Schottischer Rock - A German Perspective on Scottish Sea Cliffs

© Sebastian Mangold

The Scottish isles were this year's climbing destination for German competition and sport climber Thomas "Shorty" Tauporn and friend Markus Urbanowski. After spending time in the "infamous" Peak District in 2014, 2015 saw them travelling to the north-west coast of Scotland, taking in Lewis and Harris as well as climbing the Old Man of Stoer and sampling Reiff - Rubha Coigeach. Markus' endearing description of their adventures and his appraisal of Scottish sea-cliff climbing caught our eye, so we translated their story to share on UKC.

Markus on Hughies Cocktail Mixture E3  © Sebastian Mangold
Markus on Hughies Cocktail Mixture E3
© Sebastian Mangold

Translated from the original German by Natalie Berry

The approaches to the spectacular climbing throughout our trip lead us through deep moorland, steep grassy slopes and involved scary abseils, cold water, high waves and dubious Tyrolean traverses. The first crag of the trip was Uig Sea Cliffs North - Aird Uig in the west, an abandoned Cold War military base for the Royal Air Force on Lewis and Harris, the largest of the Scottish isles. After travelling by ferry, we drove for miles on a single track road through the green and brown loneliness. Streams, rivers and lakes criss-crossed the fascinating landscape. 

The rough Atlantic beat its waves up to 15 metres high against the rugged cliffs of Aird Uig and initially we couldn't imagine where and how to get to the promised climbing. Similar to places such as the Verdon Gorge in the south of France, you can't access the base very easily and in this case there were no abseil stakes or anything similar, so we wrapped the rope around a large rock and headed down towards a thunderous spray. Our first attempts were promising. The gneiss was solid, there were plenty of opportunities for cams and the waves beat only occasionally up to our chosen stance. A seal appeared again and again in the surf and watched in amazement at our activities. The next day, it got a bit more serious.

Thomas Tauporn climbing at Aird Uig
© Sebastian Mangold

The Painted Wall, as its name aptly describes, is situated on a 30 metre high steep cliff with beautiful rock drawings and is a fitting route; the jewel of the wall in the form of a diagonal quartz crack going at E4 5c. We both climbed the route on our first attempt and took away some confidence for the upcoming climbs. Our time on Lewis and Harris flew by and day by day we grew more courageous and more familiar with the wild scrambling above the often even wilder sea. Every day we were climbing different lines, which we reckon belong in our personal top 10 favourite routes. The rock at Mangersta with its impressive 30 metre high cave will remain a particularly fond memory. The metre-high waves almost washed us from the base of the wall and we fled upwards. Wonderful routes, challenging climbs and an assurance that morale can always swing like a pendulum between hope and despair.

Markus approaching the Old Man of Stoer  © Sebastian Mangold
Markus approaching the Old Man of Stoer
© Sebastian Mangold

Back on the mainland, we went directly from the port town of Ullapool further north to Lochinver and on the same day completed our first Sea Stack climb, the Old Man of Stoer. A 60 metre high, free-standing rock tower in the sea, which was first climbed in 1966. To reach the bottom, you first of all must descend a 90 metre grassy edge, then crawl a few metres across the Atlantic Ocean and build a Tyrolean rope traverse attached to of a couple of slings, cams and a rusted carabiner.

"Shorty" drew the short straw (!) for swimming the night before and I think he is still thankful to the dockworker in Lochinver for that. We waited - determined - for half an hour at the entrance and watched the 10-metre-high waves and spray, which hit around the base of the Old Man. If caught in such a monster while swimming, you could easily end up as seal food. A calmer interlude arrived and it was on; out of his clothes and into the 10°C cold water, then back out again, seeking protection behind the rock and looking out for the next wave. The sculpted sandstone of the Old Man of Stoer offered us enjoyable climbing at its best and a breathtaking view of the rough Atlantic. What a magnificent piece of rock and adventure - the highlight of our trip to Scotland.

Markus on the Old Man of Stoer Tyrolean  © Sebastian Mangold
Markus on the Old Man of Stoer Tyrolean
© Sebastian Mangold

On our last climbing day, we went to Reiff - Rubha Coigeach, where the approach was comparable in difficulty to the pronunciations of place names in this area. According to the guide, it was a 45 minute walk, but due to the fact that Scotland had had one of the wettest summers for many years, we needed an hour longer than described. We mostly sank up to the thigh in bogs, or occasionally the path was cut off by a creek. The arduous approach was rewarded by steep cliffs with incredibly beautiful routes and our top 10 all-time climbs now consist almost exclusively of Scottish routes!

We managed several routes of E5 on our first attempt and the cams were now beginning to feel more like bolts. Our last climb was Spaced Out Rockers On The Road To Oblivion E4 5c, a 65 metre long traverse on horizontal jugs. What a line, what an adventure! First climbed in 2000, it was just the right mix of excitement and enjoyment, adventure and safety. A magnificent route to finish on and it alone can be blamed for the fact that the next trip to Scotland is already being planned...

Read our UKC Destination Guide to Lewis and Harris.

UKC Articles and Gear Reviews by Markus Urbanowski

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13 Jan, 2016
A lovely, appreciative article.
13 Jan, 2016
Nice one, glad they enjoyed their trip!
13 Jan, 2016
Great to hear about more European climbers sampling the joys of Scottish trad. I'm guessing that at Reiff they made the mistake of walking in a straight line towards the N end of the peninsula rather than following the shore for most of it!
14 Jan, 2016
I met a really psyched couple on Pabbay from Swiss/Spain, it was only later on that I realised I'd also met them down the leap too. Our sea cliffs are truly our greatest assets.
14 Jan, 2016
Great article, really enjoyed reading that.
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