Biography of Greg Mortenson

Born in Rochester, Minnesota in 1957, Greg Mortenson spent much of his childhood living in Tanzania with his family. He graduated from high school in Minnesota and subsequently enlisted in the United States Army for two years. He served in Germany and was awarded the Army Commendation Medal. In 1983, Mortenson graduated from the University of South Dakota.

Growing up in Tanzania near Mt. Kilimanjaro, Mortenson developed an interest in mountaineering at a young age. After he returned to the United States and graduated from college, Mortenson worked extra shifts to save money for expeditions. He also took his sister, Christa, who was developmentally disabled, on a trip each year. When Christa died on her 23rd birthday hours before leaving on a trip, Mortenson pledged to honor her memory by bringing a piece of her jewelry to the top of K2, the most difficult mountain to climb in the world. Mortenson traveled to Pakistan in 1993 to begin his expedition.

More than two months into his climb, Mortenson and four other climbers aided in a rescue mission of a fifth climber. After the rescue mission, Mortenson became separated from the group, lost and alone. He stumbled upon the village of Korphe, populated by people of the Balti ethnic group, and was taken in by village chief Haji Ali. Ali and his family cared for Mortenson as he convalesced.

It is here that the controversy surrounding Mortenson's career begins. In Three Cups of Tea, Mortenson writes that on this trip into Korphe, he was struck by the village's desperate poverty. According to the memoir, he pledged before he left Korphe for the first time that he would come back and build a school for the village children. However, several years after the memoir's publication, Mortenson stated in an interview with The Bozeman Daily Chronicle that his co-author, David Oliver Relin, had taken liberties with Mortenson's story when writing Three Cups of Tea, condensing several trips to Korphe into one.

Mortenson returned to the United States to begin raising money for the school in Korphe. It was not until a brief article about Mortenson and his project was published that he made a true breakthrough. His story came to the attention of physicist, mountaineer, philanthropist, and millionaire Dr. Jean Hoerni. Hoerni funded the Korphe school project, and helped Mortenson found the Central Asia Institute, naming Mortenson the Executive Director.

The Central Asia Institute, under Greg Mortenson's leadership, mapped out the villages in Pakistan most in need of schools. Mortenson noted areas in which militant fundamentalists and the Taliban were indoctrinating children.

After the school in Korphe was completed in 1996, Mortenson returned to the United States to share the news with Dr. Hoerni, who made a final generous donation shortly before his death. Upon receiving this funding, Mortenson was able to begin constructing other schools in Pakistan.

After the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 that killed thousands of Americans, Mortenson struggled to find American support for educating Muslim children in Pakistan. But in 2003, a cover story in Parade magazine drew in many donations for Mortenson and the Central Asia Institute. With steady and plentiful funds, Mortenson was able to expand his efforts into Afghanistan as well.

Since its founding, the Central Asia Institute has established and supported approximately 170 schools in Afghanistan and Pakistan, educating nearly 60,000 children, 75 percent of whom are girls. Mortenson has received many accolades for his work, including the American Peace Award and honorary degrees from 16 universities. His two books, Three Cups of Tea and Stones into Schools, were New York Times Bestsellers, the former winning many prizes including Time Magazine Asia Book of the Year.

In 2011, a series of allegations against Mortenson, his books, and the Central Asia Institute emerged. In April of that year, CBS News program 60 Minutes released a segment challenging several of Mortenson's claims. Most controversial were claims that Mortenson treated the Central Asia Institute as his personal bank account, and that the CAI fabricated many of its claims about its projects. Steve Kroft, CBS correspondent, alleged that several of the schools that the Central Asia Institute claimed to have built were not actually constructed, used for purposes other than schools, abandoned, or not financially supported by the CAI.

The day after the 60 Minutes piece aired on television, mountaineer and writer Jon Krakauer released an article online entitled Three Cups of Deceit: How Greg Mortenson, Humanitarian Hero, Lost His Way. Krakauer leveled allegations similar to those in the 60 Minutes piece. Krakauer primarily criticized Mortenson's handling of the finances of the Central Asia Institute.

Over the next year and a half, Mortenson came under fire and was investigated by the Montana Attorney General. Eventually, because of the mishandled finances of the Central Asia Institute, Mortenson left his post as Executive Director and paid the CAI restitution of over $1 million.

Mortenson currently resides in Bozeman, Montana with his wife, Tara, and two daughters, Amira and Khyber.

Study Guides on Works by David Oliver Relin