Not too long ago, the bouldering world lacked even a single consensus V16. There are now about eight (depending on what you call “consensus”): Box Therapy, Creature from the Black Lagoon, Ephyra, Grand Illusion, Hypnotized Minds, No Kpote Only, Off the Wagon Sit, and Sleepwalker.
Two proposed V17s have been downgraded, and two still await a second ascent: Nalle Hukkataival’s Burden of Dreams and Daniel Woods’ Return of the Sleepwalker.
What follows is a sortable list of all the hardest boulder problems in the world. Many of the problems do not yet have a consensus grade, so I came up with a formulaic way to assign one to each based off the existing grade suggestions.
Cutting-edge bouldering ascents have accelerated rapidly over the last three years. Climbing V15 remains a remarkable accomplishment and a badge of honor for the best boulderers in the world, but it has become increasingly common. Since our last update, climbers logged over 200 V15 ascents.
To preserve the focus of this article (as well as the sanity of its author), I’ve raised the cutoff grade from V15 (8C) to V15/V16 (8C/8C+). Even with this restriction, the number of included ascents more than doubled since 2019.
I’ve tried my best to be as comprehensive as possible with this list. However, I’m still human. If I’ve made any mistakes or left off any problems or people you think should be added, let me know in the comments and I’ll take a look at it during the next update.
Highlights from the Latest Update
- The V17 Curse: Since the last update, two proposed V17 (9A) boulder problems have been downgraded. Charles Albert’s No Kpote Only was downgraded once by Ryohei Kameyama and again by Nico Pelorson. Simon Lorenzi’s Soudain Seul fared slightly better, receiving an initial downgrade (again by Pelorson) followed by a V17 suggestion from Camille Coudert. According to our formula, that leaves its current grade at V16/V17 (8C+/9A), though future ascents may move the consensus back to V17.
- A New Contender: Daniel Woods proposed a new V17 with his ascent of Return of the Sleepwalker in 2021. Like Nalle Hukkataival’s Burden of Dreams, Return of the Sleepwalker has yet to see a repeat.
- V16 Bonanza: There are now 27 boulders in the world that have been proposed or confirmed at V16 (8C+). More than half saw their first ascent in the last three years, and the number of unique ascensionists at the grade more than doubled during that time.
The World’s Hardest Boulder Problems
|Big Conviction||V16 (8C+)||Fontainebleau||France||Simon Lorenzi|
|Big Z||V16 (8C+)||Tahoe||USA||Shawn Raboutou|
|Bokassa's Fridge Sit||V15/V16 (8C/8C+)||Kochel||Germany||Florian Wientjes|
|Box Therapy||V16 (8C+)||Rocky Mountain National Park||USA||Daniel Woods
|Brutal Rider||V16 (8C+)||Sloup||Czech Republic||Adam Ondra|
|Burden of Dreams||V17 (9A)||Lappnor||Finland||Nalle Hukkataival|
|Creature from the Black Lagoon||V16 (8C+)||Rocky Mountain National Park||USA||Daniel Woods
|Crisis||V15/V16 (8C/8C+)||Crevillente||Spain||Nacho Sánchez
|Drop a Line||V16 (8C+)||Cousimbert||Switzerland||Pirmin Bertle|
|El Indomable||V15/V16 (8C/8C+)||Tamajón||Spain||Alberto Rocasolano
|Ephyra||V16 (8C+)||Chironico||Switzerland||Jimmy Webb
|Floatin'||V16 (8C+)||Mizugaki||Japan||Ryuichi Murai|
|Ganesh||V16 (8C+)||Tintorale||Italy||Elias Iagnemma|
|Gioia||V15/V16 (8C/8C+)||Varazze||Italy||Christian Core
|Grand Illusion||V16 (8C+)||Little Cottonwood Canyon||USA||Nathaniel Coleman
|Hallucination (After Breakage)||V16 (8C+)||Hourai||Japan||Kazuma Ise|
|Hazel Grace Sit||V15/V16 (8C/8C+)||Ticino||Switzerland||Giuliano Cameroni|
|Hypnotized Minds||V16 (8C+)||Rocky Mountain National Park||USA||Daniel Woods
|Hypothèse assis||V16 (8C+)||Fontainebleau||France||Charles Albert|
|Insomniac||V16 (8C+)||Lincoln Lake||USA||Drew Ruana|
|La Révolutionnaire Extension||V16 (8C+)||Fontainebleau||France||Charles Albert|
|Ledoborec||V16 (8C+)||Moravský kras||Czech Republic||Adam Ondra|
|Low Priora||V15/V16 (8C/8C+)||Djan-tugan||Russia||Vadim Timonov
|Minimalomania||V15/V16 (8C/8C+)||Interlaken||Switzerland||Pirmin Bertle
|Moonlight Sonata||V16 (8C+)||Joe's Valley||USA||Taylor McNeill|
|Nayuta||V16 (8C+)||Gero||Japan||Dai Koyamada|
|Nexus||V16 (8C+)||Shiobara||Japan||Ryuichi Murai|
|No Kpote Only||V16 (8C+)||Fontainebleau||France||Charles Albert
|Off the Wagon Sit||V16 (8C+)||Valle Bavona||Switzerland||Shawn Raboutou
|Poison the Well||V16 (8C+)||Brione||Switzerland||Giuliano Cameroni
|REM||V16 (8C+)||Cresciano||Switzerland||Giuliano Cameroni|
|Return of the Sleepwalker||V17 (9A)||Red Rock||USA||Daniel Woods|
|Sleepwalker||V16 (8C+)||Red Rock||USA||Jimmy Webb
|Soudain Seul||V16/V17 (8C+/9A)||Fontainebleau||France||Simon Lorenzi
|Terranova||V16 (8C+)||Holstejn||Czech Republic||Adam Ondra|
|The Process||V16 (8C+)||Bishop||USA||Daniel Woods|
|The Wheel of Life Direct||V15/V16 (8C/8C+)||Grampians||Australia||James Kassay
|Tonino '78||V15/V16 (8C/8C+)||Meschia||Italy||Mauro Calibani
|United||V16 (8C+)||Mt. Mizugaki||Japan||Ryuichi Murai|
|Vrtule||V15/V16 (8C/8C+)||Holstejn||Czech Republic||Adam Ondra|
The World’s Current Hardest Boulder Problem
Based solely on grade, the title of world’s hardest boulder problem is currently shared by two problems: Burden of Dreams and Return of the Sleepwalker. Both are currently graded V17 (9A).
Both problems have only one ascent. Nalle Hukkataival sent Burden of Dreams in October 2016, making it the first problem ever to receive a proposed grade of V17 (9A). Daniel Woods sent Return of the Sleepwalker in April 2021.
List Criteria & Grading Guidelines
- The grade had to be V15/V16 (8C/8C+) or higher. In other words, problems graded V15 (8C) and lower were left off the list. For the remainder of the article, I will refer to problems graded V15/V16 (8C/8C+) or higher as “hard” problems.
- For problems with no consensus grade, I averaged the V Scale translation of the grade suggestions. If the average had a remainder less than ⅓, I rounded down. If the average had a remainder between ⅓ and ⅔, I treated it as having a slash grade. If the average had a remainder above ⅔, I rounded up. I also averaged slash grades: V14/V15 was treated as 14.5, for instance. For example, let’s consider the problem Soudain Seul. Currently, three climbers have sent it. Simon Lorenzi proposed a grade of V17 (9A). Nico Pelorson proposed a grade of V16 (8C+), and Camille Coudert suggested V17 (9A). I averaged the V Scale translation of these grades (17, 16, 17) to get 16⅔. Since the remainder is ⅔, I treated Soudain Seul as having a slash grade of V16/V17 (8C+/9A).
- I did not take into account anything other than the proposed grades. Some climbers are known for grading hard. Some problems are considered soft for their grade. Some problems on this list could be considered traverses. I didn’t consider any of this. I respected each climber’s suggestion and just considered the proposed grade(s).
Who Is the Best Boulderer Ever?
Here are two tables based on the data in the above list showing who has sent the most hard boulder problems and who has racked up the most hard boulder first ascents (FAs).
|Climber||Hard Boulders Sends|
|Climber||Hard Boulder FAs|
Daniel Woods tops both charts. Sheer volume is not the only way to assess a boulderer’s ability, but as Woods also shares the spotlight with Nalle Hukkataival for the world’s only proposed V17 ascents, he has a strong claim to the title of “World’s Best Boulderer.”
Adam Ondra holds or shares the second position in both categories. This is a remarkable confirmation of Ondra’s versatility as a climber — his sport climb Silence remains the hardest in the world at a proposed grade of 5.15d (9c).
|Year||Hard Boulder Sends|
|2022 (as of March)||4|
The first boulder problem to ever receive a suggested grade of V15 (8C) was Dreamtime, which Fred Nicole put up in 2000. Dreamtime has since been downgraded, but in 2002 Nicole climbed Black Eagle SD and Monkey Wedding which both currently stand as consensus V15s.
Put another way, it took just two years from the time the V15 grade was first proposed for a problem to be put up whose V15 grade would hold after multiple repeats.
(There is another V15 that was put up before Black Eagle SD and Monkey Wedding. But the problem, Gossip, has only two grade suggestions and is therefore still at risk of being downgraded.)
The story is different for the V16 (8C+) grade. The first problem with a proposed grade of V16 appears to have been Tonino ’78, first sent by Mauro Calibani in 2004. It wasn’t until 12 years later, in 2016, that Creature from the Black Lagoon would become the world’s first consensus V16. Another Woods problem, Hypnotized Minds, has since reached consensus and currently stands as the world’s earliest confirmed V16 (FA in 2010).
Assuming Creature from the Black Lagoon’s grade continues to withstand the test of time, it took a decade longer for the V16 grade to go from suggestion to consensus than it did V15. That’s a staggering, and intriguing, difference.
|Grade||Climbers That Have Climbed It|
Until a grade has been widely established, downgrading is common. Sometimes new beta gets found that makes a problem easier. But that doesn’t explain all cases. Nalle wrote a blog post way back in 2010 detailing his thoughts on why this apparent stalling of grade progression happens. In our last update, I wondered: Shouldn’t there be more V16s?
They seem to have finally arrived. 33 climbers have now climbed a V16 (8C+) problem, and the number of V16 boulders has risen from 12 to 27. The mystery around the grade seems to be (finally) dissipating.
The drop-off remains precipitous above that level. Only five climbers have climbed V16/V17 (8C+/9A) or higher, and only two have climbed V17 (9A).
Nearly six years have already passed since Nalle Hukkataival first suggested V17 (9A) for Burden of Dreams. No climber has managed a second ascent, and that’s not for lack of attempts — the problem has repelled several world-class boulderers.
Although its first ascent was only a year ago, Return of the Sleepwalker also remains unrepeated. This may be an early sign that the grade on these two problems is more likely to stick. The only other proposed V17s, No Kpote Only and Soudain Seul, were repeated (and downgraded) within months of the first ascent.
Even so, the timeline of previous grades shows that advancement is slow. If history is any indicator, it may take several more years before the bouldering world sees a consensus V17.
Where in the World Are the Hardest Boulder Problems?
Here’s a table for that:
|Country||Hard Boulder Problems|
Currently, only 11 countries are home to a hard boulder problem. And it’s quite incredible to realize:
- 8 of those countries are in Europe
- There is only one country from the Southern Hemisphere on the list: Australia.
If hard boulders are anything to go by, bouldering’s global potential remains largely untapped.
When to Project vs. When to Train, Backed by Data
Finally, for fun I tallied the ascents of all the hard boulder problems by month for the northern hemisphere. (There weren’t enough sends for the southern hemisphere.)
|Month||Hard Boulder Sends|
Most of the hard boulder sends came in the coldest months of the year. At the very least, this table can give you some insight on when to tackle your outdoor projects and when to focus on training.
Willis Kuelthau contributed to this latest update.