Kili climbers Jeff Stelling, Colin Cooper and Craig Hignett on top of the world

The climbers at the start of their challenge
The climbers at the start of their challenge

NEW Pools boss Colin Cooper was on top of the world today after leading his fundraising team to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro.

Colin, who was joined by assistant boss Craig Hignett and Sky Sports presenter Jeff Stelling, as well as 12 other trekkers, reached the 5,895m peak in the early hours yesterday after an eight-hour climb in darkness.

Accompanied by experienced guides, they climbed by torchlight for eight hours to reach the summit of Africa’s highest mountain in time for the morning sunlight to give them spectacular views across the plains below.

And after reaching their goal, the emotions were running high as the trekkers looked back on their achievements.

Speaking from the crater at the top of Kilimanjaro, Colin revealed that he had completed the climb in memory of his son, Finlay, whose passing following a tragic choking accident before his second birthday inspired the formation of the charity.

“I am emotional and proud,” he said.

“I will be doing a couple of things in memory of Fin up here.

“It has been a heck of a day and it will take us another seven or eight hours to get back down to our camp, but it’s been a marvellous team effort by everybody involved.

“I am very proud of everybody who has done this.”

Cooper, who said he has grown a beard – or “a little fluffy thing” – for the first time in his life during the trek, added: “We have had fabulous support in sponsorship and we thank anybody who is considering putting some money in our pot from the bottom of our hearts. Every penny counts.

“What this group of 15 has done is pushed ourselves to our limit in the hope we can raise as much money as possible for children’s causes and charities.”

Craig echoed the sentiments of his new boss, adding: “It’s been quite emotional up here because, unbelievably, all 15 of us made it to the top.

“There’s euphoria. The group’s elder statesmen, Mike Riley and Graham Fordy, have been phenomenal.”

The former Boro star revealed that he had suffered headaches brought on by the high altitude, while others had suffered hallucinations and nosebleeds.

He added: “It has been unbelievably hard and without doubt the hardest thing I’ve done in my life.

“But the view up here is jaw-dropping. I can see the curvature of the earth.”

The group set off on Sunday morning on a trek that began in the Tanzanian rainforest and took them to the snowbound climate at the top of Kilimanjaro.

During their journey, they walked through five climate zones, from temperatures ranging from 30 degrees to a frostbiting -10 degrees during their challenge.

With the generosity of those who sponsored their challenge, the 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 Colin’s home in Harrogate and near one of his former clubs, Millwall.

l To sponsor the Kilimanjaro trekkers visit www.virginmoneygiving.com/team/finlaycooperfund or to donate £5 text “coop15 £5” to 70070.

l Hear the team’s reaction to reaching the summit by logging onto www.hartlepoolmail.co.uk