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Doubts raised over ‘Three Cups’ author’s Himalayan climbs

BOZEMAN, Mont. — In the climbing community, serious questions are being raised about whether Greg Mortenson climbed six Himalayan peaks, as described in his bestselling book, “Three Cups of Tea.”

Jon Krakauer originally alleged in his online book, “Three Cups of Deceit,” that Mortenson, co-founder of the Central Asia Institute, may have falsely claimed to have climbed those peaks.

According to Mortenson’s book, he made “half a dozen successful Himalayan ascents,” including climbing Annapurna IV and Baruntse, before attempting to climb K2 in 1993.

But Krakauer wrote in the “Endnotes” section of his book that “There is no record in the American Alpine Journal (which meticulously documents all ascents of Annapurna IV, Baruntse and other Himalayan peaks) of Mortenson reaching the summit of, or even attempting, any Himalayan mountain prior to 1993.”

In a July 14 email to the, Chronicle, Phil Powers, executive director of the American Alpine Club, seemed to contradict Krakauer’s statement, writing that “the (journal) only records first ascents or climbs that are similarly ground-breaking so it is easy to imagine Greg making ascents not recorded there.” The, Chronicle published that account in last Sunday’s edition.

But Tuesday, Powers sent another email to the, Chronicle, asking to change his statement.

“While that is the editorial policy of the Journal today, during the years in question, 1989-1992, the editor, H. Adams Carter, attempted to document every known ascent (including guided ascents and illegal ascents) of peaks in the Nepalese Himalaya including Annapurna IV and Baruntse, the peaks Mortenson claimed to have climbed,” Powers wrote. “I am aware of other missing data from these years but the fact that there is no record in the AAJ of Mortenson climbing either of these peaks does raise serious questions.”

He also noted that Elizabeth Hawley, a meticulous Himalayan historian whose research Carter used to compile the journal, told Outside magazine that it “does not prove he didn’t go to either of these two mountains though it strongly suggests that he did not.”

Powers said he realized he needed to modify his statement after considering Carter’s policies when he was editor.

Anne Beyersdorfer, acting director of CAI, responded to Powers’ statement in an email to the, Chronicle.

“From stories I’ve heard of the situation in Nepal more than 20 years ago, after climbers completed guiding jobs it was not altogether uncommon for them to climb with local Sherpas on area peaks without obtaining a permit as a way to save money,” Beyersdorfer wrote. “So, in regards to Greg’s climbs on lesser peaks in the Nepalese Himalaya, my only response is to restate Elizabeth Hawley’s first premise ‘it does not prove he didn’t go to either of these two mountains …’ and underline that the (American Alpine Journal) acknowledges there could be missing data from those years.”

In an Aug. 18 Outside magazine story, Scott Darnsey, Mortenson’s former climbing partner, responded to a section of Krakauer’s book that said Darsney confirmed “that Mortenson had never been to the Himalaya or Karakoram before going to K2.”

“I must have misspoken, or Krakauer misheard,” Darsney wrote. “I meant the Karakoram, not the Himalaya in general. I am pretty sure that (the 1993 K2 climb) was Greg’s first trip to Pakistan, but he had told me of his past trips to Baruntse and Annapurna IV before, for sure, and at the beginning of the 1993 trip.”