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Chara: "These kids are incredible."

by Rob Simpson / Boston Bruins
A look down the mountain.
Trekking with Zdeno – Day 3

Prior to his trek on Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, Bruins captain Zdeno Chara had spent a week with Calgary Flames defenseman Robyn Regehr in Mozambique, as Athlete Ambassadors for the international humanitarian organization Right To Play.

A year earlier, fellow B’s defenseman Andrew Ference and Steve Montador, then of the Florida Panthers, had spent a well documented visit in Tanzania taking part in similar activities.

Click here
to read about Andrew’s activities last summer.

Right To Play uses organized games and sports activities as a way to get children and local coaches together in third world countries.  While bringing them together for sport – every child loves to play, as they say – they then have the opportunity to expose the children to other educational opportunities and messages.  Health issues, including AIDS and malaria are covered, as are basic messages about peace.

Often times the gatherings are held for orphans and street kids, those abused or left alone because their parent(s) were AIDS victims, or for refugees in camps around the continent, escaping war torn and ethnic strife areas like the Sudan.

A look down the mountain.
“These kids are incredible,” Chara stated during his visit.  “They have nothing, yet they show up here with smiles on their faces and are willing to give it their all, to learn, to play.”

The six days with the children were full ones, Chara and Regehr swamped by enthusiastic children at every turn.  The kids no nothing of ice hockey, or of the two men’s fame, they just know prominent individuals from America or Canada have come to visit them and take an interest in their program.  It does wonders for self-esteem and for attendance at school.

“Zee is a great ambassador for us,” says Mark Brender, Right To Play Canada’s Deputy Director.  “He epitomized all of the virtues we are looking for and looking to pass on.  He was an enthusiastic participant.”

Both athletes quickly came to realize just how good they have it in North America, and were probably surprised by the actual level of poverty and squalor on the “dark continent”.

The average annual income in Tanzania for example is $275 American.  The average life expectancy in the more impoverished Mozambique is 42-years of age.  It was truly an eye-opening trip.

While Regehr headed home to Canada after his humanitarian activities to be with his wife and new baby, Chara began the challenge of trekking Kilimanjaro.  He and we did it as a personal quest, but also to raise money and awareness for Right To Play.

Day one we went from 6,400 feet to 8,500 feet at our first campsite.  Day two we gained a good deal of acclimatization, working up to 11,800 feet.

The author and Kibo.
Day three was a pretty straightforward and vigorous ascent: it wasn’t overly taxing, but it was a steady climb.  By the time we reached the campsite at noon after a four-hour trek, we had made it to 14,200 feet.

Along the way we crisscrossed a number of streams and volcanic valleys, enormous ruts created by years of downhill erosion and run-off, as we worked our way toward Mawenzi.  We saw a dik-dik antelope running on the hillside, encountered a handful of birds, stumbled across a lizard or two, and were constantly surrounded by bees. 

The environment became drier and more desolate as we continued up.  At the same time however, the scenery became more surreal and dramatic, with the ominous presence of the two mountain peaks on either side of us.

At this stage, given the fact that we were taking it slow, right in line with guide Aloyce’s philosophy of pole’-pole’ (slow determination), no one really suffered from any altitude effects.  Along the way someone would feel a little lightheaded, or have a brief headache in camp, but nothing too serious.  We knew the true test would come on day-5 heading to the summit and all of the good feelings could change somewhat, but for the time being, we were confident every one was handling acclimatization rather well.

Click the picture to see today's video.
The biggest concern for me at the time was sleep deprivation.

My lost bag, sleeping bag and mat were becoming a problem.  Yes I had rented a sleeping bag, but I didn’t have a mat to cushion the ground, and my clothes were somewhat ill fitted or uncomfortable.  Part of it may have been anticipation/nerves of the summit that stood ahead of us, and part of it may have just been pure discomfort, but over the course of the first two nights I had garnered a grand total of an hour-and-a-half of sleep.

Not a good formula when you’re trekking four to seven hours a day.

After night two, I was legitimately concerned about how fatigue might affect my way to the top.  I wasn’t the only one, producer Darryl Lepik was also complaining of sleep issues.  As cozy as the tents were compared to the chilly winds outside the flaps, the hard ground and the tight quarters at times made the overnights unbearable.  Night two, I rolled around and thought, thought, thought, as twelve hours ticked off the clock. At one point in the middle of the night, I yelled aloud out of frustration.

The other issue was blisters from the rental boots, or blisters on blisters.  This is where my fellow trekkers, truly teammates in this case, came through.  Brender lent me his pocketknife to slice blisters, he also gave me the two or three blister pads he had.  Zee provided me band-aids and alcohol wipes from his first aid kit.  They both, and Darryl, provided me extra pairs of socks.

When summit day arrived, Darryl lent me a winter cap and some extra gloves, Zee gave me his work-out gear to wear as a layer, and Brender handed me over a layer or two of t-shirts and long sleeved undergarments.  It was truly a team effort.  Oh yeah, and Lepik’s lip-balm was a savior.  I’d usually only ask for a bit at the end of each day, when the dryness became almost unbearable. 

Those were the challenges.  The rest of the waking hours were spent marveling at our surroundings and enjoying the hikes.  As described yesterday, the Mawenzi crater, beneath the spires of the mountain, was as dramatic and isolated a campsite you may find in the world.  It was awe-inspiring.  After lunch in camp, we climbed up on one of Mawenzi’s volcanic ridges, over strewn lava rock, to perch and look out across the “saddle” at Kibo, the main volcanic summit.  It was on this day we truly began to look ahead and ponder the task that lay ahead.  Summit day (or night) was about 36-hours away.

The trek up the ridge provided great scenery, an exciting and adrenaline filled climb, and another 700 feet or so of acclimatization.  Our guide Aloyce had mapped out a wonderful five days up.  He maximized our preparation to avoid altitude illness, and he wound us around the landscape to some amazing spots.  Each night, there were fewer and fewer “other climbers” on our path.  The first camp had a handful of groups, the second night maybe three or four, and on night three, beneath the spires of Mawenzi, it was us and just one other small group.

By night four: just us.
Rob Simpson was the Bruins rink-side reporter and host of “Rubber Biscuit” on NESN for three seasons.

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