The pushing of grades in climbing is a direct reflection of the sport’s evolution. Throughout climbing history, there has always been a top grade which brings forward a question – how much further can the sport be pushed?
When the top bouldering grade was V10 (7C+) nobody knew if V11 (8A) would be possible. Now, in 2023, you will find your average Joe in the boulder field casually crushing 10s and 11s like it’s nobody’s business.
From 2004 until 2016, the top grade in bouldering was V16 (8C+). Climbing V16 demands so much strength and skill that a V17/9A boulder problem climb long seemed like a distant fairytale. This paradigm was permanently shifted in the fall of 2016 when Nalle Hukkataival made the first ascent of Burden of Dreams – the world’s first proposed V17 boulder.
It wasn’t until 2021 with Daniel Wood’s Return of the Sleepwalker that a second V17 boulder was established (boulders that were later downgraded or deemed controversial excluded). Read on for a deep dive into the mystical grade of V17 climbs, including all the currently proposed V17 boulders, the climbers involved, and what could be next for the bouldering world.
Every V17 Boulder Problem
If you’ve wondered how many V17 boulders there are, and who climbed them, you are in the right place. I’ll break down, one by one, every V17 boulder problem currently out there. At the time of writing (June 2023) there are currently four boulder problems that have retained the V17 grade. Here’s every 9A boulder you need to know.
Burden of Dreams
First Ascent: Nalle Hukkataival, October 2016
As previously mentioned, Burden of Dreams is the groundbreaking climb that made V17 bouldering a reality. The block is located in Lappnor, Finland, and was established by Nalle Hukkataival after three years and over 4,000 attempts – an incredible demonstration of persistence and willpower.
What sets this climb apart from the rest of the V17 boulders in this list is that Burden is only 8 moves. To warrant the grade at that length, each move has to be insanely difficult. All of the other boulders in this list earn their grades partially from an endurance factor.
2023 Update: Burden of Dreams got its second ascent recently, April 2023, by Will Bosi.
Return of the Sleepwalker
First Ascent: Daniel Woods, March 2021
Return of the Sleepwalker, located in Red Rock, Nevada, is a prime example of the endurance factor mentioned above – it adds a low start to the previously established Sleepwalker (V16). The low start demands climbing six moves of V13 (8b+) straight into the V16 with no rest. On March 30th, 2021 Daniel Woods made the first ascent after a massive, obsessive, three-month-long effort. ROTS was the first V17 boulder in America.
First Ascent: Shawn Raboutou, April 2022
Alphane is a beautiful granite boulder in Chironico, Switzerland, first climbed by Shawn Raboutou in April 2022. The V17 boulder links a V14 into a V15 into an “easy” V10 outro– quite the stack of hard moves! In classic Shawn Raboutou fashion, he climbed the boulder and made no announcement of his send for several months afterward. The climb took him twenty-five sessions. It stands as the most repeated V17 having now seen ascents from Aidan Roberts, Will Bosi, and Simon Lorenzi.
First Ascent: Shawn Raboutou, Spring 2022
Megatron is the most recently established V17. Another Shawn Raboutou line, he announced his ascent not long after Alphane, making him the first person to climb multiple V17 boulders. Megatron is located in Eldorado Canyon, Colorado, and links a V15 into the D-Woods line, Tron (V14), with no rest. The boulder had been unsuccessfully projected by some of the world’s best climbers like Daniel Woods and Drew Ruana before Shawn claimed the first ascent later in 2022.
On top of the four V17 boulders listed above there are two more proposed V17s that have had the grade disputed. Although they may or may not live on with the baffling grade of V17 bouldering next to their names, they are still undeniably some of the hardest boulders in the world, and I would be remiss not to include them here.
No Kpote Only
This is an interesting one as it was first climbed by Charles Albert, known more commonly as Barefoot Charles, in January 2019. No Kapote Only was later repeated by Ryohei Kameyama who suggested a slash grade of V16/V17 and then again by Nico Pelorson who proposed V15. This certainly begs a question; is it V17 when climbed barefoot?
Personally, I feel a grade should be determined with the optimum beta and gear needed. If I climb a V8 in Crocs and it makes it feel like a V11, that doesn’t mean it should have a separate “Croc grade”.
Taking this further, if a route or boulder is made easier with the use of kneepads or hand jammies, the grade should reflect this in some way. This opinion does bring an interesting discussion of where to draw the line though. Let’s say a lizard skin glove technology is developed that allows 5.12 climbers to stick to the rock so well that they can suddenly climb 5.14. Should all the grades be shifted to reflect this? My gut says probably not, but I’ll leave the discussion open.
Soudain Seul is a sit start to The Big Island (V15) in Fontainebleau, France, first climbed by Simon Lorenzi early in 2021. He proposed the grade of V16/V17. It was later downgraded to V16 by Nico Pelorson and further upgraded back to [soft] V17 by Camille Coudert. So the grade on this one is still ambiguous, needing more ascents to solidify a number. One thing is for sure though – it’s seriously hard!
Who Has Climbed V17?
Now that we have a neat list of all the V17 boulders in one place, let’s focus on the more important side, the climbers themselves. These athletes are accomplishing some of the most impressive feats of movement imaginable. Here is a compiled list of the world’s current (confirmed and potential) V17 climbers.
- Nalle Hukkataival- Burden of Dreams (V17 FA)
- Will Bosi – Alphane (V17 third ascent), Burden of Dreams (V17 second ascent)
- Daniel Woods – Return of the Sleepwalker (V17 FA)
- Shawn Raboutou – Alphane (V17 FA), Megatron (V17 FA)
- Aidan Roberts – Alphane (V17 second ascent)
- Simon Lorenzi – Alphane (V17 fourth ascent), Soudain Seul (V17? FA)
- Charles Albert – No Kpote Only (V17? FA)
- Ryohei Kameyama – No Kpote Only (V17? second ascent)
- Nico Pelorson – No Kpote Only (V17? third ascent), Soudain Seul (V17? second ascent)
- Camille Courdert – Soudain Seul (V17? third ascent)
Now, in 2023, V17 has been solidly established as a grade. Ascents are becoming more and more frequent as bouldering rapidly evolves as a discipline. So what comes next? Is V18 possible? Drew Ruana thinks so. In an interview on The Nugget Climbing Podcast, Ruana states “Something like V18 would be like stacking two V16s on top of each other; or a V15 into a V16.” He later continues that he knows of two potential V18 projects. Climbing a V15 or V16 into V16 certainly sounds impossible to a mortal like me but then again so does climbing a V13 into a V16 which has now been proven to be possible.
It is a very exciting time in the discipline of bouldering as we are seeing boundaries pushed and broken through every season. How much further will the top climbers be able to take it? How about the next generation of crushers? Only time will tell, but if you are anything like me, you are waiting on the edge of your seat to find out. Now, back to my V9 project (V17 in Crocs).