Shivering through a sleepless night camped inside the crater rim of Tanzania's 5,895-metre Mount Kilimanjaro, Carlos Sabugueiro felt emotions and sensations unlike any he had ever experienced. He was footsore, freezing and physically exhausted after completing the six-day trek to the summit of Africa's highest peak. On the climb he had endured periods of self-doubt, pain and near-despondency, pushing himself to limits of endurance that had never seemed possible. But now, as he fought off frostbite and waited for the first gleam of dawn to appear through the clouds below, one thought dominated all others: he had done it. Of course, Mr Sabugueiro was not alone. Huddled in tents all around him were not just the guides, cooks and porters who had accompanied the expedition, but 29 of his colleagues from the various offices of Zurich International Life. In the preceding days, each of them had confronted their own demons and overcome personal frailties. But, by offering help, friendship and mutual support, sometimes in the direst circumstances, they had been able to conquer the mountain and share the overwhelming sense of elation that comes from working together to achieve the seemingly impossible. And that was ultimately why this disparate group of sales people and executives, from Britain, Dubai and Hong Kong, had flown to Tanzania. The trip took 71/2 days last November, including six days of ascent with the rest taken up by the trip back down. It began at the Lemosho trailhead at an elevation of 2,371 metres and took the team to the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro as part of a team building exercise. It was the idea of Martin Davis, Zurich's chief executive, who incorporated it as part of the company's annual incentive programme, which rewards staff who have shown exceptional customer service. Mr Davis thought that climbing Kilimanjaro required a range of skills which were paramount when working together as a team. A key part of the campaign was to nominate local or overseas colleagues at any level for instances of service excellence throughout the year. The names of those receiving most nominations then went into a hat and the winners were invited to kit themselves out with boots, backpacks and sleeping bags to take part in the team building exercise of a lifetime. Mr Sabugueiro, the company's regional director for Asia, was joined by three colleagues from the Hong Kong office and said he had an initial sense of trepidation about the adventure. 'I am not unfit, but I was very nervous about going. I went walking to wear my boots in, but not the Maclehose [trail] - I'm really not that kind of person.' The organising team provided advice about gear, inoculations and training, and he set off early last November, feeling reasonably well-prepared. The first day on the trail, though, could hardly have been worse. The heavens opened, quickly turning the path to mud and soaking clothing and equipment. 'The last two hours were in pitch black in the jungle and we only had three lights between 10 or 11 people,' Mr Sabugueiro said. 'You had to take a few steps and then turn around to point the light so the next person could see where to walk.' It was a chastening experience, but brought the scale of the challenge into much sharper focus. From that point on, the daily routine was well established. It started at 5am with a cup of tea, a rudimentary wash and a gathering around the mess tent for breakfast. Then came nine or 10 hours of walking, with a break for lunch, to reach the next campsite, where everyone was clapped in for 'surviving' another day. During a carbohydrate-rich dinner, cooked by the support crew who had gone ahead, there was a chance to swap stories and generally recover before turning in at about 7pm. 'At the end of day two, the rain had turned to sleet and hailstones, and many people were tired and emotionally drained,' Mr Sabugueiro said. 'But we woke up in a crisp, chill morning, rallied around, and said: 'we can do this'.' Many things left a lasting impression - the way people would slow down to walk alongside colleagues, with words of encouragement to get them through a rough patch. There was the banter and good humour of the porters carrying loads of up to 20kg on their heads. And there were the mind games and mood swings during the hardest stretches, where at times it required an act of supreme determination to take just the next few steps. 'Going up the mountain, everyone is equal and going through the same mental and physical challenges,' Mr Sabugueiro said. 'You never quite know how your body and mind will react, and no matter how fit you are, altitude sickness can ruin you.' To combat that, it was important to drink at least three litres of water a day and, despite illness or loss of appetite, force down as much food as possible. On the afternoon of day six, having ascended through a landscape gradually changing from forest to low vegetation and then barren volcanic scree, the wooden sign marking the journey's end came into view. 'It is fantastic to see your final destination and, invariably, most people are in tears when they make it,' he said. 'But the amazing thing is you get to the top, get your photo and get out. Mentally you can let your guard down and get cold very quickly, so they recommend heading down into the crater for the night as soon as possible.' Even after the subsequent 1 1/2-day descent and farewell party with the guides, the full impact of what the team had achieved was still sinking in. Collectively, they had shared a genuinely life-changing experience - and raised about HK$750,000 from sponsors, friends and colleagues to build a school in Gambia and support a children's village in Tanzania.