Need a hand getting psyched for your next climb? WAE’s resident climbing tragic James Stuart has pulled together a list of crushers who’ll inspire you to climb harder (or at least watch climbing movies during your lunch break).
This is a list showcasing some of the world’s elite climbers; athletes and adventurers whose efforts have inspired me to be a better climber, if not a better person.
I’ve assembled this list as a companion piece to my overview of rock climbing styles, choosing a few individuals from across all (non-alpine) disciplines. Of course, the list is highly subjective. Leave a comment below if I’ve missed your favourite climber!
I’ve never been much of a boulderer (call me weak) but it’s hard not to be impressed by the strength, power, technique and obsession required to excel on these short, intense climbs.
Ashima Shiraishi – USA
Shiraishi’s been setting records since she first topped out a boulder in her native New York’s Central Park at the tender age of six. Since then she’s become the first woman (and youngest ever) to climb at the V15 level.
Want to know what a V15 looks like? Check out this video at around the 20min mark and tell me whether it’s something you could ever imagine doing. Oh – and she’s only just turned 17 and is a US national sport-climbing champion too.
Nalle Hukkaitval – Finland
Hukkaitval comes across as one of the most laidback guys you could imagine, which is hard to believe considering this guy is the only person to climb V17 (a grade not yet confirmed). He’s also one of the movers and shakers in the leg-breaking world of highball bouldering with first ascents of stupefyingly tall routes across the world.
There are a handful of climbers who are redefining what’s possible in the sport. There are countless others who are trailblazing in different ways. They’re climbing routes that most of us wouldn’t even be able to do a single move of. But their dedication and passion are shared at all levels.
Adam Ondra – Czech Republic
Ondra broke onto the climbing scene as a lanky teenager, quickly repeating some of the world’s hardest climbs. Since then, he’s taken over the mantle as world’s best from Chris Sharma, and has established the world’s hardest climbs in Norway’s epic Flattanger Cave. He climbs like a man possessed (like literally possessed à la Exorcist) and trains so hard my body aches just watching him.
Micheala Kirsch – USA
This diminutive crusher is not climbing the hardest routes on the planet (for women, that mantle falls to the likes of Margo Hayes and Angy Eiter). But being the best is not a prerequisite for this list; anyone who’s committed enough to drive 14 hours return every weekend to climb their project is a hero in my eyes.
The climb in question is called Golden Ticket (grade 5.14c/34) and you should watch the video below of her sending it for the first female ascent – it’s freakin’ rad! (Fast forward to about the 10min mark if you just want to see the climb but you won’t appreciate the challenges without watching the full film.)
Climbing ethics dictate that if a climb can be protected by natural protection, (instead of bolts) it should be, no matter how difficult or scary it is. This ethic is possibly strongest in the UK where the rating system takes into account not only how difficult a climb is but also its danger.
Hazel Findlay – UK
Growing up in a climbing family doesn’t hurt but Hazel Findlay has now established a reputation as one of the world’s boldest climbers, taking on tough, run-out routes with sketchy protection wherever she goes. Want to see what a sketchy climb looks like? Have a look at her on this E9 test piece, a seacliff in Wales, and try not to cringe when a hold breaks.
The Wide Boyz // Pete Whittaker and Tom Randall – UK
Whittaker and Randall were both local heroes but, one day, decided to take on the USA’s hardest off-width crack climbs, despite living in England, where there is no climbing in that style.
After training for months in Tom’s basement/torture chamber, they set off and sent the first ascent of the world’s hardest off-width, The Century Crack. All with big goofy smiles and a good dose of self-deprecation.
Multi-Pitch and Big Wall
Fancy memorising a 400-move gymnastics routine? Imagine doing that up a 500m cliff and you’ve got a sense of the physical and mental ability required to become one of the world’s elite multi-pitch and big wall climbers.
Nina Caprez – Switzerland
Caprez has made a name for herself repeating some of Europe’s hardest multi-pitch climbs. Why is that impressive? Because of the dedication it takes to scale hundreds of metres of rock again and again, just so you can finish off that one really hard pitch of climbing, just like she did on Spain’s mythical Orbayu.
Tommy Caldwell – USA
A humble climbing legend, Caldwell is close to being a household name after sending The Dawn Wall on Yosemite’s iconic El Capitan (after 3 weeks on the cliff face). Now it’s the world’s hardest big wall climb (5.14d/35).
Equally impressive is the years of work he and partner Kevin Jorgenson put into climbing this beast. Even president Barack Obama took note, giving the team a congratulatory phone call.
Climbing without a rope is more common than you’d think – confident, experienced climbers will sometimes free solo a climb well below their level. The rarified air of this discipline, however, is reserved for those few who can sustain this concentration over hundreds of metres.
Alex Honnold – USA
Alex ‘No Big Deal’ Honnold earned his nickname for an almost nonchalant attitude to the stupendous risk inherent to ropeless climbing. His ability to manage his emotions, prepare for climbs and execute them like a robot has seen him make the most daring free-solo ascents of all time, like El Sendero Luminoso in Mexico and the 1,000m testpiece Freerider route (5.13a/28) on El Capitan.
Brette Harrington – USA
One of the few women who’s known for her free soloing, Harrington’s most notable ascent is her free-solo of the 800m Chiaro di Luna (5.11a/21) in Patagonia. But often, she’ll saunter up some easier climb without a rope just for fun. If you know if any other women making tracks in this area, (I’m familiar with Steph Davis) leave a comment below.
Australia’s climbing community is often centred around meccas like the Blue Mountains in New South Wales, Frog Buttress in Queensland or the Grampians in Victoria.
The individuals here are mainly veterans of the Blue Mountains/Sydney scene; I’ve left off the next generation of sport-climbing crushers like Angie Scarth-Johnson and Tom O’Halloran. Also absent is globe-trotting, trad-climbing beast Logan Barber and boulderers like Chris Webb Parsons.
Law’s a climbing legend who (with a lot of friends) seems to have put up half of the Blue Mountains modern multi-pitches, including the 270m, mega classic Bunny Bucket Buttress (one of my favourites).
He was at the forefront of both trad and sport climbing throughout the 70s and 80s and has been a prolific route developer and first ascensionist ever since. To get a sense of his vision check out his 50m route I Have a Dream (25) suspended high above the Grose Valley.
Mother – check. Largely unsponsored – check. Elite climber – check. Blue Mountains resident Forestier is climbing mad. Her passion and ability have seen her become the first Australian woman to climb grades 31-34.
She climbs hard in both sport and trad. But, as she points out on her website, it’s not the numbers that matter. For her, climbing is intrinsic: ‘focusing on my own dreams and setting my own personal challenges’.
Ben and Lee Cossey
Flip open the Blue Mountains Climbing Guide and check out the hardest climbs (grades 30+) – there’s a decent chance that you’ll see either Ben or Lee’s name against the first ascent.
You might have even seen them on Australian Ninja Warrior. But for me their king line is Groovetrain in the Grampians – a striking line that follows a dark streak up burnished orange rock. If you entered our competition with The North Face you might be lucky enough to join the brothers on a climbing weekend!