7 Epic Big Walls to Climb

Majestic, forbidding, immense – behold the world’s biggest walls and the adventurers who climb them.
Mount Asgard in Canada's Baffin range, a big wall climbing area of world renown
Mount Asgard, Baffin Island © Alastair Lee/posingproductions.com
By Tarquin Cooper

Nothing is quite as awe-inspiring as the climbers who scale big walls. These are climbs that are so huge they take days, sometimes weeks to complete. Sleeping on ledges slung alongside the rock, hauling bags of gear and supplies, surviving off minimal rations of food and water, big wall climbing demands incredible endurance, climbing skill and expert rope work – and big something else. Below, we showcase some of the world's most iconic big walls, and salute the climbers who dare to tackle them.

Yosemite, USA

Height: 1,000m (3,280 feet)
Remoteness: 5
Difficulty: 9
Aesthetic beauty: 7

You can't not mention big wall climbing and Yosemite in the same sentence. It's the Mecca where it all started, and the place every young ambitious climber wants to head. El Capitan, or El Cap for short is the most hallowed mountain. Its 1,000m (3,280 feet) face has played host to some of climbing's most legendary ascents from the 1950s to today.

At the time of writing, climbers Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson were attempting to make history by completing the first free ascent of the Dawn Wall – that's climbing without pulling or stepping on gear. They had spent over a week on the face and last reported they were waiting for the skin to grow back on their fingertips.

Mt Asgard, Baffin Island, Canada

Height: 1,200m (3,937 feet)
Remoteness: 9
Difficulty: 7
Aesthetic beauty: 7

Climber Leo Houlding big wall climbing on Mount Asgard in Canada's Baffin Mountains range
Leo Houlding shows the fun of big wall climbing © Alastair Lee/posingproductions.com

Among Bond movie and ski BASE fans, Mt Asgard holds a special place. It's the mountain where stunt legend Rick Sylvester skied off, pulling a parachute that opened up into a British flag way back in 1976, well before the sport was even invented.

In 2009, British climber Leo Houlding led a team of climbers in a bid to make the first free ascent of the north face, a story told in the award-winning Alastair Lee film, the Asgard Project. In homage to its history, Houlding then BASE jumped off from the summit.

Tsaranoro Massif, Madagascar

Height: 400m (1,312 feet)
Remoteness: 7
Difficulty: 6
Aesthetic beauty: 7

Tsaranoro massif on the island of Madagascar, a world respected area for big wall climbing known as Africa's Yosemite
Tsaranoro massif, Africa's Yosemite © Getty Images/Lonely Planet Images

Madagascar – you can be forgiven if your first thought is of some all singing, all dancing animated zoo animals. But among climbers Madagascar's Tsaranoro Massif is considered Africa's Yosemite.

The huge granite walls have been a popular adventure climbing destination since the late 90s. The cliffs are not so long – most are around 400m (1,312 feet) and can be tackled in a day – but one of its most famous lines is Tough Enough, which can be ranked alongside the hardest multi pitch routes of the world.

Trango Towers, Pakistan

Height: 1,300m (4,265 feet)
Remoteness: 9
Difficulty: 10
Aesthetic beauty: 9

Trango Tower climbing destination in Pakistan's Karakoram Mountains
Trango Tower, Pakistan © Getty Images/Minden Pictures RM

There are a few mountains in the world whose name stikes fear and awe into climbers. Trango Towers is one of them. The striking group of towering rock pillars are home to some of the hardest big wall climbs in the world and have attracted some of the world's top climbers. And we're not talking pure climbing difficulty here.

Just getting to the peaks is an expedition. The climbing takes place at over 6,000m (19,685 feet) – enough to make a flight of stairs exhausting. Recently Polish big-wall aces Marek Raganowicz and Marcin Tomaszewski completed a new 46 pitch route: it took them 20 days.

Ulvetanna Queen Maud Land, Antarctica

Height: 1,750m (5,741 feet)
Remoteness: 10
Difficulty: 8
Aesthetic beauty: 10

Sean 'Stanley' Leary shows his moves © Alastair Lee/posingproductions.com

It's not difficult to see why climbers are enraptured by the sight of Antarctica's Ulvetanna. It juts out of the white desert like a majestic ship's prow and offers a striking sight to anyone bold enough to visit, let alone climb.

But rock climbing in Antarctica? It's not for the faint-hearted. Bare hands are generally best on rock but in -25º C (-13º F) that's a world of discomfort. In 2013 Leo Houlding and team led an ascent up the unclimbed north-east ridge. Check out our interview with filmmaker Alastair Lee and the photogallery for the incredible story.

Le Petit Dru, France

Height: 850m (2,789 feet)
Remoteness: 4
Difficulty: 8
Aesthetic beauty: 7

Aiguille du Dru big wall climbing spot in France's Mont Blanc Massif
There's nothing small about the Petit Dru © Getty Images

It may be just a few hours hike from a lift station but the Dru is a serious – and risky undertaking. One of the classic lines up the mountain, the Bonatti Pillar, fell away in its entirity in a massive rock fall 10 years ago. And there have been other rock falls since.

The peak is still home to dozens of routes, from aid climbs that require balancing gear on the tiniest of holds to climbs that are within the possibility of regular climbers. One of the unnverving factors of climbing in the Chamonix valley is the false sense of security you get from being so close to civilisation – once on the route you're on your own.

Naranjo de Bulnes, Spain

Height: 500m (1,640 feet)
Remoteness: 5
Difficulty: 9
Aesthetic beauty: 8

Brothers Ike and Eneko Pou climbing Naranjo de Bulnes in Norther Spain
The Pou brothers sending Naranjo de Bulnes © Tim Kemple/Red Bull Content Pool

The Naranjo de Bulnes is a limestone peak located in north west Spain. In August 2009 the Spanish brothers Eneko and Iker Pou made one of their most significant climbs ever, making the first free ascent of the fiercely difficult 13 pitch route Orbayu.

The route ranks high as one of the hardest multi-pitch climbs in the world, and it was no straightforward outing for the brothers, as you can see in this video clip.

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