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Hardest Trad Send Ever? Connor Herson Climbs Empath 5.14d/15a on Gear

Over the past few years, he's strung together an impressive series of hard climbs on bolts and trad gear

Connor Herson has climbed Empath for his second time, the first using bolts and the second using trad gear. It might be the hardest trad send to date as the grade has been suggested by several top climbers as 5.15a and 5.14d.

“What a stunner,” said Canadian trad climber Sonnie Trotter who’s known for sending bolted routes on gear. Herson, who’s the youngest climber to free The Nose 5.14 on El Cap at 14, had applied some crack climbing techniques without wearing any tape or jam gloves on his first send of Empath while wearing borrowed shoes.

Empath is found in California’s Tahoe and was first climbed by Carlo Traversi, one of America’s top trad climbers, at 5.15a in 2020. 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, including 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 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.”

In 2021, Herson made the first ascent of Kilogram 5.14- in Tuolumne where he started climbing at a young age. His first multi-pitch was Hermaphrodite Flake, a four-pitch 5.7, on Stately Pleasure Dome. A film about Herson’s climbing in Tuolumne is expected out this year.

World’s Hardest Trad

Empath 5.14d/15a? by Connor Herson
Tribe 5.14d? in Italy by Jacopo Larcher, James Pearson
Blackbeard’s Tears 5.14c at Redwood Coast, U.S.A. by Ethan Pringle
Meltdown 5.14c in Yosemite by Beth Rodden, Carlo Traversi
Pura Pura 5.14c in Valle dell’Orco, Italy by Tom Randall
Recovery Drink 5.14c in Jossingford, Norway by Nico Favresse, Daniel Jung
Rhapsody 5.14c in Dumbarton Rock, U.K. 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
Brozone 5.14b in Gunks by Andy Salo, Sam Elias
Century Crack 5.14b in 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 Osso, 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
Tom Egan Memorial Route 5.14b in the Bugaboos by Will Stanhope

Empath FA