Greg Mortenson

co-author of the book, co-founder of the Central Asia Institute, and noted humanitarian. Mortenson receives help from Pakistani villagers when he becomes lost after a failed mountaineering expedition. He vows to repay them by building a school in the village. Mortenson fulfills the promise after meeting many challenges, and over the next ten years he carries out a wide variety of projects in Pakistan. He gains worldwide renown for his humanitarian efforts.

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Haji Ali

village chief of Korphe and one of those who inspired Mortenson’s mission. Mortenson stays in Haji’s home on his trips to Korphe, and over time Haji explains the customs of his people, helping Mortenson to a better understanding of human relationships. Haji shows his commitment to educating the children of his village when he pays a bribe of twelve valuable rams to a nearby chief in order to ensure construction of the Korphe school.

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Jean Hoerni

a successful scientist, avid mountain climber, and philanthropist who endows the CAI. Hoerni funds Mortenson’s first project to build a school in Korphe, then helps Mortenson found the CAI, providing an endowment of $1 million. When Hoerni becomes ill with cancer, Mortenson brings him pictures of the Korphe school and personally cares for him during his final hospitalization.

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Tara Bishop

the daughter of a noted climber who falls in love with Mortenson and becomes an important part of his mission. Tara is a psychology graduate student when she meets Mortenson at an American Himalayan Foundation dinner. She is instantly attracted to him. They marry six days later and subsequently have two children. Tara maintains the family home in Montana while Mortenson travels on CAI business.

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Faisal Baig

a Wakhi tribesman who becomes Mortenson’s bodyguard. Baig guides George McCown on a climbing trip, during which he meets Mortenson. Over time Baig takes on personal responsibility for Mortenson’s safety in Pakistan. The CAI carries out several projects in Baig’s home village, and Mortenson and McCown are visiting there when Baig brings them news of the 9/11 terrorist attack.

George McCown

an American mountain climber who first meets Mortenson in Korphe by accident and later becomes a crucial supporter. McCown joins Jean Hoerni in offering Mortenson a salary for his work in Pakistan. Later, his wife, Karen, who is the founder of a charter school in the Bay Area, becomes a member of the CAI’s board of directors. McCown is on a visit to Kuardu with Mortenson when the 9/11 terrorist attacks occur.


Twaha’s daughter and Haji Ali’s granddaughter. She becomes one of the Korphe school’s best students and is among the first to receive a CAI scholarship for further study. She inspires Kevin Fedarko to write about Mortenson’s work in Parade Magazine when she speaks out during one of Mortenson’s speeches, showing a boldness not typical of women in the region. Jahan explains to Mortenson that education has given her confidence, and she expands her goals from becoming a health care worker to becoming a medical administrator. She wants to become a “superlady” who can inspire other women.

Ali Changazi

a Pakistani broker who both helps and hinders Mortenson’s mission. Changazi is a local “operator” who takes advantage of Mortenson’s naiveté on several occasions. Mortenson initially believes Changazi is trustworthy because he has organized K2 expeditions. However, Changazi tries to pressure Mortenson into building a school in his own village instead of Korphe. Mortenson obtains help from the well-connected Changazi to secure the bridge materials, but later learns that Changazi has stolen some of the building supplies stored for the Korphe school.

Ghulam Parvi

a Pakistani accountant who becomes one of Mortenson’s most able representatives. In addition to his business skills, Parvi is a respected Shiite scholar who aids Mortenson in navigating religious matters and conflicts.

Syed Abbas

a conservative Shiite cleric who is instrumental in lifting the fatwa against Mortenson. Syed Abbas comes to respect Mortenson’s work, and the two collaborate on a project to provide water for a large refugee encampment. Syed offers condolences and apologies from the Muslim people in a speech after 9/11. Mortenson describes Syed Abbas as an example of the moderate center of Islam.

Julia Bergman

Jennifer Wilson’s sister and a librarian who selects the books for the CAI curriculum. Bergman visits the school in Korphe by chance and sees the name of her brother-in-law, Jean Hoerni, on a sign there, then later meets Mortenson and joins the board of directors at the CAI. She selects culturally appropriate books for the Institute’s schools. After 9/11, she goes to Afghanistan with Mortenson to bring supplies for schools.

Mohammed Aslam Khan

leader of the Hushe Valley who persuades Mortenson to build a school in his village. As a boy, Aslam was sent by his father downriver on a raft to attend the nearest school, and after graduation, he was offered a government post. Instead, he returned to his village to improve the quality of life there. Aslam recognizes that his daughter Shakeela is very gifted and he is eager for her to be educated. He is also interested in art and designs the Hushe school, which is adorned with colorful decorations.

Mouzafer Ali

a Balti man who helps Mortenson survive after his failed climb and later becomes a part of his mission. Mouzafer is a highly skilled guide who is modest about his accomplishments. He assists Mortenson on his descent, carrying his pack and watching him carefully. Mouzafer is later employed by the CAI, and when Mortenson learns that Mouzafer’s health is failing, he rushes to build a school for Mouzafer’s village.

Abdul Shah

a hotel watchman who aids Mortenson in bargaining for supplies to build the Korphe school. Abdul meets Mortenson during his first stay in Rawalpindi and becomes the first of many Pakistanis to spontaneously offer him assistance. Abdul teaches Mortenson how to negotiate in Pakistan and also helps him to get new clothes made.


Mohammed Aslam Khan’s daughter, who attends the CAI school in Hushe and goes on to further study. Her father supports her education, even though most people in the area do not approve of schooling for girls. Shakeela’s success brings pride to her village and changes its attitude toward educating women.

Sir Edmund Hillary

the first man to reach the top of Mt. Everest, and an inspiration to Mortenson. Hillary made the ascent of Everest in 1953 with his Nepalese guide Tenzin Norgay. He later honored the people he met in Nepal during the historic climb by funding schools and medical clinics in the remote region. Hillary speaks at an American Himalayan Foundation dinner attended by Mortenson, and Mortenson has an opportunity to meet the man he has admired since childhood.