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The 17 Most Famous Rock Climbers in Climbing History

LAST UPDATED: 23rd July 2023

Climbing history is rich, interesting, and full of stories and heroes. Our favorite sport has changed and developed throughout the years rapidly. It will keep growing so quickly that we will have to update this list as soon as we’ve finished it.

From an anonymous sport to an Olympic one, from unknown-off-the-road athletes (or just strange people) to Oscar winners, worldwide admirers and social media influencers. 

This list contains all of those who were as famous as could be at their time, with their impact on the sport the way we know it today. We can say it’s an outcome of social media, sponsors, the Olympics, T.V shows, or any other speculation. 

But the bottom line is that thanks to these amazing athletes, the sport has become what is it today.

What Defines ‘Famous Climbers’?

Is it whoever has the hardest ascents? The climber who has the most Instagram followers? Or the climber who has the most YouTube views?

Like with any other sport, the massive growth the sport has seen has also allowed unbelievable improvements by its athletes. Just like the first computer wasn’t the best of all time, the first climber wasn’t the best rock climber of all time.

While saying that, it’s important to state that each famous climber was or is probably one of the best, in one or more disciplines. Whether you think the names below are famous or not, one thing’s for certain, they all had the vision and inspiration to break the barriers and take climbing further, one ascent at a time.

The 16 Most Famous Rock Climbers

Below, you’ll find famous climbers, past and present, who are known to hardcore climbers and non-climbers, climbers who have ventured out into the YouTube space, and climbers who have done some badass stuff.

In no particular order, let’s get to it!

Alex Honnold

Known For: Free Solo

Predictable, yes, but undoubtedly the world’s most famous climber. Free solo master, filmmaker, writer, environmental activist, and much more.

Alex Honnold free soloing Freerider
Alex free soloing Freerider, Yosemite ©JimmyChin
What Made Him Famous?

He showed up in the Yosemite climbers scene from a young age but it was around 2007 when Honnold started getting worldwide recognition, primarily thanks to his astonishing free solo ascents. Honnold’s free solo achievements and big wall speed records have started to spread worldwide, and he became, without a doubt, one of the most accomplished climbers of all time. 

Mainstream media started to get familiar with his mind-blowing climbs when the book, ‘Alone on the Wall’ came out, documenting his life and biggest achievement at the time, soloing Yosemite’s Half Dome. His enormous recognition came after the movie, ‘Free Solo’, which documented his solo ascent of Freerider on El Capitan.

It’s safe to say Honnold’s achievements go beyond climbing and are relevant to humanity’s limits and accomplishments. 

Biggest Achievement

Honnold has made so many impressive achievements, that it’s impossible to pick one. But the one that will endure his legacy forever is the famous free solo ascent of Freerider.

Watch Alex soloing The Pheonix, a 5.13 steep, slippery crack in Yosemite. 

Chris Sharma

Known For: Sport, Bouldering & DWS

The coolest, limits breaker, visionist, and a true climbing legend of our time. Sharma is definitely a brand by himself and for good reason. His legacy and contribution to the sport cannot be described in words.

Catalan witness the fitness Chris Sharma
Chris Sharma on Catalan Witness the Fitness V14/V15
What Made Him Famous?

Chris Sharma’s phenomenon started to spread worldwide at the age of 14 when he sent the hardest route in the USA at the time. From this moment on, we can say he’s famous for being the world’s modern grade pusher. The first 9a+ climber (Biographie), and then the first 9b (Jumbo Love), while bolting and climbing the world’s newest and hardest routes. These days, Sharma owns a successful chain of climbing gyms in Spain, and a reality T.V show on H.B.O with the name ‘The Climb’. Chris Sharma became a famous rock climber because he was the best climber of his time.

Watch Chris make the first ascent of Es Pontas, Deep Water Solo.

Biggest Achievement

Not easy to say, but we’d probably choose his ascent of “La Dura Dura”, 9b+ in Oliana, Spain. The route was bolted by Sharma and got the first ascent by Adam Ondra, and the second by the bolter himself. This route still remains legendary and is recognized as one of the most important routes in the world. La Dura Dura is yet to see another ascent since Sharma.

More impressively, exactly 10 years after La Dura Dura, Chris Sharma climbed his second 9b+, Sleeping Lion, at the age of 41. Just comes to show, age is just a number.

Adam Ondra

Known For: Climbing the first 9c

If someone asked you’ Who is the best climber in the world’ Adam Ondra would probably be the first name to pop in your head. The Czech climbing legend is probably the best professional rock climber currently. Adam Ondra has put up the hardest sport routes, hard boulder problems, won multiple competitions and now runs a successful YouTube channel and brand promoting his own merch and climbing holds.

Adam Ondra climbing 9c Norway
Adam Ondra working the crux on Silence 9c ©Pavel Blazek
What Made Him Famous?

It’s hard to state what made him a famous rock climber. Is it his gold medals both in bouldering and lead competitions, or his send of the first 9b+ and later on the world’s first 9c? Or is it just his pure dedication and love for the sport? Of course sending Silence put Ondra on a pedestal, but I think he’s famous thanks to his unbelievable skills, dedication and climbing achievements. 

Biggest Achievement

Ondra has done some amazing things so it’s so hard to pick one achievement. But one achievement we can all agree has stood out is his send of the first ever 9c climb in the world, ‘Silence’ in Flatanger, Norway. His second biggest acheivement, in my eyes anyway, would be the 2nd ascent of the ‘Dawn Wall’ while having almost no big wall climbing experience.

Watch Adam’s pure determination with this inspiring video.

Lynn Hill

Known For: Freeing the Nose

Lynn Hill is a Yosemite legend, an inspiration to all female climbers and a climbing phenomenon. She is without a doubt one of the most famous female rock climbers. Back when men would downgrade any route done by a female climber, Lynn showed them exactly what women are made of by sending some of the toughest routes.

Lynn Hill first free ascent of The Nose, Yosemite
Lynn on the first free ascent of The Nose, El Cap ©Helnz Zak
What Made Her Famous?

Lynn Hill has pushed the free climbing limits, for all genders, at times when climbing hard was just starting to be a thing back in the 80s and 90s. These days, she remains an important and active climber, inspiring the youth to step beyond their limits.

Biggest Achievement

A lot! Lynn has made the first ascents and first female ascents of more than 30 routes around the world. She as also the first female to climb Midnight Lightning, the most famous boulder in Yosemite Valley. But her biggest achievement is by far the first free-climbing ascent of ‘The Nose’ of El Capitan. Then, it was only climbed successfully using aid.

Tommy Caldwell

Known For: Yosemite Climbing

Tommy Caldwell is a legendary big wall-climber. No one comes close to his sheer determination to scale thousands of feet up a granite wall. Oh, and did I mention he has 9 fingers? Yep.

Tommy Caldwell on The Dawn Wall
Tommy on the Dawn Wall with Kevin Jorgeson ©CoreyRich
What Made Him Famous?

Caldwell was always a superstar, being a talented and mind-blowing climber from a young age. His big wall achievements as well as his sport climbing ascents put him on the map of the climbing world, and his unbelievable vision and project on the “Dawn Wall” in Yosemite made him one of the biggest climbers of all time. The mainstream audience got familiar with Caldwell after publishing his bio-book, “The Push”, and later on the film, “The Dawn Wall”.

Biggest Achievement

Well, it’s quite obvious, the free climbing ascent of the “Dawn Wall”. But it’s more than just that. It’s the vision, the aspiration, the belief, and the multiple years of trying that make this his biggest achievement. The Dawn Wall is one of those climbs that changed the world.

He also broke the Nose speed record with Alex Honnold, no biggy.

Marc-Andre Leclerc

Known For: Rock Climbing, Alpine & Free Solo

Marc-Andre Leclerc is one of the most famous rock climbers who died, sadly, doing what he loves best in the mountains. His free-spiritedness and passion for the outdoors will live on forever.

Marc Andre leclerc
What Made Him Famous?

If you’ve seen ‘The Alpinist’ then you’ll know exactly who Marc-Andre Leclerc is and why he deserves a spot on our list. He is the most underrated climber out there and deserves more recognition for his daring ascents. He often soloed on icy, alpine terrain with ice axes and crampons. He would then change into his climbing shoes for some mixed rock climbing, all while free soloing. Many of his ascents were done in winter conditions.

Biggest Achievement

Marc, in such a short time on this earth, managed to make some of the most epic ascents ever done by any climber and alpinist. His most notable and most daring ascent was the solo ascent of Torre Egger in Patagonia.

Margo Hayes

Known For: The first female 9a+

Margo Hayes is at the forefront of breaking the 5.15 female barrier and is an inspiring modern-age climber.

Hayes Margo Climbing Papichulo
Margo sending her 3rd 9a+, Papichulo ©JanNovak
What Made Her Famous?

Hayes is a strong athlete both in and out of the competitive scene. On rocks, Hayes inspired the world by being the first woman to climb 9a+, which opened the window for more female athletes to try their hardest. The amazing capture of her facial expression after sending La Rambla will forever be remembered by climbers around the world.

She recently became the new face of Dior, something which has definitely helped her gain attraction outwith the climbing community.

Biggest Achievement

It’s fair to say that there are three big achievements here for Margo worth mentioning. She became the first woman to send a 9a+ route with the ascent of ‘La Rambla’ in Siurana. Not too long after that, she made an impressive ascent of ‘Biographie’ in France, and two years later in 2019 she sent her 3rd 9a+, Papichulo.

Janja Garnbret

Know for: Being the comp climbing GOAT

Janja is without a doubt the best competition climber ever. She is also arguably the most famous female rock climber at the moment. Janja has won more gold medals in the IFSC competitions than anyone else in history and each year she keeps getting stronger and stronger.

Janja Garnbret IFSC Austria
Janja at the IFSC Austria Climbing Open in Innsbruck Erich Spiess / ASP / Red Bull Content Pool
What Made Her Famous?

Garnbret started being recognized from a young age winning competitions around the world. With her, it’s not one event or achievement that got her famous. It’s an overall performance, with endless medals in all climbing disciplines, as well as the Gold in Tokyo 2020. Janja was also the first one to win both the bouldering and lead overall championship in one year.

Biggest Achievement

Her list of gold medals and her incredible performance in the Olympics are her biggest achievements. As of today, she has amassed 40 World Cup gold medals, more than anyone in history. But she is also very impressive on real rock. She’s onsighted 8c, climbed 9a, and V14 boulder.

She is the GOAT and there is no argument about it.

Wolfgang Gullich

Known For: The first 9a & Campus board

 If you’re a hardcore climber, you know who this guy is and he needs no introduction. The old-school German climbing and limit breaker. Frankenjura legend, campus board inventor, and the world’s hardest routes first ascensionist.

Action Directe - the first 9a climbing
Wolfgang Gullich making history ©ThomasBallenberger
What Made Him Famous?

Wolfgang Gullich was the scene leader of his time. Some even call him the Chris Sharma of his time. Although he is no longer with us, Wolfgang has left an indelible mark as one of the greatest rock climbers to have lived. He popularized sport climbing and pushed the boundaries to unfathomed realms for his time; the realm of 9a climbing.

Biggest Achievement

We have a lot to remember Wolfgang by. He made the first ascent of Action Directe, the world’s first 9a and now the world’s most repeated 9a route. He also invented the Campus Board. A training tool that climbers all over the world use on a daily basis. Talk about leaving a legacy!

Magnus Midtbø

Known For: His YouTube Channel

Magnus, although now retired from the competitive field of the sport, is an accomplished competitive climber turned YouTube influencer (although he doesn’t like being called that, sorry Magnus!).

Magnus Midtbø climber
©Magnus Midtbø
What Made Him Famous?

The Norwegian climber is no stranger to comp walls, bagging his fair share of European and World Youth Championships. But what really helped Magnus boost his profile was his YouTube channel. He was one of the first ‘climber influencers’ and with over 2 million followers, he can definitely be described as one of the most famous rock climbers out there currently. He’s not going to be setting Nose speed records any time soon, but the speed at which he accumulated all these followers is certainly impressive.

Biggest Achievement

Mangus has climbed some impressive stuff, including doing a ‘free solo’ with Alex Honnold on his YouTube channel. When it comes to on-wall achievements, Magnus’ hardest ascent is Ali Hulk sit start extension which he did August 2017. Although initially graded a 9b, it was later downgraded to a 9a+/b. Still, a pretty impressive feat from our favorite YouTuber.

Watch Magnus brick himself free soloing with Alex in Las Vegas!

Sasha DiGiulian

Known for: Big Wall, Alpine

Sasha DiGiulian on Magic Mushroom

Sasha DiGiulian is one of the most badass female rock climbers and a climber I look up to. She does sport, big wall, alpine and bouldering and is also the creator of the Rock Climbing Emoji🧗. There’s literally nothing Sasha can’t do once she puts her mind to it. Her determination and strength, both physically and mentally are beyond anything I’ve seen.

What Made Her Famous?

Sasha made a name for herself after winning gold at the 2011 IFSC World Championships in Arco, Italy, for Female Overall, and has secured multiple titles in the Pan-American Championships. Beyond competitions, DiGiulian is celebrated for her outdoor climbing achievements, including over 30 First Female Ascents and several significant First Ascents. She is also a Red Bull athlete and has her own protein bars and bestseller book which came out recently.

Biggest Achievement

One of DiGiulian’s most notable achievements is becoming the first American woman to redpoint a grade 9a (5.14d) route. In 2015, she made history by becoming the first woman to free climb Magic Mushroom (7c+), one of the most challenging routes on the north face of the Eiger.

Alberto Gines Lopez

Known for: Olympic Gold Medal

alberto ginez lopez
©mariomartinezmunoz
What Made Him Famous?

Alberto is a great climber who specializes in comp lead and bouldering. Alberto will go down in the climbing history books as the first person to win a Gold Medal in the very first Olympics for our beloved sport.

Biggest Climbing Achievement

Winning Gold at the Olympics of course!

Alain Robert

Known For: Daring free solos

Known as the “French Spider-Man”, Alain Robert is a famous climber for his free solo climbing of skyscrapers around the world. His daring ascents, often done without permission, have garnered him international attention and numerous arrests.

Alain Robert climbing
What Made Him Famous?

Alain Robert gained worldwide recognition for his urban climbing feats, scaling some of the world’s tallest and most iconic buildings without ropes or protective equipment. His climbs often draw large crowds and media attention, making him one of the most recognizable figures in the climbing community. His ascents include the Eiffel Tower, the Sydney Opera House, and the Petronas Twin Towers.

Biggest Achievement

One of Robert’s most notable achievements is his ascent of the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, the world’s tallest building (although he did do this with ropes).

Jimmy Chin

Known For: Adventure Photographer & Director

While Jimmy Chin is an accomplished climber in his own right, he has carved a unique niche for himself in the world of adventure photography. With his ability to capture breathtaking moments from the most challenging terrains, Chin has become synonymous with the fusion of climbing and visual storytelling.

Jimmy Chin
Photo from Jimmy Chin Collection
What Made Him Famous?

Jimmy Chin’s journey from being a passionate climber to one of the world’s most renowned adventure photographers is truly inspiring. His ability to document extreme feats from vantage points that only an experienced climber could reach has set him apart in the world of photography. However, it was his involvement in the documentary “Free Solo” that catapulted him to international fame. As a co-director and cinematographer, Chin captured Alex Honnold’s death-defying free solo climb of El Capitan, offering viewers an intimate and vertigo-inducing perspective of the ascent.

He was also involved in the documentary “Meru,” which showcased the challenges faced during his 2011 climb of the Shark’s Fin route on Meru Peak in the Indian Himalayas. Jimmy had a near-fatal accident on this trip. The film won the Audience Award at the Sundance Film Festival and was shortlisted for an Academy Award. Beyond these, Chin also produced “The Rescue,” which chronicles the 2018 Tham Luang cave rescue, and “14 Peaks: Nothing Is Impossible.”

Biggest Achievement

Jimmy Chin has done some badass stuff, but his biggest achievement is probably winning an Oscar for his production of Free Solo with Alex Honnold.

Yvon Chouinard

Known For: Patagonia Founder

Yvon Chouinard is not just an iconic American rock climber but also a pioneering environmentalist, philanthropist, and businessman. He is the visionary behind Patagonia, a company renowned for its unwavering commitment to environmental protection.

Yvon Chouinard
Photo Tom Frost
What Made Him Famous?

Chouinard’s journey began with his passion for climbing and his innovative approach to equipment. In the late 1950s, he started making hardened steel pitons for use in Yosemite Valley, leading to the birth of Chouinard Equipment, Ltd. His advocacy for “clean climbing” and the introduction of aluminum chockstones revolutionized rock climbing. However, it’s his establishment of Patagonia, the clothing and gear company, that truly cemented his legacy. Beyond just creating rugged technical clothing, Chouinard ensured that Patagonia stood as a beacon for environmental activism. In 2023, he was recognized by Time magazine as one of the 100 most influential people in the world.

Biggest Achievement

While Chouinard has numerous accomplishments, his dedication to environmental causes stands out. He founded “1% for the Planet” in 2002, with Patagonia being the first business to commit 1% of annual sales to the environment. In 2022, Chouinard took a monumental step by donating ownership in Patagonia to a trust, ensuring the company’s profits are channeled towards addressing climate change.

Fred Beckey

Known For: Rock Climbing

Fred Beckey is without a doubt one of the most underrated pioneers in rock climbing ever. He started climbing at a young age with his brother and didn’t stop until he was well into his 90s. Beckey has put up hundreds of routes all around America and Canada and spent his entire life living as a dirtbag.

Fred Beckey climber
What Made Him Famous?

Remember the photo of an old dude holding a sign saying ‘Will Belay For Food’ that went viral? To the younger generation, that’s probably what made Fred Beckey ‘famous’. But in the climbing community, Beckey was a well-known climbing dirtbag. He dedicated his whole life to rock climbing, not for fame or for any accolades, but just for the pure fun of it. Beckey lived and breathed climbing to the point where he burnt bridges with close family members. Some people call him crazy and self-obsessed, while others see his passion for climbing.

Biggest Achievement

Beckey’s achievements are too many to even put in a few sentences. Is it his hundreds of first ascents? Is it his inspiring dirtbag lifestyle and love for climbing? Is it the fact that he climbed well into him 90s? His legacy will live on as long as humans are climbing. His name will forever be etched in the mountains, with routes like the ‘Beckey Traverse’, ‘Beckey’s Spire’ and ‘Mount Beckey’ dotted all over the globe.

To really learn about Fred Beckey, it’s worth watching Patagonia’s documentary on him called ‘Dirtbag: The Legend of Fred Beckey’.

John Muir

Known For: Preserving Yosemite Valley

I’ll let you be the judge of this one, but I personally think John Muir deserves a spot on our list, and you’ll see why. Often referred to as “John of the Mountains” and the “Father of the National Parks,” John Muir was a Scottish-born American naturalist, author, and early advocate for the preservation of wilderness in the United States. His writings and activism played a pivotal role in the establishment of several national parks and the broader conservation movement in the U.S. Many of these national parks we use today for climbing.

John Muir
What Made Him Famous?

John Muir’s passion for nature and the wilderness was evident in his writings, which captured the beauty and importance of the natural world. His advocacy for the preservation of the American wilderness led to the establishment of several national parks, including Yosemite. Muir’s influence extended beyond his writings; he co-founded the Sierra Club, one of the most prominent conservation organizations in the U.S., and his friendship with President Theodore Roosevelt played a significant role in shaping conservation policies in the early 20th century.

Biggest Achievement

Among Muir’s numerous achievements, his role in the establishment of Yosemite National Park stands out. His writings and advocacy efforts were instrumental in convincing the U.S. Congress to create the park in 1890. If it wasn’t for John Muir, Yosemite probably wouldn’t exist like it does today.

Best Climbers In The World

Okay, so we have looked at the most famous rock climbers in the world, past and present, but does that mean they are also the best climbers in the world? Not necessarily.

Here is a quick list of who I think are the top 10 best climbers in the world right now. And by best I mean who is crushing the hardest at the moment. This list will no doubt change in the near future.

Some of them are on our famous rock climbers list, others are not.

Jakob Schubert

Why is he the best? Jakob has been on fire recently. He bagged himself a ticket to the Paris 2024 Olympics and he just sent his first 9c climb Project BIG. He also won a medal at the 2020 Olympics and has sent some of the hardest routes and DWS in the world. To find out more about Jakob’s epic ascends, take a look here.

Seb Bouin

Why is he the best? Seb Bouin made the FA of the world’s second 9c route, DNA. He’s also climbed over 15 routes graded 9b/9b+.

Adam Ondra

Why is he the best? I don’t think I need to explain why Adam Ondra is not only a famous rock climber but also one of the best rock climbers in the world.

Will Bosi

Why is he the best? Will Bosi has two V17 boulders under his belt. He recently sent Burden of Dreams, which is by far the hardest boulder in the world first put up by Nalle Hukkataival. I would say Will is at the top of his game right now.

Shawn Raboutou

Why is he the best? Just like Will Bosi, Shawn has also ticked off two V17 boulders and I have no doubt he will keep sending hard. He is one of the best boulderers at the moment.

Brooke Raboutou

Why is she the best? Brooke has been a strong female climber for years now, but this year especially, she has really upped her game. She performed exceptionally at the IFSC competitions and recently sent her hardest boulder yet, Box Therapy.

Katie Lamb

Why is she the best? Katie Lamb, just like Brooke, recently sent Box Therapy. Katie was the first female to not just send Box Therapy but was the first female to do a V16 boulder. It has now been downgraded to a V15, nevertheless, she is one of the strongest female boulderers out there at the moment.

Hazel Findley

Why is she the best? Hazel Findley is one of the most underrated female rock climbers. She free solos, does sketchy run-out trad and is just an inspiring all round climber. She was the first female to climb an E9, has climbed 8c and has been up El Captian multiple times.

Janja Garnbret

Why is she the best? Of course, Janja was going to make the most famous rock climbers list and the best climbers list. There is not much I can say here other than Janja is the best competition climber.

Brette Harrington

Why is she the best? Brette Harrington is a climber, alpinist, free soloist, skier and a total badass. If there is anyone you want to scale mountains with, it’s her. She put up dozens of first ascents with Marc-Andre in Canada. But her wildest ascent has been Chiaro di Luna (5.11a) in Patagonia which she did entirely without any safety equipment, becoming the first person to ever free solo this iconic Alex Huber route.

Let me know who you think are the best rock climbers right now.

Climbing is Becoming Famous…

Looking at this list of climbers just reminded us how inspiring these athletes were and are. Each one of them breaks the barrier, steps into the unknown, and keeps blowing the minds of followers around the world.

While climbing is becoming more and more mainstream, and social media keeps evolving, we can just expect more strong athletes, as well as even more famous, mainstream rock stars.

Angel

Meet Angel, a former desk-jockey turned global wanderer. After catching a severe case of the climbing (and travel) bug, she's now a world traveller, living the dirtbag dream. Highballs? Too mainstream for her taste. She's all about the thrills of lowballs, where the real action happens. Nowadays, you'll find her in Thailand, either precariously balanced on a granite slab or trading stories with Nemo and his buddies underwater!

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