The Story of ‘Historical Badass’ Ned Gillette | From Skiing Earth’s Highest Summits to Being Shot to Death in Pakistan

Jesse Cassidy | ClimbingClimbing | Featured ArticleFeatured Article
Ned Gillette

August 1998, deep in the northern Pakistani controlled sector of Kashmir, Ned Gillette and his wife Olympic skier Suzy Patterson set out with the hopes of accomplishing the “trek along the flanks of Nanga Parbat (at 25,660 feet, the world’s 10th-highest mountain) and then making their way across a 16,000-foot pass at the edge of the Chogo Lungma.” An ambitious journey, to say the least. However, Gillette and his wife Patterson were accustomed to such adventures in their time, skiing, sailing, and climbing all over the globe.

Ned Gillette
Ned Gillette

On the night of August 4th, the two made camp high up in the Himalayas, made a dinner of Ramen noodles and oatmeal, stared at the moon for a bit, then crawled in their tent and fell asleep. Shortly after, in the dead of night, they were awoken to the sounds of shotgun blasts coming through their tent walls. Gillette was shot immediately, and it became clear that he and Patterson needed to get out of the tent. Unfortunately, in the process, Patterson was hit as well in the side and back.

Gilette on the left. Beer in the mountains? Genius
Gillette on the left. Beer in the mountains? Genius

Once outside, the two hid behind their packs for safety; however high in the Himalayas at that time of night, it was frigidly cold, and Patterson made a move for the tent to get her sleeping bag. Just as she did, a figure emerged from the darkness at her. Gillette seized a rock and lunged at the man forcing the attacker to retreat. The two spent the remainder of the night in their sleeping bags, comforting each other. In the morning, a man from a nearby village arrived, to which Gillette asked him to phone a helicopter for help. Unfortunately, the call was never made, the helicopter never arrived, Gillette’s breaths became labored, his heart began to slow, and on the morning of August 5th, 1998, high in the Pakistani Himalaya, the legendary Ned Gillette took his last breath and passed away, leaving behind a lifetime of amazing stories and accomplishments.

Born Edward ‘Ned’ Gillette in 1945 in Barre, Vermont, Gillette was an adventurer from the start. As captain of the Dartmouth College ski team, he became a noncompeting member of the U.S. Cross Country Ski Team at the 1968 Winter Olympics in Grenoble. He enrolled in an MBA program at the University of Colorado, where he lasted one day. In 1988 he and three others sailed the 600 miles through the Drake Passage from the tip of South America to Antarctica. In 1993 he and Patterson rode 6,000 miles on camels along the old Silk Road from China to the Mediterranean. An accomplished skier, climber, and sailor, Gillette held many records and firsts in his time…

Gillette’s extraordinary string of adventures included the first one-day ascent of Mount McKinley (in 1978, with Galen Rowell), the first American ascent of China’s 24,757-foot Muztagata (1980), and the first telemark ski descent of Argentina’s Aconcagua (1982, with his future brother-in-law). He climbed, explored, and gamboled on all seven continents while sampling liberally from a colorful smorgasbord of long-distance ski trips to places such as Alaska’s Brooks Range (1972), New Zealand’s Southern Alps (1979), and the Karakoram Range (1980). – Kevin Fedarko


I don’t undertake these things to please my fellow skiers or my fellow climbers or my fellow rowers. I do them to please myself and, I like to think, to give something back to the man in the street, the guy who sits at a desk and maybe isn’t doing what he wants with his life. If anything, I’d just like to think I remind people that it’s possible to do what you want. If adventuring is about anything, that’s what it’s about. – Ned Gillette, 1986 Outside Magazine

Ned Gilette sailing
Ned Gilette sailing

Gillette was 53 years old when a botched robbery took his life. The two men accused of the robbery and murder were detained a few days after the incident. His wife Patterson remained in the nearby village for nearly 36 hours before being driven to Gilgit and treated in a hospital. The gunshot wound left one of her lungs filled with blood and 80 wounds from buckshot in her back and side.

Wilderness Experience ad on backcover of Backerpacker Mag 1982
Wilderness Experience ad on the back cover of Backpacker Mag 1982

Patterson returned to Idaho some days later to recount and attempt to explain what had happened. Gillette and Patterson lead amazing lives, one of those lives tragically cut short. However, Gillette was larger than life and touched everyone who met him. I first learned of Gillette from my history professor Dr. Shapiro at the University of Nevada who had met Gillette on a plane to China in the ’90s and was deeply impacted by him. With an amazing personality and an extraordinary life, Gillette’s accomplishments and legacy certainly warrant the title ‘Historical Badass.’

Ned Family

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13 thoughts on “The Story of ‘Historical Badass’ Ned Gillette | From Skiing Earth’s Highest Summits to Being Shot to Death in Pakistan

  1. Here’s some information for you. I visited Ned in Stowe, Vermont in the summer of 1984 to talk with him about the project to row from Cape Horn to Antarctica. I was Managing Exec on the Assignment Adventure TV series being made in the UK for Goldcrest Films & Television. I stayed with Ned and his then gf Jan Reynolds at their home in Stowe for a couple of days (which included some mountain biking in the hills and a delightful concert at the Von Trapp Family Lodge) , then drove with Ned and the then co-venturer on the project Charlie Porter across to Maine where Sea Tomato (not called that then) was being built. They were meeting with the designer / builder. The boat was at an early stage of construction where they could check out rowing positions and design detail. (I have photos of this). The boat was being built to a high strength specification using heavy section welded aluminium plate (I was told it was a thickness used in submarines). Design was such that the boat would rapidly self right itself in any conditions. I recall the design layout was for two rowing and two resting.

    It would have been an ideal project for the Assignment Adventure TV series. Delays due to Charlie Porter dropping out of the project meant it was too late for our series. But I kept in touch. Ned eventually sent me some film of the roll-over test using a crane in the harbour. The boat flipped back upright almost instantly. I may have this footage somewhere but would have to search out. The next I heard some time much later was a phone call from Ned telling me they had done it and made the voyage to Antarctica. Of course I asked how many times they had rolled it. He modestly said ‘a few’. He also said they’d left it on the shore having stripped out the valuable bits of kit. I recall he said they got a ride home from the Chilean Airforce. Sounds like the boat is going to be a museum piece – and so it should. It was a remarkable piece of engineering, and the voyage an extraordinary endeavour and ‘first’.

    I later saw Ned when he stayed with me in London while passing through with skis (in summer !) on his way to Mt Stanley in Rwenzori mountains in Africa as part of his skiing all the continents project. Co-incidentally, and to his interest and amusement, when he turned up in London I got him to come to a press launch we were doing at No 1 Saville Row – the original historic home of the Royal Geographical Society – kicking off a project with the direct descendants of the original Amundsen and Scott South Pole expeditions being brought together for the first time – including Anne Amundsen and Falcon Scott.

    My experience is there was nothing ‘badass’ about Ned. Determined – yes. But he was a really great guy to know and is much missed.

    1. David
      Many thanks for your note. I rarely look at this media, so I missed it entirely until now. I would appreciate a chance to speak with you as we are moving ahead with the restoration in Chile and need information on its origins.

  2. Hello, I am working with the Chilean National Maritime Museum to restore Ned Gillette’s Sea Tomato. Anything you can tell me about its construction, design, history, etc would be greatly appreciated.

  3. I arrived in Yosemite in 1974 after the US Post Office started imploding from extremely incompetent mgmt and $4.22 low pay SJ carriers.
    The loved and respected Curry Family had sold the Concession business to LA’s MCA, and big changes were brewing. I was folding “Go Climb a Rock” T-shirts at the arsoned old Curry Mountain Shop and Ned was next door at the Yosemite Mountaineering School, shining like a Star of a human being. The pay was low, the work challenging with all the climber thefts, so I decided to stay in the boinker-shared tent in the apple trees and nightly car door ripping autumn black bears SE corner of the parking lot.
    Ned and Bev Johnson and Craig Patterson would take us neighbors out for free XC ski lessons, after work. The vitality, kindness, generosity, enthusiasm, sophistication, no fluff and athletic prowess of this guy was extremely rare, like my Dad, one of the early famous Navy Officer frogmen who could swim at night to an enemy held island with only a knife, scout, and swim back out at night to a submarine! No problem. Alone. Defuse a new unknown enemy torpedo on a beach in New Guinea! Easy. Be a famous Boy Scout Troop leader changing so many lives. Love to! For FREE. These people are so rare and worth a score more of greedy IPO founders.
    I didn’t know Ned as well as I might, but there was absolutely nothing to dislike about his constantly cheery attitude faced with challenge and misfortune. What a man.

  4. In the summer of 1985 Ned was living in Falmouth, Massachusetts on Cape Cod, working on the boat that he would attempt to row from Cape Horn to Antarctica. He was a family friend and I visited him that summer while he was working on his big red boat and I remember him as being warm, open and inviting to this curious teenager.

  5. Ned started the Badger Pass ski races at Yosemite in 1970, which we regularly attended. Recently, we found that the races continue until this day. Sadly, no one we talked to at the Badger Pass ski area today knew of Ned Gillette, although there is a small area of the ski center that displays historical “artifacts” from the early days of the race. We plan to put together a small memorial to Ned to deliver upon our next visit.

    1. Ned was one of the more remarkable of the x-c guides of the Yosemite Mountaineering School. My memory of the race is- He had a buddy from the Olympic team join him (Jim?), and they cruised through in the lead by a large margin- side-by-side, chatting, seemingly effortless, out for a fun afternoon. It was so noteworthy because they made it look SO EASY! It was a fun day, made all the more so by seeing them out for a fun glide.

  6. Ned was from my same hometown and he definitely inspired me to move west and live the life I do now, so I am very grateful for his time here and what he gave tot he climbing and skiing community. RIP

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