Mike Westmacott and Griffith Pugh

Harpenden and the conquest of Everest in 1953

Mike Westmacott in 1953 – scanned from “The Ascent of Everest”

Dr Griffith Pugh in 1953 – scanned from “The Ascent of Everest”

Mike Westmacott receiving scroll of honour from Chairman of Harpenden Urban District Council, Cllr Edgell, at a civic dinner in 1954 – DS- HC 083

The picture of Mount Everest on the chain of the Mayor of Harpenden commemorates the fact that two members of Sir John Hunt’s successful ascent in May 1953 were local climbers.  Mike Westmacott was a statistician working at Rothamsted Experimental Station, and Dr Griffith Pugh lived locally while working in medical research in Hampstead.   Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing reached the summit on May 29th and the news was relayed to London on Coronation Day.  The expedition is described fully in Sir John Hunt’s book, “The Ascent of Everest” (Hodder & Stoughton, 1953).

Both Westmacott and Pugh had key roles in the success of the expedition.  Mike was an experienced mountaineer who had tackled some particularly fine routes in the Alps.  At various points on the climb he showed how to negotiate formidable obstacles, such as “Mike’s Horror”

“Mike’s Horror” on the Khumbu Glacier – scanned from “The Ascent of Everest”

– a wall of ice on the Khumbu glacier.  After the successful ascent Mike was the first to lead the Times correspondent, James Morris, down to base so that he could broadcast the news to the world.  (This was before the days of satellite communication).  Mike now lives in Lake District where he enjoys gentle hill walks.

Griffith Pugh’s role was to study the effects of high altitude on the fitness and capability of the climbers, and to advise on diet, equipment and acclimatization.  The challenges of oxygen shortage, intense cold and high winds, were little known about at the time, and the experience of previous expeditions showed the need for careful preparation and adherence to the required regime. He later accompanied Hillary and Fuchs in the Trans-Antarctica expedition in 1957.  He died in Harpenden in 1994 at the age of 85.

Comments about this page

  • In November 1957 Dr Griff Pugh welcomed Sherpa Tensing and Mike Westmacott to Harpenden Public Hall. Mike Westmacott gave a lecture about his recent expedition to Peru, to conquer Mount Huagaruncho, illustrated by stunning coloured slides (after momentary troubles with the projector and lights – as reported by the Harpenden Free Press). The expedition was in aid of the St Albans Diocesan Mission to the Deaf.

    By Rosemary Ross (02/01/2016)
  • If my memory is correct I recall Doctor Pugh living in Hatching Green very near to Eric Morecombe.

    By John Halsey (07/07/2014)
  • Harriet Tuckey’s book about her father Griff Pugh is certainly a wonderful read, and a must for anyone interested in the 1953 Everest ascent, and especially the science behind it. I’ve written an article about Pugh here, for anyone wanting a bit more information about him – just copy and paste this link in your browser:


    By Austin Elliott (26/06/2014)
  • Well done Harriet on finally telling the truth about your father’s crucial involvement in the Mt Everest ascent in 1953. I lived with the family for a while in 1965 and was told then about the fact that without Griffith the trip to the top would never have happened and how he was never acknowledged. All these years later I am so happy to see Harriet’s dream of exposing the truth, fulfilled.

    By Caroline Newton nee Jordan (02/06/2013)
  • The importance of Griffith Pugh’s contribution to the success of the Everest expedition is underlined in the new book by his daughter, Harriet Tuckey. This is discussed in the June 2013 issue of History Today. She comments that Sir John Hunt downplayed his crucial role in ensuring that the climbers were fit to complete the ascent. In the years that followed many more Himalayan peaks were conquered. The book is entitled: Everest – The First Ascent: The Untold Story of Griffith Pugh, the Man Who Made It Possible, published by Rider.

    By Gavin Ross (22/05/2013)

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