Everest - Michael Ward
A Thousand Years of Exploration
The Ernest Press
(published in 2003)
A French view of the Everest 1953 conquest
Michael Ward, an alpinist and accomplished London surgeon who died in 2005, was directly involved in the pivotal events that led to success. In late 1950, while serving as Medical Officer attached to the Brigade of Guards, he discovered the route from the South after searching the neglected and uncatalogued archives of the Royal Geographical Society in which he found the forgotten Milne-Hinks map, as well as a series of hitherto unknown photos taken on covert flights over Everest in the late 1940s. This discovery was confirmed in 1951 during an exploratory expedition which he initiated.
Since 1951 Michael Ward has climbed, explored, mapped and carried out medical research in the great ranges of the Himalaya, in Tibet, Nepal, Bhutan and the Pamir. He led in 1961 the first ascent of Ama Dablam, named the “Matherhorn” of the Himalaya, ascent in winter which was repeated by a French party 18 years later only, and was the leader of the successful Mount Kongur expedition with Chris Bonington. Holder of the Founder’s Gold Medal of the RGS, he has been given unique access to rarely available information, to complete this “Biography” of the world’s highest peak. In recognition of his talents as a surgeon and for his research work on high altitude Medecine he was made the Master of the “Worshipful Society of Apothecaries”, one of the oldest British Guilds (1180), the one for doctors, surgeons and chemists.
The conquest of the highest summit in the world, the last of the greatest exploration problems on earth resolved by mankind, after the North and South poles, occurred two days before the coronation of the current Queen of England for her greatest glory. 50 years after this exceptional event, it seemed unthinkable that one would still uncover new knowledge. Nevertheless, this book is not only the first monograph on the history of Everest over the last centuries but it is also the enlightened story of the 1953 first successful ascent: one can understand in a luminous way the reasons for the success of the 1953 British team even though it lacked the climbing expertise of its competitors, the alpine countries: Switzerland, Germany, Italy and France.
However, the problem posed by the ascent of the last 300 meters on Everest was not a climbing technical problem. One had to resolve a redoubtable physiological equation: how in this “death zone” could climbers maintain enough strength and will to go to the summit and return alive. As for the rest, it required organisation, audacity and courage, all of which the British alpinists had. It is the solution to this equation which took 30 years to resolve and required 10 expeditions with many dramas that Michael Ward relates in this book.
For the conquest of Annapurna, the book written by the alpinist and writer, David Roberts, published 50 years after the event uncover a new story, somehow different from the « official » one immortalized in Maurice Herzog’s book « Annapurna 1rst 8000 ». Indeed, while describing the doubts and distress of Louis Lachenal, Herzog’s team mate, Roberts brought to light the exceptional courage and strength of character of their companions, Lionel Terray and Gaston Rébuffat, without whom they would never have come down alive. Similarly, Michael Ward introduces characters such as Griffith Pugh, the scientist largely ignored to this day, without whom no success would have been possible, Tom Bourdillon and Charles Evans who reached first the South summit of Everest, 100 m below the main summit and who had to turn back! Contrarily to the winning team of whom the public at large has remembered the names, Hillary and Tenzing, John Hunt, the expedition leader decided not to establish for them a high camp. This decision was strongly contested by Michael Ward. “All the old Everesters had told us again and again to establish a last camp high enough and common sense dictated that there should be two assaults”. (In “This Short Span” - Michael Ward, 1972). For Michael, Tom Bourdillon and Charles Evans did not have a fair chance. Starting from the South Col, they did not have enough supplementary oxygen to go to the top and come back alive, truly, “Hobson’s choice”!
Griffith PUGH the architectIn 1951, Griffith Pugh, a scientist who during the 2nd World War, trained in Lebanon soldiers for mountain warfare was working for the Medical Research Council instructed and the Royal Society and was given the task to conduct the vital research on physiological problems in extreme altitude for the next Everest expedition. He developed the solutions and tested them in 1952 during the Cho Oyu expedition thus providing the key to the successful first ascent.
Everest has now been climbed more than three thousand six hundred times by many different routes but it was only in 1978, 25 years after the first ascent, that the mountain was climbed without the use of supplementary oxygen. This shows how vital the appropriate use of supplementary oxygen was to the success of the 1953 expedition
This Monograph sheds new light on a complex story, leading to the 1953 breakthrough which accelerated the exploration and ascent of the world’s highest peaks.
The first ascent also led to the emergence of a thriving medical specialty, High Altitude Medicine and Physiology, which helps the 150 million people who live at altitude, as well as the millions who travel, ski and climb at altitude each year. In human terms, this is the main legacy of Everest.
Michael Ward and the conquest of EverestDuring my research in order to translate and have Michael Ward’s book published in France, I discovered much more than Michael decided to write. First, I realized that as with Robert’s book, Michael’s resulted in controversy. John Hunt the leader, members of the Alpine club and « gentlemen » of the British establishment have been highly irritated by Michael Ward placing science as a vital key to the success, while for them, John Hunt’s leadership, the will and ambition of Hillary and Tenzing and the team spirit were all important. Similarly they didn’t admit Michael Ward contesting John Hunt’s assault plan. As John wrote it himself in his 'Ascent of Everest which he repeated latter in a TV interview (1991) and based on archives from the Alpine club and the RGS, it is clear today that John Hunt acted typically as the military commander he was, the main reason of his choice as leader by the Everest committee. Before an assault in uncertain grounds, the commander will send a reconnaissance party. This was the true target of the first assault party and therefore there was no reason to establish a high camp for them. Clearly instructed by the MRC not to rely on an assault with the closed circuit apparatus, John Hunt did not believe in the reliability of a system not yet tested at those altitudes and lacking use. But his decision was also based on the shortage of sherpas fit enough to make the carries at an high camp for the two parties.
The two Everest conquerors and heroes were not British. Therefore the obvious choice as a British hero was John Hunt, the expedition leader. Already rewarded for his military feats during the 2nd world war (DSO et CBE), graduated from the war office, it is to him that the greatest honours went: Knight bachelor to start with, then leaving the Army 3 years after the conquest of Everest, he became the first director of the Duke of Edinburgh Award scheme, a position he occupied for ten years. In recognition of his work, he was made Baron of Llanvair Waterdine in 1966 and became a cross-bencher in the House of Lords where he sat on many commissions. Finally, supreme award, he was made Knight of the Garter, the most ancient and prestigious British chivalry order, limited to 24 knights with the famous motto “Honi soit qui mal y pense”.
In fact, the « superiority » of the logistic organisation which was attributed to John Hunt was for a significant part due to the mastering of the logistics by Charles Wylie who had done his entire career as a Gurhka officer and who spoke fluent Nepalese. He was John Hunt’s “Staff commander” for the planning phases of the expedition and then in charge of recruiting and commanding porters and sherpas. His contribution was particularly efficient when they had to catch up with the lost time due to the bad weather in leading the critical carries to the South Col. He led them with Wilfrid Noyce (another officer who had been in the Indian army and spoke the local dialects) and Tenzing himself in his role of Sirdar, the most experienced at the time. This action allowed the two planned assaults to the summit. All previous British expeditions benefited from the active help of the British Indian army. Nearly every time it supplied a high ranking officer as expedition leader (colonel and even a general, C.G. Bruce). When not, a civil administrator of India with a perfect knowledge of the Himalayas such as Hugh Ruttledge. It also provided a number of officers (and sub-officers) of the same army, specifically in charge of the logistics, as Charles Wylie, all mastering the local dialects and particularly Nepalese, essential for the recruitment and commandment of the porters and sherpas. All previous expeditions mastered perfectly this capacity but they all failed. Therefore it was not the main key to the 1953 success. It was a necessary condition, no more.
To this, one can also add that the acclimatization plan, hygiene and diet rules, the proper usage of the equipment and particularly the oxygen apparatus were established by the “scientists” and imposed on the leader. Two of those scientists were members of the expedition, Tom Bourdillon and, foremost, Griffith Pugh, the main architect of the plans. As for the selected team, aside from the two alpinists recruited by John Hunt without any Himalayan experience, they were those selected by Eric Shipton who was taken off his role as the leader in favour of John Hunt. Furthermore the year before, the Swiss during their two attempts on the mountain had found the best way to the South Col by the South face of Lhotse and had left food and oxygen bottles which were useful to the British expedition. The Swiss visited by John and Griffith Pugh in Zurich went so far in their help and fair play as asking Dreager, their oxygen apparatus manufacturer to develop a connecting tube to the British oxygen masks to allow the use of their bottles. Needless to say, the task of John Hunt was considerably facilitated. As several expedition members reported later, they mastered so well the elements essential to their success, that with John Hunt or any other, including Eric Shipton who had been discarded, they would still have reached the summit.
Ignoring Michael Ward’s negative medical diagnosis, John Hunt decided to lead the support party in charge of establishing the high camp for the winning party. With one sherpa, Ang Nyima, he reached 8350 m. Both exhausted, Hunt suffering severe high altitude symptoms, they dumped their loads. Their objective was to reach about 8500m. Luckily, there were plenty of perfectly fit alpinists, thanks to the hygiene rules, accli matization program and the correct use of supplementary oxygen imposed by Griffith Pugh and Michael Ward, not to mention the action of Ed Hillary and Tenzing who seeing John in difficulty went to his help. When John could not move anymore, Ed went to fetch his oxygen apparatus and put John on a maximum flow of 6 liters a minute, most probably saving his life. Michael Ward's diagnosis after all was not so wrong. Anyway, the following support team, made of Alf Gregory and Ang Nyima reinforced by George Lowe, superbly fit, who had decided on his own to go to the South Col to help (disobeying John's orders), could pick up a large part of the loads abandoned by John Hunt and his sherpa. Hillary picked up the Meade tent carrying an astonishing load of 29 kilos at this altitude. This enabled him and Tenzing to spend the night safely at 8425 m.
It should be noted, that there was a true team spirit and it was indeed a happy expedition, but that didn’t mean personal ambitions didn’t exist. However, the “official” story written by the leader didn’t say a word about any of this. For example: Tenzing resented that the first party didn’t include a sherpa and complained to John Hunt or his disappointment when for a few hours Tom Bourdillon and Charles Evans were believed to have reached the summit; the stern ambition of the Herculean Tom Bourdillon who wanted to be the first on top and who had an excessive confidence in the reliability of his closed circuit oxygen apparatus - this was luckily tempered by the quiet and level-headed Charles Evans who persuaded him to end their attempt at the critical point of no return... All but very normal human ambitions totally disposed of in the official story and with it the credit which should have been attributed to Griffith Pugh for his vital contribution. After failing to conquer the two poles, it was out of the question for the “gentlemen” of the Everest committee, i.e. of the Alpine club and the Royal Geographical Society to fail yet again on Everest, the highest summit in the world. In 1951, they had the biggest fear of their life when the Swiss were given the authorisation for an expedition on Everest for 1952 by the Nepalese government. Fearing that the French would get the authorisation for 1953, they sent an emissary to Lucien Devies, the all powerful chairman of the French Himalayan Committee to obtain from him priority which he granted with typical alpine fair-play*. The scientific work which started in 1951 was decided by the Everest committee with the specific purpose of conquering Everest. It was their last chance. If they failed, the French would succeed in 1954 and if not the Swiss in 1955. So this expedition was devised as a “war operation”. John Hunt was chosen against Eric Shipton primarily for his military qualities, and led the expedition as such.
* Fearing that the French would get the authorisation for 1953, the Everest committee (originating from Basil Goodfellow) sent an emissary to Lucien Devies, the all powerful chairman of all French mountaineering bodies (CAF, FFM, the Himalayan Committee... the de Gaulle of French Alpinism as Lachenal called him!) to obtain from him priority which he granted with typical alpinist fair-play. The emissary sent was Douglas Busk, a true gentleman. If he was chosen to be sent as an emissary to Lucien Devies, it is because they had one common very close friend, Armand Charlet, the most famous of the Chamonix guides in the years 1930-1950s.
« During friendly discussions, it was admitted that due their previous efforts, it was normal that the British did organise first an assault expedition on Everest. But the British acknowledged that if they didn’t succeed, the French would be well-founded to have their chance then. This is how the British obtained from Nepal the authorisation for 1953 and ourselves for 1954, Switzerland being allocated 1952”. (Lucien Devies, in his foreword of Makalu by Jean Franco, Arthaud 1955, page 21
This agreement is also reported by Lionel Terray in his book The conquistadores of the Useless (page 326 on the French version).
The scientific work which started in 1951 was decided by the Everest committee with the specific purpose of conquering Everest. It was their last chance. If they failed, the French would succeed in 1954 and if not the Swiss in 1955. So this expedition was devised as a “war operation”. John Hunt was chosen against Eric Shipton primarily for his military qualities, and he led the expedition as such.
The ControversyThe controversy really took off when Michael Ward published a book of his memoirs “In this Short Span” in 1972, in which he clearly exposed his disagreement with John Hunt’s assault plan and the scientific work which had been the key to the success. Previously Michael Ward had been far too busy with his surgeon and research activities not to mention a number of Himalayan expeditions to bother about the matter. He was not anymore the young 28 years old doctor of the 1953 expedition but an experienced consultant surgeon of 47 years old and one of the top specialists of high altitude Medecine thanks particularly to the 1961 “Silver hut” scientific expedition where he accompanied Griffith Pugh. It seems that John Hunt still considered Michael Ward as the young RAMC captain of 1953, his subordinate. The controversy became fierce in 1973 for the 20th anniversary of the 1rst ascent. Michael made a speech in presence of the Duke of Edinburgh developing his scientific thesis and rightly attributing the merit for this work to Griffith Pugh. Soon after his speech, John Hunt, furious, shouted at him: “No one wants to hear about that science”, and facing the ironic silence of Michael, added “I hate scientists” then turned to another member of the expedition saying: “Someone should shut Ward up!” That day Michael made himself definitively totally unpopular with John Hunt and his group of admirers. During the preparation of the 40th anniversary, he learned that Michael would also publish a major article about the 1953 ascent in the Alpine Journal. He then attempted to influence Michael through the editor. He did not want Michael either to mention his disagreement with the assault plan or science as the key to their success. Invited by the Alpine club editor to write that the first assault party was only a reconnaissance (not explained to most members of the expedition) Hunt declined to make public his true strategy.
In 2003, several persons attempted to obtain a copy of Michael Ward’s book before its publication saying that Michael had neither right nor enough authority to write a book on Everest! This request was to allow others to scrutinize and eventually amend Michael’s book to keep in line with the official report dictated by Hunt 50 years before even though he had died 4 years before. Michael refused as he did to John Hunt ten years before. He was intellectually and morally incorruptible and had only scorn for such claims which he considered as a distortion of the truth. This attitude exasperated further his opponents as previously with John Hunt who ended believing that Michael Ward disliked him in refusing to admit his supremacy, obvious to him.
In Great Britain, particularly before the second world war and up in the 50s and 60s, « gentlemen’ clubs » of Victorian times still existed and those who did not follow the seemliness rules in showing themselves boring and pedantic with their demonstration of their « science » were not always well seen. C.J. Morris a member of the 1922 expedition (another Ghurkha’s officer in charge of logistics) quoted an anecdote about lieutenant-colonel Strutt, a very influential member of the Alpine club, second in command of General Bruce the expedition leader, and also an excellent alpinist. He saw a picture of Georges Finch, another emeritus scientist and superb alpinist, well ahead of his time but who wasn’t part of the « establishment » (he had neither graduated at Cambridge nor Oxford but at Paris and Zurich), repairing himself his shoes. This confirmed his belief that a scientist was some sort of mechanic, unworthy to be a gentleman. He said loudly: “I always knew the fellow was a shit!” This did not prevent them from becoming excellent friends during the expedition. However, Finch, the best oxygen apparatus specialist, was excluded from the 1924 expedition on a fallacious excuse. The “anti-science” had won again!
For us, French, the « English gentlemen’ ways » are most often unfathomable and what would immediately be seen to us as ridiculous or extravagant will not be the case for them. To understand the context of those English “peculiarities” it is important to know that even today an English without a “club” is not fully English! The English adore their clubs, the rules of which are not always written but often oral! Climbing in Great Britain in the 60s, one of those non written rules which I remember well was that if a first ascent had been done with for example 2 pegs, placing a third one would mean a life exclusion from your club! And that meant that from climbing you had better revert to swimming or another sport as no one would accept to climb with you again! Ethics were of paramount importance. You better had the right climbing level and a bit above before attempting a climb, protection was absolutely minimal, the risk of falling to your death quite serious. Those ethics are still valid today in Great Britain, although modern protection with nuts attenuates greatly the risks. Unlike our continental alpine clubs in France, Italy, Germany, Switzerland and in fact almost all other European countries which are nationwide and mostly “republicans”, the British alpine club system consist of more than 300 clubs of which the oldest in the world (1857) and best known is the Alpine club with only some 1500 members, less than 2,5% of all British climbers and of the Club Alpin Français. In 1953 they were ten times less. It is one of the “gentlemen clubs” which had a most positive development at the end of the sixties and in the seventies. In 1967, it incorporated the « Alpine Climbing Group » (Michael Ward and Tom Bourdillon, its first president, were founder members) i.e. many of the best British climbers of whom Joe Brown and Don Whillans with a working class origin. In 1974 Sally Westmacott, wife of a member of the Everest 1953 expedition was the first woman to join before the incorporation of the “Ladies Alpine Club” a year later and finally in 1984, Denise Evans, the wife of Charles Evans, who reached first the South summit of Everest with Tom Bourdillon, was the first woman elected president of the AC. However, there are still some clubs, even if a limited number, which have been more conservative in their evolution such as the famous « Traveler’s club » which if it allows women as per the British law, they have to wear a long dress, have access only to one small sitting room and cannot access the bars, library or dining-room! Some of the old Victorian custom of the “gentlemen only” club therefore continues somewhat to exist. In 1953 and before, if you did not come from public schools such as Marlborough, Eton or Harrow and Oxford or Cambridge, your chances to be accepted at the AC were low! The following letter was sent by Charles Wylie two weeks before the final assault and shows how much belonging to their « club » was of prime importance to them:
MOUNT EVEREST EXPEDITION
c/o British Embassy
May 11th 1953,
I am writing to let you know that an O.M. "dinner" was held at Camp IV on May 2, `53. O.M.s present were Col. H. J. C. Hunt, CBE, DSO, Dr M. P. Ward, Major C. G. Wylie. Guests were Dr R. C. Evans, T. D. Bourdillon. Owing to a blizzard the dinner had to be eaten in our separate tents. The menu was as follows:
Lean Pemmican Soup a la Bovril
Luncheon Meat a la W.D., with Carrots
Owing to the circumstances no speeches were made, but the O.M.s present send their best wishes to all at M.C.
(The O.M.s on the expedition asked that an annual and perpetual half-holiday be granted on May 29th. The next time that this date falls on a fag-day is in 1957!)
Aside from his personal ambition and ego, Hunt’s religiosity may have had a role in this controversy: « …. Some terribly difficult decisions had to be made, but somehow they have each and all turned out aright. I’ve felt very sure of the rightness of each one, as of the final outcome, all along, as though guided along a pre-destined track, a curious sensation of confidence answering to faith. » (John Hunt’s letter to his wife from base camp 01/06/1953). John Hunt, a great religious believer, used to say that mountains made him pray and the day before of the successful assault, he gave a crucifix to Hillary, telling him that if he failed he would himself take it to the summit (one could rightly ask why he did not give it to his deputy leader, Charles Evans going first unless he was convinced that he would not reach the summit). Perhaps, John Hunt needed to rely on divine guidance and felt that when the final outcome was successful none should question how he chose to present the facts to the public and thus creating the myth that suited his ideals of supreme leadership and unquestioning followers.
For the 50th anniversary of the Everest ascent held in presence of the Queen, George Band, the youngest member of the 1953 expedition (who sadly passed away last year), published a book « 50 years on top of the world ». In 1955, two years after Everest, Georges Band made the first ascent of Kangchenjunga roped to Joe Brown. Charles Evans who was so near to success on Everest, was the expedition leader. George wrote in his book that one of the reasons for their success was the work done by Griffith Pugh and the other scientists who had developed their oxygen apparatus, clothing and equipment in quality far superior to those used previously. The leader of the expedition had died 4 years before and Griffith Pugh 9 years before. Better late than never!
I cannot but refer to the expedition led by Jean Franco to Makalu (8463 m, 5th highest summit in the world) in 1955 and which remains the ultimate model of a successfully led and happy expedition. Two years after Everest, the French expedition benefited from the knowledge acquired from the British: Jean Rivolier, the expedition doctor met Griffith Pugh who gave him his findings so successful on Everest. Jean Couzy was put in charge of the manufacturing of open circuit apparatus of the type used by the British but he made them lighter and improved the oxygen masks. Jean Franco led all his team to the summit, Lionel Terray and Jean Couzy first, followed the next day by himself, Guido Magnone and the sherpa’ sirdar Gyalzen Norbhu and then the third day by Jean Bouvier, Serge Coupé, Pierre Leroux and André Vialatte. A 100% achievement very rarely equalled since! The French Himalayan committee had a lucky strike when choosing Jean Franco. His style was opposite to John Hunt’s: « … an overall plan was discussed, built and accepted by all… », « …Already, Couzy, Lionel, Guido and I had discussed at great length the way to conduct the final assault, in its minute details». And Jean Franco concludes his book « Makalu » with those words: «… I have always considered Alpinism as a wonderful game, accident as a fault, and death as supreme failure. Totally away from the desperate plans, record temptations, numbers which will not be true the next day and the dangerous seduction of heroisms, I have always felt like many of us, that one better wait than risk, breathe than getting out of breath, sing than shout.” (Makalu, Jean Franco, 1955 *). Of course, Everest is 400 m higher, but with a Jean Franco, a Lionel Terray, or a Jean Couzy it is possible to think that at least with Hillary and Tenzing, Tom Bourdillon and Charles Evans would also have reached the summit and why not Wilfrid Noyce, George Lowe and Alf Gregory, all perfectly fit at the time!
* A proof of the excellent « sporting » relationship between the French and British alpinists, at least between the Alpine Club and the Club Alpin Français and their respective Himalayan committees, once more, Lucien Devies showed his “fair play”: the British having made a reconnaissance on Kangchenjunga in 1954 which showed a high success probability, he estimated that this summit was naturally for the British to climb in 1955 and decided for an expedition on Makalu instead (source: Lionel Terray, “The Conquistadores of the Useless” page 326). One can quote also the competing expeditions in 1956 on the Mustagh tower. The British (Joe Brown, Tom Patey, I.Mc Naught Davies, John Hartog) did the first ascent by the North West ridge and the French the second five days later by the South East ridge (Keller, Paragot, Contamine, Magnone and Florence, their doctor). This competition stopped when the French were asked to help the frosbitten John Hartog to come down from the mountain. « The kindness of the French remains for me one of the noblest deeds in the history of international mountaineering – the conversion of rivalry to great friendship and affection » (John Hartog, quoted in G.Band’s Summit - 150 years of the Alpine Club).
The end of an eraThe conquest of Everest marked the end of an era. From then on, the most difficult had been done for the public at large and its interest in this type of adventure faded away but for the alpinists nothing would then seem impossible! During the following few years, with the application of the same scientific principles, all the 8000m summits were climbed. This is to say how much Himalayism globally owes to scientists such as Griffith Pugh and Michael Ward. For the British, her Majesty’s Army of India ceased to exist soon after India’s independence, with it Hunt’s military style of leadership and the «nationalist» expedition’s military led. To use Lionel Terray’s expression, “the conquest of the useless” could continue but this time for the sole pleasure and ambition of alpinists and soon after the light expeditions dear to Eric Shipton and individual feats in full autonomy as in the Alps succeeded. Charles Evans was the excellent leader of the 1955 expedition on Kangchenjunga. He managed not only a first team, Joe Brown and Georges Band, to reach the top but also, the following day, a second, Norman Hardie and Tony Streather (3 days after Jean Franco’s team reached the top of Makalu), so 4 out of 9 members of the expedition. This was a significant improvement on the Everest’s expedition success rate. Lionel Terray, to whom Jean Franco passed the leadership, repeated a similar feat several years later on Jannu. 11 members and sherpas reached the summit, even though it was technically far more difficult than Everest! Jean Franco as Lionel Terray and his companions and certainly Charles Evans and his own companions did not think as John Hunt and the few British “gentlemen”, responsible for the anti Science and anti Ward feud. They all agreed with the efficient usage of science and the principles developed by Griffith Pugh and Michael Ward and surely also with this aphorism of my illustrious master “es” climbing, Georges Livanos, “the Greek”: “How could it be serious to take seriously such a non-serious activity” (Au delà de la Verticale 1958). None of them thought of themselves as anything but passionate alpinists. However, John Hunt who organised nearly every year a commemoration of « his » victory on Everest had perfectly understood this other aphorism from « the Greek »: « It is not necessary to do many climbs, but it is essential to talk a lot of the ones you have done ». This said, Georges Livanos had much admiration for those pioneers and liked to quote this sentence of Sir Francis Younghusband, one of the first who dreamed to climb Everest, “speaking of the great English of the past, during the attempts on Everest” (Georges Livanos – Cassin – Once upon a time was the 6th grade, Arthaud 1982): “To knock those men down would require no less than a ton of bricks, nine hundred and fifty kilos would not be enough!”
Among Michael Ward’s Everest companions, several totally agreed with him. I will quote particularly Wilfrid Noyce (South Col, Heinemann 1954): “…and I was struck, upon Everest, with the thought that here was I, a thoroughly unscientific person, enjoying sensations which could only come to me because my body was plastered with the aids of modern science and technology. Above the South Col I was breathing and appreciating and even feeling a certain inspiration [Wilfrid Noyce wrote several inspired poems in the altitude camps] – because I was wearing an oxygen mask and my feet were encased in special boots. Without the mask, away goes the enjoyment, indeed any aesthetic sensation at all. I was feeling well, partly because I had been told by a doctor [Michael Ward] to drink some six pints of liquid a day. And so on. Thus Western man depends for his explorations and even meditations upon artifices which are the fruits of his own powers. This dependence is a miniature of the dependence of all painters and poets too, on the sisterhood of the sciences”.
Jane Morris, previously James Morris, the expedition journalist from “The Times” who organised so well the coded dispatch of the announcement of the victory, wrote to Michael in 2003: “I’ve been re-reading your Everest book. I am more convinced than ever that it is the most interesting thing ever written about that mountain”. Finally it is probably Wilfrid Noyce who summed up in the best way what became the basis of this controversy i.e. a clash between science and manhood, when writing about Griffith Pugh in his book, South Col: “without this knowledge [Knowledge acquired by Griffith Pugh during the 1952 Cho Oyu expedition] Everest might never have been climbed at all. But climbers are notoriously lazy people. They accept the tools of their trade from the workshop, grumble at the inconveniences imposed by scientific gadgets, and think they are getting up entirely under their own steam.”
Whatever, it is a story told by one of the key members of the successful 1953 expedition, the man who discovered the route from the South, the soul of the expedition according to James Morris. He makes us understand how Everest remained the sole stamping ground of the British for some 30 years, illustrating with the greatest freshness the unique « British » spirit, that of the elite of the time who contributed to the exploration of territories still unknown and tried to climb Himalayan summits, the highest on earth. This book, full of savoury details, will be a discovery for those who want to understand to which degree, the British « clubs » of this elite, extremely selective and exclusive as the powerful « Royal Geographical Society » (the true vector of the British colonial conquest) and its emanation for mountaineering, the «Alpine Club » have counted in the history of the conquest of the Himalayas and specifically that of Everest. Amateurs of mountain history will be gratified by the epic story of the expeditions which took place one after the other on Everest, with their hopes and dramas, the small and great story of courageous and undaunted men.
This book reveals the vital importance of the unique scientific research of the great scientist Griffith Pugh. The rigorous implementation of his work and of his scientific colleagues was the key to the success of the1953 expedition and was a powerful help in the conquest of all the other 8000m summits. Its consequences have now been beneficial to hundred of millions men. However, sadly, Griffith Pugh never received recognition or award during his lifetime, despite Michael Ward’s efforts to show how capital his contribution had been. In 1975, Michael Ward published the first book in the world on high altitude Medecine, in advance of his time. Jim Milledge and John B West, now worldwide experts of this medical specialty had participated in 1961 with Michael Ward to the scientific “silver hut” expedition led by Griffith Pugh (and for the climbing aspect by Ed Hillary for a part until due to a cerebral oedema while attempting Makalu he was replaced by Michael Ward). It was only in 1984 that they persuaded him to publish a new and more complete edition. From now on, the book, « High Altitude Medecine & Physiology » of which the 3rd edition was published in 2000 and the 4th after Michael’s death in 2005, is the worldwide reference book on the topic. This is to show the credit that one must give to Michael Ward as far as his medical and scientific analysis of the conquest of Everest is concerned. His book is a true Ode to individual initiative, to the strength of teamwork, to the belief in scientific progress and its benefits to mankind. Beyond having been a great Himalayist, Michael Ward, was a true « gentleman », with a romantic approach to mountaineering, a full-hearted man, an altruist, a scientist and a man devoted to his fellow kind. His book makes captivating reading both by his human values and its scientific accuracy and honours his compatriots.
External LinksNew York Times obituary of Michael Ward
Tribute from his American colleagues from the Himalayan Club
Review of Michael Ward's book by the Royal Society of Medicine
Michael Ward and the Yeti
Michael Ward pictures
Michael Ward - 1993 - as Master of the Worshipful Society of Apothecaries livery company
Michael Ward and W H Murray 1951 Namche Bazar
Michael Ward and W H Murray - 1951 Reconnaissance expedition to Everest South face which successfuly showed the way to conquer Everest two years later, after the failures of the Swiss in their spring and winter 1952 attempts.
James Morris, reported on the 1953 Everest trip for the Times - painted a glamorous picture of the young medic as he led a party across the Khumbu icefall:
"He was a slender, lithesome man, and it always gave me great pleasure, even in those disagreeable circumstances, to watch him in action; his balance was so sure, and his movements so subtle, that when he turned his grinning and swarthy face upon you it was as if someone had drawn in a moustache upon a masterpiece by Praxiteles."
Griffith Pugh the physiologist who participated in the 1952 Cho Oyu expedition preparing the 1953 Everest attempt, as the chief scientist and who who also participated in the successful 1953 expedition.
It is thanks to his scientific work that the British 1953 expedition succeeded in putting Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay on top of the roof of the world. Some of his key findings were:
. the usage of a 4 liters per minute flow rate with the oxygen apparatus giving at last a significant boost to climbers (previously the maximum flow rate used had been 2 liters per minute, just compensating the extra load represented by the oxygen apparatus).
. the usage of oxygen while sleeping on high altitude camps, at 1 liter per minute flow rate, enabling climbers to sleep well enough.
. drinking enough liquid in high altitudes camp (6 pints a day) in order to prevent fast physical deterioration.
. cleanliness rules which impacted all previous expeditions leaving but a third of the climbing team in proper enough condition and sometimes even less. During the 1953 expedition all members remained in perfect health but two of the three climbers who established the base camp and did not pay attention to the cleanliness rules enforced by Griffith Pugh and Michael Ward, such as having the toilets far enough from camp and keeping an eye on the cook who tended to use the same dirty cloth for cleaning everything. Two had severe diarrhoea and that explained that unlike the rest of the team they were unable to go high up during the expedition. Griffith Pugh and Michael Ward put that situation right four days later, but too late for those two climbers.
The Biographer's Craft
A monthly newsletter for
writers & readers of biographyNovember 2009
Vol. 3, No. 9
Unpublished Father's Tale by His Daughter Is Judges' Choice at Annual Biographers' Club Awards Dinner; Roland Chambers Wins Best First Published Biography
This year's Tony Lothian Prize, presented by the London Biographers' Club for a first-time writer working on a biography, was awarded to Harriet Tuckey for The Forgotten Hero of Everest, a book with poignant origins.
In 1993 Tuckey went to a 40th anniversary celebration of the ascent of Everest at the Royal Geographical Society in London, attended by the queen and other members of the royal family. Tuckey's father, Dr. Griffith Pugh, had been part of the Everest team assisting with the dangers of high-altitude climbing.
"I was very young at the time of the Everest conquest, and I did not get on with [my father], so I had never asked him about it," Tuckey told TBC. "I attended the lecture reluctantly, only to help my mother push the wheelchair my father was by then confined to, as it was too heavy for her. At the last minute he was not allowed to sit with the rest of the team in the row behind the queen at the front because his wheelchair was deemed a fire hazard, and I had to leave him at the very back, out of the way."
The entire 1953 team was at the ceremony. At the end of the lecture, one man (see footnote *), whom Tuckey did not know, stood up and announced he was going to talk about the "unsung hero of Everest." A hush fell over the audience in anticipation of who it might be. "Then," Tuckey recalled, "he said my father's name. As he outlined vital work my father had done for the expedition, without which the mountain could not have been successfully climbed, I turned and saw that his chin was rising with pleasure and pride. I knew then that one day I would have to write about his life. He died the following year, but because our relationship had been so difficult, I could not bring myself to begin until 10 years later."
After five and a half years of research and writing, Tuckey was the choice of judges Margaret Drabble, Anne de Courcy, and John Guy. In the past the winner, as well as several short-listed writers, has gone on to be published. A cash prize of 2,000 British pounds also accompanies the prize.
* That man was Michael Ward.
Ama Dablam 1rst ascent
1961 - AMA DABLAM Summit
During the scientific expedition of the "Silver hut" organized by Griffith Pugh for its scientific aspects and Edmund Hillary for the mountaineering ones, which spent 7 months doing the most significant scientific work on high altitude up to then and for more than 40 years to come at the foot of Ama Dablam and then on an attempt to ascend Makalu, Michael Ward did the 1rst ascent of Ama Dablam with two other scientists Mike Gill (New zealand), Barry Bishop (USA), and Wally Romanes (New Zealand - The 'mechanic' in charge of maintenance and repair), all 4 the best mountaineers of the party.
I have added that information about Michael Ward and his 1rst ascent of Ama Dablam as far too many people and particularly French do believe that the 1rst ascent was made by Edmund Hillary who had organised the mountaineering aspect of the overall expedition with Griffith Pugh in charge of its scientific aspects. Edmund Hillary spent the first two months of the expedition on a Yeti chase as he had agreed with the expedition's sole sponsor: the World Book Encyclopaedia of Chicago. He then returned to New Zealand for the winter and when in the following spring he joined back the expedition to go and climb Makalu, he quickly got such a severe altitude sickness that he was sent right down by Michael Ward with a recommandation to stay below 13000 feet. Ed handed over to Michael the mountaineering expedition leadership as being the most experienced alpinist of the group. The expedition was stopped just 390 feet of the summit when Peter Mulgrew, Ed's New Zealand climbing pal, collapsed. His rescue took the rest of the strength of the party, but was so difficult and lengthy at this height that finally Peter had his two legs amputated below the knees when back in New Zealand. Surviving a pulmonary thrombosis at this height plus 5 days after above 26000 feet was quite miraculous and so descending him half carried by the sherpas and his companions to camp V (24300 feet) and then on a makeshift stretcher to base camp was quite a feat by his companions and particularly the sherpas.
. 'No Place For Men' Peter Mulgrew (A.H. & A.W. Reed New Zealand - 1964)
. 'In This Short Span' Michael Ward (Gollancz London - 1972)