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Rob Hall Memorial, Thukla Pass, Khumbu Nepal
Krakauer, author of the best-selling Into the Wild, has no doubt that Scott Fischer died because he was exhausted from guiding amateur climbers. Rob Hall clearly died in the act of rescuing his amateur client. But Pittman maintains that there were no heroes that night, that the guides were just doing their jobs, what they were paid to do. You learn to operate within a client framework, which is that other people are going to haul your loads, other people are going to look after you.
As the controversy grew heated, veteran climbers tried to make the point that the essence of mountaineering has always been self-reliance, consideration for others, character, and integrity. One fellow climber suggests that, even at the time of her departure, Pittman was still reeling from the shock, that she had been truly humbled by the ferocity of the mountain. A New Zealand guide who had climbed with her in the past laughed. Sobered, maybe. Very rich, very spoiled. We had agreed to meet for a drink.
A striking brunette who looks like a muscular version of Jacqueline Onassis, the 5-footinch Pittman is among the mightiest of women, and her personality is as formidable as her physique. Formally introducing herself as Sandy Hill Pittman, she encases my hand in a crushing grip worthy of Paul Bunyan. Wearing a beige suede safari jacket belted over black pants, she looks healthy if a bit thinner than usual. Her fingers appear normal, but she says she has several broken ribs and is suffering from pleurisy. Tied around her neck is a narrow red string necklace blessed by a lama and presented to climbers in a puja ceremony. It seems to bring no peace. She is extremely keyed up and highly animated. The New York Post had bannered her epic in bold type: N. Even the reticent New York Times had slipped in a dig.
She is miffed, and perhaps justifiably, that conquering Everest has not been sufficient to retire her reputation as a couture-clad party girl, and she bristles at the slightest suggestion that she might have inspired any of the unflattering ink. Nor can she comprehend the derision engendered by her colorful electronic journal entries, which alternately described the rigors of trekking in Nepal and the de rigueur luxuries of life in New York. After talking on background for more than an hour, Pittman declines a formal interview. She says the subject is still too private and painful. When I point out that she is typing as fast as she can to finish her book, and note that she is planning a Vogue piece and has already given several very public interviews to NBC, her hazel eyes turn hard.
Abruptly glancing at her watch, she announces another pressing engagement and exits hurriedly with the disdainful air of one convinced that her experience above the clouds is beyond the comprehension of those permanently relegated to existence at sea level. Though she is far from callous, and her grief for Scott Fischer and the others is obviously quite real, Sandy Pittman is genuinely mystified and hurt that she has not gotten a more triumphant welcome on returning home. She sees motherhood her own way. She misses signs that she rubs people the wrong way. It is also true that Pittman inspires much jealousy around town. Who can relate to that? Who can pitch in and talk to her about climbing K2 at a dinner party?
She is unique. Pittman has plenty of admirers, and her close circle of female friends includes lifestyle guru Martha Stewart and socialites Blaine Trump, Nina Griscom, Sharon Hoge, and Katherine Sailor. Hoge and Sailor, however, did hike partway up Everest. Trump says they all felt utterly confident with Pittman as their fearless leader. I can handle pounds over my shoulder. In the end, Pittman left the surgery to a doctor. During a day hike, Sailor fell over backward and gashed her head. The women had to walk three hours to the next camp, where a doctor, with only a hut as a hospital, put in six stitches. From the beginning, she was a large presence on the mountain.
Most of the climbers at Base Camp had read enough to know she was the glamorous, soon-to-be-ex wife of a multimillionaire. But she tended to advertise her wealth, and she made no secret of the fact that she was friends with the powerful. When she celebrated her birthday shortly after arriving, one of her E-mail greetings was from Martha Stewart. Everyone was also acutely aware of whose tents shook at night, and who had slept with whom in the past. People are still talking about the first time she arrived, in , with her son, then nine, and a nanny. This time, Pittman attempted to climb the Kangshung Face, technically the most difficult ascent. She spent thousands of dollars to hire four of the best climbers in the world, but in the end they were turned back because of bad weather.
Pittman was so frustrated, she tore a Kieselstein-Cord gold cross with semiprecious stones off her neck and hurled it into the wild blue yonder, much to the horror of the Sherpas, who watched what to them was a small fortune disappear. Steve Swenson, one of the expert climbers with her on the Kangshung Face, defends Pittman and argues she has become too easy a target. There is a long history of wealthy amateurs who are passionate about climbing, including Texas financier and oilman Dick Bass and the late Disney president Frank Wells, who co-authored Seven Summits with Rick Ridgeway. Neither ever presented himself as anything but a beginner, and each gave full credit to his guides.
Climbing is meant to be elemental, simplistic—you are meant to respect the dangers and the environment. A movable circus is not what it is meant to be. Before they left for Nepal, Pittman wrote everyone on the team and told them about her NBC deal and invited them to participate. Most declined; this is precisely the kind of thing that they go to the mountains to get away from. Not Pittman. To maintain the NBC Web site, she would rise at in the morning, and often be there working at at night, diligently keeping the journal entries up-to-date and holding chat sessions on-line with New York luminaries such as novelist Jay McInerney.
Pittman was by far the busiest camper. Scott Fischer was floored by her announcement, just two days before their summit bid, when everyone was lying low, that she was meeting two friends for lunch in Pheriche. Hoge and Sailor had showed up with 20 Sherpas in tow and linen tablecloths in their little trekking tent. So, instead of resting with her teammates, Pittman hiked five hours down the mountain, stopping on the way to do an interview with the Today show.
She seemed happy to drop everything and play Himalayan hostess, even leaving notes of introduction for her friends on parchment from the exclusive stationer Mrs. John L. All of this was happening at a time when even the strongest climbers on her team were resting. They would be so blown away by what they saw that they would go back to New York and spread the gospel about Sandy Hill Pittman. She had grown up in the foothills of Northern California, and as a girl walked the mountains with her father. At 10, she started going on camping trips. As a chubby adolescent, she opted for backpacking over the beach and worked as a junior ski-mountaineering guide in Yosemite.
She spent summers white-water rafting, kayaking, and climbing. They eventually transferred to U. They split a year later. Pittman moved to New York and got a job at Bonwit Teller. Climbing took a backseat to her career. In , at age 24, she married Bob Pittman. They had met on a flight to Los Angeles and, according to a story they have often told, were in love before they landed. As fate would have it, the plane was diverted to San Francisco, so Sandy took him home to meet her parents. When they arrived to find her folks out of town, they reportedly made passionate love on the living-room floor. Green Building Council was granted for the design, construction, and operation of the offices for our manufacturing plant in Guilford County, North Carolina.
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