The Unsung Hero #1 - Tim Rankin Article

© Piotr Wisthal

In the small world of British climbing, it's easy to assume that you know of everyone and their exploits, especially in your local area. A climber's achievements, projects, favourite climbing brands and even what they eat for breakfast can easily be discovered if you follow them on Facebook.

Tim on the First Ascent of perfect Vacuum E8/9 6c  © Piotr Wisthal
Tim on the First Ascent of perfect Vacuum E8/9 6c
© Piotr Wisthal

There are, however, a number of unsung heros operating below the social media radar; not only climbing cutting-edge grades but also venturing into the unknown, putting up new routes and discovering untouched rock in all corners of our tiny island. Their obsession for new areas and routes draws them away from the populated hives of climbing walls and honeypot crags. Instead, they quietly work in isolation, dedicating hours of time to developing new climbs that may never see a second or third ascent.

For the Unsung Hero or Heroine, recognition of their efforts is rarely sought after and seldom gained. The spirit of new-routing could be viewed as simultaneously selfish and selfless; at once rejecting the established status quo and seeking out a new challenge that can be either relished alone, or shared with others. Whatever their motivation for doing so, their efforts add to the history and character of an area.

Tim Rankin is one such individual. You most probably won't have heard of him - it's not in his nature to vaunt his escapades publicly, but his activities in North East Scotland will no doubt leave you in awe. With first ascents up to E9 and 8c, Tim has carved out a playground on his doorstep which sees him rarely travel further afield.

We got in touch with Tim and gave him a gentle nudge to share his impressive ticklist and unique approach to climbing. Tim is 40 years old, married with two kids and a dog. He works full time as a Facility Manager and instructor for industrial work at height training.

Tim's most recent significant new routes include:

Orchestra Cave - south of Aberdeen on the coast

Magnum Opus 8b/8c Feb 2016 ("no real idea on the grade but it felt like the hardest thing I have ever climbed! Sustained 50 degree overhanging weirdness up granite blobs in the Orchestra cave!)

Con fuoco 7c+ Feb 2015

La forza del destino 8a Feb 2015

The Shark Fin - 2 minutes north of the Orchestra Cave

Megalodon 8a+ November 2015

Great White 8b May 2015

Mbenga 8a+ March 2015

Blow Up Nose South - very steep red granite! Coast 5 minutes north of the Fin

Perfect Vacuum E8/9 6c August 2015

Super Nova E7 6c August 2015

New Horizons E7 6c August 2015

Red wall quarry - north of Aberdeen near Peterhead, again on the coast

Hades 8b/8b+ June 2015

When and how did you get into climbing?

I started climbing in 1994 when I moved to Aberdeen to study. A friend in my class who had not long started himself encouraged me to give it a go. I think I immediately took to it and found that moving over rock felt not only really enjoyable but quite natural to me.

What was your main motivation for continuing with climbing?

I think it was the endless possibilities it seemed to offer me, every route was unique and every cliff was different. I had so much to learn and only 10 minutes from Aberdeen city centre was a stunning coastline for me to investigate and best of all, it was completely free! But in truth it might just have been that I had found a sport I felt quite good at that didn’t bore me or make my lungs burn!

Tim on Optimus Prime  © Neil Morrison
Tim on Optimus Prime
© Neil Morrison

What inspires you to climb new lines, and how is the experience different to climbing an existing line?

Sometimes I think it’s down to the strength and beauty of the line or the quality of the climbing itself. The desire to climb a stunning new line has almost always been the motivation for me to get stronger and fitter!

But mostly I think it’s down to the process itself; searching out new crags or realising the potential on existing cliffs. Working out where the line goes or even if it will go! My own little piece of exploration and the anticipation of what might be. For me the new-routing process provides a richer and more rewarding experience than that I get from climbing existing routes.

Tell us a bit about the North East of Scotland, where you have been particularly active. What's special about it?

Contrary to the popular belief about much of Scotland the North East is in fact very dry and sunny. I usually manage to rock climb outdoors all year round and the last few years this has been mostly sport climbing in winter, not just bouldering. There is a huge variety of rock types and styles of climbing from one of the UK’s finest mountain crags Creag an Dubh Loch to some of Scotland’s steepest and best sport climbing in the Orchestra Cave.

But for me what makes the North East so special is the coast both north and south of Aberdeen. Although never more than 15 minutes from a main road there are many beautiful, secluded spots and some intimidatingly remote-feeling venues. It teams up with wildlife such as dolphins, seals, sea birds and deer, which are common sights. There is a staggeringly high concentration of quality mid extremes of varied styles and rock types, as well as some great sport and bouldering venues, which usually allow a good day's climbing somewhere no matter the weather.

First ascent of Supernova E7 6c  © Piotr Wisthal
First ascent of Supernova E7 6c
© Piotr Wisthal

When looking for new climbs and areas, are you working with others or by yourself? Is it hard to find people who are keen to put time and effort into new routes alongside you, rather than simply going out for a climb?

My initial interest in new-routing partly came about because there wasn’t anyone to climb with. I worked shifts for years and finding a partner was often impossible so I began to explore and it remains something I still love to do. When most would look at the weather or fading light and decide it’s not worth it, I will somehow manage to convince myself it is! Even now I find myself scouring the same stretch of coast in the rain for the 10th time just to be sure I never missed a quality little boulder problem or cheeky little route! Just so long as it keeps me from pulling on resin I’m a happy man.

Finding someone to climb with outdoors these days can be hard let alone someone mad enough to sacrifice day after day to clean and prepare new routes, and besides - new-routing labour is not a terribly sociable activity! I actually quite like the solitude!

Where else have you climbed - do you tend to travel much, or does your home turf provide you with enough interest?

I’ve climbed in Yosemite, had many winter sun trips to Europe and done bits and pieces in England and Wales as far south as Pembroke. I’ve climbed extensively in most parts of Scotland but probably been most active in the North West and Orkney mainland. I don’t travel much these days apart from the occasional weekend and my annual winter sun trip clipping bolts. This is partly down to family life and finances but mostly because the style of route that inspires me the most can be found right on my door step.

I’m continually amazed by the local potential, particularly on the coast if you’re determined enough to realise it! But that’s what I like; it’s never guaranteed on the coast. The logistics of tide, seepage, birds and finding a partner have to come together to succeed on anything let alone hard projects. It’s an art and about much more than just climbing fitness; in fact I often think being able to climb the route is only half the challenge on the coast!

Violent Concerto 7c  © Piotr Wisthal
Violent Concerto 7c
© Piotr Wisthal

Give us some recommendations for top crags to visit in the North East, and tell us why they're worth a visit!

Red Hole, South cove

Probably little known outside the North East let alone outside Scotland but this is a truly outstanding trad cliff that ranks alongside any cliff in the country. Powerful, intimidating lines, sustained climbing usually with wild exposure to boot. Some of the finest E5’s anywhere and only 10 minutes from Aberdeen city centre, yet very few have savoured the delights!

Craig Stirling

The archetypical North East coast crag. Quality trad routes of all grades - usually steep, strenuous and far more intimidating than they should be! Many classics and a few forgotten esoteric gems.

Red Band Cliff

One of my favourite crags and a beautiful secluded spot only 20 metres high but with some outrageous steep routes and two of the wildest E5s I’ve climbed anywhere! It’s not often that E5 goes through 8 metre horizontal roofs!


Ironically the best known of the North East coast crags maybe because the guide mentions there are some soft grades! A steep dank intimidating crag but conditions are often far better here than anywhere. Fine multi pitch trad routes up to E6; mostly strong lines up well protected cracks and corners.

Arthur Fowlie

On the granite coast north of the city is this little frequented gem. A relatively extensive crag with some fine routes of all grades but it’s the 35 degree overhanging crack lines up the central prow which win the show. But as always there’s a catch - it’s a hard crag to get in nick but if you want it easy go to a climbing wall!

Orchestra Cave

An extensive sport cliff by Scottish standards found on the coast south of the city. Finally starting to get recognised as one of the best sport venues in Scotland. Mostly short and steep but with a few longer 35m routes and link ups. If you thought tufas were only on limestone think again, as here you can wrestle with granite blobs!

Cammachmore Bay

A limited but great bouldering venue and home to the stunning arête of Optimus Prime.

What's your proudest discovery to date, and why?

I would say it was discovering the true potential in the north east sea cliffs for sport climbing and bouldering. There is now a selection of great sport crags and bouldering venues to complement the already excellent trad climbing.

What's next for you?

More of the same. I still have a few projects I aspire too and who knows what else I might find!

Watch videos by Piotr Wisthal of Tim climbing at Orchestra Cave and Blow Up Nose South below:

Do you know of a local unsung climbing activist in your area? Putting up new routes, working on conservation and access or simply adding to the spirit of the climbing community in some unique way? Get in touch!

Read an article on the importance of local climbing icons by Georgia Townend.

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8 Apr, 2016
That's the thing about Tim. He could be climbing right next to you at the crag and you wouldn't even know he was there.
8 Apr, 2016
Nice interview
8 Apr, 2016
But what if he fell and nobody heard ... ? Plus, from what I remember, he's a very useful beta monkey.
9 Apr, 2016
Great to see Tim being recognised for his efforts. He has been forging the pathway of hard climbing in the north east for all of us to follow. Years of hard work and searching definitely paid off..... As one of the many that sporadically climb with Tim jumping on his hard lines once bolted getting all the short man beta it's much appreciated. All this from a guy that rarely visits the climbing wall, youngsters take heed. Keep it up, one day you can pass on the drill!
10 Apr, 2016
This helps invoke my faith in climbers; that perseverance, exploration and motivation keeps people keen for so long. Tim - what a legend.
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