Obituary: Dr Charles Warren

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CHARLES WARREN was one of the last surviving members of the British pre-war expeditions to Mount Everest. Although an eminent physician, he also had a passion for art and literature and was the kind of civilised polymath all too rare nowadays in both the medical and mountaineering communities.

He went up to Emmanuel College, Cambridge, in 1924 to read Medicine but devoted most of his first year to English Literature, before focusing on the serious business of medicine and going on to complete his studies at Bart's. As a young houseman, he took several months' leave in 1933 to join his first Himalayan expedition to the Garwhal region of northern India.

He recently referred to it, with characteristic modesty, as "the logical extension of an alpine holiday". It was certainly a delightful expedition, under the imaginative leadership of Marco Pallis, a keen Tibetologist who was also an accomplished Baroque musician, entertaining mountain shepherds on the Indo-Tibetan watershed with early English viol music.

However, the "holiday", for all its lightness of touch, did include an outstanding first ascent by Charles Warren and Colin Kirkus of the 6,454m Bhagirathi III. The pair overcame difficulties that would have been graded "Severe at sea level", completing the climb in five days, carrying their own bivouac tent and all their supplies. As Marco Pallis wrote, it was "a triumphant vindication of the theory that Europeans were capable of carrying out such enterprises without the help of porters".

Success on Bhagirathi III made Warren an obvious choice for the 1935 Everest expedition. This was not a full-scale attempt, but a "reconnaissance" led by Eric Shipton. There were just six British climbers, modestly equipped and provisioned along strictly utilitarian lines. After several weeks in the field, Warren was delighted to find at Camp III surplus cases of toffee, chocolate and Carlsbad plums, left by the 1933 expedition whose gastronomic excesses had so offended Shipton.

Shipton's 1935 expedition cost pounds 1,400. The following year's full-blown attempt, led by Hugh Ruttledge, cost pounds 10,000 but got no higher on the mountain. Warren was again expedition doctor and in 1938 he returned a third time, under the leadership of Bill Tilman - another advocate of minimalist catering and small teams. Sceptical about the need for a doctor he only asked Warren reluctantly, on the strength of his climbing skills. Warren later said, "I never quite knew whether to be flattered at being asked to go on the Everest expedition because I spent my spare time mountaineering or whether to be insulted because Tilman asked me to go as a doctor".

Heavy snowfall again hampered efforts on the mountain and the team failed to reach the high point of the 1924 and 1933 attempts. The public may have dismissed these expeditions as failures, but, in 1935 at least, failure on Everest itself was an irrelevance beside the expedition's other successes. The Nyonno Ri range east of Everest was explored, numerous peaks around the Rongbuk Glacier including Kartaphu were climbed, as were several summits in northern Sikkim, bagged on the way back to Darjeeling, towards the end of a journey of several hundred miles. Warren was asked recently, "How many first ascents over 20,000 feet did your team make in 1935 - was it 11?" There was a long pause, then, with the precision and perfect memory that he never lost, the nonagenarian replied, "No - it was actually 26."

During the Second World War, Warren served in the emergency medical services hospital in Bishop's Stortford, where he met his future wife, Dorothy Lowick, a radiologist (they married in the chapel at Bart's). After the war he decided to specialise in the new field of paediatrics at Chelmsford and was at first the only paediatric consultant in Essex. He remained in the county for the rest of his medical career, becoming known to hundreds of families over a huge area. His particular speciality was the treatment of neonatal jaundice. This was normally done with exchange blood transfusions but, with Peter Broughton, Warren pioneered the use of ultraviolet light to reduce the need for transfusions.

He did not return to the Himalaya after 1938, but he continued to climb in Europe. In his late sixties he was still tackling big alpine climbs such as the traverse of the Grand Combin, undeterred by 18-hour days. His climbing partner at that time, Oliver Turnbull, recalls that these alpine holidays were always particularly enjoyable because Warren would make time on the drive across France to admire a particular cathedral or build the itinerary around an unmissable concert.

Mere athleticism held little interest for him and his feeling for mountains was informed by literature, in particular by a passion for the Romantic period. That passion, combined with bibliographic meticulousness, made him an invaluable adviser to the Wordsworth Trust, at Dove Cottage in Grasmere. Before he died he presented to the trust a collection over 200 items relating to the Romantic movement, including both texts and some outstanding paintings, such as Gainsborough's Langdale Pikes, David Cox's Crossing Morecambe Sands and a late Turner watercolour of Lake Como.

Charles Warren's generous and expert support of the Wordsworth Trust arose naturally out of his affinity for the Lake District. He visited the area most summers and it was here that he made his last rock climb, on his 80th birthday in 1986. On reaching the summit his greatest delight was at the distance travelled by the well- shaken champagne cork.

Stephen Venables

Charles Buchanan Moncur Warren, physician and mountaineer: born London 15 April 1906; married Dorothy Lowick (died 1992); died Felsted, Essex 30 March 1999.