Dennis Averin: a Student of the World
Swampscott High senior Dennis Averin embarked on a trip of a lifetime right before the school year started, and the trip taught him sustaining lessons.
For 20 minutes Dennis Averin stared at his sleeping bag.
Disoriented from fever, he wondered why the bag did not pack itself.
For a brief time he thought he was a monkey.
This from a climber who, unlike most others in the group, had hauled his own pack up the highest mountain in Africa and the highest free-standing mountain in the world — Mt. Kiliminjaro at 19,341 feet.
Soon the Swampscott youth regained his bearings, joined the descent and resumed the trip of a lifetime with his father, Alex Averin.
That trip, in August, offered the Swampscott student lessons and challenges as multidimensional as the terrain he traveled.
Between Aug. 6-24, he explored rain forests, barrier reefs and tundra, and roamed among lions, giraffe and zebra. He swam among dolphin and sea horses in Zanzibar, and summited Tanzania's Mt. Kiliminjaro where the temperature was -20 degrees.
In Dennis Averin, Swampscott High School has a worldly student and a student of the world.
Even before he embarked on the August trip, Dennis had two years earlier climbed the highest mountain in Europe, Mt. Elbrus in Russia at 18,510 feet.
In 2011 he completed an internship in Dinosaur National Monument in Utah, marking trails and protecting critical environments.
His travels have taken him to Israel, where he has explored his Jewish identity with other North Shore young people.
The teenager has lived in the United States since he was a young child when he moved here with his mom and dad from Odessa, Ukraine.
Now, he is a high school senior.
He is taking AP biology, AP environmental science, AP calculus, as well as English, and classes in government and pottery.
What he learned about Africa was to appreciate beauty, hope and fortitude.
And to understand that the counterintuitive comes into play in life.
Hiking Kiliminjaro was often a silent activity. Hikers found a rhythm and climbing pattern as they zigzagged up and down the trails. To combat elevation sickness they, at times, retreated down the mountain as part of their ascent.
Usually they started out at 6 or 7 in the morning but not on the last leg.
The climb to the summit began around midnight.
That might sound odd, a lat enight ascent, but there was less of a chance that they would run into stormy weather by starting the 6-hour climb to the top in the middle of the night.
The colder air kept the moisture and clouds below the higher elevations in the early morning hours.
Even with three layers of clothing it was extremely cold at the top and he did not spend a lot of time basking in the achievement.
The lesson he learned from the climb was that it is not as important to prove yourself to others as it is to test yourself.
“It’s fine to go at a slow pace,” he said.
Of all the magnificent animal life he witnessed on safari, it was the lowly termite that was most impressive, he said.
Termites are the architects of the land, he said.
Their holes provide burrows for animals. Cheetah recline on the them to survey the landscape.
Anteaters poke their faces into the mounds and eat the termites.
Dennis said their was much poverty in the lands he traveled but there was much hope, too.
He liked to mix with the porters and drivers to learn about their families and lives.
A driver told him he was saving his money so that some day he could build a school.
He did not go to school and he wanted children to have the opportunity that he missed.
For his part, Dennis is not going to miss any opportunities to explore and understand the world.
His mom, Inga Shpolberg thinks this trip solidified her son’s ascent to adulthood.
“He has learned to be strong, to go through anything,” she said.
For his part, Dennis believes anything is possible. Except for maybe getting a Boston creme donut in Africa.
When he arrived home in late August and called his mom from Logan Airport he had one request.
Would she stop at Dunkin' Donuts and pick up some donuts, some Boston cremes.
Even mountain climbers, safari roamers and barrier reef divers need a treat.