CRAIG HIGNETT set off on the first leg of his charity climb of Mount Kilimanjaro yesterday and immediately looked forward to the day he returns to focus on Hartlepool United again.

The recently-appointed Pools No 2 and manager Colin Cooper left the North-East en route to Tanzania where they will be climbing Africa's highest peak to raise funds for the Finlay Cooper Fund.

But while the charity, set up by Cooper after his two-year-old son's death in 2002, is close to the heart of Hartlepool's new managerial team there is also a frustration that their early work at Victoria Park has suffered interruption.

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Before jetting off yesterday the former Middlesbrough duo have been pressing ahead with summer plans for the team so that everything is in place when the return from Tanzania.

"It's been a hectic four days," said Hignett. "It's been about organisation, sorting out pre-season games, pre-season friendlies, seeing which players we will have and which ones we won't have, seeing which players we would like to have at the club and trying to make contact to them."

Hignett has been eager to get in to management so the opportunity to become Cooper's right-hand man was a chance he could not resist. That is why he will not be completely switching off during his exploration trip along with Sky Sports' Jeff Stelling over the course of the next ten days - and he has not ruled out Hartlepool making transfer progress from the summit of Kilimanjaro.

"Once I get in to something that's me, it's 24/7," said Hignett. "Whilst this trip will be brilliant, I am already itching to get back to Hartlepool again to focus on the job. Colin is the same.

"We really fancy this and it's something we have both wanted to do for a long, long time. We want to do it properly. We just want to get stuck in.

"We don't want any dead days and unfortunately there will be some dead days while we are over here. But we do have everything in place while we are away.

"All we are waiting for now is players' decisions. Pre-season, a five-and-a-half weeks training schedule is all sorted, it's all down to the last minute detail. We have done it all. That's sorted, so it's just a case of thinking about players who we would like.

"When we come back It's purely on sorting the squad. We have a satellite phone, so we will never say never and we could use it for that while we are away. The satellite phone could help us with that."

While Hartlepool are interested in a number of players, including signing one or two Middlesbrough youngsters on loan, there is also an issue surrounding striker Steve Howard.

The experienced forward finished the season on loan at Sheffield Wednesday but still has a year to run on his contract at Hartlepool.

Cooper has already discussed the situation with the 37-year-old, but it remains unclear whether or not the forward will stay or go before the start of the new season in August.

"The gaffer has had a word with Steve Howard, a few of them actually, but a few of them are on holiday," said Hignett. "Nothing has been decided yet. Steve doesn't know what is happening because he still has a year left. We have not had contact from anybody about him. The ball is in Steve's court really."

Hignett and Cooper have both been enjoying altitude training in the build up to climbing Kilimanjaro, but Hignett is not convinced he is fully prepared for the experience.

He said: "I am ready, I don't know if I am fit. It's exciting because it is something you wouldn't normally do. I really am quite excited about it … the only thing is I can't switch off from work because we have been in four days already working on things.

"My head is whirling around with everything we have got going on, hopefully I can switch off a bit when we are climbing up Kilimanjaro. It's going to be a brilliant experience."