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Connor Herson Climbing U.S.A.’s Hardest Trad

A short film about one of America's best trad climbers and his send of Empath

Last summer, Connor Herson climbed Empath in California’s Tahoe on trad gear. It was first climbed by Carlo Traversi at 5.15a in 2020 using bolts.

It was quickly repeated by James Webb, Daniel Woods and Nathaniel Coleman who all agreed with 5.15a. Three more climbers went on to repeat it, Keenan Takahashi, Ethan Pringle and Herson. Everyone agreed Empath was 5.15a until Pringle’s send. Using jammies and sticky rubber gloves, Pringle said, “I could see it feeling like 5.15a with the beta the first four ascensionists used, especially in sub-optimal conditions. But, with my height, my highly-refined crux beta, decent crack skills and jammies, it feels on par with other higher-end 5.14+ routes I’ve done or tried this year, like Kryptonite or Made in Time. Obviously difficulty is so subjective, and can range wildly depending on body size, experience, conditions, and so many other factors.”

Empath is the hardest pitch of trad climbing in America and one of the hardest in the world, with others being Tribe and Bon Voyage. See below for a list of the world’s hardest trad routes.

Herson was the youngest climber to free The Nose 5.14 on El Cap. In 2021, he made the first ascent of Kilogram 5.14- in Tuolumne where he started climbing. His first multi-pitch was Hermaphrodite Flake, a four-pitch 5.7, on Stately Pleasure Dome. Last fall he made the first ascent of Pirate’s Code 5.14+.


Empath Trad

World’s Hardest Trad

Empath 5.14d/15a? in California by Connor Herson
Tribe 5.14+? in Italy by Jacopo Larcher, James Pearson
Bon Voyage 5.14+? by James Pearson
El Boulder del Pedal 5.14c in Spain by Ignacio Mulero
Blackbeard’s Tears 5.14c in California by Ethan Pringle
Meltdown 5.14c in Yosemite by Beth Rodden, Carlo Traversi, Jacopo Larcher
Pura Pura 5.14c in Valle dell’Orco by Tom Randall
Into the Sun 5.14c in Switzerland by Bernd Zangerl, Jacopo Larcher
Recovery Drink 5.14c in Norway by Nico Favresse, Daniel Jung
Rhapsody 5.14c in Scotland by Dave MacLeod, Sonnie Trotter, Steve McClure, James Pearson, Jacopo Larcher
Magic Line 5.14b/c in Yosemite by Ron Kauk, Lonnie Kauk, Hazel Findlay, Carlo Traversi
Bladerunner 5.14b/c in Squamish by Ben Harnden
Brozone 5.14b in the Gunks by Andy Salo, Sam Elias
Century Crack 5.14b in the Canyonlands by Tom Randall, Pete Whittaker, Danny Parker
Cobra Crack 5.14b in Squamish by Sonnie Trotter, Nico Favresse, Ethan Pringle, Matt Segal, Will Stanhope, Yuji Hirayama, Alex Honnold, Pete Whittaker, Tom Randall, Ben Harnden, Mason Earle, Logan Barber, Said Belhaj, Stu Smith
Echo Wall 5.14b on Ben Nevis by Dave MacLeod
Family Man 5.14b in Skaha by Sonnie Trotter, Ben Harnden
Lapoterapia 5.14b in Italy by Jacopo Larcher
The Bull 5.14b in Squamish by Jeremy Smith, Ben Harnden
The Dawn Wall 5.14b (trad) 5.14d (sport) in Yosemite by Tommy Caldwell, Kevin Jorgeson, Adam Ondra