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Ginette Harrison, General Practitioner and Mountaineer (b 1958; q Bristol 1981; MD; MRCGP), died in an avalanche on Mount Dhaulagiri in Nepal on 24 October 1999. She successfully combined her career in medicine with becoming one of the world's leading female high altitude climbers.
Her passion for rock climbing developed on the cliffs of the Avon Gorge while studying medicine at Bristol University. After qualifying she spent two years researching her special interest of high altitude physiology at the University of Colorado, completing her MD in 1988.
In the 1980s she interspersed hospital training posts in Britain with climbing and research expeditions to the Himalayas. The British Bhutan expedition of 1986 extended her high altitude experience over the 7000 m mark and she was leader and Medical Officer on the British Masherbrum Expedition in 1989. She kept returning to the mountains and spent four months working as medical officer at the Himalayan Rescue Association in 1987 and was chief medical officer for the 1989 Everest marathon.
Her humanity and common touch drew her into general practice training in 1990 and this allowed her more flexibility in combining her medical work with her love of climbing and travel. She subsequently based herself in Australia for three years and with her usual enthusiasm and sporting ability pursued a whole range of lower altitude sports including canoeing and scuba diving in addition to rock climbing.
But she was drawn back to the mountains. In 1993 she gained the opportunity to fulfil a long held ambition to climb Mount Everest and became the second British woman to do so. The expedition changed her life in other ways. It was on this trip that she met Gary, an American, who was to become her husband. They fell in love on the way up and climbed hand in hand to the summit, a practice they continued on every peak they climbed together.
Subsequently, she moved to Massachusetts to join him and immediately began to establish herself in family practice. As ever she was determined to finance her expeditions through her medical work and was undeterred by the rigours of undergoing more medical exams and hospital training in the American system.
She and Gary went on to climb the “Seven Summits”, reaching the highest points of each of the seven continents. Their honeymoon was spent climbing the world's sixth highest peak, Cho Oyu, on the China/Nepal border. Although she was small, Ginette's stamina and determination were prodigious, allowing her to keep going in the thin air and cold temperatures of high altitude. She and Gary started to lead climbing expeditions to the Himalayan peaks over 8000 m and, in 1998, Ginette became the first woman to reach the summit of Mount Kanchenjunga, the world's third highest mountain. She achieved this without oxygen and despite passing the body of a climber who had tried, and failed, to make the ascent that season. Her reputation as Britain's leading high altitude climber was established.
Her quiet and unassuming nature meant that few people knew the full extent of her mountaineering achievements. Ginette had already climbed five of the world's fourteen 8000 m peaks—Everest, Choy Oyu, Makalu, Xixapangma, and Kanchenjunga. Dhaulagiri was to have been the sixth.
Despite her absences from Britain she made it a priority to stay in touch with her family and friends. She was a prolific letter writer—letters were often written in a tent from remote parts of the world. She packed activity into every available moment. Her slide shows on return from expeditions were renowned and eagerly awaited by friends and other climbers.
Her death is a huge loss to her family and many friends around the world. She will be remembered for her boundless energy, sense of fun, compassion and supreme modesty in the face of all her achievements.
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