- 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.
in-depth analysis of Greg Mortenson.
- 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.
in-depth analysis of Haji Ali.
- 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.
in-depth analysis of Jean Hoerni.
- 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
in-depth analysis of Tara Bishop.
- 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.
- 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
- 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
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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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.