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Bruins, Boots and Blisters

by Rob Simpson / Boston Bruins
Kibo, the classic image of Kilimanjaro. Klick the picture to get a video view of the trail towards the summit.

Trekking with Zdeno – Day 2
We awoke to what became a standard daily breakfast: porridge with honey, toast, a fried egg and a piece of sausage. It tasted great, we washed it down with a cup of tea and then rolled up or sleeping bags and prepared to head out. We grabbed our daypacks and followed head guide Aloyce into a gap in the underbrush.

The porters would pack up and carry everything in the camp including our larger bags with clothes, extra shoes and such, to the next campsite. Typically, we’d leave ahead of them, and then about an hour up the path they’d come rushing past us with all the gear. They’d go on ahead and have camp set up and ready to go for the next night well in advance of our arrival.

Day two happened in two stages. The first was a relatively vigorous uphill hike through rocks, along thinning brush, and through and across little volcanic valleys, running downhill from the mountain peaks. We stopped at a cave, which had been used by various peoples over the centuries and millennia and took photographs and video.

Throughout the day, we’d stop and allow NHL Productions cameraman Mark Berg to get the shots he needed of our expedition. Naturally the focus was on Chara and his trek; the rest of us were the supporting cast. The visuals were impressive; Berg had an incredible natural environment and scenery to work with.

My footwear choices were backwards the first two days. Due to the dustiness factor on day one, I should have worn the hiking boots. Instead, I wore running shoes and they went from almost-new-white, to off brown. Day two, the shoes would have been perfect, less dust, a more solid trail, and a relatively rock-free environment, but I went with the boots.  This was my first experience of many with blisters from the rental boots. (Looking back, the Rongai route would best have been tackled with boots on day one, because of the heavy dirt, and boots on day 5 for the summit, due to the cold and the extreme climb. In between, running shoes or all-terrain sneakers were sufficient and the way to go)

We took a breather after the first four hours, after most of our day’s ascent had been accomplished. We gained about 3,500 feet. Kibo, the snow-capped volcano of Kilimanjaro, the familiar image, loomed straight ahead of us.

“You can almost reach out and grab it,” I said to Chara.

Mawenzi erupted eight hundred thousand years ago.
With that, we turned left, and went another three hours toward Mawenzi, Kilimanjaro’s other peak. By the time we finished this flatter, rockier portion of the day, Kibo seemed farther away, and we were still three to four hours from Mawenzi in the distance. We were working our way south from the east side of the mountain, gradually gaining acclimatization and gradually moving toward our position for summit day.

We camped on a hillside, near a stream, which ran to an area of caves called Kikelewa, and under some huge barren trees. Everyone was exhausted. We had gained altitude, we’d put seven hours behind us, and the group took a well deserved breather before a late lunch.

I’m not sure any of us realized prior to the trip that Kilimanjaro was actually made up of three volcanoes, within two peaks. Most of us recognize the snowcapped mountain of Kibo, the classic image. But seven miles from the two craters, which lie within the summit area, sits another portion of the Mount called Mawenzi to the east. 

Mawenzi erupted and blew apart about eight hundred thousand years ago. Left behind were most of a crater, backed by the jagged peak of Mawenzi at about 16,500 feet, and surrounded on two sides by volcanic ridges. The lava and rock had spilled north and east, leaving this sort of large, semi-circle enclave. This crater would be our destination on day three.

“It’s good to get some rest,” Chara said. “That was a long, long way today; a good day.”

Coming Up:
Day 3 – A humanitarian flashback, the frustration of no sleep, and a once in a lifetime campsite.

Rob Simpson is a program producer/host on NHL Network and the author of two books on hockey, the second of which “Black and Gold” a book of photography and narrative on the Bruins, will be released in early September.

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