Everest –The First Ascent by Harriet Tuckey: reviewed by The Page Turner


This book is not a recent publication. It was first published in 2013, but as it is about an historical event it is timeless.

I was introduced to it by a member of my book group. Not a book I would have chosen but I found it riveting.

The book is about an unsung hero, Griffith Pugh. A man who contributed hugely to the first successful ascent of Mt. Everest in 1953 by Sir Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Noray.

Harriet Tuckey offers an amazing fresh take on a story that has been written about many times over the past 60 years.

Griffith Pugh was her Father but throughout most of her life she had loathed him. She thought he was arrogant, selfish, remote and bad tempered. It was only when she took her Father 16 years ago to a lecture that Dr. Michael Ward told the whole story of Pugh’s immense contribution to the expedition.

Pugh was a physiologist trained at St Thomas’s and during the second World War he went to the Lebanon as an instructor in mountain warfare.

He then had a job to study hyperthermia at The Medical Research Council’s division of Human Physiology. It was here that Dr. Michael Ward asked him to come and offer advice on how to put together a team to make the first successful ascent of Everest. It was important that Great Britain should be the first country to achieve this.

It was certainly due to Pugh’s research on dehydration, acclimatization, and the use of oxygen that led to the successful ascent. He made sure they drank enough, ate healthily and that they had enough oxygen supplies. He also reinforced the importance of hygiene.

After the successful ascent a film was made by Tom Stobart and Sir John Hunt wrote a book. Both were hugely successful. Pugh was hardly mentioned and when he was it was with ridicule. They made out that all his experiments were in fact a nuisance. Hunt wanted to say that it was mountaineer against the mountain that won through. He felt that if science was mentioned it would be less glorious.

Griffith Pugh: Everest –The First Ascent by Harriet Tuckey

Pugh of course was upset by this lack of recognition and went back to doing research into hyperthermia. He concentrated on studying long distant cross channel swimmers. His advice was still asked for by some.

Thanks to his daughter Harriet Tuckey, Griffith Pugh has been able to receive the recognition that he deserved. Scientific research is now embraced rather than shunned.

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