A Litcham man climbed the highest mountain in the southern hemisphere to escape memories of Iraq.Former soldier Olly Birkbeck has just returned from the expedition of a lifetime conquering Aconcagua, the tallest peak in the Andes.
A Litcham man climbed the highest mountain in the southern hemisphere to escape memories of Iraq.
Former soldier Olly Birkbeck has just returned from the expedition of a lifetime conquering Aconcagua, the tallest peak in the Andes.
The 34-year-old from Litcham, who spent the last two years working in private security in Iraq, endured altitude sickness, steered around sheer drops and navigated through heavy fog in a bid to be on of the elite few to reach the top of the notorious mountain.
He said: “In total I've spent three years in Iraq and Afghanistan. It's very easy to become absorbed in the way of life. I knew I needed a way to shake the sand from between my toes.
“I wanted to readjust from spending time in a warzone. It felt strange. I wanted to do something I could control. Something dangerous and challenging but for once something that was within my control.
“Iraq had become my life and in social situations you find it difficult to talk about anything else. I wanted a new topic of conversation if nothing else.
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“Then my friend e-mailed me. He had just qualified as a guide and wanted me to come with him on the trek.”
So Mr Birkbeck, whose father is the former High Sheriff of Norfolk, and friend Johannes Hodson, immediately agreed and along with three others and two guides set off on the 17 day expedition.
The group left on January 20, spending four days walking to the base camp before a hard 10 day hike to the summit and returning on February 7.
Mr Birkbeck, who spent five years serving with the Household Cavalry, said: “I am proud of what I've done. It wasn't terribly hard. I think if you put your mind to it, it can be done.
“It was difficult. There were winds up to 100mph, temperatures of around minus 20 c. There wasn't really time to appreciate what we had done at the top because really heavy fog was coming down and we had to hurry up.
“But we and Johannes spent the next six weeks appreciating what we did when unwinding by travelling around Brazil.”