Over the past couple of weeks, the controversy surrounding Three Cups of Tea author Greg Mortenson has continued to roll through the mountaineering community and beyond. It all started when 60 Minutes ran an expose on Mortenson, alleging that he fabricated sections of his bestselling book and that there were major questions about how he ran his charitable organization, the Central Asia Institute. In that piece, author Jon Krakauer spoke out about Mortenson, and published his own story entitled Three Cups of Deceit.
A few days later, Mortenson gave an exclusive interview with Outside Magazine in which he admitted that he had exaggerated certain areas of his book for dramatic purposes, but he stuck by the main themes and elements of the story, in which he says that on a 1993 expedition to climb K2, he became lost in the Himalaya and wandered into the town of Korphe.
He originally claimed that he was injured and needed assistance, and spent several days there before being helped on his way. The villagers supposedly helped him to get well and then find his way home. The story goes that Mortenson was so moved by their generosity that he vowed to return and repay their kindness by building a school for the children there. That would be the origin of CAI, an organization that would go on to build dozens of schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
But in the interview with Outside, Mortenson says that he actually only spent 2 or 3 hours in the village, and caught up with the rest of his team later. That was later confirmed by another member of the team. But now, Outside has further evidence to suggest that Mortenson wasn’t even near Korphe as he says he was, further calling into doubt his recollection of events. These new allegations were published yesterday in another blog post on Outside Online.
Worse yet, Outside has failed to find any evidence that Mortenson had any kind of mountaineering background before heading to K2, a peak that is so difficult and deadly to climb that it has the nickname of “The Savage Mountain.” Mortenson claims that he has climbed a half-dozen Himalayan peaks, but there is little evidence, beyond a trek to Island Peak, that he has ever done so. Even the esteemed Miss Elizabeth Hawley, the keeper of all the records dealing with the Himalaya, has no account of Mortenson reaching the summit of any of the mountains there. And as we all know, if Miss Hawley doesn’t say you’ve climbed in the Himalaya, then you haven’t climbed in the Himalaya!
All of this may seem like small potatoes when it comes to some of the other big stories taking place around the world, but Mortenson is a guy who has built his reputation, not to mention his fortune, around the stories about his experiences in the mountains of Pakistan. Many people have donated money to his organization based on those stories, and the belief in this man. With more allegations against Mortenson coming to light, one has to wonder how far the deceit actually goes.