Hold onto your chalk bags folks, we’re about to dive head-first into the wild world of bouldering – where the only thing standing between you and a sketchy fall are your freakishly-strong fingertips.
For those who have been around the bouldering bloc for a while will know that the progression over the last few decades has been nothing short of jaw-dropping. Thanks to climbers who refuse to let a little thing like gravity hold them back, we’ve gone from saying “No way, that’s impossible!” to “What’s next?” in a matter of years.
But how do we keep track of it all? Enter the V-scale and Fontainebleau grading systems, the barometers of bravado that climbers use to measure their mettle. With boulder grading systems like these, we’ve been able to track the evolution of bouldering and set a global standard that unites climbers and climbing difficulty from all corners of the globe.
Keeping tabs on thousands of ascents is no easy task, which is why we have created the Hard 100: Bouldering Edition, an archive where you can explore the toughest, meanest, most finger-twisting boulder ascents up until June 2023.
Timeline of Bouldering Progression
Before we dive into the current hardest boulders in the world, I think it’s only right that we take a moment to appreciate some of the big milestones in Bouldering history. After all, without these crushers of yesteryear throwing down some gnarly beta, the modern standard of V16 or V17 bouldering wouldn’t have been possible.
Grading is an immensely subjective affair, which is why problems are up and downgraded as more climbers make ascents of established boulders. This makes keeping track of “firsts” and key milestones a little tricky. Nevertheless, here are a few of the biggest moments every climber can appreciate:
- 1977: An ascent of Le Carnage in Fontainebleau by Jérôme Jean-Charles is considered the first-ever ascent of a 7B+ (V8).
- 1989: Catherine Miquel makes the first female V8 (7B+) ascent of Le Carnage.
- 1996: After three days of work, Fred Nicole makes an ascent of Radja, the first boulder to be awarded the grade of V14/8B+.
- 2000: Dreamtime is suggested as V15 by Nicole, the first boulder at this grade. This was later downgraded to V14, but after a key hold breaking in 2009, Dreamtime is again considered V15.
- 2002: Fred Nicole tops out Monkey Wedding in the Rocklands, which is the first consensus V15/8C in history.
- 2004: Mauro Calibani climbed Tonino ’78 (first proposed V16, downgraded to V15/V16).
- 2008: Christian Core sends his long-term project Gioia, suggesting a grade of V15. After Ondra claimed the second ascent in 2010, he suggested an upgrade to V16, making it the first V16 ever.
- 2016: Ashima Shiraishi claims the first female ascent of V15/8C after climbing an Ascent of Horizon in Japan.
- 2016: Nalle Hukkataival claims the ascent of his long-term Lappnor project. The boulder, later named the Burden Of Dreams, is recognized as the first-ever V17 boulder, and the highest level of modern bouldering.
These awesome achievements are just a drop in the ocean in the narrative of climbing.
Right, enough chit-chat! Let’s get started with the Hard 100 Boulders.
The 100 Hardest Boulders In The World
Below you will find the complete list of the hardest boulder problems in 2023. For the sake of my sanity, as well as yours, this list only covers boulder problems graded V15/V16 (8C/8C+) and above. If we were to extend this list to V15, the Hard 100 list would be infinitely more difficult to manage.
|Boulder Problem||Grade||Date of FA||Country||Climbers|
|Burden of Dreams||V17 (9A)||October 2016||Finland||Nalle Hukkataival
|Return of the Sleepwalker||V17 (9A)||March 2021||USA||Daniel Woods|
|Alphane||V17 (9A)||April 2022||Switzerland||Shawn Raboutou
|Megatron||V17 (9A)||Spring 2022||USA||Shawn Raboutou|
|Backflip SDS||V16/V17 (8C+/9A)||May 2023||Russia||Vadim Timonov|
|Soudain Seul||V16/V17 (8C+/9A)||February 2021||France||Simon Lorenzi
|Big Conviction||V16 (8C+)||January 2022||France||Simon Lorenzi|
|Big Z||V16 (8C+)||December 2020||USA||Shawn Raboutou|
|Bookkeeping||V16 (8C+)||December 2022||USA||Drew Ruana
|Box Therapy||V16 (8C+)||October 2018||USA||Daniel Woods
|Brutal Rider||V16 (8C+)||May 2020||Czech Republic||Adam Ondra|
|Celestite||V16 (8C+)||March 2023||Switzerland||Dave Graham|
|Creature from the Black Lagoon||V16 (8C+)||September 2016||USA||Daniel Woods
|Daños Con-Laterales||V16 (8C+)||June 2022||Spain||Ignacio Sánchez González|
|Distortion||V16 (8C+)||August 2022||USA||Drew Ruana|
|Drop a Line||V16 (8C+)||November 2016||Switzerland||Pirmin Bertle|
|Ephyra||V16 (8C+)||March 2019||Switzerland||Jimmy Webb
|Epitaph||V16 (8C+)||April 2022||Japan||Toru Nakajima|
|Euclase||V16 (8C+)||April 2022||Switzerland||Dave Graham|
|Floatin’||V16 (8C+)||December 2021||Japan||Ryuichi Murai|
|Fuck the System||V16 (8C+)||July 2021||Switzerland||Shawn Raboutou
|Ganesh||V16 (8C+)||February 2022||Italy||Elias Iagnemma|
|Gakidō||V16 (8C+)||March 2022||Japan||Shinichiro Nomura
|Grand Illusion||V16 (8C+)||August 2020||USA||Nathaniel Coleman
|Hallucination (Post-Break)||V16 (8C+)||December 2021||Japan||Kazuma Ise|
|Honey Badger||V16 (8C+)||August 2022||England||Will Bosi|
|Howl at the Moon SDS||V16 (8C+)||May 2023||USA||Drew Ruana|
|Hydrangea||V16 (8C+)||November 2019||Japan||Akira Waku|
|Hypnotized Minds||V16 (8C+)||October 2010||USA||Daniel Woods
|Hypothèse assis||V16 (8C+)||December 2018||France||Charles Albert|
|Into the Sun||V16 (8C+)||Bernd Zangerl|
|Insomniac||V16 (8C+)||July 2021||USA||Drew Ruana
|Isles of Wonder Sit||V16 (8C+)||July 2022||Wales||Aidan Roberts
|La Révolutionnaire Extension||V16 (8C+)||November 2017||France||Charles Albert
|Ledoborec||V16 (8C+)||May 2020||Czech Republic||Adam Ondra|
|Maxwell’s Demon Low||V16 (8C+)||Februray 2023||USA||Drew Ruana|
|Moonlight Sonata||V16 (8C+)||October 2021||USA||Taylor McNeill
|Nayuta||V16 (8C+)||April 2017||Japan||Dai Koyamada
|Nexus||V16 (8C+)||October 2021||Japan||Ryuichi Murai|
|No Kpote Only||V16 (8C+)||December 2018||France||Charles Albert
|Off the Wagon Sit||V16 (8C+)||October 2018||Switzerland||Shawn Raboutou
|Poison the Well||V16 (8C+)||February 2019||Switzerland||Giuliano Cameroni
|REM||V16 (8C+)||February 2019||Switzerland||Giuliano Cameroni
|Return of the Dreamtime||V16 (8C+)||January 2023||Switzerland||Yannick Flohé|
|Sleepwalker||V16 (8C+)||December 2018||USA||Jimmy Webb
|Terranova||V16 (8C+)||November 2011||Czech Republic||Adam Ondra|
|The Ice Knife Sit||V16 (8C+)||November 2013||USA||Daniel Woods
|The Lion’s Share||V16 (8C+)||Februray 2023||Switzerland||Adrian Robert|
|The Megg||V16 (8C+)||January 2023||USA||Gabe Lawson|
|The Process||V16 (8C+)||January 2015||USA||Daniel Woods|
|The Story of Three Worlds||V16 (8C+)||June 2022||Switzerland||Shawn Raboutou|
|Vecchio Leone Sit||V16 (8C+)||November 2022||Switzerland||Aidan Roberts
|United||V16 (8C+)||November 2019||Japan||Ryuichi Murai|
|Bokassa’s Fridge Sit||V15/V16 (8C/8C+)||March 2006||Germany||Florian Wientjes
|Crisis||V15/V16 (8C/8C+)||December 2014||Spain||Nacho Sánchez
|El Indomable||V15/V16 (8C/8C+)||October 2017||Spain||Alberto Rocasolano
|Gioia||V15/V16 (8C/8C+)||March 2008||Italy||Christian Core
|Hazel Grace Sit||V15/V16 (8C/8C+)||June 2021||Switzerland||Giuliano Cameroni
|Low Priora||V15/V16 (8C/8C+)||October 2020||Russia||Vadim Timonov
|Minimalomania||V15/V16 (8C/8C+)||March 2013||Switzerland||Pirmin Bertle
|The Wheel of Life Direct||V15/V16 (8C/8C+)||November 2012||Australia||James Kassay
|Tonino ’78||V15/V16 (8C/8C+)||January 2004||Italy||Mauro Calibani
|Vrtule||V15/V16 (8C/8C+)||October 2017||Czech Republic||Adam Ondra|
Hard 100 Footnotes
- All boulders are shown as their “suggested grade” factoring in the initial proposed grade and the consensus of repeats from other climbers. If two different degree of difficulty is still debated, then the boulder is shown as a split grade (V15/V16). If the general consensus has settled on a grade after multiple repeats, then that grade will be shown (Gioia at V16, for example).
- No problem, below V15/V16 will make it onto the Hard 100 list. Based on the initial FA grade, there are boulders that would have a spot on the Hard 100, but after subsequent downgrading, they no longer meet the minimum V15/16 threshold.
- This list is based on ascents up until 10th June 2023.
How many people have climbed V16?
Since Christian Core made the first V16 ascent of Gioia in 2008, the number of people who have climbed V16 has increased drastically. Even in the last year alone, the standard of hard bouldering has grown exponentially, with 15 new crushers claiming an ascent of V16 or harder in the last 12 months. As of June 2023, there are 48 people who have bagged a V16 boulder problem.
Perhaps you’re curious as to why we’ve held our tongues on the tantalizing topic of V17 boulders. This captivating subject has been merited with its own dedicated spotlight. If you’re eager to delve into the awe-inspiring world of V17 bouldering, then make sure to check out our guide dedicated to the hardest bouldering grade in the world.
|Grade||Number Of Climbers|
Who has climbed the hardest Boulders?
It’s safe to say that there is no shortage of crushers out there. Some, like Dave Graham, Daniel Woods, Or Nalle Hukkataival have been the faces of gnarly bouldering for most of the 21st century. While these household names are undoubtedly some of the best boulderers out there, there are plenty of up-and-coming young guns that are carving out a legacy for themselves too.
Shawn Raboutou has blown the collective mind of the climbing community by putting down first ascents for two V17s. On the other side of the pond, Will Bosi and Aidan Roberts are arguably some of the strongest boulders in the world right now, both with a handful of V17 ascents to their name respectively.
Take a look at the table below for the leaderboard on who has climbed the most boulders graded V15/V16 and above.
|Climbers||Number of Hard Boulders Topped|
|Ignacio Sánchez González||1|
Which Country Has the Hardest Boulders?
With climbing becoming an international phenomenon, it’s hardly surprising how diverse the range of hard boulder problems there are across the globe.
That said, if we dig a little deeper into the data, there are some interesting points here. Of the 64 boulders graded V15/V16 and over, all but three are in the Southern Hemisphere (One in Australia and two in South Africa respectively). Currently, there are no boulders in Central or South America. Considering there are over 9 million climbers in the United States It’s hardly surprising that 26% of the hard boulders are found in the USA.
What is more surprising, however, is how many hard problems can be found in Switzerland. With 23% of the boulders on our list being found in Switzerland, this small European country undoubtedly has the highest concentration of hard bouldering over any other country.
|Country||Number Of Hard Boulders|
Bouldering Grade Deflation
Legendary climber Nalle Hukkataival delves into the complex world of bouldering grades, putting a fresh spin on the understanding of progression in his blog post. He challenges the perception that the sport has stagnated over the last decade, suggesting it’s not a lack of progression, but a deflation in grading that’s at play.
Hukkataival believes the issue started with the first ascent of Dreamtime by Fred Nicole in 2000, which set a new high-water mark for difficulty, the 8C (V15) grade. But as the decade rolled on, it seemed like every new hard problem was also 8C, leading to a seemingly static state of progress. The twist? These new 8C problems were actually harder but were still graded relative to Dreamtime, which was later found to be easier than initially thought, leading to a wave of downgrades.
Hukkataival laments the media pressure on climbers to strive for new grades, leading to overgraded problems, and the resulting confusion as many high-grade problems ended up being downgraded. He also underlines the need for a solid foundation for grading, despite the risk of being left behind in the professional climbing world.
In his riveting conclusion, Hukkataival urges us to see grades as estimates or personal opinions of a climb’s difficulty, rather than absolute truth. He underscores the responsibility that comes with grading, especially for upper-scale problems, as it has a ripple effect on the grading of many other climbs. A poignant reminder that while grades are a small part of climbing, they still hold significant value in helping climbers understand and compare difficulties.
Some interesting thoughts by Nalle, and a topic that certainly deserves more attention and open discussion within the climbing community, particularly as the sport continues to evolve and more climbers push the boundaries of what’s deemed possible.