A new era of climbing fame has arrived. After the pioneers of the 1950s and '60s came the cool hippies of the '70s then the TV stars and ad-funded pros of the '80s and '90s. Now, as climbing becomes more popular as an everyday pastime, there's a new wave of incredible climbers providing inspiration for the masses.
With so many different styles and approaches to climbing, it’s almost impossible to say who's the best – but here’s our pick of the bunch in no particular order.
1. Adam Ondra
- Born: February 5, 1993 (26)
- Birthplace: Brno, Czech Republic
- Speciality: Sport/Bouldering
- Standout climb: Silence in Flatanger, Norway – hardest ever free climb route [Grade 9c, to be confirmed] (2017)
Age of Ondra part 1
Age of Ondra part 2
Ondra’s unique ability to save energy and manage his breathing – which includes shouting from the rock face during climbs – is what makes him extra special. His pulse rate goes down, not up, when he climbs.
At 190cm tall, he’s a tower of a climber and his long neck acts as a balance tool. He doesn’t have as much arm strength as others, but his hip mobility allows him to put more weight on his legs and pull his centre of gravity closer to the face, saving power and helping him climb like a machine.
Sometimes I almost feel as if I were a Lego toy, the movements of my hands and legs being made by someone else with me just watching it from a distance
2. Chris Sharma
- Born: April 23, 1981 (37)
- Birthplace: Santa Cruz, California, USA
- Speciality: Sport / Deep Water Solo
- Standout climbs: Es Pontàs/Alasha in Mallorca, Spain – hardest ever deep-water solo ascents (2007/2017); La Dura Dura in Oliana, Spain – hardest confirmed free climb (2013)
For Sharma, climbing is all about reaching the absolute limit, which he does by climbing as much as possible. Lost without a project, he is consistently raising the bar and is the only person other than Adam Ondra to have climbed the world’s hardest confirmed route, La Dura Dura.
Chris Sharma Free Climbs a Giant Redwood Tree
Despite being part of the ‘gym generation’ he prefers to learn on the route and lives a nomadic lifestyle to do so. On a climb, he says, he can become ‘animalistic’ and his love of deep water soloing is down to the fact he can climb to the max without the fear of dying if something goes wrong.
The essence of climbing is finding out how far I can push myself, having the freedom and purity of no equipment and finding the limit of difficulty we can go to
3. Alex Honnold
- Born: August 17, 1985 (33)
- Birthplace: Sacramento, California, USA
- Speciality: Free Solo/Speed
- Standout climb: Freerider in Yosemite, USA – first free solo ascent on El Capitan (2017)
Honnold’s spectacular feats are achieved through disciplined training, focused preparation, consistency and sheer single mindedness – how else can you fearlessly climb without a rope up a giant wall like El Capitan?
He visualises moves and memorises sequences to give him confidence, goes through scary positions in his head to expand his comfort zone and manages his climbs with metronomic consistency. And he does it all with speed – he even has a unique technique to take off and stow a layer without stopping.
I don’t actually climb fast, I just don’t get tired and slow down. As you approach your own physical limits it gets harder to improve – getting better requires major dedication and focus
A line across the sky: Part I
A line across the sky: Part II
4. Ashima Shiraishi
- Born: April 3, 2001 (17)
- Birthplace: New York, USA
- Speciality: Sport
- Standout climbs: Open Your Mind Direct and Ciudad de Dios in Santa Linya, Spain – youngest ascent of a Grade 9a/9a+ route (2015)
Shiraishi is little more than 150cm tall, with a short reach that makes big momentum moves a challenge, but her high strength to weight ratio, dynamic agility and strong fingers let her scamper up cliffs and swing through overhangs like a spider.
Having started on boulders in Central Park aged seven, she has an intense gym training regime and uses a unique mind-focus technique from butoh dancing, an experimental Japanese performance art practiced by her father. Her other secret ingredient, she says, is having fun.
If you don’t remember to have fun, you will get stressed and doubt yourself. I want to help to inspire others to do what they love to do and to really work for it
5. Alex Megos
- Born: August 12, 1993 (25)
- Birthplace: Erlangen, Germany
- Speciality: Sport/Bouldering
- Standout climb: Estado Critico in Siurana, Spain – hardest ever onsight ascent (2013)
Megos has an incredible ability to master difficult routes in minimal time, either onsighting or efficiently working and repeating a climb to send it quickly. He focuses heavily on training and technique, but it’s his all-in, full on approach once at a climb that's the key.
The Alex Megos Formula
He has incredible finger strength and the high anaerobic capacity critical for high performance over short periods and his approach of moving fast, not getting caught up in the detail and spotting how to use pre-practised movements in new situations is what's taken him to the top.
The real reason for failure is not because it was too slippery, too warm or whatever, it’s simply because you were too weak. The easier hard grades look, the less hard even harder grades look
6. Alain Robert
- Born: August 7, 1962 (56)
- Birthplace: Digoin, France
- Speciality: Urban Free Solo
- Standout climb: Burj Khalifa in Dubai – first ascent of the world’s tallest building (2011)
Robert, known as ‘spiderman’, is famous for his often illegal rope-free climbs of enormous skyscrapers. His skills are rarely compared to others on this list, but his ability to continually onsight mindboggling urban ascents puts him firmly on it.
He applies the techniques normally used for route-finding on natural rock cracks, pits and scars to window frames, ledges and protrusions on modern buildings and has climbed more than 100 to date, including the Sydney Opera House, the Petronas Towers, the Eiffel Tower and the Burj Khalifa.
When I moved into free solo climbing I’d found my passion: blissful solitude mixed with the exhilaration of being caught in a place between life and death
7. Sasha DiGiulian
- Born: October 23, 1992 (26)
- Birthplace: Alexandria, Virginia, USA
- Speciality: Sport/Multi
- Standout climb: Mora Mora in Madagascar – first female ascent and second ever free ascent (2017)
DiGiulian’s small stature is a big benefit on steep climbs and to make the most of it she puts her focus on dynamic technique, making powerful big moves and paying big attention to footwork and body positioning. And positivity.
Described as tenacious, with a never give up attitude, she trains constantly and understands the importance of recovery using a total of six techniques – cryotherapy, Graston massage, dry needling, infrared saunas, foam rolling and simple resting – to stop her body from breaking down.
I am generally optimistic. Even if I'm falling, there are few days where I get too negative about climbing. It's all just having fun
Sasha DiGiulian's Canadian trilogy
8. Daniel Woods
- Born: August 1, 1989 (29)
- Birthplace: Richardson, Texas, USA
- Speciality: Bouldering
- Big climb: Creature of the Black Lagoon in Rocky Mountain NP, USA – first climb of the world’s hardest consensus boulder problem (2016)
Woods admits to being totally obsessed about climbing and it’s that pursuit of perfection that has driven him to the top of bouldering, completing more V15 (second hardest confirmed grade) problems than anyone in the world.
Confident and humble in equal measure, he's also so meticulous and committed to the task that he will painstakingly watch every video he can find and study all the information he can pull out of the beta for a climb before he takes it on. And that clearly helps.
I think to do something top notch, you have to tap into a different side of yourself and to do that you have to become obsessive about it
9. Tommy Caldwell
- Born: August 11, 1978 (40)
- Birthplace: Estes Park, Colorado, USA
- Specialty: Big Wall Free
- Big climb: Dawn Wall in Yosemite NP, USA – first free climb of this ultra-challenging route on El Capita (2015)
Caldwell is a long-standing superstar climber who's still at the top of his game, despite a rollercoaster life story that includes a kidnapping, divorce and a near-career-destroying accident that saw him chop off his finger.
His determination to overcome that missing finger turned him into a big wall legend and his switch to focus on scientific indoor training is now keeping him there. Just last year, he and Alex Honnold set a record speed climb on The Nose of El Capitan of 2 hours, 10 minutes and 15 seconds.
I believe the successes I've had do not come primarily from natural ability. I'm genetically built to be a pretty good climber (scrawny) but for me it's more motivation and attitude
The turning point
10. Angy Eiter
- Born: January 27, 1998 (21)
- Birthplace: Arzl im Pitzal, Austria
- Speciality: Sport
- Standout climb: La Planta de Shiva in Villanueva del Rosario, Spain – hardest climb by a female climber (2017)
Eiter is a four-time world champion indoor climber and has channelled that experience and attitude into the outdoors, with a never give up, try, try and try again attitude that has taken her to the top.
Angela Eiter breaks new ground in women's climbing
After failing on La Planta twice in 2015, she was so determined to beat it she went back seven times to try different sections, made exact replicas of holds and moves on a climbing wall at home and watched videos of Adam Ondra on the route before she finally achieved her goal two years later.
You need to be able to produce a perfect performance at a specific moment, and competitions teach you this to perfection
11. Jim Reynolds
- Age: 25
- Birthplace: Weaverville, California, USA
- Speciality: Free solo/Speed
- Standout climbs: The Nose on El Capitan in Yosemite, USA – fastest ascent (2017 - since bettered by Honnold/Caldwell); Afanassieff on Cerro Fitz Roy in Patagonia, Argentina - first free solo ascent/descent (2019)
Described as the ‘dark horse’ of climbing, Reynolds built an impressive resume in Yosemite while working for the park’s search and rescue team before free soloing Cerro Fitz Roy in March. Boom. Welcome to the big time.
Before making his mark on the walls, the business graduate was best known for eclectic hobbies like playing heavy metal on a mandolin and messing around with samurai swords. Part of that, he says, helps discipline him in mind, body and spirit.
(Free solo) is a soulful and personal thing. It’s a blessing and a curse. I’m blessed because I’m good at it, but it’s a curse because you know it could hurt the people you love