For his solo, express new route on Cho Oyu, Pavle Kozjek was chosen as the best climber of the year by the crowds attending the Piolet dâOr awards. But the climb was only one part of his popularity: Where most climbers whisper about the fate of Tibet, few will risk their permits to speak up.
When China denied the incident, Pavle made international news as the first to submit images of Chinese soldiers killing refugees at Nangpa La. A nation of Tibetans expressed their gratitude.
ExplorersWeb selected Pavle's action, combined with his climb, as the Best of ExplorersWeb in 2006. Today, Pavle reveals more details on the events, and gives some clues about why he was the first to tell the world - while others remained silent.
ExplorersWeb: You were the first climber to submit images of the killings. Why do you think nobody else did? In fact, even comments were scarce in the days after the events. Why do you think there was such silence right after the shootings took place?
Pavle: I think that there were not many climbers who decided to take photos. It was not really easy to come close with a camera, even though soldiers were not so careful. I had a good camera with X10 optical zoom and image stabilizer, so I could take pictures from a far distance. Another reason was probably leaders of commercial expeditions â who surely didn't like to do anything against their business â guiding clients. I don't know exactly, but the majority of teams at the BC were guided.
ExplorersWeb: How did the climbers on the spot react to the shootings â did anyone try to help the remaining refugees? How was the border troops' attitude toward the climbers?
Pavle: At the time of the shootings most of them were (like me) still in tents. Only teams from the lower part of the BC could see what was really going on. One of them was a Romanian expedition, who recorded video footage of the incident. They also helped one of the refugees hide in their camp, as it was reported later. I don't know about the others.
The troops, as far I could see, were more or less ignoring the climbers. They didn't seem to be hostile. I saw an officer asking one of the climbers for binoculars. He was friendly.
ExplorersWeb: How did you feel setting off from BC on a summit push right after having witnessed these shootings?
Pavle: Well, rather shattered. We couldn't imagine that such things could happen, and in front of so many witnesses. The fact that we were mentally completely ready and prepared for the wall already before the accident helped us a lot.
ExplorersWeb: Do you think the images you sent will get you into trouble if you decide to climb again in Tibet or the rest of China?
Pavle: I didn't check, but I think that China is closed for me. Even If they let me in, I'd be worried about getting out. Although I climbed all Tibetan 8000s I'm kind of sorry for that: In general I like the people and the country, but I can't agree with treating their own citizens like that...
ExplorersWeb: Several voices last year said that climbers are focused only on themselves and simply don't reach out to other human beings in trouble - for example, not denouncing the shootings at Nangpa La, or refusing help to injured/exhausted climbers on Everest. What's your point of view on the subject?
Pavle: My opinion is that climbing without humanity and ethics is not climbing any more â these two things are essential and they make climbing different. There's no value in reaching summit "by all means" and forgetting everything around you.
ExplorersWeb: After the international reaction when Nangpa La events hit the news all around the world, do you think Chinese authorities will change their behavior, at least when foreign climbers are present? What about Everest's north side?
Pavle: Yes, I believe so. I'm not so optimistic to think that such events will never happen again, but I hope that reaction made an impact on Chinese authorities, and they will think about their future actions. Killing people for crossing the border is just not acceptable.
"Hi, my name is Pavle Kozjek, from Slovenia, and I just returned from Cho Oyu. I have some photos from 30.9.," reported an email to Explorersweb on November 2nd. The sender's images showed a nun shot dead by Chinese border officers when she tried to reach Nepal across the Nangpa La col, together with about 50 other defenceless refugees, many of them children. The events took place before more than a hundred of foreign climbers.
Most of them, except for a number of east Europeans were reluctant to speak up about a murder taking place right before their eyes. Some climbers said that their expedition leaders adviced them against talking, and after the shootings became known, an unsigned email, circulated by a UK journalist and reportedly written by a veteran commercial expedition leader, stated that the refugees were human traffickers and prostitutes.
An American climbing guide's first report to ExplorersWeb was initially denied by the Chinese. Pavle's images forced China to admit the event, but now officials claimed self-defence. A Romanian team's comments and video finally made the truth of Nangpa La hit media worldwide. Foreign Tibetan organizations met with the refugees in Nepal and escorted them to safehouses in India. At least 20 children were however captured by the army guards and later tortured in jail.
More on Pavle's climbs:
Pavle Kozjek is not an 8000+ meter peak regular - it's just that all his visits to the worldâs giants have ended up successfully, and more.
In 1986 Pavle climbed Pakistan's Broad Peak and Gasherbrum II in a total of five days. In 1989 he opened (with Andrej Stremfelj) a new route on Shisha Pangmaâs south face, in alpine style; in 1997 Pavle became the first Slovenian climber to summit Everest without supplementary oxygen; and in fall 2006- on his latest trip to the Himalayas - Pavle left the above mentioned brand new route on Cho Oyu.
Still, Pavle's favorite playground remains the Peruvian Andes, where he has applied his fast, lightweight style to open a number of hard new routes on Chacraraju, Huascaran, Siula Grande, Chopicalqui, etc.
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