Pools’ pair Colin Cooper and Craig Hignett say they are “excited” and “buzzing” as they and 13 fellow trekkers prepare to reach the 5,895m summit of Mount Kilimanjaro on Thursday morning.
The group, which also includes Sky Sports presenter Jeff Stelling, are striving to raise thousands of pounds for children’s causes and charities by conquering Africa’s highest mountain.
Hartlepool United’s new management duo and their fellow Finlay Cooper Fundraisers aim to reach the peak during a torch-lit night-time climb this Thursday morning (June 13).
Speaking from Barranco Camp on Tuesday evening, Cooper revealed: “The camp we’re in is right underneath the mountain summit. I look up and I’m excited about the challenge ahead.
“I’m getting all the highs I enjoyed as a footballer – and I don’t mean because I’m at 4,000m! I’m absolutely loving it. As the kids might say, I’m buzzing!
“This is something none of us are likely to do again but we’ve all got a cause and a goal to reach the top. We are just putting our heads down and walking at a steady pace.
“As we were warned, fitness isn’t the issue. The altitude is the real challenge because the air is so thin but fortunately the tablets we’ve taken for potential altitude sickness have done their job so far and we are all helping each other.”
Hignett added: “There’s been some really tough walking up some very steep terrain. It’s a slog and a massive test for all of us. If any of us turned up believing we were just here for a long walk then we have been in for a shock.
“Because of the altitude, we’ve really struggled to put one foot in front of the other at times, but if we continue to take it nice and slow I’m sure we can all reach the top.
“We are encouraging each other and if ever we feel like giving up we just have to remind ourselves what we are here for. Raising funds for sick and needy children is enough to spur us on.”
Fund trustee Nick Waites, a Boro-supporting accountant, revealed that the trekkers would have walked for 30 hours out of 36 by the time they reach the summit and clamber back down by Thursday afternoon. In between, they will each get just four hours’ rest, with the high altitude rendering sleep all but impossible.
“It’s definitely harder than we imagined and we are being pushed right to our limits,” said Waites.
“It took us six hours to cover two miles yesterday but fortunately none of us have suffered altitude sickness, though one or two have had dizzy spells and light headaches.
“It’s incredibly tough and quite unreal but everyone still feels they can reach the top.”
Waites also revealed that the team’s African porters had taken part in a game of heads and tales to decide which of them got to keep a set of Boro shirts donated by Middlesbrough FC. “It was incredible,” he laughed. “Those who won were bouncing when they realised they could keep the shirts.”
Having spent Monday night at Shira Camp at 3,800m, the fundraisers trekked across barren, moon-like landscape to 4,500m in the shadow of Kilimanjaro before descending to Barranco Camp at 3,900m as they edged close to the summit.
Wednesday’s first challenge was due to be a climb and scramble over the volcanic rock of the Barranco Wall.
After enjoying spectacular but hard-earned views during a snack break, they will spend the rest of the day climbing to Barafu Camp on a 4,600m ridge overlooking the mountain’s south-east valley.
They will then enjoy a good meal, put on extra layers of clothing to keep warm in the sub-zero temperatures and try to rest in preparation for Thursday’s early morning summit bid.
They will attempt to reach the peak during a six-hour climb in darkness, setting off at midnight to climb by torchlight before hopefully reaching the summit in time for the morning sunlight to give them spectacular views across the plains below.
The group set off on Sunday morning on a trek that began in the Tanzanian rainforest and ends in the snowbound climate at the top of Kilimanjaro.
During their journey, Cooper and co will walk through five climate zones from temperatures ranging from 30 degrees to a frostbiting -15 during their challenge.
With the generosity of those who sponsor their challenge, former Boro and England defender Cooper and his fellow fundraisers aim to raise thousands of pounds for the Finlay Cooper Fund in aid of children’s causes and charities, mainly on Teesside but also close to Cooper’s home in Harrogate and near one of his former clubs, Millwall.
The Fund was set up by Cooper and his wife Julie in memory of their son, Finlay, who died in a tragic choking accident shortly before his second birthday 10 years ago.
Also aiming to reach the summit are Fund trustees Graham Fordy and Nick Waites, Teesside university dean Mark Simpson, the oldest climber, 68-year-old Michael Riley and Middlesbrough fans Andy Gunn, Tony Dye, Phil Dinsdale, Chris Masterson, Stephen Ainsley, Newcastle supporter Dave Rowlands, Spain-based Sunderland fan Paul Shafto and Millwall-supporting Jason Pickering.
To sponsor Cooper, Hignett, Stelling and their fellow Kilimanjaro trekkers visit www.virginmoneygiving.com/team/finlaycooperfund or to donate £5 text “coop15 £5” to 70070.