These are the routes and the climbers who have pushed sport climbing into new eras. The hardest climbs in the world have seen individuals test the absolute limits of what humans can do - both mentally and physically.
Climbing holds a strange place as somewhere in between a sport and a completely individual passion. While indoor competitions and the Olympics are bigger than ever, there are still many who have no interest in what others are doing and only climb for themselves.
Climbing in also in many ways is all about persisting through failure. The hardest climbs in the world we've listed here often involve months of tries, full days of not making a single set of moves, and years of effort getting to that level.
Today we'll talk only about the hardest sport climbing routes, the stories of how they came to be, and the people who've climbed them. We'll also cover the hardest projects being worked on and the hardest indoor climbing route! Many of these routes are very different to a standard sport climb and have to push not just difficulty but the length and style.
The Hardest Climbing Route In The World
Currently there are two climbing routes considered the hardest in the world. "Silence" and "Bibiliographie" are both graded 9c or 5.15d - the highest grade in sports climbing.
First 9c Climb - "Silence" - Hardest Climb In The World?
|Area: Flatanger, Norway||Bolted By: Adam Ondra (2012)||Climbed By: Adam Ondra (2017)|
Adam Ondra climbed the world's first 9c / 5.15d on September 3rd 2017, becoming at the time the hardest climbing route in the world. It's a 45 meter long route that starts immediately overhung and turns into a completely upside down "cave" route. Originally named "Project Hard", Ondra named it for his uncharacteristically silent finish. Yup - no demonic scream topout celebration!
Ondra originally bolted the full route in 2012 and 2013. He tried to recreate parts of the route and train specific movements in his home gym, also building a small training wall in Flatanger for more immediate practice. He also trained his calves to be able to hold the knee bars longer.
On the day he sent "Silence" he wore knee-pads to make resting with the knee bars easier. He also skipped clipping some of the quickdraws to save energy. Famously he wore two different climbing shoes - a Miura on his left foot and a Solution on his right for their different profiles.
The Beta For Silence
The first part of the route is 20 meters of roughly 8b roof climbing with "okay" holds that is about endurance. This leads into the first and hardest crux of "Silence" which is around an 8C / V15 boulder (the third hardest grade in Bouldering currently). A complicated and precise set of moves that involves leading with an inhuman drop knee foot jam and precisely swapping fingers around in a tight finger crack.
After the infamous crack, there is a "good" knee bar where Ondra rested before a short 8B / V13 boulder problem second crux. The third crux is a 7B+ / V9 boulder problem, then through to comparatively easier holds to the chains.
"Silence" famously has a crack problem midway through. The V15 crux leads straight into it and Ondra's beta was to foot jam into the crack, then drop knee on that leg to move into the crack - on the verge of dislocating his knee. Intrepid crack master Pete Whittaker tried to work out an alternative all-jamming solution to just this section:
Adam Ondra himself actually replied to the video talking about how the beta might work - "I really enjoyed watching this video and I was looking forward to when Pete or Tom would finally check it out. Linking the crux (even though there are harder single moves lower down) was jamming my left foot properly, while being super extended holding the slopey hole with right hand down low, and then getting into the holds right underneath the foot jam. From there on, it was all about this massive drop knee, which makes the “crack section” a one mover, instead of technical jamming and making more moves.
"I would often get into the position where Pete is starting from, with my foot jam sliding half out and there was no way to drop the knee, because I was in the air before I dropped the knee. At the same time, if the foot jam stuck perfectly, I would never fall in the drop knee any more. So, I do not think that the new jamming beta would help me because you still need the foot jam in the correct place in order to move your feet higher."
"In my point of view, I guess the new beta might be similar difficulty for me (I totally agree I still have a lot to learn about jamming though), but new beta requires wearing flat shoes on both feet (instead of soft downturn shoe on my right) which would definitely make the other sections harder for me."
"Great news is that the route is possible without dislocating the knee though, which makes the route much better!"
Since pushing the difficulty of sport climbing up in 2017 with "Silence" no-one else has been able to complete the route - though a few have tried. It demands insane flexibility, precision, and endurance on overhangs which are all strong points of Adam's style.
It has been rumoured that the route may actually deserve a rating of 9c+ but only time will tell. The first 9c climb in the world remained the only 9c climb completed until recently...
Second 9c Climb - "Bibiliographie" - Hardest Climb In The World?
|Area: Céüse, France||Bolted By: Ethan Pringle (2009)||Climbed By: Alex Megos (2020)|
In between competing and qualifying for the Tokyo Olympics for the first Sport Climbing event, Alex Megos had been working on a very hard project. Some footage was featured in the climbing documentary Rotpunkt. Back in 2009 Ethan Pringle bolted a route on the same wall as the historic 9a+ "Biographie" in Céüse, giving the proj this name as a nod. He worked it for a while before leaving it as an open project.
Alex first started on the route back in 2017 and spent a few months over the next few years working the route. He was distracted by competition and also held back by an injury sustained at Hachioji 2019 Olympic qualifying event. In 2020 he came back to it and after a total of 60 days work in all he topped out on August 5th 2020.
Now one of only two people to have climbed 9c by sending the world's second 9c, Megos is also one of the handful of people in the world to have completed a 9b+ route. In May 2018 he completed "Perfecto Mundo", a 9b+ / 5.15c route originally bolted but not sent by Chris Sharma.
Because the area isn't under lockdown and so popular, a few climbers are known to have taken a look at the project since. Jakob Schubert recently went up and managed complete all the hard sequences separately - though linking them is another thing. Next season when temperatures return we might see the first 9c repeat from Jakob or another grade suggestion.
Hardest Indoor Climbing Route In The World - "The Project"
Black Diamond worked with the Klättercentret climbing gym in Stockholm, Sweden to create the hardest indoor climbing route ever set. "The Project" was set back in 2017 by Robert Rundin and Jocke Berglund as a route that gets progressively harder as it goes up. It's 46m in total and goes from roof to overhang, to roof to overhang.
The first climber to complete it will win €5,000 which will increase each year that it isn't climbed.The person with the highest point on the project at the end of the year also wins €1,000 until it is completed. It's a permanent route open to anyone to attempt! There have been a few competition style events where famous climbers come along to try it out and share beta.
It's supposed to be set in five sections set in rough bouldering grades that get harder. The start is a 6A / V3 boulder grade, at the top it's meant to be around 8C / V15 boulder grade. Ondra has said that the roof section before the finish (around late midway) is actually 8C, so could be harder midway than expected.
Climbers that have attempted the route include Nalle Hukkataival, Magnus Midtbø, Alex Megos, Stefano Ghisolfi, Kajsa Rosén, Hannes Puman, Jorg Verhoeven, Eric Karlsson. Adam Ondra had the highest point which he set back in April of 2017 but Alex Megos managed to get one move past that recently. It's likely to be 9c or possibly harder...
Possible 9c Projects
There are a few known projects that may be graded 9c or 5.15d. We wouldn't be surprised if others had been bolted and abandoned, or actively worked on but being kept secret. They are all possible 9c but after the first ascent might be lower or higher. Even the best climbers in the world still take months to complete 9b+ or hard 9b.
It's more about finding a route they are passionate about rather than just a numbers game. Often these climbers are trying to do their own thing and find their own line.
Stefano Ghisolfi 9c Project - "King Line"
Stefano Ghisolfi was working on a route he called "King Line" up until recently when the area Laghel in Arco was closed to climbing by the landowner. The area is home to some world class climbing, including "Queen Line" 9b / 5.15b which was first sent by Ondra in 2017, then Ghisolfi in 2019.
Seb Bouin 9c Project
Sebastian Bouin has been working on a project in the Ramirole in the Verdon Gorges of France. He believes it may shake out to be a 9c / 5.15d. Conditions dictate that the summer months are best for it so we probably won't hear anything until 2021.
Seb hasn't sent any confirmed 9b+ routes but has done multiple 9b/+ (a grade roughly between 9b and 9b+) and he's definitely strong and dedicated enough for this to be on the cards. He really seems motivated for his own projects rather than repeating others right now.
Ondra 9c Project
The Moravian Karst area is just north of Brno, Adam Ondra's home town in the Czech Republic. For years he's been climbing the caves and spying out potential routes. He recently completed an 8C+ / V16 boulder problem "Brutal Rider" that spans a huge section of a roof within a low cave.
That was the hardest boulder problem in the Czech Republic and just up from it may be the future hardest sport climb in the Czech Republic. Ondra bolted the route recently and has sporadically worked on it. He isn't sure exactly what the grade might be but it could be another 9c / 5.15d.
Chris Sharma 9c Project - "Le Blond"
Chris Sharma has had a few projects over the years that he comes back to or has left for others. One of those is "Le Blond", a possible 9c / 5.15d in Oliana, Spain. It's only a few meters over from "La Dura Dura" so would be of a similar style.
He's opened multiple Sharma gyms as well as being involved in Sender One in California. He also has two kids so in between managing them and a business he has less time for climbing than ever.
Chris Sharma 9b+ / 9c Project in Cova De Ocell
Sharma has said little about this one apart from "It'll probably be my hardest climb", so most likely a 9c or hard 9b+. It's closer to his current home Barcelona, only 40 mins so more likely he'll continue working on this than any of his other gems.
Chris Sharma 9c Project - "Ratsaman Vibrations"
In Céüse again there is another Sharma world-class Sharma project that he's not likely to get time to try again. At the "Face De Rat" he's tentatively named the project "Ratsaman Vibrations" a la the crag name. He bolted in back in 2012 and it's since been opened to other attempts. Seb Bouin and Charles Albert have been trying in - watch their attempts below.
Chris Sharma 9b+ / 9c Project in Santa Linya
Yet another Chris Sharma project that may be 9b+ or 9c with little info on it. Again it's close enough that he might actually get enough time to complete it. We'd be really interested to see Chris Sharma on a serious regimented training program. For most of his life he's just climbed non-stop and done his own thing with insane results.
There are currently four 9b+ climbs, with only three of them having been repeated and confirmed at the grade. Only "Vasil Vasil" hasn't seen a repeat. There have been other proposed 9b+ routes but they have since been downgraded on consensus.
World's First 9b+ Climb - "Change"
|Area: Flatanger, Norway||Set By: Adam Ondra (2012)||Climbed By: Adam Ondra (2012), Stefano Ghisolfi (2020)|
Adam Ondra made history when he completed the world's first 9b+ sports route "Change". Though Chris Sharma had bolted and been working on another possible 9b+ "La Dura Dura", Ondra just pipped him to the title of world's hardest climb in 2012.
The route is the beautiful Hanselleren Cave in Flatanger Norway, also home to "Silence" 9c and "Move" 9b/+. The 55 meter route is essentially two pitches with the first 20 meter pitch at roughly 9a+ / 5.15a, featuring a 8B+ / V14 boulder problem crux on to the second pitch around 9a / 5.14d.
The beta doesn't involve any resting on the rope between the two pitches but does have a couple of rests including an inverted kneebar. At the first set of chains there is an OK rest where it's actually better to entirely pull through the rope and reclip to reduce rope drag. You're still attached with a knot to one quickdraw so it's still safe, just a fair bit of extra work.
Very recently Stefano Ghisolfi made the second ascent of Change after months of work. He documented the process and some alternate beta that he found on his instagram stories and should be releasing footage of the climb soon.
It took Ondra 29 minutes in total with a 5 minute rest at the knee bar. Stefano reported it took him over an hour to do the route so we're assuming he rested a fair amount of time at each point possible. This also makes Stefano the only other person apart from Ondra to have climbed more than one 9b+.
First 9b+ Repeat - "La Dura Dura"
|Area: Oliana, Spain||Bolted By: Chris Sharma (2009)||Climbed By: Adam Ondra (2013), Chris Sharma (2013)|
For a while Chris Sharma was known as the best climber in the world, having climbed what was considered the first 9a+ "Biographie" and then the first 9b "Jumbo Love". Back in 2009 he started work on bolting this line in Oliana, Spain and worked on it whenever seasons allowed.
As he continued the project he started to think he might never climb it, introducing an up-and-coming Adam Ondra to the route. After sharing beta and working together on the climb for over a year, Ondra eventually sent it in February of 2013. Sharma managed it just a month later making history with the world's first 9b+ repeat.
The area of Oliana is world class - much aided by being close to where Sharma lived at the time. He spent a huge amount of time bolting and working on new lines in the area including 9b's Fight or Flight, Mamichula, and 9a+ routes Power Inverter, Pachamama, Papichulo, and Chaxi.
"Vasil Vasil" 9b+
|Area: Sloup, Czech Republic||Bolted By: Adam Ondra (2009)||Climbed By: Adam Ondra (2013)|
First climbed in December of 2013 by Adam Ondra and bolted by him five years previously. The route is at Sloup in the Czech Republic, and was the world's third 9b+ / 5.15c. It also marked Ondra's third 9b+ and sets him apart from other climber as the only person to have climbed three 9b+ routes.
It is only 12 metres long and according to Ondra was 15 moves of around 8b / 5.13d to the incredibly difficult 8B+ / V14 boulder problem crux. From there it's just a few very easy moves to the finish. Since then there have been no repeats and we can't find that any climber has been working on it either.
"Perfecto Mundo" 9b+
|Area: Margalef, Spain||Bolted By: Chris Sharma (2009)||Climbed By: Alex Megos (2018), Stefano Ghisolfi (2018), Jakob Schubert (2019)|
Yet another Chris Sharma route that he bolted on a spree back in 2009. He's worked on it a few times over the years - unfortunately without a send. The route in Margalef starts on a severe overhang that shares the same start as another route. When it splits it moves in the harder section with a boulder crux and a classic big Sharma dyno.
First completed in 2018 by Alex Megos nearly 10 years after being bolted. It soon saw a second ascent by Stefano Ghisolfi the same year, then a third by Jakob Schubert in 2019.
Grading and Subjectivity
Grading can be very subjective in climbing and you'll often see routes given new personal grades by climbers making the second or third repeat of routes. Some grades change suggestions are subject to height differences, climbers finding different beta (different ways to do a set of moves), or finding places to rest. Sometimes holds break and make routes harder or easier.
Both "Silence" and "Bibliographie" were completed by two of the best climbers in the world, both of whom have massive experience in climbing many routes of world-class grades. This combined with others trying to repeat the routes has all but confirmed their grade and they're both seen as the the hardest sports routes in the world.
Who Has Climbed 9c? / Who Has Climbed 5.15d?
Just Adam Ondra and Alex Megos. Ondra on "Silence" and Megos on "Bibiliographie"
How Has Climbed 9b+? / Who Has Climbed 5.15c?
Adam Ondra has climbed four 9b+ / 5.15c routes, Stefano Ghisolfi two, with Alex Megos, Chris Sharma and Jakob Schubert all having climbed one. So just five people have climbed a 9c / 5.15c graded sport climb.
How Many 9c / 5.15c Projects Are There?
At least five that we know of. There is also "The Project" which is an indoor climbing route set at the Klättercentret climbing gym in Stockholm, Sweden. It's
Who Bolted The Most Hard Climbs?
Ondra found and bolted two 9b+ and one 9c, but Sharma has bolted two confirmed 9b+ climbs, and around five possible 9b+ or 9c projects, as well as a crazy amount of 9b and 9a+ routes. He's also opened up many of these projects and contributed a huge amount to the growth of hard sport climbing.