Muztagh Tower: Nangpa La hero Pavle Kozjek missing; Dejan Miskovic stranded

Posted: Aug 26, 2008 04:57 pm EDT

( Askari Aviation reports that Slovenian Dejan Miskovic is trapped high up on Muztagh tower, where a strong wind so far prevents a helicopter rescue. Fellow Slovenian Gregor Kresal was evacuated from BC already on August 19th, by two Ecureuil helicopters. The third climber in the team, Slovenian Pavle Kozjek is missing.

According to Alpinist, Dejan phoned friends in Slovenia Monday stating that Kozjek had approached a cornice near their bivy tent and fell down the face.

Askari reported that a call from Slovenia yesterday had alerted them to a fatal fall on the peak. The Pakistan Aviation rescue service said attempts to lift Dejan off the peak with a rope were unsuccessful due to very high winds. A new attempt will take place today 3 pm local time.

Meanwhile, two helicopters picked up 3 Slovenian climbers from K7 (Ales Cesen, Nejc Cesen, Rok Blagus, Rok Sisernik, Mihael Hrastelj) and dropped them at Muztagh BC today. These climbers will try to climb the peak and assist Dejan to below 6000 meters from where he can be better evacuated by the helicopters. The helicopters will also drop supplies to the climber if needed.

Climbing and Civilian courage

If confirmed, Pavle Kozjek's death would be another great loss to the climbing community this year; and also to ExplorersWeb. For his solo, express new route on Cho Oyu, Pavle was chosen as the best climber of 2006 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.

That same year, Pavle's images of Tibetan refugees shot dead by border guards at Nangpa La and sent to ExWeb only 3 hours after our call stirred the world. China had denied the incident, so Pavle made international news and a nation of Tibetans expressed their gratitude.

ExplorersWeb selected Pavle's action, combined with his climb, as the Best of ExplorersWeb in 2006.

Pure in heart and climbs

This season, the three Slovenian climbers were on Muztagh to attempt the first alpine style ascent of the peak, in a new route up the unclimbed 2200 meter north face.

Pavle shared the opinion of many that Piolet d'Or should be divided into different categories: Himalaya, other big walls, etc. "But about style, there's nothing to change: I see fast and light alpine style as the future. Improving man's ability (both mental and physical) should be the key to select a climb as remarkable," Pavle told ExplorersWeb.

ExWeb recently ran a special on Swedish climbers having a hard time due to braggy individuals stealing headlines and the problem is global. Pavle had many plans, but few sponsors. "In Slovenia, due to some fulsome and inflated climbing stories now it's hard to find a place in media," he told ExWeb. "People are just expecting sensations... I don't need to give more details... The fact is, I don't like to sell myself at any price, but I have nothing against showing the quality of the climbs I do."

Fellow Slovenian Marko Prezelj was awarded the actual Piolet d'Or in 2006 - justly, according to Pavle. Marko in turn told about Pavle: "There is no doubt he's a good climber, but as a person, he is even better. He's a visionary, not a follower. But he is always positive, and always very nice. He inspires many young alpinists, and he manages to strike a balance between a commercial approach and a climber's approach with dignity. He is very popular here in Slovenia."

Pavle: "climbing without humanity and ethics is not climbing"

Pavle, like the late Inaki Ochoa, had mountains left to climb in China and Tibet. Yet neither made their personal ambition stand in the way of doing what they thought was right. Inaki Ochoa was very outspoken against the Chinese abuse of Tibetans, and Pavle was first to send images of their killings to the world. In fact, only three climbers among hundreds spoke out at the time of the shootings on Cho Oyu.

Pavle said that while taking images required a good zoom, "another reason was probably leaders of commercial expeditions - who surely didn't like to do anything against their business."

"We couldn't imagine that such things could happen, and in front of so many witnesses," Pavle added.

As for his personal bounty of sending the pictures, Pavle told ExplorersWeb, "I think that China is closed for me. Even If they let me in, I'd be worried about getting out."

Still, there were no regrets:

"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," Pavle Kozjek said.

"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 advised them against talking, and after the shootings became known, an unsigned email, circulated by a UK climbing 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 officials claimed self-defense. 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 safe houses in India. At least 20 children were however captured by the army guards and later tortured in jail.

The American source, a six-time Everest summiteer and tremendously popular mountain guide Luis Benitez, was forced to quit Himalayan guiding after disclosing in Men's Journal how he was threatened by outfitters Russell Brice and Henry Todd. "In an industry of big business, my speaking out created enough conflict to heavily influence my decision to step back," he told ExplorersWeb. Pavle Kozjek hoped that the event would change things in China, especially on Everest north side. "I hope that [the international] 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," he told ExWeb.

Yet for the 2008 Olympics, China closed Tibet, Everest north side and other Himalayan peaks including Cho Oyu. In addition to a soft loan granted by China to Nepal at the time of climbing restrictions; word is China also paid Nepal the equivalent of climbing fees and an additional half million US dollars to close down the south side of the peak (ExWeb have been unable to confirm this statement.) Nepal restricted the 2008 Everest climb, imposing heavy restrictions on climbers' communications and added military personnel to guard the mountaineers, later also slapping their leaders with a 'protection' bill.

Several books intended to expose the problems on Everest and Himalayan commercial guiding only brushed past the Nangpa La incident; "Dark Summit" written by an Outside mag editor failed to mention it at all. A book and a documentary about the murders are however planned to be released this fall.

More on Pavle's climbs

Slovenian Pavle Kozjek opened a new route on the southwest face of Cho Oyu, in a 14.5-hour single-push ascent from ABC to the top - the only climb outside the normal route that season according to Miss Hawley. "The new Slovenian route follows a line left of the Yamanoi route," Pavle reported to "After climbing for 1100 meters on the face (V, 50-60 deg.), the route joins the Polish ridge for 900 meters."

"The crux was an icefall at 7200 meters, just below the Polish ridge, that I overcame by climbing a rock outcrop (V-degree) on its right side."

"I set off from ABC at 3:30 am in the morning and reached the Polish ridge before 10:00 am. I climbed extremely light: 3 thermo bottles of drink, 6 power gels, spare gloves, a bivouac sac and a small camera. Once on the ridge my progress was slowed down due to poor conditions (deep snow). I reached the top at 6:00 pm, and then descended via the normal route to C2 (7000 m)."

"I spent a few hours in one of the abandoned tents in C2, and then headed down to BC, arriving there before noon the next day."

Pavle started out on the climb together with his team mates; they however reached the summit one day later, and through a slightly different route of ascent - traversing from the Polish ridge to the normal route on the west side.

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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Body of the Tibetan nun, left in a snow path on Nangpa La. Courtesy of Pavle Kozjek (click to enlarge).

(Left to right) Dejan Miskovich, Gregor Kresal, Pavle Kozjek. Image courtesy of the expedition website (click to enlarge).
Image of Muztagh Tower courtesy of the expedition website (click to enlarge).
Another tragedy took place on Muztagh Tower (7.273m), where ace climber Pavle Kozjek fell to his death on the North Face. He was known for tough new routes on SH and CH and his impressive fast climbs on Andes. Image of Pavle courtesy of Pavle Kozjek (click to enlarge).
Chinese officers in ABC with captured tibetan childen, looking at Nangpa La. Image courtesy of Pavle Kozjek (click to enlarge).