Payson Family Reaches New Heights

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Al Valdini's dream vacation is not lying on Waikiki's pristine beaches, sunbathing on the fun-filled deck of a cruise ship, or gazing out the windows of a luxury tour bus as it winds through a European countryside.

The 56-year-old's ideal holidays involve taking on challenges that most men his age wouldn't think of attempting. Valdini's vacation escape last month -- climbing Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa with his family -- was his most daring adventure. And, this from a man who has run with the bulls in Pamplona not once, but twice.

"The climb was five days of hell," the Payson businessman said. "But by doing it, you get a sense of ‘if I did that, I can do anything in life.'"

The six-person Payson entourage up Mount Kilimanjaro included Valdini's wife, Marcie, their two sons, Todd and Chad, and friends, Jessica Watts and Jennifer Abbott. Todd, 28, and Chad, 25, are both Payson High School graduates.

The group also included 12 natives who served as backpackers and porters of the gear needed on the jaunt.

Valdini said he chose to climb the mountain, located in the Kilimanjaro National Park in Tanzania, after studying it on the Internet and in various journals.

"It is the highest mountain in Africa, 19,340 feet, and one of the Seven Summits, or highest peaks on each continent," he said. "Because it requires the least technical skill (of the Seven Summits) -- we are not professional climbers --ur chances were good of a successful summit attempt."

After arriving in Africa, Valdini was taken aback by the Tanzanian people, who live in what is known as the poorest country in the world, and who have a life expectancy of only 45 years due to AIDS, typhoid fever, malaria and hepatitis A.

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Payson businessman Al Valdini at the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro in Africa.

"They are very impoverished. It's sad," Valdini said.

In attempting to climb the mountain, Valdini and his family knew they needed to be mentally and physically prepared and properly equipped.

A physical fitness buff, Valdini has been involved in a training program that had his body in shape for the expedition.

Mentally, Valdini said his goal was for his family and friends to remain in a positive state of mind and to have the mental stamina to make the more difficult sections easier to climb.

"We climbed six to eight hours each day uphill," he said. "As you get higher and climb longer, the cumulative effect of starving your body of oxygen wears on you."

At high altitudes, climbers begin to suffer from acute mountain sickness (AMS) that can be lethal if not treated or if the symptoms are ignored.

According to a Destination Africa Tours website, 70 percent of all people climbing Kilimanjaro suffer from AMS.

Valdini said his wife climbed to within about two hours of reaching the mountain summit before AMS took its toll.

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For five days during the climb up Mt. Kilimanjaro, tents were the only homes a group of Payson hikers knew.

"We had to have guides take her back down (the mountain)," he said.

Another challenge the climbers faced was the huge changes in temperatures at the various elevations of Kilimanjaro.

"We faced cold, wind, rain, sun and snow," Valdini said. "On the lower slopes, the day temperatures were high; as we climbed the temperatures turned freezing."

The DAT website says "cold is one of the most serious obstacles when attempting to summit Kilimanjaro. Temperatures can be as low as minus 25 degrees Celsius (13 below zero Fahrenheit)."

Among the items the climbers had to carry were high quality sunglasses and sun protection cream, as well as thermal socks, gloves, polar fleece jackets and waterproof Goretex windbreakers.

"You have to be equipped for every weather condition to have a chance of summiting Kilimanjaro," Valdini said. "The climate can change every half hour. You can be in a rain forest and hours later on a glacier."

The biggest challenge of the climb occurred the final day when the hikers had to begin their ascent at midnight to reach the summit by dawn.

"That was tough, but reaching (the summit) made it all worth it," Valdini said. "Climbing it was a real high, indescribable."

Although Valdini said he probably won't attempt any future climbs of the Seven Summits, he's determined vacations will remain exciting.

"I'll find some that will challenge myself," he said.

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