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Charles Houston MD

Author(s): Tod Schimelpfenig
Posted: October 1, 2009

Charles S.
Houston MD passed away on September 27th at the age of 96.   We have lost a great presence in
wilderness medicine and mountaineering.

You may
recognize Dr. Houston as the author of Going Higher: Oxygen, Man, and Mountains, the wonderful layperson
textbook on altitude illness. You
may not know of his technical paper in the New England Journal of Medicine that
first described High Altitude Pulmonary Edema, his life of research in altitude
physiology on Mt Logan in the Yukon, his succession of publications and
international forums on hypoxia.
Dr. Houston was a mentor to many in the field of wilderness
medicine. I loved to listen to him
speak about medicine, sharing his thoughtful insights into physiology and
treatment, and his compassionate approach to his patients. I’m saddened to know these
moments are now in the past.

You might also recognize Dr. Houston’s extensive early climbs in
Alaska and the Himalayas, including 1st ascents of Mt. Foraker in 1934 and
Nanda Devi in 1936 and an exploratory trip to K2 in 1938 where they almost
reached the summit. The 1953
K2 expedition is legendary for the heroic descent through storm during which
his team would not abandon an ill companion, at great risk to their lives. Reinhold Messner said of this expedition,
“I have great respect for the Americans and the way they failed in 1953. They
were decent. They were strong. And they failed in the most beautiful way you
can imagine.” Read K2 the Savage Mountain,
or watch the documentary film “Brotherhood of the Rope” for a tale of
a style of expeditioning we can’t help but admire, and should not forget.

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