Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Dr Griffith Pugh 1909 - 1994

Dr Griffith Pugh
Griffith Pugh with his daughter Harriet
Lewis Griffith Cresswell Evans Pugh was born at Cotton Manor, Shrewesbury, Somerset on 29th October  1909, the son of Lewis Pugh Evans Pugh KC. He married Josephine Helen Cassel, daughter of Sir Felix Cassel1st Bt. and Lady Helen Grimston  on 5 September 1939. He died on 23 December 1994. He graduated from Oxford with a Bachelor of Medicine and Surgery and an MA in Law. He always went by his middle name of Griffith - and was usually called 'Griff'.

His daughter Harriet (Tuckey) has published a book (May 2013) about her father called: 'Everest -  The First Ascent: the Untold Story of Griffith Pugh, the Man Who Made It Possible". It's a fascinating story, brilliantly told. Excerpts from it as well as many reviews appear on the book's Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/EverestTheFirstAscent?fref=ts 


Lewis Griffith Cresswell Evans Pugh, physiologist and mountaineer: born Shrewsbury 29 October 1909; married 1939 Josephine Cassel (three sons, one daughter); died Harpenden 22 December 1994.

Griffith Pugh was best known for his contribution to the success of the 1953 British Everest expedition led by John Hunt during which Edmund Hillary and Tensing Norgay made the first ascent of the highest mountain in the world. It was Pugh who insisted on the importance of provision of adequate oxygen and of fluid for the climbers high on the mountain. This opinion was given not from the armchair but from experience on mountains and backed by meticulous scientific observations in the field. It therefore carried weight with climbers, who could be sceptical of scientists whose work was confined to the laboratory.
Pugh came from an old Welsh family; his father had been a barrister in Calcutta. He was a naturally gifted child and had no academic problems at school, cruising through Harrow and then reading Law at Oxford. He would rather have read Chemistry. He emerged with a thorough grounding in Roman Law which he felt was quite useless to him. However, through friendship with a psychiatrist he was drawn towards medicine and returned to Oxford, where he was undoubtedly influenced by the strong tradition of physiology left by J.S. Haldane, recently retired from the staff there. He qualified from St Thomas' Hospital in London just in time for service as a Medical Officer in the Army during the Second World War.
He had a varied war record, serving in Britain, Greece, Crete, Egypt, Ceylon, Iraq, Jerusalem and most importantly in the School of Mountain Warfare in the Lebanon. Pugh, who had some Alpine climbing experience before the war, was an expert skier. He had skied in the World Championships in the downhill and was selected for the cross-country squad for the 1936 Winter Olympics but could not compete because of injury. On the strength of this he was recruited to the Cedars School, where he spent a happy two years training raw troops, many of whom had never been on a mountain, far less worn skis, to become expert mountain troops to oppose crack German forces drawn from the mountain regions of Bavaria. He studied methods of selection, training and load carrying on skis using the simplest of physiological methods.
After the war he found himself at 35 married and with no obvious career. Taking his Lebanon reports with him, he approached the Hammersmith Hospital and was given a house physician job there. Five years at the Hammersmith gave him a grounding in clinicalresearch but the busy multi-faceted life of hospital research was not ideal for one of Pugh's temperament. Fortunately for him, with the start of the Korean war in 1950 the Medical Research Council started a Division of Human Physiology headed by Professor Otto Edholm at its laboratories in Hampstead; Hampstead became the base for Pugh's work for the remainder of his career.
Soon after Pugh started there Eric Shipton approached him regarding oxygen equipment for the forthcoming Everest expedition. Pugh decided that information necessary for the proper design of masks and apparatus would have to be obtained at altitude from acclimatised men. Hence he was included in Shipton's 1952 Cho Oyu Expedition in preparation for Everest. On this trip Pugh did vital studies on the rates of breathing in climbers and on food and fluid intakes, all of which helped in the planning of the next year's expedition. On Everest itself Pugh continued his physiology, now addressing more basic questions about altitude acclimatisation.
After Everest in 1953, Pugh turned to problems of cold. 1956-57 was the International Geophysical Year when Vivien Fuchs and Hillary crossed Antarctica. Pugh was with the New Zealand team, his third expedition with Hillary, working on cold and the hazards of carbon monoxide poisoning in Antarctic tents and huts. At this time the two of them dreamed up the idea of a scientific and mountaineering expedition in the Himalayas lasting nine months, as was common in Antarctica, to study the long-term effects of altitude. This dream was realised in the 1960-61 expedition usually known as the "Silver Hut" expedition led by Hillary, with Pugh as scientific leader. The winter was spent at 5,800m in the prefabricated hut before an attempt was made on Makalu (8,400m) in the spring. A tremendous amount of physiological work was done on many aspects of heart and lung responses to this prolonged period of low oxygen, both in the silver hut and higher on Makalu.
This was probably the high point of Pugh's career, though he went on to do important work on cold and hypothermia. When cross-Channel swimming became popular he worked on how the swimmers avoided hypothermia. He showed that only if you have a good insulating layer of fat can you withstand the hours in cold water. Characteristically he was himself the principal control subject who became hypothermic while his cross-Channel swimmer subject remained warm.
In 1968 the Olympics were at Mexico City at 2,300m and Pugh studied the effect of this altitude on athletes' performance. He predicted correctly that the altitude would increase times for long-distance events but the reduced density of the air would givea small advantage to sprint events. He investigated the deaths of youths involved in outdoor pursuits. Lessons from his work have been learnt by those involved in running these activities and by clothing manufacturers, so that despite the great increasein numbers venturing into the hills in all weathers the number of cases of hypothermia has diminished.
Griff Pugh was in the direct line of great British eccentrics. Anecdotes of his absentmindedness abound. He frequently could not remember where he had left his car parked in London and would take the train back to Harpenden and report his car stolen. Thepolice would eventually recover it. The story that on one such occasion his children were in the mislaid car is probably apocryphal.
His latter years were clouded by a series of accidents which left him considerably crippled. He coped with this disability wonderfully and continued sailing Pelican, his 35ft catamaran, for many years.
James S. Milledge - The Independent
Friday, 27 January 1995


Lewis Griffith Cresswell Evans Pugh (1909-1994), best known as the physiologist on the successful 1953 British Everest Expedition, inspired a generation of scientists in the field of altitude medicine and physiology in the decades after World War II. This paper details his early life, his introduction to exercise physiology during the war, and his crucially important work in preparation for the Everest expedition on Cho Oyu in 1952. Pugh's other great contribution to altitude physiology was as scientific leader of the 1960-1961 Himalayan Scientific and Mountaineering Expedition (the Silver Hut), and the origins and results of this important expedition are discussed. He had a major and continuing interest in the physiology of cold, especially in real-life situations in Antarctica, exposure to cold wet conditions on hills in Britain, and in long distance swimming. He also extended his interest to Olympic athletes at moderate altitude (Mexico City) and to heat stress in athletes. Pugh's strength as a physiologist was his readiness to move from laboratory to fieldwork with ease and his rigor in applying the highest standards in both situations. He led by example in both his willingness to act as a subject for experiments and in his attention to detail. He was not an establishment figure; he was critical of authority and well known for his eccentricity, but he inspired great loyalty in those who worked with him. US National Library of Medicine


Lewis Griffith CressweIl Evans Pugh 1909-1994
Despite the fact that our Honorary Member, Dr Griffith Pugh, never considered himself to be a mountaineer, he made three major contributions to mountaineering and to our knowledge of the mountain environment: firstly, his solution of the problem of 'The Last Thousand Feet' of Everest lead- ing to the successful first ascent in 1953; secondly, his organisation and leadership of the Winter Physiology Party of the Silver Hut Expedition 1960-61 that wintered at 19,OOOft in the Everest Region; and thirdly, his successful investigation into the causes and prevention of deaths in the British Isles due to hypothermia.
Pugh was born on 30 November 1909, the son of a barrister. Between 1928 and 1931 he read Law at New College, Oxford but later changed to medicine and spent a further three years at Oxford before qualifying at St Thomas's Hospital in 1938. Whilst at University he raced in each of the three skiing disciplines and was chosen for the British Olympic 18km cross-country team of 1936, but because of injury could not compete. He also climbed regularly in the Mont Blanc region and the Bernese Oberland.


In 1939 he was called up to serve in the RAMC. Posted to the Middle East, he served in Greece, Palestine and Iran. In 1942 he received a telegram from W J Riddell, with whom he had been a contemporary at Harrow, asking him to join the newly formed Mountain and Snow Warfare Training School at the Cedars of Lebanon. There he spent the next two years with W J Riddell who was in overall charge of both snow and rock instruction. David Cox was Chief Instructor (Rock) and a New Zealander, John Carryer, was Chief Instructor (Snow).


This School had a number of functions: it acted as a leave centre, a training centre for mountain troops and as a survival training unit. Pugh had had no training as an exercise physiologist - a concept that did not exist at that time in the British Armed Forces. Further, there was no gen-eral awareness that different physical tasks need different physical attributes or indeed of the great diversity of human physical capability. He assessed that the instructors at the School had the most appropriate physical char- acteristics and so they acted as yardsticks for the selection of personnel who came to him from all over the Middle East, including the Long Range Desert Group (now the SAS). Only 25-30% qualified for training and Pugh had a special group who could be completely self-contained for up to eight days, ski-mountaineering 20 miles a day. He regularly climbed on skis for 3-4000ft during a 12-hour day and this was continued for weeks on end.


The papers that he wrote during this period were incorporated in a series of Army Training Manuals and, on discharge from the army, he joined the staff of the Post-GraduateMedical School at Hammersmith. He stayed for five years until the formation of the Medical Research Council's Unit of Environmental Physiology (known as the Department of Human Physiology) where he was head of the Laboratory of Field Physiology.


Pugh's involvement with Everest started early in 1951, some months prior to Eric Shipton's appointment as leader of the Reconnaissance Expedition and over 18 months before John Hunt was made leader of the 1953 Expedition. During this period he launched a new era of high-altitude mountain exploration by providing it with a factual, scientific basis. Mountaineers followed what I would sum up as 'Pugh's Laws' to enable the first ascent of Everest and all the other 8000m peaks to be made within the next few years.


In 1957 Pugh was asked by Nello Pace of the University of California to join a physiological team working at Scott Base and associated with the Trans-Antarctic Expedition. He visited the American Base at the South Pole a number of times and did research into the warming effect of solar radiation, into carbon monoxide poisoning in tents and into tolerance to cold. It was here that, with Edmund Hillary, he conceived the idea of the Silver Hut Expedition 1960-61, using polar techniques to spend the winter at 19,000ft examining the stress of altitude on each part of the transport systemofoxygeninhumans. This produced new data not only on fundamental biological mechanisms but also, more significantly, on sea-level patients with heart and lung disease. In addition, by showing that the barometric pressure in the Himalaya was higher than expected, he demonstrated in theory that Everest could be climbed without supplementary oxygen. This theory was proved on Everest in 1978 by Habeler and Messner.


Later, in the 1960s, Pugh was asked to investigate deaths in young people from hypothermia in the British Isles. Because of his knowledge of fatigue in mountains he was able to do this very rapidly in a brilliant piece of research, and so saved many young lives.


Involved in the Mexico Olympics, he predicted correctly that the distance events would be slower at altitude, whilst owing to reduced air density, sprinteventswouldbefaster. Pugh always stressed the importance of field work to supplement laboratory and climatic chamber studies. He preferred to take extreme examples at 6000m rather than 4000m and for months rather than days. He also studied Olympic rather than club athletes.


Pugh was well known internationally and the Eighth International Hypoxia Symposium in 1993 in Canada (the year of the 40th anniversary of the first ascent of Everest) was appropriately dedicated to him in recognition of his work, which has remained the 'Gold Standard' to which others are compared and on which we build.


Pugh's tall athletic figure and bright red hair matched his highly individual style that gathered a garland of legends in his lifetime. With his dry sense of humour and love of life he was always a stimulating companion. His lasting contribution was that he saved many lives and, without self-interest, enabled others to win fame and glittering prizes. He will be remembered by his friends with great affection, amusement and gratitude.



Children of Lewis Griffith Cresswell Evans Pugh and Josephine Helen Cassel