Until last Friday, I hadn't seen a famous climber's slide show presentation in several years. I remember my Dad and I watching Alex Lowe's slideshow together. I also remember going to a couple other slide shows at a rock gym in Flagstaff. This slideshow was to be done by Zed Al-Refai, the first Kuwaiti National and evidently the first Arab to climb to the top of Mount Everest on May 22, 2003. Having never heard of him (I haven't been keeping up with events in the climbing community) I grew quite curious to hear his story.
The AWARE center, an organization promoting Western-Arab relations, hosted the event. Slick, professionally done posters with Zed posing on the tops of Aconcagua, Denali, and Vinson Massif, greeted us at the entrance. Posters of Zed atop each of the Seven Summits of all the continents shamelessly promoting Gillette Mach 3 Razors bespoke of a well funded, professional mountaineer. My expectations grew dramatically.
After being shuffled down to the Center's large Diwaniah room, Zed began with some video clips of him doing some easy rock climbing at some unspecified location. He told the story of how he was introduced to climbing while living in New Jersey and doing some mountaineering around New England. This led him to attempt and successfully climb Denali in Alaska.
Following this, Zed made three attempts to climb Mount Everest. During his second attempt, while descending via the North Col / North Eastern ridge from the Tibetan side, Zed was carried down the mountain with High Altitude Cerebral Edema. After turning back, he apparently made it to one of the lower camps on his own power before being carried down the mountain unconscious in an oxygen chamber. Unfortunately, the details in the story were not fully explained.
Zed was successful on his third attempt and became the first Arab to summit Mt. Everest. He currently resides in Switzerland.
The slideshow was OK. Zed certainly had some great pictures. But his presentation catered more to the amateur audience in the room and less to the mountaineers (was I the only person in the room that had done any climbing?). One of the best things about climbing slide shows like this is for other climbers to ask the famous guy details about the routes, epic story, and challenges faced on an adventure that everyone has already read and heard about. Instead of regular climbers being able to "talk shop" with a pro, Zed spent a good deal of time explaining simple things to amateurs. He talked endlessly about "Why I climb" to everybody, whereas every other slide show I've seen was filled with climbers who understand the motivations all too well.
Needless to say, numerous details about the climb I would have liked to hear didn't get explained. What were the circumstances that led to his Edema? At what point in the climb did he turn back? What were some events that occurred during his third attempt? While I enjoyed the show, it just turned into a whole, "I came, I saw, I climbed," kind of story with few interesting details. There also wasn't much time for him to answer questions or talk about other mountains (the guy went up Denali, Gasherbrum, and some other interesting peaks).
John Fager and I eventually ate the AWARE center's free meal (they are very generous with good food) and met a guy looking to do an around-the-world motorcycle trip.