• Spotlight: The Double Life of Chris Webb Parsons
  • What I've Learned: Sonnie Trotter
  • What I've Learned: Mark Udall
  • Reinhold Messner: What I've Learned
  • Listening for the Echo: The Klem Loskot Profile
  • Layton Kor Dies
  • Climbers We Lost In 2012
  • Life on Hold: The Ian Powell Story
  • Rope Jumping with Dan Osman
  • Mike Foley: Never Enough
  • Hayden Kennedy: Superballistic
  • Naomi Guy: What I've Learned
  • Dave Macleod: What I've Learned
  • Thomas Bubendorfer: Eiger Legend Back in the Game
  • Q&A: V15 Maestro Nacho Sanchez Unleashed
  • Francesca Metcalf: Meant to Compete
  • Maurice Herzog Dies
  • Kurt Albert: Free Wheel
  • Mason Earle: Crack Ropegun
  • Mayan Smith-Gobat: Climber for all Seasons
  • John Long: What I've Learned
  • Nik Berry: Obsessive Crusher
  • TNB: Tony Scott, Climber, Movie Maker, Lived and Died Large
  • Who's Next?
  • Todd Skinner: The Renegade
  • Tom Patey: The Tiger of Yesterday
  • Patxi Usobiaga: The Bionic Man
  • Michael Reardon
  • Max Turgeon and Louis-Philippe Ménard: Alpinists and Ice Climbers
  • Kurt Albert: The Climber Who Invented Redpointing
  • Josh Wharton: The Alpinist
  • John Rosholt: Climber and Gambler Disappears in Las Vegas
  • The Stonemasters Climb at Pirates Cove
  • John Bachar's Last Interview
  • John Bachar Remembers Michael Reardon
  • John Bachar by Henry Barber
  • John Bachar Remembered by Duane Raleigh
  • John Bachar by Doug Robinson
  • John Bachar and the Bachar-Yerian First Ascent
  • Colin Kirkus: Climbing's Greatest Unknown
  • Alex Puccio
  • John Long: A Man for All Seasons
  • Galen Rowell: The Vertical World
  • The Prophet
  • The Guy Whose Nuts Revolutionized Climbing: R.P.
  • Randy Leavitt
  • Brian Kim Spotlight
  • Rob Raker
  • Ueli Steck
  • Kemple and Lindner Almost Free El Nino
  • Crack Attack
  • Climbing World Mourns Todd Skinner
  • Ammon McKneely
  • A Tour of Magic and Mystery
  • Tanja Grmovsek
  • Rob Miller
  • Climber Hugh Herr Honored by Esquire Magazine
  • Climber Eric Brand Dies
  • Chuck Fryberger, Climber and Filmmaker
  • Chris Schulte Profile
  • Beth Rodden
  • Joe Kinder
  • Hazel Findlay
  • To the BASE Layer
  • Pete Ward
  • Mad Max
  • Chris Boskoff
  • Bradford Washburn
  • Revenge of the Nerd
  • Chris Lindner
  • Renan Ozturk
  • One-Track Mind
  • Tim Clifford: Escaping the Quantum Hole
  • Traveling Light
  • Colette McInerney
  • The Banner Years
  • Pakistan: The Big and Free
  • MAD DASH
  • Kris Hampton
  • KEEPING THE FAITH
  • Jules Cho
  • Extreme Eleven and Beyond
  • Bob Bates, 96, Takes His Final Journey
  • Jody Hansen
  • Home Girl
  • An Encounter with Fred
  • The Average Hero Sir Edmund Hillary, 88
  • More Than One Trick
  • Dave Graham
  • Red River Sugar Mama
  • Phillip Schaal
  • An Advanced Beginner
  • The Last Samurai:
  • THE BERMANATOR
  • Sonnie in Scotland
  • Offwidth Hombre
  • Moonlight Solo-Nata
  • Jasmin Caton
  • Crag Clown
  • Unlikely Candidate
  • Lone Star
  • The Calculator: Alex Kordick
  • Rise of the Machines
  • Dave Waggoner 1955-2009
  • Blood Spider
  • The Original Desert Rat: Kyle Copeland | 51
  • J-Star
  • Italian Legend: Lino lacedelli | 83
  • Cold Justice Paul Cormier
  • The Suffer King
  • The Need for Speed
  • Nick Martino Gives All
  • G-Money
  • Climbing Out of Academic Trouble
  • Charles Houston, 96
  • Bobby Model, 36
  • "Open Bivy" Willy
  • To the Rescue
  • The Genius
  • The Gamer
  • Shock Rock
  • Ryan Triplett | 31
  • John Bachar and the Cosmic Surfboard
  • Hand Crafted
  • Return of the Verm
  • Amped
  • Regime Change
  • Man vs. Snake
  • Living Legend
  • Layton Kor honored by AAC
  • Cold Justice
  • Cowboy Anguish
  • The Rock Jester
  • Mixed Rehab
  • Laura Fletcher
  • Bill Stall
  • Benjamin Strohmeier
  • Joe Six-Pack
  • Freedom Path
  • Manboy
  • Up and Down
  • The Duelist
  • A for Achiever
  • Paul A. Duval
  • Kelly S. Bell
  • Close But No Cigar
  •  
    Video Spotlight
    TrilobitePro Teaser escalada
    TrilobitePro Teaser escalada

    Charles Houston, 96

    02-Feb-2010
    By

    One of the great privileges of my life was hearing Dr. Charles Houston recount the greatest mountaineering story ever told.

    In 1953 he and seven companions, Art Gilkey, Bob Craig, George Bell, Dee Molenaar, Tony Streather, Bob Bates and Pete Schoening, set off up the then unclimbed peak K2 (28,253).

    Reaching 25,500 feet, the little crew was nailed by a virulent storm. Five days later, Art Gilkey, 27, tried to stand up, and collapsed.

    Houston, an internist and expedition co-leader, diagnosed altitude-induced blood clots in Gilkey's legs, capable of deadly travel to his lungs. Despite the storm, Houston called for an immediate evacuation.

    In an incredible example of courage against the odds, the embattled climbers wrapped Gilkey in a sleeping bag and tent, and tried to lower him down the mountain.

    At 24,700 feet Bell slipped, pulling Streather down and through the rope between Houston and Bates, knocking them off a steep slope. As all slid distances of up to 80 or 100 feet toward a drop, Schoening alone, with a boot-axe belay, held their combined weight and that of the prone Gilkey.

    Now near a lower platform, and having sustained injuries, the climbers anchored Gilkey on the slope, and set up two tents to regroup. When Craig and Streather returned to retrieve Gilkey, he had vanished, apparently taken in an avalanche.

    We never considered leaving him, Houston said in his American Alpine Club slide show more than 20 years ago, adding that Gilkey never complained, always saying, Oh, I'm fine.

    The last words of Houston's show were: We all returned the very best of friends, and we remain the best of friends to this day.

    Houston died September 27 in his home of Burlington, Vermont. He was a retired faculty member of the University of Vermont medical school, a graduate of Harvard University and the Columbia University medical school, and a pioneering researcher in the field of high-altitude physiology, in particular pulmonary edema and retinal hemorrhage. He founded the biannual International Hypoxia Symposium still held in Alberta, Canada. He was the first country director of the Peace Corps in India, and developed the Medical Peace Corps in Washington, D.C.

    It was Houston who in later years raised the idea that Gilkey might have sacrificed himself, wiggling himself loose, as he told the interviewer Bill Moyers in 2004, to save the others. Craig, who helped set the ice-axe anchors, which were found lower on the mountain near a huge drop, says they had been 25 and 30 feet above Gilkey on the slope: too high, he felt, for the weakened Gilkey to reach. I think, he suggests of Houston's idea, it gave him peace.

    In 1934, while still a college student, Houston was part of the first ascent of Mount Foraker in Alaska. His team made the first ascent of Nanda Devi, in 1936, and in 1938, as expedition leader, he reached 26,000 feet on K2. In 1950 he was part of a team that forged the southern approach up Everest, completed three years later by Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay. After the devastating second expedition to K2, he never climbed another mountain.

    Reader's Commentary:

    Don't want to use Facebook, but still want to comment? We have you covered:

    Add Your Comments to this article:
    Hello