So this is a confession: Rather than simply reporting on his progress, I want to see Greg Mortenson succeed. I wish him success because he is fighting the war on terror the way I think it should be conducted. Slamming over the so-called Karakoram "Highway" in his old Land Cruiser, taking great personal risks to seed the region that gave birth to the Taliban with schools, Mortenson goes to war with the root causes of terror every time he offers a student a chance to receive a balanced education, rather than attend an extremist madrassa.
If we Americans are to learn from our mistakes, from the flailing, ineffective way we, as a nation, conducted the war on terror after the attacks of 9/11, and from the way we have failed to make our case to the great moderate mass of peace-loving people at the heart of the Muslim world, we need to listen to Greg Mortenson. I did, and it has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.
David Oliver Relin, Portland, Oregon
When it is dark enough, you can see the stars.
In Pakistan's Karakoram, bristling across an area barely one
hundred miles wide, more than sixty of the world's tallest mountains lord their
severe alpine beauty over a witnessless high-altitude wilderness. Other than
snow leopard and ibex, so few living creatures have passed through this barren
icescape that the presence of the world's second-highest mountain, K2, was
little more than a rumor to the outside world until the turn of the twentieth
Flowing down from K2 toward the populated upper reaches of the Indus Valley, between the four fluted granite spires of the Gasherbrums and the lethal-looking daggers of the Great Trango Towers, the sixty-two-kilometer-long Baltoro Glacier barely disturbs this still cathedral of rock and ice. And even the motion of this frozen river, which drifts at a rate of four inches a day, is almost undetectable.
On the afternoon of September 2, 1993, Greg Mortenson felt as if he were scarcely traveling any faster. Dressed in a much-patched set of mud-colored shalwar kamiz, like his Pakistani porters, he had the sensation that his heavy black leather mountaineering boots were independently steering him down the Baltoro at their own glacial speed, through an armada of icebergs arrayed like the sails of a thousand ice-bound ships.
At any moment, Mortenson expected to find Scott Darsney, a fellow member of his expedition, with whom he was hiking back toward civilization, sitting on a boulder, teasing him for walking so slowly. But the upper Baltoro is more maze than trail. Mortenson hadn't yet realized that he was lost and alone. He'd strayed from the main body of the glacier to a side spur that led not westward, toward Askole, the village fifty miles farther on, where he hoped to find a jeep driver willing to transport him out of these mountains, but south, into an impenetrable maze of shattered icefall, and beyond that, the high-altitude killing zone where Pakistani and Indian soldiers lobbed artillery shells at one another through the thin air.
Ordinarily Mortenson would have paid more attention. He would have focused on life-and-death information like the fact that Mouzafer, the porter who had appeared like a blessing and volunteered to haul his heavy bag of climbing gear, was also carrying his tent and nearly all of his food and kept him in sight. And he would have paid more mind to the overawing physicality of his surroundings.
In 1909, the duke of Abruzzi, one of the greatest climbers of his day, and perhaps his era's most discerning connoisseur of precipitous landscapes, led an Italian expedition up the Baltoro for an unsuccessful attempt at K2. He was stunned by the stark beauty of the encircling peaks. "Nothing could compare to this in terms of alpine beauty," he recorded in his journal. "It was a world of glaciers and crags, an incredible view which could satisfy an artist just as well as a mountaineer."
From Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson. Copyright Greg Mortenson 2005. All rights reserved. Reproduced by permission of Viking Press.
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