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.
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.
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
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.
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.’