Help grow the archive! drop a knowledge bomb here.

V18 Bouldering – The Limits Of Human Potential

LAST UPDATED: 20th April 2024

Once, a V10 boulder problem was considered the peak of climbing difficulty. Now, climbers are buzzing about the potential for V18. Bouldering has evolved quickly from just a way to train for other types of climbing into a major discipline of its own. 

We’ve seen rapid progression, from the first V15 in 2000 to the first V17 in 2016. The big question is: can we reach V18 in our lifetime? Maybe, maybe not.

Jordan Cannon on Midnight Lightning climb
Jordan Cannon on Midnight Lightning ©maxbuschini

When Was The First V15?

John Gill is often hailed as the founding father of modern bouldering, making significant contributions to the sport with numerous first ascents, including the first confirmed V10. His influence laid the groundwork for future generations, setting a precedent for pushing the limits of what was physically and mentally conceivable in bouldering. 

However, it was Fred Nicole who truly escalated the pursuit of higher difficulties in bouldering. Fred put up the first V13, V14 and V15, putting hard bouldering on the map.

The first proposed V15 was Dreamtime, a boulder Fred Nicole put up in 2000 in Cresciano, Switzerland. After a few subsequent ascents, it was downgraded to a V14. 

Fred Nicole Bouldering
Fred on Charon‘s Obolus, V13/8B

The first consensus on V15 is Monkey Wedding, another boulder put up by Fred Nicole in South Africa. This was in 2002, two years after the first proposed V15. 

Fast forward 6 years later to 2008 and the first proposed V16 appears. Christian Core, an Italian climber made the first ascent of Gioia and suggested a V16. Further ascents solidified this grade, making it the first of its kind.

However, a broken hold made the route easier, dropping it down to a V15/V16 by subsequent ascensionists.
Gioia really set a precedent as for the following three years, another three V16 boulders followed; Livin’ Large, Hypnotized Minds and Terranova.

Dave Graham making third ascent of Hypnotized Minds
Dave Graham in Hypnotized Minds

V16 to V17 – When The Impossible Became Possible

V16 astounded the world. It was so futuristic that V17 just seemed out of the question. *queue in Nalle*. Nalle Hukkataival, a Finnish serial boulderer with an ick for highballs found this perfect 45-degree angled rock in his home country, Finland. Dubbed the Lappnor Project, it was harder than anything Nalle had ever tried, and he had FA’d a few V16, so Nalle knew what hard felt like.

Nalle Hukkataival Lappnor Project
Nalle on Burden of Dreams, the first ever V17 boulder

3 years and 4000 attempts later, Nalle made the first ascent of Burden of Dreams in 2016, making it the first ever V17 boulder. This was 8 years after the first V16. 

After Burden of Dreams, it wasn’t for another 5 years that we saw the second V17 with Return of the Sleepwalker. Now, we have four confirmed V17 boulders (BofD, ROTSW, Alphane, Megatron) and two potential ones (Soudain Seul, L’Ombre du Voyageur). 

Barefoot Charles Albert did hint that his recent ascent of L’Ombre du Voyageur might be a V18, but there are yet to be any repeats to confirm the grade.

Barefoot Charles Albert Climbing L'Ombre du Voyageur V17
Albert Climbing L’Ombre du Voyageur, a proposed V17

Is V18 Even Possible?

If it was only 8 years between V16 and V17, does that mean that V18 could be at arms reach? Honestly, I can barely get my ass up a V5, so who am I to say, right?

But, some experts in the field have touched upon the mystical number of V18. Aidan Roberts said in the Nuggest Climbing Podcast that we are so far away from V18, not in a pessimistic way but more in an inspiring way.

Alphane V17 Boulder
Aidan Roberts on Alphane ©SamPratt

Drew Ruana said that if a V18 is to come, it’ll be more endurance-based boulders with a V15 into V16 with no rest in between rather than a single move or sequence of moves that feel like V17 or V18.

Will Bosi is on the lookout for a limit-level project. We do have climbers out there that have the potential to break into the V18 barrier. Whether it’ll happen in our lifetime, we don’t know that yet.

Shawn Raboutou has been working on a project in Red Rocks, Nevada, where the moves consist of a V13 to two V16 moves. Could this be the first V18? Who knows.



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!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top