One of the most enriching friendships I ever developed was with Charles Houston, whom his friends affectionately just called “Charlie”. I had heard much of this extraordinary mountaineer and doctor, and of his renowned contributions to the the understanding of how high altitude affects the human metabolism.
I then had the good fortune to spend three exhilarating days with Charlie at his home, in Burlington, Vermont, chatting about his life in general, and specifically about his two expeditions with Bill Tilman, one to Nanda Devi in 1936, and the reconnaissance expedition to Mt. Everest in 1950. And I came away with hours of precious video from those conversations, with an occasional guest appearance by Charlie’s young, excitable red setter, “Pooh Bear”.
Some years later, Charlie stayed with us at our home in Laguna, to attend a function we put on in memory of Bill Tilman. Also staying with us, and our guest of honor at the function, was Pam Davis, Tilman’s niece and heir (then in her 80s), and Roger Robinson and Bob Comlay, both of whom had, in their youth, sailed with Tilman to extreme latitudes. Also present was the celebrated climber Tom Hornbein with his wife, Kathryn. Tom, also a close friend of Charlie Houston, was, with Willy Unsoeld, the first to make a complete transverse of Mt. Everest, in 1963.
A full-color book, with transcripts from my interviews with Charlie about Bill Tilman, and with letters and other material shared by Charlie, is now available (in the column to the right of this page) with online video of those same interviews available to those who purchase the book.
And Charlie’s memories of those far-off days clearly demonstrate the forthrightness and good humor for which he will always be fondly remembered.