The Hardest Sport Climbs in the World
Last updated: Sep 25, 2019. If you notice any omissions, broken links, or other errors, leave a comment below letting us know.
Gone are the days when climbing a 5.15 was truly rare. By our count, there have now been more than 330 ascents of 5.15 climbs.
2018 was a banner year for hard sport climbing. Although none have equaled Adam Ondra’s 2017 ascent of Silence, 2018 saw 49 new 5.15 ascents, of which almost half were FAs. Ondra continued to dominate — in addition to putting up eight of those FAs, he snagged the first ever 5.15 flash. 2019 has already seen 35 new 5.15 ascents, and the year isn’t over yet.
But the ranks are beginning to grow. 82 different climbers have now claimed at least one 5.15a ascent. Stefano Ghisolfi became the fourth climber in history to climb 5.15c (after Ondra, Sharma, and Megos). All these achievements come on the heels of historic ascents from Margo Hayes, Anak Verhoeven, and Angy Eiter in 2017. Hayes has now sent three 5.15a routes.
To help keep track of it all, this article includes a running list of the hardest climbing routes in existence. To keep things simple, I cut the grade off at 5.15a (9a+) and above.
The World’s Hardest Sport Climbs
|120 Degrees||5.15a (9a+)||Flatanger||Norway||Adam Ondra|
|Akira||5.15b (9b)||Charente||France||Fred Rouhling|
|Alasha||5.15a/5.15b (9a+/9b)||Mallorca||Spain||Chris Sharma|
|Ali Hulk||5.15b (9b)||Rodellar||Spain||Dani Andrada, Magnus Midtbø|
|Ali Hulk Extension||5.15a (9a+)||Rodellar||Spain||Dani Andrada, Magnus Midtbø, Danilo Pereyra, Dimitri Sharafutdinov, Jorge Diaz Rullo|
|Ali Hulk Extension Total||5.15a (9a+)||Rodellar||Spain||Piotr Schab, Jonatan Flor|
|Ali Hulk Extension Variation||5.15a (9a+)||Rodellar||Spain||Jorge Diaz Rullo|
|Ali Hulk Sit Start||5.15a (9a+)||Rodellar||Spain||Dani Andrada, Magnus Midtbø|
|Ali Hulk Sit Start Extension Total||5.15b (9b)||Rodellar||Spain||Jonatan Flor, Jorge Diaz Rullo|
|All You Can Eat||5.15a (9a+)||Mount Potosi||USA||Jonathan Siegrist|
|Apocalipsis de la Gioconda||5.15b (9b)||Rodellar||Spain||Jonatan Flor|
|Artaburu||5.15a/5.15b (9a+/9b)||Margalef||Spain||Iker Pou|
|Aubade Directe||5.15a (9a+)||Sainte Victoire||France||Gérôme Pouvreau, Enzo Oddo|
|Becoming||5.15a (9a+)||Frankenjura||Germany||Markus Bock, Alex Megos|
|Big Men||5.15a (9a+)||Fraguel||Spain||Iker Pou|
|Biographie/Realization||5.15a (9a+)||Ceüse||France||Chris Sharma, Sylvain Millet, Patxi Usobiaga, Dave Graham, Ethan Pringle, Ramón Julián Puigblanque, Enzo Oddo, Jonathan Siegrist, Alex Megos, Adam Ondra, Sachi Amma, Stefano Ghisolfi, Jon Cardwell, Sean Bailey, Margo Hayes, Piotr Schab, Stefano Carnati, Jorge Diaz Rullo|
|Black Block||5.15a (9a+)||Cuenca||Spain||Luis Alfonso Felix|
|Bone Tomahawk||5.15a (9a+)||Fynn Cave||USA||Joe Kinder, Jonathan Siegrist|
|C.R.S.||5.15b (9b)||Mollans||France||Adam Ondra|
|Catxasa||5.15a (9a+)||Santa Linya||Spain||Chris Sharma, Ramón Julián Puigblanque, Sachi Amma, Jakob Schubert, Piotr Schab, Jakub Konečný, Adam Ondra|
|Catxasa (R2)||5.15a/5.15b (9a+/9b)||Santa Linya||Spain||Ramón Julián Puigblanque|
|Change||5.15c (9b+)||Flatanger||Norway||Adam Ondra|
|Chaxi||5.15a (9a+)||Oliana||Spain||Adam Ondra, Chris Sharma, Cédric Lachat, Jonathan Siegrist|
|Chaxi Raxi||5.15b (9b)||Oliana||Spain||Adam Ondra|
|Chilam Balam||5.15b (9b)||Villanueva del Rosario||Spain||Bernabé Fernández, Adam Ondra, Sébastien Bouin, Dani Andrada, Edu Marin|
|Clash of the Titans||5.15a (9a+)||Götterwandl||Austria||Alex Megos|
|Companion of Change||5.15a (9a+)||Zillertal||Austria||Jakob Schubert, Alex Megos|
|Corona||5.15a (9a+)||Frankenjura||Germany||Markus Bock, Adam Ondra, Felix Neumärker, Alex Megos, Dai Koyamada, Daniel Jung|
|Czech Trip||5.15a (9a+)||Mavrovo||Macedonia||Adam Ondra|
|Deep Spot||5.15a (9a+)||La Balme de Yenne||France||Mathieu Bouyoud|
|Delincuente Natural||5.15b (9b)||Rodellar||Spain||Dani Andrada|
|Demencia Senil||5.15a (9a+)||Margalef||Spain||Chris Sharma, Iker Pou, Ramón Julián Puigblanque, Stefano Ghisolfi, Alex Megos, Sangwon Son|
|Des Scènes Bizarres dans la Mine d'Or||5.15a (9a+)||Jensegg||Switzerland||Pirmin Bertle|
|Disbelief||5.15b (9b)||Canmore||Canada||Adam Ondra|
|Dugi Rat||5.15a (9a+)||Vrulja||Croatia||Jernej Kruder|
|Eagle 4||5.15b (9b)||Saint Léger du Ventoux||France||Adam Ondra|
|El Bon Combat||5.15b (9b)||La Cova de l'Ocell||Spain||Chris Sharma, Jakob Schubert, Felipe Camargo|
|Empreintes||5.15a (9a+)||Saint-Pierre en Faucigny||France||Fred Rouhling|
|Energia Cosmica||5.15a (9a+)||Bilico||Italy||Alessandro Zeni|
|Es Pontas||5.15a/5.15b (9a+/9b)||Mallorca||Spain||Chris Sharma, Jernej Kruder, Jan Hojer|
|Fight Club||5.15b (9b)||Canmore||Canada||Alex Megos|
|Fight or Flight||5.15b (9b)||Oliana||Spain||Chris Sharma, Adam Ondra, Jakob Schubert, Sachi Amma, Matty Hong, Piotr Schab|
|Finest Pedigree||5.15a (9a+)||Cheedale Cornice||United Kingdom||Steve McClure|
|First Ley||5.15a (9a+)||Margalef||Spain||Chris Sharma, Alex Megos, Mateusz Haladaj, Stefano Ghisolfi, Daniel Woods, Shawn Raboutou|
|First Round First Minute||5.15b (9b)||Margalef||Spain||Chris Sharma, Adam Ondra, Alex Megos, Stefano Ghisolfi|
|Flex Luthor||5.15a (9a+)||Fortress of Solitude||USA||Tommy Caldwell|
|Following the Leader||5.15a (9a+)||Cuenca||Spain||Pablo Barbero, Ramón Julián Puigblanque|
|Geocache||5.15a (9a+)||Frankenjura||Germany||Alex Megos, Adam Ondra|
|Goldrake||5.15a (9a+)||Cornalba||Italy||Adam Ondra, Gabriele Moroni, Stefano Carnati, Stefano Ghisolfi, Silvio Reffo|
|Golpe de Estado||5.15b (9b)||Siurana||Spain||Chris Sharma, Adam Ondra|
|Hell Racer||5.15a (9a+)||Hell||Norway||Adam Ondra|
|High Line||5.15a/5.15b (9a+/9b)||Banja Luka||Bosnia and Herzegovina||Adam Ondra|
|Hyper Finale||5.15a (9a+)||Rawyl||Switzerland||Adam Ondra|
|Iron Curtain||5.15b (9b)||Flatanger||Norway||Adam Ondra|
|Jaws II||5.15a (9a+)||Rumney||USA||Vasya Vorotnikov, Daniel Woods, Mike Foley, Andrew Palmer, Paul Robinson, Alex Megos, Tristan Chen, Jesse Grupper|
|Joe Mama||5.15a (9a+)||Oliana||Spain||Klemen Bečan, Chris Sharma, Jakob Schubert, Matty Hong, Jonathan Siegrist, Jon Cardwell, Sean Bailey|
|Jumbo Love||5.15b (9b)||Clark Mountain||USA||Chris Sharma, Ethan Pringle, Jonathan Siegrist|
|Jungle Boogie||5.15a (9a+)||Ceüse||France||Adam Ondra, Sachi Amma, Stefano Ghisolfi, Alex Megos|
|Kangoroo's Limb||5.15a (9a+)||Flatanger||Norway||Adam Ondra, Jakob Schubert|
|Kmira||5.15a (9a+)||Pic St Loup||France||Sébastien Bouin|
|L'Etrange Ivresse des Lenteurs||5.15a (9a+)||Ceüse||France||Adam Ondra|
|La Barriere||5.15b (9b)||Jansegg||Switzerland||Pirmin Bertle|
|La Capella||5.15b (9b)||Siurana||Spain||Adam Ondra, Stefano Ghisolfi, Daniel Woods|
|La Castagne||5.15a (9a+)||Saint Léger du Ventoux||France||Adam Ondra|
|La Cène du Lézard||5.15a (9a+)||Jensegg||Switzerland||Pirmin Bertle, Cédric Lachat|
|La Côte d'Usure||5.15a (9a+)||Verdon Gorge||France||Sébastien Bouin|
|La Dura Dura||5.15c (9b+)||Oliana||Spain||Adam Ondra, Chris Sharma|
|La Madone||5.15a (9a+)||Lourmarin||France||Gérôme Pouvreau, Sébastien Bouin|
|La Moustache qui Fâche||5.15a (9a+)||Entraygues||France||Enzo Oddo, Stefano Ghisolfi|
|La Planta de Shiva||5.15b (9b)||Villanueva de Rosario||Spain||Adam Ondra, Jakob Schubert, Angela Eiter, Jonathan Siegrist, Jorge Diaz Rullo|
|La Rage d'Adam||5.15b/5.15c (9b/9b+)||Verdon Gorge||France||Sébastien Bouin|
|La Rambla||5.15a (9a+)||Siurana||Spain||Ramón Julián Puigblanque, Edu Marin, Chris Sharma, Patxi Usobiaga, Adam Ondra, Enzo Oddo, Andreas Bindhammer, Sachi Amma, Felix Neumärker, Alex Megos, Sangwon Son, Daniel Jung, Jonathan Siegrist, David Firnenburg, Matty Hong, Margo Hayes, Stefano Ghisolfi, Jacopo Larcher, Klemen Bečan, Tomas Ravanal, Gerard Rull, Jon Cardwell, Piotr Schab, Dave Graham, Gonzalo Larrocha|
|Lapsus||5.15b (9b)||Andonno||Italy||Stefano Ghisolfi, Adam Ondra|
|Le vent nous portera||5.15a (9a+)||Socaire||Chile||Pirmin Bertle|
|Les yeux plus gros que l'antre||5.15a/5.15b (9a+/9b)||Russan||France||Sébastien Bouin|
|Licht und Schatten||5.15a (9a+)||Chli Schijen||Switzerland||Stephan Schibli|
|Mamichula||5.15b (9b)||Oliana||Spain||Adam Ondra, Sébastien Bouin|
|Marina Superstar||5.15a/5.15b (9a+/9b)||Domusnovas||Italy||Adam Ondra|
|Massacrate||5.15a (9a+)||Golobove Pecine||Slovenia||Jernej Kruder|
|Maya||5.15a (9a+)||Margalef||Spain||Ramón Julián Puigblanque|
|Me I Eat Dust||5.15a (9a+)||Unknown||USA||Cody Roth|
|Meiose||5.15a/5.15b (9a+/9b)||Charmey||Switzerland||Pirmin Bertle, Adam Ondra|
|Modified||5.15a (9a+)||Frankenjura||Germany||Alex Megos, Adam Ondra, David Firnenburg|
|Move||5.15b/5.15c (9b/9b+)||Flatanger||Norway||Adam Ondra, Sébastien Bouin|
|Move Hard||5.15b (9b)||Flatanger||Norway||Adam Ondra|
|Naturalmente||5.15a (9a+)||Camaiore||Italy||Adam Ondra|
|Neanderthal||5.15b (9b)||Santa Linya||Spain||Chris Sharma, Jakob Schubert, Adam Ondra|
|Nit de Bruixes||5.15a (9a+)||Margalef||Spain||Iker Pou, Ramón Julián Puigblanque|
|No Pain No Gain||5.15a (9a+)||Rodellar||Spain||Daniel Fuertes, Gonzalo Larrocha, Piotr Schab, Jonatan Flor, Jorge Diaz Rullo|
|Obrint el Sistema||5.15a (9a+)||Santana||Spain||Adam Ondra|
|Odyn's Crack (Valhalla)||5.15a (9a+)||Getu Valley||China||Edu Marin|
|One Punch||5.15a (9a+)||Arco||Italy||Stefano Ghisolfi, Adam Ondra|
|One Slap||5.15b (9b)||Arco||Italy||Adam Ondra, Stefano Ghisolfi|
|Open Air||5.15a (9a+)||Schleierwasserfall||Austria||Alex Huber, Adam Ondra|
|Outro||5.15a (9a+)||Achleiten||Austria||Roland Hemetzberger|
|Overshadow||5.15a (9a+)||Malham||United Kingdom||Steve McClure, Adam Ondra|
|Pachamama||5.15a (9a+)||Oliana||Spain||Chris Sharma, Sachi Amma, Ramón Julián Puigblanque, Jakob Schubert, Adam Ondra, Jonathan Siegrist, Sébastien Bouin, Piotr Schab|
|Panorama||5.15a (9a+)||Patones||Spain||Jorge Diaz Rullo|
|Papichulo||5.15a (9a+)||Oliana||Spain||Chris Sharma, Adam Ondra, Ramón Julián Puigblanque, Sachi Amma, Cédric Lachat, Jakob Schubert, Domen Škofic, Magnus Midtbø, Mateusz Haladaj, Jonathan Siegrist, Daniel Woods, Matty Hong, Piotr Schab, Said Belhaj, Klemen Bečan, Patxi Usobiaga, Jon Cardwell, Felipe Camargo, Margo Hayes, Kamil Ferenc, Sébastien Bouin|
|Patanics||5.15b (9b)||Rodellar||Spain||Jorge Diaz Rullo|
|Perfecto Mundo||5.15c (9b+)||Margalef||Spain||Alex Megos, Stefano Ghisolfi|
|Perlorodka||5.15a (9a+)||Moravsky Kras||Czech Republic||Adam Ondra|
|Peruvian Necktie||5.15a (9a+)||Pop Tire Cave||USA||James Litz|
|Poisson Pilote||5.15a (9a+)||Orgon||France||Loïc Zehani|
|Power Inverter||5.15a (9a+)||Oliana||Spain||Chris Sharma, Adam Ondra, Ramón Julián Puigblanque, Sachi Amma, Jonathan Siegrist|
|Queen Line||5.15b (9b)||Arco||Italy||Adam Ondra, Stefano Ghisolfi|
|Rainman||5.15b (9b)||Malham Cove||United Kingdom||Steve McClure|
|Red Ram||5.15a (9a+)||Montserrat||Spain||Ramón Julián Puigblanque|
|Rehabilitation||5.15a (9a+)||Plomberg||Austria||Klem Loskot|
|Rise||5.15a (9a+)||Mt. Futago||Japan||Sachi Amma|
|Robin Ud||5.15b (9b)||Alternatívna stena||Slovakia||Adam Ondra|
|Sachidananda||5.15a (9a+)||Orgon||France||Loïc Zehani|
|Sacrifice||5.15a (9a+)||Canmore||Canada||Adam Ondra|
|Salamandre||5.15a (9a+)||Saint-Pierre en Faucigny||France||Fred Rouhling, Baptiste Dherbilly|
|Selección Anal||5.15a (9a+)||Santa Linya||Spain||Ramón Julián Puigblanque, Sachi Amma, Edu Marin, Magnus Midtbø, Jakob Schubert, Piotr Schab, Kamil Ferenc|
|Silence||5.15d (9c)||Flatanger||Norway||Adam Ondra|
|Soul Mate||5.15b (9b)||Gozen Rock||Japan||Sachi Amma|
|Stoking the Fire||5.15b (9b)||Santa Linya||Spain||Chris Sharma, Adam Ondra, Jakob Schubert, Sachi Amma|
|Stone Butterfly||5.15a (9a+)||Baile Herculane||Romania||Adam Ondra|
|Super Crackinette||5.15a (9a+)||Saint Léger du Ventoux||France||Alex Megos, Adam Ondra, Gérôme Pouvreau|
|Supernova||5.15a/5.15b (9a+/9b)||Frankenjura||Germany||Alex Megos|
|Sweet Neuf||5.15a (9a+)||Pierrot Beach||France||Anak Verhoeven, Cédric Lachat|
|The Balcony||5.15a (9a+)||Plomberg||Austria||Klem Loskot|
|Thor's Hammer||5.15a (9a+)||Flatanger||Norway||Adam Ondra, Alex Megos, Jakob Schubert, Daniel Woods, Ethan Pringle, Dave Graham, Domen Škofic, Sachi Amma, Sébastien Bouin, Magnus Midtbø, Piotr Schab|
|Tinipi||5.15a (9a+)||Mont Kinabalu||Malaysia||Daniel Woods, Sachi Amma|
|Torture Physique Integrale||5.15a/5.15b (9a+/9b)||Gastlosen||Switzerland||Adam Ondra|
|Ultimatum||5.15a (9a+)||Massone||Italy||Stefano Ghisolfi, Eric Albertini, Adam Ondra|
|Underground Dreaming||5.15a (9a+)||Arco||Italy||Adam Ondra|
|Vasil Vasil||5.15c (9b+)||Sloup||Czech Republic||Adam Ondra|
|Viaje Morfo||5.15a (9a+)||Tarbena||Spain||Jonathan Guadalcazar|
|Vicious Circle||5.15a/5.15b (9a+/9b)||Mišja Peč||Slovenia||Adam Ondra|
|Violent New Breed||5.15a (9a+)||Giggleswick||United Kingdom||John Gaskins|
|Wheelchair||5.15a (9a+)||Grampians||Australia||Alex Megos|
- Climbs had to be graded 5.15a (9a+) or higher. Adding 5.14d (9a) climbs would have made this list horrifically long. If routes were given the slash grade of 5.14d/5.15a (9a/9a+), I did not include them.
- For climbs where there was disagreement about the grade (of which there were surprisingly few), I averaged the grade suggestions. Surprisingly, there weren’t any cases that I found where there was much controversy over grade. Where climbs have been repeated, climbers by and large tend to agree on the grade. The biggest discrepancy comes on El Bon Combat, for which Chris Sharma proposed 5.15b/5.15c (9b/9b+) but Jakob Schubert suggested 5.15a (9a+).
- I included all claimed ascents. Some of these (see notes below) have since been called into question. These are rare cases, and generally climbers tend to be an honest bunch about FAs (let’s not talk about Cerro Torre). It’s much more likely that some of the proposed grades will shift. Most of these routes haven’t been repeated, and downgrading/upgrading is still relatively common at the upper edge of the sport. Where there is only one ascent, I included the climb at the grade proposed by the first ascensionist.
Notes on Specific Climbs, Climbers, & Ascents
- Fred Rouhling has drawn more than his fair share of controversy. A scapegoat for chipping tactics in the 90s, he drew an especially large barrage of flak when he proposed an unheard-of grade 9b for Akira. Other top climbers have leveled all sorts of accusations, claiming that he never actually climbed it, or that he filled in pockets with glue later on. Pete Ward of Climbing Magazine went to meet Rouhling to set the record straight, and the results were a bit of a surprise. You can make up your own mind about Rouhling’s ascents and track record, but it remains possible (likely?) that Akira was a climb far, far ahead of its time.
- Chilam Balam is the other controversial ascent on this list. At first, Bernabé Fernández’s route drew criticism for many of the same reasons as Rouhling’s: Fernández did not have a track record of 5.15 ascents, and he was known for questionable practices on other climbs (most notably Orujo). Then Dani Andrada went to try the climb and reportedly saw very little evidence of rubber or travel, especially on the upper sections. It’s hard to say how much of this is verifiable or useful, and Fernández has been fairly open about his feelings on the climb and the grade. Chilam Balam was confirmed at (soft) 5.15b, though some still doubt that Fernández ever climbed it.
- Alex Huber is one of the most outspoken critics of both of the above ascensionists, which may or may not be related to the fact that he also owns a groundbreaking first ascent. Huber’s Open Air, originally proposed at 5.14d, was upgraded by none other than Ondra himself. Conveniently for Huber, discrediting Rouhling’s Akira would make Open Air the world’s first 5.15 route. Regardless, Huber’s ascent was a groundbreaking moment for climbing, coming a full five years before the next 5.15 ascent (Sharma on Biographie/Realization).
- Pirmin Bertle rounds out our discussion of grading controversy. Yet another ascensionist to propose a controversial 5.15b, on Meiose, Bertle offered as justification only the fact that it took him longer to project the climb than a 5.15a would have. In February 2018, Ondra sent the route and did indeed suggest a downgrade to 5.15a. Bertle was not pleased. Though Ondra is probably the climber best-equipped to judge grades at this level, the climb sits at 5.15a/b in our table due to averaging. Not one to be discouraged, Bertle went right ahead and suggested 5.15b for La Barriere, a linkup in Jansegg.
- Alasha and Es Pontas are included in this list because of their physical similarity to sport climbs, but as deep water solos, they are in many ways a category of their own. Consequently, Chris Sharma has been reluctant to grade either one. Based on his hints in various interviews (along with input from others who made attempts, like Magnus Midtbø), it seems likely that both routes fall somewhere around the 9a+ mark in terms of physical difficulty. Jernej Kruder, the first climber to repeat Es Pontas, agreed with Sharma that “this thing is so specific” and did not assign a grade.
- Tinipi, Daniel Woods’ epic-looking climb on Mont Kinabalu, is unique on this list as the only climb no longer in existence. Just weeks after Sachi Amma claimed the second ascent, a magnitude 6.0 earthquake hit Malaysia and toppled the Donkey’s Ears formation. Sadly, this means that no one will ever attempt the route again.
The World’s Current Hardest Sport Climb
Based solely on grade, the world’s hardest sport climb is currently Silence, 5.15d (9c).
This title was previously shared by Change, La Dura Dura, and Vasil Vasil — all of which are graded 5.15c (9b+). With his 2017 ascent of Silence, Ondra opened a new grade. Silence has yet to be repeated, but Ondra isn’t generally one to give soft grades.
Only three other climbers have climbed 5.15c, which suggests that it may be a while before anyone manages to catch up to Ondra. The closest competitor may turn out to be Alex Megos, who marked a personal best in 2018 by sending Sharma project Perfecto Mundo.
The Best Sport Climber in the World
The numbers here don’t lie — Adam Ondra is far and away the best sport climber in the world. He has well more than twice the ascents and FAs of the next most prolific hardman (Chris Sharma, of course). He is the lone ascensionist on three of the world’s five hardest climbs, and many of his ascents took shockingly little time. In February 2018, Ondra made history by claiming the world’s first 5.15a flash on Saint Léger’s Super Crackinette.
There is one major factor to commend Sharma, and it’s how far he was ahead of his time. A full 80% of Sharma’s 5.15 climbs were first ascents. He is rightfully renowned for putting up some of the most groundbreaking and excellent climbs of our generation — climbs like Biographie/Realization, Pachamama, and Jumbo Love.
That’s not even to mention his mastery of that tricky medium, deep water soloing: Es Pontas and Alasha remain in a class of their own.
Still, it’s possible that one day we’ll be speaking about Change the way we now talk about Biographie/Realization. Adam Ondra is currently so far ahead of the curve that no one can actually confirm how classic his new climbs are.
Margo Hayes, Anak Verhoeven, and Angy Eiter also deserve huge shoutouts here. Hayes went on a tear in 2017 and completed her third 5.15a in March 2019 on Papichulo. Verhoeven made history as the first woman to make an FA of a 5.15 with Sweet Neuf, and Angy Eiter made it again when she became the first woman to send a 5.15b. Limits are being pushed all over the place, and it’s exciting to imagine what’s yet to come.
It took a while for climbers to really break into the 5.15s. There were a couple flares in the late 90s and early 2000s (including some truly revolutionary ascents), but there wasn’t a consistent number of 5.15 ascents until the late aughts.
Both of the first ascents of a 5.15b route (Akira and Chilam Balam) have been questioned, and the next possibility would be Jumbo Love in 2008. Four years later in 2012, Ondra bagged the first 5.15c on Change, and in 2017 we got the first 5.15d.
That’s actually a relatively consistent grade progression — if things continue as they have, we can expect to wait until the early 2020s before seeing a 5.16a (9c+).
A few things stand out from the data. One is that grades tend to get pushed by a very select few. It takes a while for other ascensionists to catch up. At the moment, it’s pretty much just Adam Ondra. It took around a decade after Open Air for 5.15a ascents to become more common, and frequent 5.15b ascents didn’t start popping up until the 2010s. To date, we’ve still seen only six ascents of a 5.15c, and three were by Ondra.
On the other hand, at a level just below the tip-top, the sport seems to be accelerating. An unprecedented number of climbers ticked 5.15s in the past few years, many of them young and still learning.
Climbing itself is growing, so it makes sense for the number of top ascensionists to grow as well. Training methods, accessibility, and equipment are all improving. In the future it seems likely that we’ll see more high-level ascents from an increasingly diverse group of climbers.
All the same, the fact that 5.15c/d ascents have remained so elusive for all except four climbers is a testament to how difficult it is to push through the plateaus. Not only does it take exceptional athletes with exceptional drive, but it takes projects at just the right level and often in just the right style.
This is part of what makes iconic ascents — from Es Pontas to Silence — seem so revolutionary. Almost all top climbers want to be pushing the boundaries, but grade-wise, only a handful ever do. It’s really, really hard to climb consistently at that level (I’m still halfway convinced that Ondra is an alien). Technology and growth will surely change the sport, but it seems likely that limits will still be broken inch by laborious inch, over long periods of time, by an extremely elite few.
My final note would be that it’s hard to predict when ascents and grades will happen. It might take another decade for someone to repeat Silence or climb another 5.15d, or it might happen in the next few years. The rise of 5.15 ascents means that this is an exciting time for climbing, and personally I’m excited to see what the next generation of wunderkinds have in store.
Plus, if his track record is any indication, Ondra will be putting up a crazy new project by next week.
Where in the World Are the Hardest Sport Climbs?
Mostly in Europe, it turns out. Nearly 90% of the world’s 5.15 climbs are in Europe.
Most of the remaining climbs are in the USA and Canada. Just a handful are not located in Europe and North America.
That’s both a testament to the insular nature of climbing and a bright look at the future. Imagine all the difficult routes that could be put up around the world — as the sport continues to expand, it finds most of the globe unexplored.