The Three Cups of Tea Controversy Continues

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.

Kraig Becker

7 thoughts on “The <i>Three Cups of Tea</i> Controversy Continues”

  1. Probably, most stories, accounts, "first ascents", summit claims, speed records, etc etc, made by mountaineers, even very reputable ones, are very possibly and probably fraudulent. I mean – those lacking simple witnesses, necessary photos (summit), timers (speed records), etc. Sadly. Probably much of the solo, witnessed history of mountaineering is fraudulent.

    Re Liz Hawley
    "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!"
    She (her company email address does not credit Pemba Dorji with the current Everest record (8 hours 10 minutes). Yet, he is credited by most major media and the Guinness Book.

  2. It is a bit of hyperbole on my part of course. Thats what writers do from time to time. But Miss Hawley is recognized as the preeminent authority on climbing in the HImalaya.

  3. This was reported by Outside Magazine as well, put with different words; I can't find the quote but I belive it's at the below link.

    "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!"

    Could you write her and ask her opinion of Pemba Dorji's speed record? I think you'd find her reply interesting and worth of reporting. You'd lead the way with reporting this. Others have ignored it. Why? Important to ask, I think?

  4. I'm not sure I have an e-mail address for her, but if I can find one, I will drop her a note.

    I'm curious as to why she wouldn't recognize the climb either. Do you have a link to anything she has said or done on it?

  5. This is her office email address in Nepal.
    and her colleagues email address (often useful to ensure she received it)

    She said she has written about this issue in her Himalayan Database
    I think it's a written chronicle rather than a website. I believe she has a "dispute" section and the details.

    Her email from last year:

    Date: Sun, May 9, 2010 at 3:45 AM
    Subject: Mail from Elizabeth Hawley

    As to Pemba Dorje's Everest claim in May 2004, if you look in "The Himalayan Database; The Expedition Archives of Elizabeth Hawley", you will see that we give him no credit for his incorrect speed claim. (Incidentally, he was sent to jail in 2006 on charges of fraud in regard to some kind of business transaction.) We credit Lhakpa Gelu with the fastest ascent in 2004.


    Elizabeth Hawley

  6. I've read this and I don't know what I believe. I have known Authors to stretch the truth now and then to get better ratings and I wonder how often we do the same in everyday life.

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