BIG SURPRISE: Expedition leader Russ Holland took the opportunity to propose to his girlfriend, assistant leader Kirsten Howton, at the summit of Mt Kilimanjaro.
BIG SURPRISE: Expedition leader Russ Holland took the opportunity to propose to his girlfriend, assistant leader Kirsten Howton, at the summit of Mt Kilimanjaro. Contributed

A Coffs romance at Kilimanjaro’s summit

A FUNDRAISING expedition to the top of Mt Kilimanjaro ended with a marriage proposal for the trip's leader and assistant leader.

Nine Coffs Harbour locals and one Sunshine Coast resident last month completed the mammoth trek to the top of world's highest free-standing mountain as part of Climb4 the Chopper, to raise money for the Westpac Life Saver Rescue Helicopter.

The mountain climb raised close to $23,000 for the helicopter service through community donations and sponsorships.

Expedition leader Russ Holland, who also works as fundraising and community relations officer for the helicopter service, said the seven-day climb was no easy feat.

"Each of the team members faced their own challenges," Mr Holland said.

"Different people on different days faced some physical and mental challenges, particularly on summit night, which is very much about mental toughness as you trek from about 11pm at night and summit at about 6.45am."

Mr Holland faced an added stress as he prepared to propose to his girlfriend Kirsten at the mountain's peak.

"It was a surprise for everyone including my now-fiance," he said.

"Our head guide, who has been climbing Kilimanjaro for 20 years and has summitted well over 500 times, said he has never seen somebody propose on the summit before.

"Kirsten had a couple of days where she was quite unwell and I was starting to make a plan b in case she didn't make it to the summit, but she came good at the right time and powered through.

"Luckily she said yes so we avoided an awkward walk back down the mountain."

Plans are already under way for another Mt Kilimanjaro fundraising climb at the end of 2016.

To make a donation to the Westpac Rescue Helicopter, phone 6627 4444 or visit www.helirescue.com.au.



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