On May 29, 1953, Edmund Hillary summited Mount Everest with Sherpa Tenzing Norgay. Helping keep Hillary warm at the subzero altitude was a sweater knit by T. M. Adie & Sons, a woolen goods company in the Shetland Islands, northeast of mainland Scotland.
Shetland wool, known for its light weight, heat retention, and softness, comes from Shetland sheep, a native breed. The Everest sweater had been made by island craftsmen, who used a special two-ply yarn spun from the sheep’s ultrafine neck wool.
I learn this at the Shetland Museum, in Lerwick. “You’ve come at the wrong time,” chides the curator. I’ve arrived in the off-season, when Shetland dances through moody weather and dawn glimmers into day around 10 a.m. This only draws me to the textiles exhibit, with its classic Shetland sweaters, including beautifully patterned Fair Isle sweaters from the most remote inhabited Shetland island.
Now I want one, so I head over to Anderson’s, “the Shetland Warehouse,” where I pick a charcoal gray sweater. I slip the soft wool over my head and pull. The sweater hugs me like a sock. “That’s the kind they wore on Everest,” says the saleslady. Though the air outside is a cool 45° F, I feel toasty warm.
This piece, written by Traveler’s Digital Nomad, Andrew Evans, appeared in the December 2013/January 2014 issue of the magazine. Follow Andrew’s travels on Twitter@WheresAndrew.