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VHN Puck Adventure – Holiday Special – Part Two (+)

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On top of the highest point in Africa, Uhuru, Mount Kilimanjaro, July 4, 2008.

Happy Holidays again Vancouver Canucks NHL fans. Here’s the balance of the Kilimanjaro story for our VHN Plus folks. It’s the second full chapter of the two-part story of climbing Mount Kilimanjaro for charity with then Boston Bruins captain Zdeno Chara. Originally published by ECW Press in the book No Heavy Lifting in 2018, with a foreword by John Shannon.

In memory of Mark Berg, who passed away from cancer in early 2021.

(Click here for part one.)

“For sure, one of the toughest things, if not the
toughest thing, in my life, that I’ve done.”
— Boston Bruins Captain Zdeno Chara, after six days on Kilimanjaro

BIG Z ON THE MOUNTAIN – PART 2

After night two on Kilimanjaro, I had slept a grand total of about three hours. Not a good formula when you’re trekking four to seven hours a day at altitude. I was becoming legitimately concerned about how this fatigue might affect my way to the top, and I wasn’t the only one. Producer Darryl Lepik was also complaining of sleep issues. The other climbers were suffering from general fatigue, mild dizziness, and headaches, the details and extent of which they didn’t share.

Overcoming the challenges and symptoms was made easier by being immersed in the incredible natural surroundings. On day three, we’d be adding another 2,400 feet of altitude. We crisscrossed a number of streams and volcanic valleys as we worked our way to Mawenzi. We saw dik-dik antelope running on a 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, and the scenery became more surreal and dramatic, with the ominous presence of mountain peaks on either side of us. When we stopped for a water break, we’d look back down the slope of the mountain, above the clouds that surrounded Kilimanjaro. The view was awe-inspiring, but also eerily isolating.

Our straightforward and vigorous four-hour trek brought us to the Mawenzi crater at 14,200 feet. We would lunch here, take an afternoon acclimatization hike up and down a ridge, and then camp here as well. This hike was more of a rock climb, our most perilous of the entire trip, requiring the use of all four limbs. The ridges of the crater were made up of strewn, jagged volcanic rock. We switch-backed up the lower portion and then pulled ourselves up the rocks along the western rim. Before returning to the crater floor, we sat on this rocky perch for about a half-hour. Looking out across the “saddle” at Kibo, the prize, the roof of Africa, the summit of Kilimanjaro, we truly began to ponder the task that lay ahead.

“It’s been pretty tough at times but the toughest is yet to come,” Mark Brender stated.

“I’m trying not to think about it yet,” Chara added. “We’re just sitting there trying to get used to the altitude. Looking out at Kilimanjaro sitting in front of you, it doesn’t get any better than that. Just sitting there and relaxing; those are priceless moments.”

Summit day (or night) was about thirty-three hours away.

The trek up the ridge provided magnificent scenery, an exciting and adrenaline-filled climb, and another 700 feet or so of acclimatization. Aloyce had maximized our preparation to avoid altitude illness, and he led 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 just us and one other small group.

Compared to this spot, beside a small pond on the floor of a volcanic crater a couple of miles high in Tanzania, it was hard to imagine a more dramatic campsite.

“This has been amazing,” Darryl Lepik said as he spoke into my handheld camera. “Just the scenery and the experience, it’s been absolutely phenomenal and I expect that to continue for a couple days.”

Lepik’s occasional nickname during this trip was “lip balm,” because he seemed to be the only guy who remembered to pack it. Brender had some chapstick, but not much, and who wants to share that? Lepik had a small jar of the stuff, and I was like a junkie. I didn’t want to push my luck by asking too often, but at the end of each day, begging for balm became mandatory. At one point on day three, I thought my upper lip had shriveled off my face.

Things were looking up for day four, in more ways than one. I managed about three hours of sleep overnight and most of the next hike was relatively flat.

It was time to cross the saddle, the seven-mile plateau ridge between Mawenzi and the base of our ultimate destination. Ten minutes into the hike we had wound out of the Mawenzi bowl, crossed a small ridge, and just like that, it was as if the previous night’s camp didn’t exist. It was gone; the isolated landscape had disappeared from sight.

As discussed by the group at the previous night’s dinner in the mess tent, that night-three campsite would be our last “normal” campsite. Each morning, we had enjoyed the routine of waking up, eating breakfast together and discussing the day ahead, venturing out, reaching a camp, settling in, relaxing, exploring, eating dinner, and then turning in when the sun went down. That would all change on night four. It would be a night awake on the mountain.

The trek across took us exactly five hours, gradually leaving Mawenzi in our past and drawing Kibo imminently into our future.

(That’s about a quarter of the chapter)(you can use “Canucks” coupon code)(Thank you for supporting VHN. We make a terrific holiday gift for the hockey fan in your life who enjoys a new perspective on their daily coverage of the Canucks. Cheers!)

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