Image by Greg Mortenson courtesy Greg Mortenson, SOURCE
Editorial: Three Cups of Tea and Krakauer's Beef

Posted: Apr 18, 2011 03:36 pm EDT

(By Tina Sjogren) Greg Mortenson has spent most of his life building schools in Pakistan. In areas where many women are still hidden top-to-toe in large chunks of cloth and kept to do domestic chores behind shut doors, Greg dared the unthinkable: he built schools for girls.

The American climber knew that educated people are strong people and obviously caught a lot of heat for his agenda. But also respect, not the least locally. Greg's story was made famous in the book "Three Cups of Tea" and he is one of the very few foreigners to have received the Sitar-e-Pakistan award.

At ExplorersWeb we set eyes on Greg years before New York Times made him a celebrity. His courage impressed us. Weary of countless false to downright shameless adventure charities, to us Greg was the rare real gem. Hard to track down and not very keen on publicity, with time though Greg occasionally wrote current stories for us from Pakistan.

Greg's fearlessness showed in many ways. Never afraid to alienate power, in relation to the Pakistan Earthquake, he released just one of the truths many of us know but rarely say out loud: "Most of the western media stays at five star hotels in Islamabad," Greg reported at ExplorersWeb, "and go out for an hour or two for a dispatch and back to the hotel, or uses stringers to get information, which is not a reliable, accurate depiction of the true scale of this."

Now compare Greg's story to another American bestseller: Jon Krakauer.

In 1996, the adventure reporter climbed Mount Everest as client in Rob Hall's pricey commercial outfit. Tragedy struck and made Krakauer famous in his book "In To Thin Air."

Back then, commercial outfits were just budding amid independent climbers on the peak, such as legendary Russian mountaineer Anatoli Boukreev. One of the few heroes during the horrifying night, unable to get much help from others in place, Anatoli marched out of high camp again and again, in an effort to save stranded people. Out of inexperience perhaps, Krakauer described Boukreev in an unflattering way and had to apologize. But Anatoli was not the only one.

Another accused mountaineer, Makalu Ming-Ho Gau, described Krakauer's account as biased and contradictory. I havent given any kind of interview to Jon Krakauer, and the way he has portrayed Taiwanese climbers as incompetent and inexperienced is absolutely false, Makalu told reporters a decade later.

So how does Krakauer connect with Mortenson?

In a 60 minutes video (embed not allowed at this time) it is alleged that Greg's story in "Three Cups of Tea" is exaggerated. Further, his finances are reportedly a mess and some of his schools are either not built or used for other purposes. The news clip implies that Mortenson is enriching himself on his charity, which Krakauer calls "a beautiful story, but a lie."

The newscast speaks of private jets although we have yet to spot Greg in fancy mansions and fast cars. Perhaps the passionate empath should be kept book touring and the $20 million charity should have someone else in accounting. Yet even Krakauer admits that Mortenson "is not a Bernie Madoff" and so the question is what Krakauer's beef is with Mortenson in an adventure world of much uglier (although granted, scarier) fish to fry.

"No good deed shall go unpunished," goes the saying. There will probably be more to this story.

Co-founder of ExplorersWeb Tina Sjogren was one of the survivors on Everest in 1996. She says that Anatoli Boukreev came into her camp 2 expedition kitchen tent shortly after the disaster, weeping. "What's the matter, we asked?" To which Boukreev replied, "I should have done more."

Related links:

Greg replies to accusations

Everest 2007: Makalu Ming-Ho Gau looking back in anger.

Previous - Greg Mortenson's heads-up on Teru Kuwayama's accident.

Greg Mortenson - Pakistan update post Bhutto assasination.

Greg Mortenson on Pakistan Earthquake: Important to not rely on media wires.

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