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Jack's joy at Old Man of Hoy climb; EXCLUSIVE Teacher celebrates 60th in style.

Byline: Jean McLeish

ABERDEEN teacher Jack Thomson climbed the Old Man of Hoy to celebrate his 60th birthday.

Most men are happy enough with a few beers to drown their sorrows on hitting the big 6-0. But the Glasgow-born climber had other ideas.

Jack, who is head of guidance at Robert Gordon's College, said: "I think it's such an iconic feature in Britain. Every climber wants to climb the Old Man of Hoy just like every climber wants to climb the Matterhorn.

"When they see that shape they just need to be on top of it no matter what - so that's why I wanted to climb the Old Man of Hoy."

He began climbing in his 20s and has been taking pupils rockclimbing in the Scottish mountains and skiing in the Alps for most of his teaching career.

Climbing the 450ft rock is the fulfilment of a lifelong ambition for the physics teacher, who watched Chris Bonnington and Tom Patey make the first televised ascent of the iconic Orkney sea stack in 1967 as a young teenager.

He said: "A couple of years ago I could see my 60th birthday coming up and I wanted to celebrate it somehow in a climbing sense.

"And I thought 'Well the old man on the Old Man would be the perfect thing to do'.

"The guy I climb with jumped at the chance and he's always wanted to do it as well.

"So we decided we would go and then we got a few other people to join us - so six climbers eventually did it," said Jack, who has taught at Robert Gordon's for 25 years.

Climbing the stack was also a remarkable achievement for climbing partner, 57-year-old Danny Laing from Culter, Aberdeen, as he suffered a heart attack three years ago.

Jack said: "Danny's dad died at 52 of a heart attack and at 54 Danny had a heart attack.

"He thought himself that it was his time to go, but he had stents put in and ever since then he has a motivation for life and climbing that is quite incredible."

"There's no question of opening a bottle of fizz to celebrate when you get to the top of the Old Man of Hoy.

"You need all your wits about you to abseil back down and it's not until that's done safely that a sense of accomplishment kicks in."

Jack and his team marked the occasion with a meal in front of a roaring fire, once everyone was safely down and back in the bothy.

He said: "There is a sense of satisfaction from having managed to get to the top. It's not an easy climb.

"It's not a climb that a beginner could go and hope to get up. You need to have a bit of experience.

"And it's not the best climb in terms of the quality of the rock - it's quite loose, but it is the whole adventure of getting yourself up to Hoy, going down that scary path and then doing the climb and getting yourself back off."

It wasn't until the late 70s that Jack took up climbing, but he remembers first being inspired as a teenager.

He said: "I am old enough to remember the 1967 televised climb with climbers like Chris Bonnington and our own Tom Patey from Ellon who were on the first ascent of the Old Man of Hoy.

"I remember watching it as a kid when I was 13 and I sat for the whole day watching these guys going up this impossible looking pinnacle.

"They first climbed the Old Man of Hoy in 1966 and that was the first ascent. Then in 1967, they re-enacted their first ascent for live television.

"So it was the very first live televised climb on British television and for my generation it just meant so much.

And Jack is showing no signs of stopping yet. He said:"I hope I can keep climbing into my 70s.

"I think for most climbers it is in your blood. Although you might get a bit older and your strength goes a bit I think you always want to climb. Most of the guys I know climb until they drop."

It's not a climb that a beginner could go and hope to get up Jack Thomson


Tough climb Old Man of Hoy

Target in sight Birthday boy Jack Thomson in front of the Old Man of Hoy
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Nov 7, 2013
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