Shipton, Pugh conducted groundbreaking research into the use of oxygen for climbing and studied acclimatization, hydration, nutrition and protective clothing and equipment. On his return he devised a blueprint for success in 1953—covering acclimatization, diet, hygiene and crucially the policies for the use of oxygen and consumption of fluids. In addition he designed or modified most of the clothing and protective equipment used on the expedition—such as the tents, the high-altitude boots, the climbing suits, sleeping bags and the Primus stoves.
The result was magnificent success. Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay came down from the summit in far better condition than any previous Everest summit pair.
Pugh’s work had a dramatic and immediate impact on Himalayan climbing. Within three years of Everest, using his techniques, the world’s six highest mountains were all successfully climbed. Previously they had defeated the best efforts of the world’s finest mountaineers for decade after decade. Within five years of Everest all but two of the 14 mountains above 8,000 meters were climbed in relative safety. Of the two remaining one was inaccessible. And yet Pugh never received public credit for his achievements. This talk will attempt to set the record straight, lavishly illustrated with Pugh’s own slides from the 1953 expedition.
Harriet Tuckey is the daughter of Griffith Pugh. Despite having had a poor relationship with her father, she felt compelled to begin researching his life after finding out quite by chance at the Royal Geographical Society in London in 1993 during the fortieth anniversary of the first ascent, about the crucial contribution he made to Everest. When, ten years later, his name was not mentioned in the fiftieth anniversary celebrations, she realized he was being completely forgotten and began working on his biography.
In the course of researching her book she carried out in-depth interviews with all eight surviving members of the Everest team—including Sir Edmund Hillary—and nearly 80 other former colleagues and friends of Pugh, travelling all over the world to meet them. She has also studied in fifteen archives enabling her to present a completely new and different story about the British Everest triumph—one that has never been told before. Her book has won four prizes, including the Boardman Tasker Prize for the best Mountaineering book, the Banff Award for Mountain Literature and the British Sports Book Award for outstanding general sports writing.Buy tickets/get more info now