FOUR intrepid South Devon rugby stalwarts have set off on an epic trip to scale Africa's highest peak.
Torquay businessmen Matt Bettesworth, 42, and Paul Bettesworth, 31, and friends Bruce Wills, 63, and Mike Maslin, 55, are part of a Devon-based group set to climb Mount Kilimanjaro this month.
Kilimanjaro, the world's highest free standing mountain, stands at almost 19,500 ft — about three times the altitude of Europe's highest ski resorts and 4,000 ft higher than the summit of Mont Blanc.
The team will take six days to reach the summit where the air is so thin the climbers will only be breathing 50 per cent of the oxygen they do at sea level and temperatures are expected to be as low as -20C
The expedition also holds another purpose for the rugby players.
They will be delivering a donation of new playing kit, balls and equipment to a Tanzanian football side, Shirinjoro FC.
Shirinjoro were brought to their attention by friend and fellow adventurer Richard Harris, also from Torquay.
Richard, disabled from a neck injury sustained playing rugby some 20 years ago, recently drove an adapted Land Rover from Cape Town to Torquay — passing nearby Kilimanjaro en route.
While there, he met Prosper Kiluwa, the Shirinjoro team manager. Prosper himself is paraplegic and confined to a wheelchair.
Paul Bettesworth said: "A local firm has very kindly and anonymously donated a full strip for the club and variety of additional items of equipment and kit entirely free of charge, which is very generous."
Matt's wife, local artist Becky Bettesworth, has also designed a new club logo at their request.
Matt said: "This is a very poor area and these guys have always had to make do with mismatched and second hand kit.
"We hope that through our donor's benevolence, we may be able to give them a real boost and have Shirinjoro looking the envy of their league."
The group is being led by Paul Mattin, a retired Royal Marines major who specialised in mountain and winter training in some of the world's most inhospitable places.
Matt added: "It's certainly a tough challenge, but we have a great group with a formidable leader in Paul Mattin.
"We have trained hard in preparation and being rugby players, there has been no shortage of banter and mickey taking.
"We hope this spirit will help us up the mountain.
"Bruce in particular is getting on, has bad knees and needs all the help he can get."
Paul Mattin said: "I have trained military personnel in some pretty tough places and I have skied unsupported 1,500 miles to the South Pole.
"However, having to lead Paul, Matt, Bruce and Mike up Kilimanjaro proves life can throw even tougher challenges at you."
The adventurers departed for Tanzania on February 28.