3 Cups of Spilled Tea


NOTE: This blog has always focussed on descriptions of great adventure trail runs, providing uniquely excellent information intended for the accomplished runner / reader.

I’m going to broaden the scope of this blog. Prompted by the topic below, which somehow caught and held my attention, there will be more essays, equipment tips, and news.


1) Greg Mortensen is justly famous for his book, “3 Cups of Tea” (released in 2006 and selling 3 million copies) followed up by “Stones Into Schools …”. He founded the Central Asia Institute which receives donations to build schools for children in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and which during December 2010 alone, raised $8 mil. He’s famous, he’s won many awards, he’s idolized, and his book was even required reading by US Army in Afghanistan.

2) Jon Krakauer wrote a very thoroughly researched mini-book/maxi-essay, that was released at the same time as a 60 Minutes documentary. The writer and the network revealed evidence that dispelled (spilled?) some of the prime tenets of Greg and the CAI.

3) The shit then hit the fan. Big time. NPR has already done two stories and four blog posts, the NY Times has commented, Outside Mag has an exclusive interview – it’s as if Mother Teresa was caught shoplifting.

4) At first I didn’t really care – a tempest in a teapot ūüėČ – but then became shocked at the virulence and craziness of some Comments, including an editorial on Explorers Web that was a blatant vent of an old personal grudge against Jon. The “Greg is a saint, Jon is a monster” group clearly took that position without even reading what Jon wrote – an alarming style of discourse in itself.

Here are my thoughts – – –


1. Greg has good intentions, did amazing things, and deserves much credit.

2. The Mission of the CAI is terrific and needs all the support it can get.

3. The approach Greg popularized – grassroots here to grassroots there, educate the children particularly girls – is absolutely right on.


1. Greg lied about what he did.

2. A huge amount of non-profit money was misappropriated for personal use.

3. The level of dis-organization was so grievous, the work suffered and schools were not being supported.


1. There is no way the fabrications were “literary license” or “forget-fullness” (as claimed in the Outside interview).

2. Non-profit organizations must manage our donations responsibly and effectively, no matter how worthy the “cause”.


1. Some mountaineers are still pissed at Jon for his dissing of Anotoli in “Into Thin Air” – wow – an old, big, grudge.

2. Some people defend Greg while never reading Jon’s research – wow again – turns out Greg is an outstanding evangelist, and inspires blindly passionate defenders.

The first point I’d like to make: ALL of the above can be true at the same time. It’s like the person who won the MVP award may hit a lot of home runs, but that doesn’t mean you want him dating your sister. Here are my main points – – –


1. This issue should NOT be personal: pro- or anti- Greg or Jon is totally beside the point.

2. This real question is: What is best for helping children in Pakistan and Afghanistan?

3. My guess is, Greg needs to become a figurehead, a new Board needs to take control of all financial activities, the CAI and Greg’s personal accounting requires total separation, and a strong Board needs to better manage the work efforts.

4. JK chose the words of Dr Tom Hornbein to end his treatise because they summarize the situation very well:

‚ÄúMy transcendent emotional feeling is grief for the loss of what might have been.” (parts snipped) “With one hand Greg has created something potentially beautiful and caring (regardless of his motives). With the other he has¬†murdered his creation by his duplicity.‚ÄĚ

Love to hear your thoughts.

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