Stonington Borough, CT
Mystic Chamber of Commerce
Noank Historical Society
HOPKINTON — Alfred DiOrio, owner of a surveying company and chairman of the Hopkinton Planning Board, is endowed with an extraordinary level of energy and a boundless enthusiasm for life.
Running a business and volunteering for the town would be enough for many people, but there’s another essential side to this man: He loves the challenge of outdoor adventures.
The expeditions began about 15 years ago when a friend, Larry Denis, suggested that DiOrio stop spending the winters in hibernation and try winter hiking and camping. DiOrio was hooked in no time.
“Whatever he sets his mind to do, it’s a done deal,” Denis said. “He enjoys the best of things when he’s getting equipment and things like that for our winter adventures. We used to do quite a bit of winter backpacking and winter hiking together.”
DiOrio recalled, “We did some really wild stuff between 2001 and 2007, out all the time. Two, three times a month — go up north, 60-pound packs, the weather didn’t matter. We climbed many of the peaks in New Hampshire.”
Striving to improve his mountaineering skills, DiOrio in 2003 joined a group that was climbing Mount Rainier, at 14,409 feet significantly higher than any of New England’s peaks.
DiOrio’s group didn’t just climb the mountain, they did it in the winter. While Rainier’s treacherous weather prevented them from summiting, the trip was a good learning experience and whetted his appetite for even bigger things.
“I spent a week in the snow learning all that great technical stuff that they teach you out there, how to get yourself out of a crevasse and all that stuff,” he said. “I was in my element. I was just tickled pink with the whole thing.”
DiOrio’s next challenge was Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, a trip he made with his wife, Linda, in 2004. The couple, both of whom were already very fit, prepared to climb the 19,300-foot mountain by taking their conditioning to the next level. “Hiking with a full pack, weight training, all the things that go into any conditioning program for a serious peak,” he said.
It takes about a week to climb Kilimanjaro, and the final bid for the summit takes place overnight.
“Kilimanjaro is an all-night death march,” he said. “You start at 10 o’clock at night and you get to the summit at sun-up.”
Neither DiOrio had trouble acclimating to the thin oxygen of such a high level, and buoyed by that successful climb, they set their sights in 2005 on the holy grail of mountaineering, the 29,000-foot Mount Everest. The DiOrios climbed to the advance base camp, which sits at 21,500 feet. The trip, which followed a Tibetan route rather than one from Nepal, took about a month.
“We chose the Tibetan side, because Tibet holds a certain charm. We thought it would be much more interesting than coming in on the Nepal side,” DiOrio said.
Accompanied by Sherpas, the climbers and their guides began the long approach to the mountain. “Days and days just to get to the foot, and they’re doing that intentionally, because they want you walking at what is a very high altitude before you start going uphill,” he said. “Most days, I felt that we had done well in our preparation, but there were certainly a couple of times that I remember that were just, ‘It’s time to end this,’ because the walking is uphill. It’s incessant. It just goes on and on. You’re looking around at this utterly spectacular scenery and you find yourself just shrinking inside, because if you don’t, you won’t hold it together.”
Their guides were careful to make sure everyone stayed healthy.
“They put food in front of you, you’re supposed to eat. They monitor your health through the entire thing, oxygen, pulse, blood pressure every day, twice a day,” he said.
In 2006, the DiOrio took a break from climbing and visited the Galapagos Islands in Ecuador. Then, a year later, DiOrio traveled to Bolivia without Linda for a month of technical climbing.
The small group of four climbers based itself in La Paz and traveled from there to the three mountains they would climb about a week apart: Huayana Potosi, 19,973 feet; Illimani, 21,122 feet; and the highest, Sajama, 21,460 feet. “It was outstanding,” DiOrio said of the expedition.
When the economy collapsed in 2008, DiOrio said he reluctantly decided he would have to suspend his big mountaineering trips and stay closer to home to tend to his business.
“Climbing has its own demands, both mental and physical. It’s also very time consuming and expensive. We’re thrilled that we had the opportunity to do it,” he said, admitting that he and Linda still dream about visiting the ruins of Machu Pichu in Peru.
Nowadays, the DiOrios still have adventures, just closer to home. They spend their winter weekends skiing and summers on their boat, fishing.
“That’s what we do from April to September,” he said. “We love being out on the water. People come from all over the world to enjoy this resource,” he said.
Then there’s the running, cycling, twice-weekly martial arts classes, and a recent and more sedentary pastime, wine-making.
DiOrio also makes time for his friends. Born and raised in Westerly, he moved to Hopkinton about 30 years ago, but stays in touch with the same group of friends he’s known since elementary school. They see each other several times a year.
Joe Lombardo, a Hope Valley planning and zoning consultant who also grew up in Westerly, has known DiOrio since they were both 5. “He commits to something, he’s all in, with anything. It’s refreshing to have people like that and it’s hard to find people like that anymore,” Lombardo said. “We have a lots of laughs. We go on these fishing trips together and we giggle like kids. We’ve been friends for so long, everything is funny.”
Denis said DiOrio was a stalwart climbing partner and a loyal friend. “He’s probably one of the most sincere, honest straightforward individuals that I have ever met in my life,” he said.
DiOrio has been on the planning board since 1985 and still enjoys using his skills to help his town.
“When someone comes before you with a three dimensional proposal but it can only be represented as two dimensions on a plan, there’s a skill set there, about ‘What are they really trying to say here? What’s their vision?’ he said. “I think it’s worked out. I think I’ve made a contribution, and so I would probably stay as long as the Town Council felt that I was making a valid contribution, because they’re the ones that call the shots.”
Town Council President Frank Landolfi said DiOrio’s leadership was a valued asset to the town government.
“I admire how Al runs his meetings. The meetings are professional and without any controversy. Also, before any agenda issues are talked about, Al has a knack for framing up the issue or item at hand before the board, eliciting the free flow of opinions from each board member — a true gift, in my opinion. If an important issue is before the Town Council to vote on and the opinion from the planning board is a part of why we make a decision, a member of the planning board is almost always present at our meeting ensuring that if any questions arise we will have our answers that night — extremely helpful and I appreciate and applaud the Al’s leadership for making that happen,” he said.
As for retirement, even at 60, DiOrio said he couldn’t imagine it.
“Retirement: That word does not exist in my vocabulary, not because I can’t, but because, number one, even after what’s probably close to 40 years of surveying, I still get up every morning and I can’t wait to do it again,” he said. “It’s mostly about the people that I meet, and the challenges that I get to look at every day. It’s almost always different ... As I tell my friends, you’re probably just going to find me face down in a field one day.”