When was the last time you did something for the first time?

Today our team grows from 18 trekkers and 4 Smile staffers to an additional 8 trekkers and 13 medical providers.

The second wave of trekkers arrived Tuesday evening and will repeat the journey of the last group hiking to the famed Machu Pichu built by the Incans hundreds of years ago. This group of adventurous souls totals eight. They range in age from 9 to 56. Brothers Dane and Jude (9 and 11) will trek with their parents Carrie and Chad and their cousin David. David is a Sophomore at Front Range Community College in Brighton Colorado. Carrie and Chad work in the financial planning and banking business in Minneapolis. They are joined by best friends Shelia who works in legal affairs and Lisa Anderson a non-profit consultant. Joshua Rimpila rounds out the group.

Joshua told us the trek on the Inka Trail was a means to meet the children served by Smile Network. That is the main reason he says he is here. This is a very personal journey for Josh who was also born with a cleft.

These adventurous souls are in Peru to raise awareness for the hundreds of children in Peru who suffer as social outcasts because of their cleft deformities. Our trekkers will have the opportunity to meet the children whose surgeries are funded by the money they have raised to participate in this trek. One hundred percent of the $80,000 they have raised directly underwrites the cost of surgeries.

We have met with the regional government officials who have told us they have pre-registered over 100 children for this campaign. Over the course of the next week, two surgical teams will operate on over fifty children in five days free of charge. Sadly, many of the children will be turned away because the need is far greater than the resources.


trek 2

Every mountaintop is within reach if you just keep climbing!

Congratulations to our trekkers!

Matt Kleven,  Jennifer Hartigan, Tyler Hartigan, Gino Valentini,  Anna Pawlenty, Tim Pawlenty, Mara Pawlenty, Pam Borton, Jules Brown, Sarah Buxton, Jackie Nickel, Samantha Nickel, Alex McGraw,  Alli Cahill, Mary Kate Rivisto, Janee Harteau, Rony Camosa, Mary Pawlenty, Brenda Leffler

Change the world. Change the future. Change your life.

machu pichu group

Breaking News

Breaking News!

We have been out of touch with the trekkers since we parted ways at the trail head entrance three days ago.

At 6:04 pm central daylight time we received a text message which said, ” Had a little service on the mountain so thought I would send along this photo.”All are accounted for. All are smiling.  Amen!

We will greet them at the Gate of the sun tomorrow morning just after sunrise. We will celebrate with a victory dance tomorrow night and a few Pisco Sours.


group- camp 3

Live Life on the Edge- The View is Better

After their first night on the mountain the trekkers rose to frost on the ground, a few aches and bruises from the previous day’s trek and the smell of steaming coffee. By 7 am they will have had breakfast and repack their gear for the tough ascent that lies ahead.

Today is the most challenging day on the trek, the reason they trained for months on their treadmill with a full pack on their back, the day they lost sleep over in advance of their arrival to Peru. They will climb over 4,500 vertical from their campsite at 9000 feet to 13,500 feet in 5- 6 hours. There won’t be a lot of dialog on the way up. They have a choice. Talk or breath. Their lungs don’t have the capacity for both.

On this day it’s all about you. You talk to yourself. Cuss at yourself. Question your sanity. Bargain with the devil. Occasionally shed a tear. You take a few steps and stop and lean on your walking stick and pretend you are taking in the view when in reality you a trying to stabilize your breath. Ten more steps and again you stop and take in the view. You repeat this over and over until you reach the summit known as Dead Woman’s Pass.

Having done the trail ten years ago I recall my pervasive thought on that day. Climbing to the summit is somehow analogous to childbirth. In the middle of the process you are trying to recall how and why you got to this point and tell God, NEVER AGAIN, but at the conclusion you assess what you have just accomplished and you smile and tell yourself “that wasn’t that bad.”

Over 300 trekkers ranging in age from 9 to 69 have completed the Inca Trail on behalf of the kids served by Smile Network. Each trekker made it to the summit with out assistance and successfully crossed the finish line at the Gate of the Sun.

Tomorrow we will climb up the backside of Machu Pichu to greet and surprise the trekkers. We can’t wait to share the stories. Stay tuned.


From the Inca Trail Head

We have been traveling for four days together. Sharing our stories, getting to know one another. Up to this point there has been a lot of laughter, enthusiasm and excitement. The mood is different today. Excitement has been replaced with some self examination and internal dialog with questions like; “Did I train enough? At age 55, am I up for the ascent to Dead Woman’s Pass? I signed us up for this trip, will my family still be talking to me at the other end of the trail? Will I be cold at night? What was I thinking when I signed up for the trail?”

We left the hotel shortly after the sun came up to travel by bus for one hour deeper into the Andes and to the trail head. The trail head is a staging area for the the porters and trek groups to meet one another and load up provisions. Each trekker is limited to 7 kilos of gear on the mountain. This includes their sleeping bag and mat, clothes and toiletries, camera and water. Thirty-three porters, cooks and guides will support our group of eighteen trekkers. The porters will carry tents, cooking equipment, the trekkers personal gear and enough food and water to support the team totaling fifty-one.

It is humbling to meet the porters. They are poor rural farmers who supplement their income by porting on the trail. Its hard work, literally back breaking. Its easy to identify the porters in the villages as often times their spines have become permanently slumped over due to the weight of the packs they carry on the trail. While the trekkers have expensive hiking boots to protect their ankles and feet, the porters wear sandals made from tire rubber. These crude sandals provide no support as the porters run the trail with their loads. They run to get ahead of the trekkers to set up camp and prepare the next meal from scratch over and open fire that they will build in a field.

Rony briefs the group as to what they can expect today. They are starting the trail at an elevation of 8000 feet. Coming down from 12,000 feet in Cusco you feel like you can run a marathon at this lower elevation. That is until you make the first 100 meter ascent and you are contemplating what can come out of your day pack. Rony tells them they will hike for 6- 7 hours today, break for water every hour and the porters will meet them in the mess tent for lunch and dinner. They will sleep under the stars tonight at an elevation of 9000 feet.

At the trail head the trekkers present their passports and permits to the border like patrol officials who monitor the entrance on to the trail. The checkpoint feels a little militant. No permit, no access. Once the paperwork is checked and processed the trekkers clear the check point and step on to a bridge that hangs over the Urambamba River. It’s like a scene out of a Indiana Jones movie. Raging river, swinging rope bridge, sounds of the rushing water below hitting boulders in its path and the blowing wind. It is an exciting moment as each trekker crosses the bridge. There are thumbs up as they pass, a few tears and lots of hugs. We promise one another that we will see each other on the other side of the trail at the gate of the sun.

group -at trail headIMG_0001Alex and Matt

Oxygen is scarce at 12,000 feet!

They arrived into Lima late Wednesday night and traveled on to Cusco Peru Thursday afternoon.

Immediately, your lungs know you have arrived into Cusco. The oxygen is scarce at 12.000 feet. Observing the trekkers pull their luggage across the airport parking lot with a 3% grade huffing and puffing I intuitively knew they were second guessing their decision to walk 26 miles through the Andes mountains. They are assured that the purpose of the two days in Cusco before the onset of the trek is to acclimate to the elevation.

For two days the group tested their high elevation skills and and walked through what remains of various ruins built by the Incan civilizations hundreds of years ago. They shopped the markets of Pisac, had photos ops with Llamas, took in the local cuisine and despite warnings to abstain from drinking alcohol before the trek, a few trekkers were spotted drinking Pisco Sours in the restaurants of Cusco. A Pisco sour is to Peru as a Margarita is to Mexico and in my opinion so powerful they should be served up with flashing red lights, warning of impending danger.

After two days of adjusting to the altitude the group arrived to their accommodations in the Sacred Valley Saturday night to get one last good night of sleep in a comfortable bed. Tomorrow night they will sleep on the ground.

pisco sours

Mary Kate, Alex, Matt and Alli sampling the Pisco Sours!

Branda and Janee shopping in the Pisac market and meeting the local children.

ladies in the market

Where is your mountain and are you climbing it?

Last Wednesday, July 1, 18 individuals set out on a trip to traverse the famed Inca trail to Machu Pichu. They will trek for four days and camp on the side of a mountain for three nights. They will walk through rainforests, orchid fields and climb higher than the clouds to the summit of dead woman pass. It will challenge them physically. It will challenge them mentally.

They range in age from 18 to 55. They came from varied professional backgrounds: police chief, state trooper, politician, executive coach, judge, a young adult born with a cleft, a mom who stood watch over her daughter’s 18 cleft surgeries, a pair of college-age sisters, a young couple in love, two college-aged childhood best friends, a mom and her recently graduated high school aged son, a silicone valley techie, a pharmacist, and a humanitarian.

They are led out by our trek leader Rony. Rony is famous in these parts of Peru and a sought after guide. He has led out almost a dozen treks for Smile Network and delivered over 300 trekkers safely to their destination. Assisting Rony is my son Gino. He first completed the trail at age 11 with this father. 10 years later and six Inca Treks under his belt he is assisting as a guide on the trail.

Editor’s note:   I am so proud of Gino.

Written by Smile Network Founder, Kim Valentini




Climb any mountains lately?

Over the next two weeks, 26 adventurous individuals embark on a journey of a lifetime—to hike the famed Inca Trail to Machu Pichu.

Their purpose: to create awareness about the hundreds of thousands of children in developing countries who suffer as social outcasts because they have been born with clefts.

After they complete the four-day, 26-miles trek and climb more than 56,000 stairs on the original Inca trail built by the Incan civilization, they will join the Smile Network medical mission team to volunteer at the hospital. They will meet the 50 children of Cusco, Peru who will receive the gift of new smile as a result of the fundraising efforts of these trekkers! In the space of 45 minutes and for just $500, a life is transformed.

On behalf of the children served by Smile Network international, we would like to personally thank our trekkers: Lisa Anderson, Pam Borton, Sarah Buxton, Jules Brown, Alli Cahill, Rachael Gabato, Janee Harteau, Jennifer and Tyler Hartigan, Shelia Kennedy, Matt Kleven, Brenda Leffler, Alex McGraw, David Murray, Samantha and Jackie Nickel, Tim, Mary, Anna and Mara Pawlenty, Joshua Rimpila, Mary Kate Rivisto, and Carrie, Chad, Dane and Jude Yeager, for lacing up their hiking boots and committing to this journey!