OBITUARIES: Griffith Pugh

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 thereforecarried 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 physiol ogy 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 hadskied 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 twoyears 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; Hamp- stead 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

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: Office Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Have you been doing a brilliant job in an admi...

Surrey County Council: Senior Project Officer (Fixed Term to Feb 2019)

£26,498 - £31,556: Surrey County Council: We are looking for an outgoing, conf...

Recruitment Genius: Interim Head of HR

£50000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you an innovative, senior H...

Recruitment Genius: Human Resources and Payroll Administrator

£20000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our client, a very well respect...

Day In a Page

Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn