Please note: you will need to substitute some colors.
When Pete told my husband Doug and me about L.L. Bean sponsoring the
Russian, American and Chinese Earth Day climb up Mt. Everest in 1990, we
decided to design and manufacture a sweater to present to Bean's to
commemorate the event. Supplying a finished knitted item to a store was new
We always wondered if we were given the order because Doug and I had a car
accident during a snowstorm on the way to our appointment with the Bean's
buyer. I think she took pity on us when we showed up with blood down the
front of my shirt, stitches in my forehead, and hobbling in on crutches. It
was a relatively small order, around 300 hand-knit sweaters, to be delivered
no later than April 22, 1990 and sold only in their Freeport store.
Everyone had to scramble to get the required amount of wool dyed and spun
for a quick delivery to Haiti. An eleventh hour pickup at the spinnery in
New Hampshire, yet another car accident, this time involving a deer on a
midnight drive to the dye house in Rhode Island, and all the time keeping
fingers crossed that everything would make it through customs in Port au
Meanwhile Jim Whittaker, the first American to summit Mt. Everest in 1963,
was busy 11,000 km. away preparing to lead the Earth Day expedition.
"We had the best climbers we could find. I picked all the Americans--guides
who had led people up mountains before. The condition was that they couldn't
stand on the summit unless they had two people with them--a Soviet and a
Chinese. So I picked some people that were used to looking after others, as
compared to an elitist climber who is just looking after himself. We needed
I decided to accompany the yarn to its destination and it was a crazy time
down in Haiti while I was there. President Aristide was in exile in France
and his close supporters, one of whom was Jean Robert, the person with whom
I was staying, was in communication with Aristide trying to drum up support
from some other countries to help reinstall him as Haiti's leader. At the
same time he was helping me work with the women knitters. Phones were
tapped, and I was told that someone they worked closely with had been
murdered a few weeks earlier. It was very stressful.
"The Soviets went through 400 climbers. They had speed trials and whittled
it down to their best. All those the Chinese picked had been over 8,000
meters (26,000 feet). But I told them no one should have gone to the summit
(previously), because I didn't want it to look like one nation was leading
the other nations up. Of the whole team, I was the only one who had been to
the summit. So they wanted it badly and the teamwork was great."
There was a situation one morning that made me fear I would die there in a
car bomb blast. All I could think about was getting the women into
production on the sweaters, and getting back to Maine safely so I could
raise my two babies who were only two and three years old. I felt like a bit
of a coward, but I asked Doug to change my flight so I could leave a week
early. If I hadn't, it turns out I would have been stuck down there because
there was another coup the following week.
From May 6-9, 1990 , five Americans, eight Soviets and seven Chinese from
Whittaker's group reached the top. One, Ekaterina Ivanova, was the first
Soviet woman to do it. Another Chinese, Jia Tsuo, came close but had to turn
back with frostbitten feet."
"We took our enemies: two Chinese, two Soviets and with two Americans, we
put them on the summit of summits, showing the world what could be done
through friendship and cooperation," he says.
I was trying to be sympathetic about the seriousness of their political
situation, but also wanted to fulfill the contract with Bean's on time. We
had kept the store appraised of the situation during this time of unexpected
upheaval. They appreciated our effort but made it clear that if the sweaters
were not in Freeport by the contract date that the order would be voided.
But thanks to the extraordinary effort of the Haitian women knitters and
Peace Fleece supporters the sweaters were delivered with minutes to spare."
Both Everest and Haiti continue to be in the press but not always with the
best of news. It was a special moment back in 1990 when two small groups of
people, thousands of miles apart, worked together to make the world a better
place. We will always be grateful to the Haitian people for their
extraordinary effort in what continues to be a prolonged period of struggle