These are the 10 hardest climbs in the world
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The routes here are the ultimate ascents you can attempt on Earth, as chosen by the world's best climbers. Would you follow in their footsteps in attempting these fearsome climbs?
From sport routes to pure alpine, the debate over the best, toughest and most extreme climbing feats never stops. One thing is for certain, though, as climbing evolves, routes are getting harder.
Almost every year, a strong climber has a vision, puts up a route that will test their ability and then reports it. Then the route awaits a second ascent and confirmation of its difficulty from another of the world's strongest climbers. Sometimes it takes years for a climb to be repeated, sometimes it never is.
Top boulderer Nalle Hukkataival once said, "The hardest climbs in the world will never have an accurate grade, because you need multiple opinions and then it's not the hardest climb in the world."
That means that selecting the very hardest routes is subjective, but, as it stands, the climbs below are the ones that are claimed to be the toughest to tackle in each different style.
Trad climbing: Tribe
- Location: Cadarese, Italy.
- Grade: Ungraded, but claimed to be a possible 9a+ (5:15a).
- First ascent: Jacopo Larcher in March, 2019.
Tough trad climbing is back in vogue, with almost 50 claimed ascents of 5.14 grades in the last five years, but this one was so extreme that Larcher wasn't prepared to put a grade to it.
Unlike endurance-focused 'La Rambla', this is a shorter ascent with very hard individual moves. After first seeing the route in 2013, it took Larcher three trips and 50 sessions to finally link it all together.
"When you try something for so long, it's tricky to grade, because when you finally send it, it almost feels easy," Larcher said. However, Adam Ondra declared it, "No doubt, the hardest single-pitch trad route in the world."
Other contenders include 'Meltdown' in Yosemite, a 5.14c first sent by Beth Rodden and just repeated by Carlo Traversi, and 'Rhapsody', a 5.14c in the UK first sent by Dave MacLeod, but also done by Larcher.
Alpine climbing: Lunag Ri
- Location: Himalayas, Nepal/Tibet.
- Grade: One of the world’s highest previously unclimbed peaks (6,895m).
- First ascent: David Lama in October, 2018.
David Lama's successful solo attempt
It took four attempts and four years for David Lama to finally complete this climb, which was one of his biggest and toughest ever challenges.
His first attempt, with Conrad Anker in 2015, was aborted 300m from the top due to lack of ice. When the pair returned a year later, Anker suffered (but luckily survived) a heart attack on the mountain.
Lama then tried again on his own once his friend was cleared, but aborted 300m from the top again. Two years later, solo again, he astonishingly overcame temperatures of -30°C degrees and 80kph storms to reach the summit.
"I really love the combination of ice, rock and snow in mountaineering and alpinism," Lama said after. "It's just a bigger and more complex challenge overall."
Big Wall climbing: Dawn Wall
- Location: El Capitan, Yosemite, USA.
- Grade: 9a (5.14d).
- First ascent: Tommy Caldwell and Dean Jorgeson in January, 2015.
What is the Dawn Wall?
The super-long ascent has 32 incredibly difficult pitches, with "handholds the size of a credit card edge and footholds as shallow as a worn golf ball dimple". It took seven years of planning to complete.
In November 2016, Adam Ondra made the second ascent, taking a month of planning and scaling the route in just eight days. "There’s no doubt this is the hardest big-wall rock climb in the world," he said.
Sport climbing: Silence
- Location: Flatanger, Norway.
- Grade: 9c (5.15d) – Unconfirmed.
- First ascent: Adam Ondra in September, 2017.
Age of Ondra part 1
Adam Ondra first bolted this 45m route in 2013, but it took him seven visits and more than 40 days of climbing to finally send it, immediately declaring it the world's first 9c.
It's on one of the world's top climbing cliffs, Hanshelleren, and includes one point where he had to hang upside down from a jammed toe and then rotate up and climb along the tilted roof. In the end, it took him just 20 minutes.
This bettered three 9b+ grades ('Change', 'La Dura Dura' and 'Vasil Vasil'), which were also all established by Ondra. It hasn't yet been repeated, so isn't confirmed a 9c, but if anyone knows how to grade it, it's Ondra.
Ice climbing: Interstellar Spice
- Location: Helmcken Falls, British Colombia, Canada.
- Grade: WI12.
- First ascent: Klemen Premrl and Tim Emmett in December, 2016.
When Helmcken Falls freezes, the 141m waterfall creates the world's best ice routes and the top ice climbers keep upping the level.
The steep 80m pitch, with a 30m overhang, involved 28 bolts and travelled through "a maze of ice daggers and mushrooms" to end in an ice cave. Emmett described it as, "Possibly the ultimate winter climbing experience."
Bouldering: Burden of Dreams
- Location: Lappnor, Finland.
- Grade: V17 (9A) – Unconfirmed.
- First ascent: Nalle Hukkataival on October 23, 2016.
This short boulder problem by Nalle Hukkataival covers just five hand moves over four meters on a 45° granite wall, but it was the first in the world – now one of only two – claimed to be rated at the hardest level, V17.
The other, 'No Kpote Only', in Fontainebleau, France was climbed by Charles Albert, barefoot, after 20 attempts, but has since been repeated by Ryohei Kameyama, who gave it a lower V16/17 rating.
'Creature from the Black Lagoon', rated V16, is the hardest consensus boulder problem, having been sent by six climbers.
Mixed climbing: Saphira
- Location: Fang Amphitheatre, Vail, Colorado, USA.
- Grade: M15-.
- First ascent: Lucie Hrozová in January, 2016.
This ascent extends almost 55m over rock and ice and involves steep and technical climbing, with a long, hard top section that includes a crossing of the legendary Octopussy icicle.
To compete it, Lucie Hrozová used more than 65 ‘Yaniros’ moves in 50 minutes of climbing – taking more than twice as long as it took her to ascend the legendary Ironman (M14+) climb in Eptingen, Switzerland.
Filip Babicz claimed a higher M16 grade on 'Oświecenie', a 62m-long route up the entire roof of Dziura cave in Poland, but has since suggested it was actually a dry tool route after reconsidering the amount of ice involved.
Free Solo climbing: Freerider
- Location: El Capitan, Yosemite, USA.
- Grade: Graded 7c (5.12d) as a roped climb.
- First ascent: Alex Honnold in June, 2017.
Free climbers have put up some incredible routes in recent years, from Alain Robert's continued ascents of the world's biggest skyscrapers to Jim Reynolds's free ascent and descent of Cerro Torre in Patagonia.
But Alex Honnold's mind-blowing movie Free Solo took things mainstream and set the bar to another level, as he climbed 915m of granite on the world's most iconic wall, El Capitan, with his bare hands, shoes and a bag of chalk.
Afterwards, Honnold said the route was his "hardest by far." How did he manage the feat? Simple. "I just did what I normally do, just without a rope this time," he said.
Aid climbing: Nightmare on California Street
- Location: El Capitan, Yosemite, USA.
- Grade: A5.
- First ascent: Warren Hollinger and Grant Gardner in 1998.
There's no 'world's hardest aid climb', there are just contenders for the title, but this climb on the world's most famous wall of all is so tough it hasn’t been repeated in more than 20 years.
Big-wall legend Ammon McNeely repeated the nearby A5 route 'Wings of Steel' in 2011, the first repeat in 29 years, but this one has hard moves and also very dangerous falls, giving it a claim as the tougher ascent.
Two climbs on Utah's Fisher Towers were once claimed to be tougher at A6 and A6+, but have since been downgraded.
Dry tooling: Parallel World
- Location: Tomorrow’s World cave, Dolomites, Italy.
- Grade: D16.
- First ascent: Darek Sokołowski in December, 2018.
In an area known for its tough dry tooling routes, this is claimed to be world's toughest, with a run of stepped overhangs followed by nearly 50m of horizontal roof climbing.
The route requires supreme strength, with tough moves, long reaches and very few rest points. It took Darek Sokołowski 50 minutes of climbing, hanging from his tools at all times, to complete the climb.
This is the third D16 route after Gordon McArthur's 80m 'Storm Giant' in Canada and the previously mentioned 'Oświecenie'. Tom Ballard's 'A Line Above the Sky', a D15 in Tomorrow's World cave, was the previous hardest.