The Hardest Sport Climbs in the World

Last updated: Sept 24, 2018. 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. The last three years have seen well over 100 ascents of 5.15 climbs.

The frontiers are still being continuously pushed — in 2017 alone, Margot Hayes climbed two 5.15a routes, Anak Verhoeven put up a 5.15 of her own, Angy Eiter sent a 5.15b, and Adam Ondra put a new grade on the map with his ascent of Silence.

In February 2018 we saw another milestone — the first 5.15 flash in history (Ondra again, naturally).

To help keep track of it all, this article includes a running list of the hardest sport climbing routes in existence. To keep things simple, I cut the grade off at 5.15a (9a+) and above.

» MORE: The Hardest Boulder Problems in the World

The World’s Hardest Sport Climbs

RouteGradeCragCountryAscensionists
120 Degrees5.15a (9a+)FlatangerNorwayAdam Ondra
Akira5.15b (9b)CharenteFranceFred Rouhling (see notes)
Alasha (see notes)5.15a/5.15b (9a+/9b)MallorcaSpainChris Sharma
Ali Hulk5.15b (9b)RodellarSpainDani Andrada, Magnus Midtbø
Ali Hulk Extension5.15a (9a+)RodellarSpainDani Andrada, Magnus Midtbø, Danilo Pereyra, Dimitri Sharafutdinov, Jorge Diaz Rullo
Ali Hulk Extension Total5.15a (9a+)RodellarSpainPiotr Schab
Ali Hulk sit start5.15a (9a+)RodellarSpainDani Andrada, Magnus Midtbø
Aubade Directe5.15a (9a+)Sainte VictoireFranceGérôme Pouvreau, Enzo Oddo
Becoming5.15a (9a+)FrankenjuraGermanyMarkus Bock, Alex Megos
Big Men5.15a (9a+)FraguelSpainIker Pou
Biographie/Realization5.15a (9a+)CeüseFranceChris 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, Margot Hayes, Piotr Schab
Black Block5.15a (9a+)CuencaSpainLuis Alfonso Felix
Catxasa5.15a (9a+)Santa LinyaSpainChris Sharma, Ramón Julián Puigblanque, Sachi Amma, Jakob Schubert, Piotr Schab
Catxasa (R2)5.15a/5.15b (9a+/9b)Santa LinyaSpainRamón Julián Puigblanque
Change5.15c (9b+)FlatangerNorwayAdam Ondra
Chaxi5.15a (9a+)OlianaSpainAdam Ondra, Chris Sharma, Cédric Lachat, Jonathan Siegrist
Chaxi Raxi5.15b (9b)OlianaSpainAdam Ondra
Chilam Balam5.15b (9b)Villanueva del RosarioSpainBernabé Fernández (see notes), Adam Ondra, Sébastien Bouin, Dani Andrada, Edu Marin
Clash of the Titans5.15a (9a+)GötterwandlAustriaAlex Megos
Companion of Change5.15a (9a+)ZillertalAustriaJakob Schubert, Alex Megos
Corona5.15a (9a+)FrankenjuraGermanyMarkus Bock, Adam Ondra, Felix Neumärker, Alex Megos, Daniel Jung, Dai Koyamada
C.R.S.5.15b (9b)MollansFranceAdam Ondra
Deep Spot5.15a (9a+)La Balme de YenneFranceMathieu Bouyoud
Delincuente Natural5.15b (9b)RodellarSpainDani Andrada
Demencia Senil5.15a (9a+)MargalefSpainChris Sharma, Iker Pou, Ramón Julián Puigblanque, Stefano Ghisolfi, Alex Megos, Sangwon Son
Des Scènes Bizarres dans la Mine d'Or5.15a (9a+)JenseggSwitzerlandPirmin Bertle
Disbelief5.15b (9b)CanmoreCanadaAdam Ondra
Eagle 45.15b (9b)Saint Léger du VentouxFranceAdam Ondra
El Bon Combat5.15b/5.15c (9b/9b+)La Cova de l'OcellSpainChris Sharma
Empreintes5.15a (9a+)Saint-Pierre en FaucignyFranceFred Rouhling
Es Pontas (see notes)5.15a/5.15b (9a+/9b)MallorcaSpainChris Sharma, Jernej Kruder
Fight Club5.15b (9b)CanmoreCanadaAlex Megos
Fight or Flight5.15b (9b)OlianaSpainChris Sharma, Adam Ondra, Jakob Schubert, Sachi Amma, Matty Hong
Finest Pedigree5.15a (9a+)Cheedale CorniceUnited KingdomSteve McClure
First Ley5.15a (9a+)MargalefSpainChris Sharma, Alex Megos, Mateusz Haladaj, Stefano Ghisolfi, Daniel Woods, Shawn Raboutou
First Round First Minute5.15b (9b)MargalefSpainChris Sharma, Adam Ondra, Alex Megos, Stefano Ghisolfi
Flex Luthor5.15a (9a+)Fortress of SolitudeUSATommy Caldwell
Following the Leader5.15a (9a+)CuencaSpainPablo Barbero, Ramón Julián Puigblanque
Geocache5.15a (9a+)FrankenjuraGermanyAlex Megos, Adam Ondra
Goldrake5.15a (9a+)CornalbaItalyAdam Ondra, Gabriele Moroni, Stefano Carnati, Stefano Ghisolfi, Silvio Reffo
Golpe de Estado5.15b (9b)SiuranaSpainChris Sharma, Adam Ondra
Hell Racer5.15a (9a+)HellNorwayAdam Ondra
Hyper Finale5.15a (9a+)RawylSwitzerlandAdam Ondra
Iron Curtain5.15b (9b)FlatangerNorwayAdam Ondra
Jaws II5.15a (9a+)RumneyUSAVasya Vorotnikov, Daniel Woods, Mike Foley, Andrew Palmer, Paul Robinson, Alex Megos, Tristan Chen
Joe Mama5.15a (9a+)OlianaSpainKlemen Bečan, Chris Sharma, Jakob Schubert, Matty Hong, Jonathan Siegrist
Jumbo Love5.15b (9b)Clark MountainUSAChris Sharma, Ethan Pringle, Jonathan Siegrist
Jungle Boogie5.15a (9a+)CeüseFranceAdam Ondra, Sachi Amma, Stefano Ghisolfi, Alex Megos
Kangoroo's Limb5.15a (9a+)FlatangerNorwayAdam Ondra, Jakob Schubert
Kmira5.15a (9a+)Pic St LoupFranceSébastien Bouin
La Barriere5.15b (9b)JanseggSwitzerlandPirmin Bertle
La Capella5.15b (9b)SiuranaSpainAdam Ondra, Stefano Ghisolfi, Daniel Woods
La Castagne5.15a (9a+)Saint Léger du VentouxFranceAdam Ondra
La Cène du Lézard5.15a (9a+)JenseggSwitzerlandPirmin Bertle
La Dura Dura5.15c (9b+)OlianaSpainAdam Ondra, Chris Sharma
La Madone5.15a (9a+)LourmarinFranceGérôme Pouvreau, Sébastien Bouin
La Moustache qui Fâche5.15a (9a+)EntrayguesFranceEnzo Oddo, Stefano Ghisolfi
La Planta de Shiva5.15b (9b)Villanueva de RosarioSpainAdam Ondra, Jakob Schubert, Angela Eiter
Lapsus5.15b (9b)AndonnoItalyStefano Ghisolfi, Adam Ondra
La Rambla5.15a (9a+)SiuranaSpainRamón 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, Margot Hayes, Stefano Ghisolfi, Jacopo Larcher, Klemen Bečan, Tomas Ravanal, Gerard Rull, Jon Cardwell
L'Etrange Ivresse des Lenteurs5.15a (9a+)CeüseFranceAdam Ondra
Le vent nous portera5.15a (9a+)SocaireChilePirmin Bertle
Les yeux plus gros que l'antre5.15a/5.15b (9a+/9b)RussanFranceSébastien Bouin
Licht und Schatten5.15a (9a+)Chli SchijenSwitzerlandStephan Schibli
Life of Villains5.15a (9a+)HurricaveUSAJoe Kinder
Mamichula5.15b (9b)OlianaSpainAdam Ondra
Marina Superstar5.15a/5.15b (9a+/9b)DomusnovasItalyAdam Ondra
Massacrate5.15a (9a+)Golobove PecineSloveniaJernej Kruder
Maya5.15a (9a+)MargalefSpainRamón Julián Puigblanque
Meiose (see notes)5.15a/5.15b (9a+/9b)CharmeySwitzerlandPirmin Bertle, Adam Ondra
Modified5.15a (9a+)FrankenjuraGermanyAlex Megos, Adam Ondra
Move5.15b/5.15c (9b/9b+)FlatangerNorwayAdam Ondra
Move Hard5.15b (9b)FlatangerNorwayAdam Ondra
Naturalmente5.15a (9a+)CamaioreItalyAdam Ondra
Neanderthal5.15b (9b)Santa LinyaSpainChris Sharma
Nit de Bruixes5.15a (9a+)MargalefSpainIker Pou, Ramón Julián Puigblanque
No Pain No Gain5.15a (9a+)RodellarSpainDaniel Fuertes, Gonzalo Larrocha, Piotr Schab
Obrint el Sistema5.15a (9a+)SantanaSpainAdam Ondra
One Punch5.15a (9a+)ArcoItalyStefano Ghisolfi, Adam Ondra
One Slap5.15b (9b)ArcoItalyAdam Ondra, Stefano Ghisolfi
Open Air5.15a (9a+)SchleierwasserfallAustriaAlex Huber, Adam Ondra
Outro5.15a (9a+)AchleitenAustriaRoland Hemetzberger
Overshadow5.15a (9a+)MalhamUnited KingdomSteve McClure, Adam Ondra
Pachamama5.15a (9a+)OlianaSpainChris Sharma, Sachi Amma, Ramón Julián Puigblanque, Jakob Schubert, Adam Ondra, Jonathan Siegrist
Panorama5.15a (9a+)PatonesSpainJorge Diaz Rullo
Papichulo5.15a (9a+)OlianaSpainChris 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
Perfecto Mundo5.15c (9b+)MargalefSpainAlex Megos
Perlorodka5.15a (9a+)Moravsky KrasCzech RepublicAdam Ondra
Power Inverter5.15a (9a+)OlianaSpainChris Sharma, Adam Ondra, Ramón Julián Puigblanque, Sachi Amma, Jonathan Siegrist
Queen Line5.15b (9b)ArcoItalyAdam Ondra
Rainman5.15b (9b)Malham CoveUnited KingdomSteve McClure
Red Ram5.15a (9a+)MontserratSpainRamón Julián Puigblanque
Rehabilitation5.15a (9a+)PlombergAustriaKlem Loskot
Robin Ud5.15b (9b)Alternatívna stenaSlovakiaAdam Ondra
Sachidananda5.15a (9a+)OrgonFranceLoïc Zehani
Sacrifice5.15a (9a+)CanmoreCanadaAdam Ondra
Salamandre5.15a (9a+)Saint-Pierre en FaucignyFranceFred Rouhling, Baptiste Dherbilly
Selección Anal5.15a (9a+)Santa LinyaSpainRamón Julián Puigblanque, Sachi Amma, Edu Marin, Magnus Midtbø, Jakob Schubert, Piotr Schab, Kamil Ferenc
Silence5.15d (9c)FlatangerNorwayAdam Ondra
Soul Mate5.15b (9b)Gozen RockJapanSachi Amma
Stoking the Fire5.15b (9b)Santa LinyaSpainChris Sharma, Adam Ondra, Jakob Schubert
Stone Butterfly5.15a (9a+)Baile HerculaneRomaniaAdam Ondra
Super Crackinette5.15a (9a+)Saint Léger du VentouxFranceAlex Megos, Adam Ondra, Gérôme Pouvreau
Supernova5.15a/5.15b (9a+/9b)FrankenjuraGermanyAlex Megos
Sweet Neuf5.15a (9a+)Pierrot BeachFranceAnak Verhoeven
The Balcony5.15a (9a+)PlombergAustriaKlem Loskot
Thor's Hammer5.15a (9a+)FlatangerNorwayAdam Ondra, Alex Megos, Jakob Schubert, Daniel Woods, Ethan Pringle, Dave Graham, Domen Škofic, Sachi Amma, Sébastien Bouin, Magnus Midtbø, Piotr Schab
Tinipi (see notes)5.15a (9a+)Mont KinabaluMalaysiaDaniel Woods, Sachi Amma
Torture Physique Integrale5.15a/5.15b (9a+/9b)GastlosenSwitzerlandAdam Ondra
Ultimatum5.15a (9a+)MassoneItalyStefano Ghisolfi, Eric Albertini, Adam Ondra
Underground Dreaming5.15a (9a+)ArcoItalyAdam Ondra
Vasil Vasil5.15c (9b+)SloupCzech RepublicAdam Ondra
Vicious Circle5.15a/5.15b (9a+/9b)Mišja PečSloveniaAdam Ondra
Violent New Breed5.15a (9a+)GiggleswickUnited KingdomJohn Gaskins
Wheelchair5.15a (9a+)GrampiansAustraliaAlex Megos

List Criteria

  • 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 or discrepancy over grade. Where climbs have been repeated, climbers by and large tend to agree on the grade.
  • 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 Rouhlings: 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).
  • 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 only climber to repeat either climb, 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 ChangeLa Dura Dura, and Vasil Vasil — all of which are graded 5.15c (9b+). With his ascent of Silence, Ondra has opened a new grade. Silence has yet to be repeated, but Ondra isn’t generally one to give soft grades.

Only one of the 5.15c routes, La Dura Dura, saw a repeat, 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 this spring by sending Sharma project Perfecto Mundo. He is now the third climber in history to climb 5.15c.

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 BiographiePachamama, 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. Adam Ondra is currently so far ahead of the curve that no one can actually confirm how classic his new climbs are.

Margot Hayes, Anak Verhoeven, and Angy Eiter also deserve huge shoutouts here. Hayes went on a tear last year, completing her second 5.15a on none other than Biographie. 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.

Grade-Chasing

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 4-6 years 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 five 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 three 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 very 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 a very exciting time for climbing, and personally I’m excited to see what the next generation of wünderkinds 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. 90% of the world’s 5.15 climbs are in Europe.

Of the remaining climbs, all but four are in Canada or the USA. Those four are in Chile, Japan, Australia, and Malaysia, but Tinipi no longer exists, leaving just three 5.15s outside of North America and Europe.

That’s both a testament to the insular nature of climbing and a bright look at the future. Imagine all the insanely difficult routes that could be put up around the world — as the sport continues to expand, it finds most of the globe unexplored.

About the Author:

Willis is the rare local who was actually born in Boulder, Colorado, and he has been climbing mountains since he was small. He appreciates all styles of climbing and enjoys skiing and running on the side. Favorite climbing spots include Rocky Mountain National Park, Wild Iris, and Tuolumne. He attended college in Massachusetts and currently resides in Philadelphia. He loves cats, green tea, and endurance climbs. You can check out his adventures on his Instagram account.