When Luis Benitez signed up to lead a mountain climbing expedition up Mount Cho Oyu in September 2006, he had no idea that it would change the course of his life.
An experienced and professional climber, Benitez has an impressive resume, which includes six summits of Mount Everest. But what happened on the mountain was beyond any of his usual climbing experiences.
Mount Cho Oyu is the sixth-tallest mountain in the world and sits on the border between Tibet and Nepal. Benitez and his fellow climbers were camped in an area near the Nangpa Pass when they caught sight of a group of Tibetan refugees struggling along the pass. The group, which was attempting to flee from Tibet to India by way of Nepal, was being pursued by Chinese soldiers, who eventually opened fire, killing a 17-year-old Tibetan nun, Benitez said.
One of the members of Benitez’ group, Romanian TV cameraman Sergui Matei, picked up his camera and filmed the incident. Benitez then emailed his account to people back in the United States.
“I broke the story, because I had access to an editor at Reuters who’s a lifelong friend,” said Benitez.
The climbers then smuggled the footage out of the country and it eventually aired, bringing international attention to the incident.
“Tibet: Murder in the Snow” was produced by Sally Ingleton, who for 25 years has produced documentaries and programs for outlets such as the BBC, Discovery Channel and National Geographic. According to the film’s website, Ingall was in the process of producing a documentary about Tibetan refugees overcoming their past trauma through art when she learned of the incident on Nangpa Pass. Ingleton joined forces with director Mark Gould to track down those involved in the incident and film interviews.
Benitez will be screening the documentary at the Breckenridge campus of Colorado Mountain College as part of the CMC Speaker Series. After the documentary, he will be available for questions.
“This definitely isn’t a China bad, Tibet good scenario,” he said of his talk. Rather, he intends to focus on the question of ethics that his experience brings up.
“It’s really more a conversation around ethics and values than it is this country’s good, this country’s bad, this good-or-bad kind of thing.”
As far as younger audience members are concerned, Benitez said that parents could decide whether it would be appropriate to bring their teenagers.
“I think it’s an appropriate thing for parents who want your kids to know you have to stand up for what’s right,” he said.
Due to being outspoken about the incident, Benitez is no longer allowed to climb in Tibet, he said.
“I’ve testified to Congress about this incident and also testified at the Hague International Crimes Tribunal.”
His decision to be so outspoken came, in part, from his Outward Bound training, he said. Benitez is a Colorado Outward Bound school board member and teaches leadership development for Vail Resorts.
“In terms of ethics and leadership development, I was for a long time and still (am) involved with Outward Bound and that was what helped guide my decision to speak out about this,” he said, “because Outward Bound is about challenging yourself to change your world and make it a better place.”
Benitez hopes his audience comes away with an understanding of the power of an individual voice.
“All I ever wanted to do was be a mountain guide, but it’s the choices that you make and what you’re willing to do that can make the world a better place,” he said. “One person can make a difference.”
“This definitely isn’t a China bad, Tibet good scenario. It’s really more a conversation around ethics and values than it is this country’s good, this country’s bad, this good-or-bad kind of thing.”