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Going to New Heights for United Way - By Cosette Kazarian

By placing one foot in front of the other for over 20 years, Paul Blanchard has crossed the arctic circle on foot, hiked the West Coast Trail of British Columbia, trekked to the base camp of Mount Everest in Nepal, been pecked by birds on Ellesmere Island while on a hike, and in September of this year, he'll be trekking up Tanzania's Mount Kilimanjaro.

"I like the outdoors," says Blanchard. "I've been hiking for many years, it's a great hobby. There are no barriers to entry, you don't need a lot of expensive equipment and I like knowing that I can manage to get around without street signs."

Blanchard is a founding member of IP-Trek, with whome he will be hiking with in Tanzania. IP-Trek is a membership-based group of Intellectual Property (IP) professionals who make bi-annual expeditions to some of the world's most beautiful and challenging locales, combining adventure and friendship. In the spring of 2005, at the annual meeting of IP-Trek, it was agreed by the group to climb Kilimanjaro in 2007. The group plans two years ahead because of the busy schedules of its members. This way anyone who's interested in attending the hike can organize their schedule around the trip.

"The foundations of IP-Trek were set in 2001, on the Milford Track hike in New Zealand," says Blanchard. "It was here that the idea germinated to create a group and the organization followed."

IP-Trek began with only three members and has grown to include more than 50 IP professionals. The treks are meant to be networking events, but not everyone participates in every climb. In 2003, 17 people went to the base camp of Mount Everest in Nepal, and there are 20 members going to Kilimanjaro.

According to Wikipedia, Kilimanjaro (Kili) "is the highest free-standing mountain rise in the world," and the highest peak in Africa, with an elevation of 5,895 m (19,335.6 ft.). There are many other names for Kili, including Kilima Dscharo , Oldoinyo Oibor (white mountain in Masai), and Kilima Njaro meaning shining mountain in Swahili. The mountain is a Stratovolcano, which is a volcano composed of both lava flows and pyroclastic material (rock material formed by a volcanic explosion or ejection from a volcanic vent).

This volcano's highest and youngest cone is named Kibo. Shira to the west and Mawenzi in the east are older cones that make up Kili. At the top of Kibo's summit is a 2 ¼ kilometre (1½ mile) wide crater. Magma resides a mere 400 metres below the crater, which is where the IP-TREK group will be tenting for their last night of the climb at an elevation of about 5,700 metres (18,700 ft.).

The group will take the Lamosho route, beginning at the western edge of Kili, hike up the Shira plateau to approach the crater rim at Stella Point. Because of its equatorial location and elevation, travellers may experience every climate type on earth. Camping at these elevations is a serious undertaking, and the company supervising the hike, Berg Adventures International, takes every precaution to ensure the safety of the members and staff, as well as maintaining the delicate environmental balance of the mountain.

Berg Adventures carries oxygen on all their climbs, providing an extra margin of safety on the mountain. They also carry emergency pressure bags called "Gamov Bags" for treatment of serious altitude sickness. The IP-Trek group will be provided with pulse oximeters and complete emergency kits, as well as radios and satellite phones for communication. Berg guides are experienced at monitoring the well-being of climbers on Kilimanjaro and serious medical problems on Kili are rare, but they are prepared should the need arise, to use their equipment.

Aside from the equipment, many hours of training are required in order to attempt a trek to Kili. Most people carry a personal pack of about 7 kilograms (15 lbs.) on the climb. This, combined with the elevation of Kili, provides for a challenging hike. To lessen the strain of the climb, and make it more fun, Blanchard has been training to strengthen and increase his lung capacity. Although he does train all year long as part of his regimen to keeping well and fit, Blanchard has increased the intensity of his training, to include climbing the stairs at his office (27-30 floors, twice) in Ottawa three times a week, carrying a 14-16 kilogram (30-35 lb.) backpack. Blanchard hasn't had any previous trouble with altitude, but he is trying to breathe through his nose, and not his mouth during his training, to develop stronger muscles and he's been told to try training while breathing through a straw to make the climb easier, when he does get to Kili.

"You have to look at training as a natural progression. You start training gradually, with baby steps," says Blanchard. "It's just like growing up. At first you're not able to do everything you'd like to, but slowly, as you get older, you start being able to accomplish more. It's the same with training. As time goes on, you are able to do more."

Blanchard is supplementing his weekly training with shorter hikes one evening a week and on most weekends. He also has a couple of longer hikes planned, one to Lake Louise where he'll be going to a height of 2,743 metres (9,000 ft.) and another, one week before the trip to Tanzania, to Mount Washington, where he'll go to an elevation of 2,073 metres (6,800 ft.). Ken Ross, the husband of Gowlings senior partner Marg Ross, is also going to Kili with IP-Trek and is training with Blanchard on each of these hikes.

"Most of all though, you have to enjoy it," Blanchard says of his training and hiking, "otherwise, the whole experience will be dreadful."

Not only is Blanchard doing his hike to maintain his health, enjoy nature and network with other IP professionals, he is also donating all funds raised for this trek to the United Way. Blanchard feels that people who have advantages should help those who don't. The United Way has been Blanchard's charity of choice for many years in helping the disadvantaged. In the Ottawa area alone, the United Way supports over 200 organizations and spends over 20 million dollars on the different charities. Blanchard hopes his trek to Kilimanjaro will increase interest and funds for the United Way.

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"I have great respect for the organization," says Blanchard. "The United Way does a great job in providing resources and services to those in need."

Blanchard leaves for Tanzania September 16 and will start his Kili hike with IP-Trek on September 20, 2007.

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