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King Albert

Biography Dr. Charles S. Houston

Born in New York City in 1913, Dr. Charles Houston began climbing at the early age of twelve, initially in the Alps, later in Alaska. In 1936, he organized his first British American Expedition to the Himalayas, which climbed Nanda Devi (7816 m) in Northern India for the first time. In 1938 he led the first American expedition to K2 in Pakistan, reaching an altitude of 7900 m. In 1950 he was one of a small party travelling to Nepal with the purpose of exploring the southern approach route to Mt. Everest for the first time. In 1953 he returned to K2, reaching 7800 m, where one of the climbers tragically lost his life.

Dr. Charles Houston graduated from Harvard College and Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons. During World War II he was commissioned in the US Navy, obtaining his Flight Surgeon wings and retiring as Commander in 1946. From 1947 to 1979 he practiced general internal medicine, first for ten years in Exeter, New Hampshire, then for five years in Aspen, Colorado, and later in Burlington, Vermont. In 1962 he was named Peace Corps Director for India, serving there until 1965. In 1966 he became Professor of Medicine at the University of Vermont Medical College. After his retirement in 1979 he held several prestigious posts on the Governor of Vermont's Commissions.

While serving as Naval Flight Surgeon Dr. Houston was engaged in high altitude research and training. In 1947 he directed a 34 day low pressure chamber study of acclimatization to high altitude, known in scientific circles as «Operation Everest», during which four test persons were taken to a simulated altitude of 8850 m. The resulting publications have become a landmark in physiology. Ever since he has been active in Mountain Medicine and has organized and chaired numerous symposia. In 1958 Dr. Houston first brought to world attention the previously little known «High Altitude Pulmonary Edema», which even today kills the unwary who go to the mountains. From 1967 to 1979 he also directed the Arctic Institute of North America's High Altitude Physiology Study on Mount Logan in the Yukon Territory, Canada. On this mountain, in 1968, he was the first to identify «High Altitude Retinal Haemorrhages». Finally, in 1985, he was again Principal Investigator for «Operation Everest II», an expanded repeat of the 1946 study.

Dr. Houston has published numerous books and articles on his own Himalayan climbs and on high altitude medical research. The most recent books are: Going Higher: The Story of Man and Altitude (third edition 1987), and Altitude Wellness and Illness (1994). Furthermore he has been co-editor of the Proceedings of the biennial Hypoxia Symposia and principal author or co-author of almost 100 altitude-related papers. He has held numerous lectures in North America, Europe, China, Japan and India.

Dr. Houston is Professor Emeritus of Medicine at the University of Vermont, Honorary Member of the Alpine Club, the American Alpine Club and the Himalayan Club among others, and has been honoured by these and other organizations. In 1996 he now receives the King Albert Medal of Merit.

Charles S. Houston died in 2009.