Mountaineer Tim, 75, ‘admits defeat’ after sixth attempt to conquer South American peak
- Credit: Archant
A 75-year-old mountaineer with a lung condition has 'admitted defeat' after his sixth attempt to climb South America's highest peak – but his dogged determination has succeeded in raising £25,000 for charities.
Tim Hirst, who lives in Mundham, near Loddon, has been battling to reach the 22,837ft summit of Aconcagua since 2003, but he has been forced to turn back each time due to exhaustion, altitude sickness or the extreme weather of the Argentinian Andes.
He suffers from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and his latest attempt left him unable to pass base camp after he developed breathing difficulties in the oxygen-starved air.
But despite the disappointment he has no regrets after a climbing career which has raised thousands of pounds for charities including the Norfolk and Norwich Association for the Blind (NNAB).
'It has just been an amazing experience,' he said. 'Would I do it again? I would do it for the people, for the challenge, for the stunning atmosphere you get at altitude, and all the human emotions that I have experienced over those six trips. But I think I know now that I have to accept defeat.
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'I am resigned to the fact that the mountain has beaten me. This time I turned back because of the COPD and I have never experienced that at the lower altitudes so, from a health perspective, that's it. It was the right decision.'
Although Mr Hirst's tenacity has won admiration from friends, family and fellow climbers, he modestly describes it as 'stubbornness'.
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'If I was reading this, I would probably say: 'Stupid old fool, but hats off to him',' he said. 'I do it for the personal goals. The ego gets beaten up a bit, but that disappointment is secondary to the amount of money raised for NNAB.'
Mr Hirst's obsession with Aconcagua, which is the world's highest mountain outside the Himalayas, began after he successfully climbed Mt Kilimanjaro in Africa in 2001. He said his time in the Andes also had many low points, including watching a Korean rock climber fall to his death in 2003.
But an unexpected upside to his experiences is that Mr Hirst is now 'on speaking terms' with world-renowned adventurer Sir Ranulph Fiennes, who sponsored Mr Hirst's first attempt and later supplied autographed books to be sold at fundraising auctions.
Sir Ranulph failed in his own bid to conquer Aconcagua last winter, when his summit attempt ended with a helicopter evacuation after he was struck down with severe back pain.
'I sent him an email saying if you need any help, I'll be glad to come with you,' said Mr Hirst. 'He said: 'But Tim, I need someone who knows the way to the top'.'
Mr Hirst, now retired, was previously a farm business manager at the Bressingham office of grain-marketing co-operative Openfield. His charitable efforts are continuing by running the London Marathon this year.
• Mr Hirst will discuss his experiences during a public talk at Ditchingham Village Hall from 6.30pm on Saturday, February 2. Tickets are £5 on the door and all proceeds go to the NNAB and the Bungay Black Dog Running Club.