Dr. Charles S. Houston [Photo] Giulio Malfer

Charles Snead Houston

Posted on: December 1, 2004

I've had three passions in my life—medicine, family and mountaineering. I've been blessed with a wonderful family and some success in medicine and mountaineering. My climbing career began with an apprenticeship during the Golden Age, with great alpine climbers. This was before climbing had become a route to fame and fortune. I went on to a happy British-American partnership that climbed Nanda Devi, the highest summit reached for twenty years. The 1938 K2 expedition, by a group of friends, examined the mountain and found the best route up the southern side. The 1953 attempt ended in heroic tragedy, since which I have not climbed.

On K2, we thought of the rope as both a psychological and physical bond that brings a party closer together in every sense. We avoided selecting people for our team who we thought were going to put themselves first. We were a group with common ideals, and we went as friends with a willingness to share.

It seems to me arrogant to say that men conquer mountains. With a little bit of luck you may stand on a summit for a short time. I think we should approach mountains with all reverence and come as suitors, not as adversaries. We should treat them with respect and leave them unscarred. We should go there for rebirth and enjoyment, not fame and fortune. The mountains are forever; we are only temporary. To me high mountains are a feeling, felt in the heart and along the blood.

—Charlie Houston, mountaineer, medical doctor, university professor, author. Recorded by Greg Glade in Burlington, Vermont, April 28, 2004.

Charlie Houston: curriculum vitae

1925: Aiguille de l'M (2844m), French Alps, first climb.

1932: Dent Blanche (4356m) and Monte Rosa (4634m), Pennine Alps, Switzerland, ascents, with T. Graham Brown.

1933: Mt. Crillon (3879m), Fairweather Range, Alaska, attempt, with Bob Bates, H. Adams Carter, Bill Child, Walt Everett and Bradford Washburn.

1934: Mt. Foraker (5304m), Alaska Range, Alaska, first ascent, with T. Graham Brown and Chychele Waterson.

1935: Graduates from Harvard University. Joins The American Alpine Club (AAC).

1936: Nanda Devi (7816m), Himalaya, India, first ascent, with T. Graham Brown, H. Adams Carter, Arthur Emmons, W.F. Loomis, Peter Lloyd, Noel Odell and H.W. Tilman.

1938: Abruzzi Ridge, K2 (8611m), Karakoram, Pakistan, reaches ca. 7900 meters, with Bob Bates, Richard Burdsall, Bill House, Paul Petzoldt and Norman Streatfeild.

1938-40: Councilor, AAC.

1939: Five Miles High published, coauthored with Bob Bates. Graduates from Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons.

1941: Marries Dorcas Laidley Tiemeyer.

1941-47: Commission in the US Navy.

1945: Daughter Penny born.

1946: Councilor, AAC. Directs the acclimatization study Operation Everest.

1947: Son Robin born.

1947-49: Vice President, AAC.

1947-79: Practices general internal medicine.

1950: South side, Everest (8850m), Khumbu Valley, Nepal, first reconnaissance.

1951: Son David born.

1953: Abruzzi Ridge, K2 (8611m), Karakoram, Pakistan, reaches ca. 7800 meters, with Bob Bates, George Bell, Bob Craig, Art Gilkey, Dee Molenaar, Pete Schoening and Tony Streather. Entire party saved from fall by Pete Schoening. Art Gilkey dies on the descent.

1954: K2: The Savage Mountain and K2: 8611M published, coauthored with Bob Bates. Councilor, AAC.

1960: Publishes the first documented case of high-altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE), in the New England Journal of Medicine.

1962-65: First Director, Peace Corps-India.

1966-79: Professor of Medicine, University of Vermont Medical College.

1967: Inducted as Honorary Member, AAC.

1967-79: Directs the Arctic Institute of North America's High Altitude Physiology Study. First to identify high-altitude retinal hemorrhages.

1971: Cofounds Yosemite Institute.

1974: Inducted as Honorary Member, (British) Alpine Club.

1975-97: Launches and cochairs the first Mountain Medicine Symposium.

1979: Receives AAC's Angelo Heilprin Citation.

1980: Self-publishes Going High: The Story of Man and Altitude.

1981: Receives AAC's David A. Sowles Memorial Award.

1983: Going Higher: The Story of Man and Altitude, published. Cofounds Wilderness Medical Society.

1985: Principal Investigator, Operation Everest II.

1993: High Altitude: Illness + Wellness published. Inducted as Honorary Member, (Indian) Himalayan Club.

1996: Receives King Albert Medal of Merit Award.

1998: Going Higher: Oxygen, Man + Mountains published (winner, Mountain Exposition Award, Banff Mountain Book Festival).

2004: Colorado Center for Altitude Medicine and Physiology names its new hypobaric chamber after Dr. Houston.

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