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The World’s Hardest Boulder Problems

A look at the world's hardest boulder problems

Challenging ascents and long processes have always described climbing and its progression. Breaking into new difficulties remains challenging in 2022, but climbers have become progressively more comfortable with the V17 rating as a greater number of athletes break into the V16 range. Today we will look at the world’s most challenging boulder problems and the differences between them.

Burden of Dreams V17 – Nalle Hukkataival

The subjectivity of difficulty often comes across in conversations surrounding upgrading and downgrading with many climbers discounting difficulty altogether. Where a defense of difficulty could be a piece in itself, ratings offer a tool for the strongest to measure the level of the sport.

In 2017, Nalle Hukkataival completed the first ascent of Burden of Dreams, a challenging five move crimp line that resembles board climbing. The climb took him four years and while it exists as one of only two proposed V17, it is likely that these are the most challenging series of moves on any established boulder problem in the world. What is interesting about this style is that it asks the question: how much harder can the moves get?

Return of the Sleepwalker V17 – Daniel Woods

This resistance-based test-piece provides another answer to progression through difficulty. Where Burden of Dreams asks the climber to move through five of the hardest moves imaginable, Return of the Sleepwalker eases the difficulty of individual moves marginally, attaining difficulty through the linking of challenging sequences.

The moves on ROTS remain difficult, linking V13 into V16 is a maddening prospect that took Daniel Woods over three months of dedicated sobriety to complete. Naturally, this detail does not include the time it took to climb Sleepwalker, America’s most repeated V16. Climbs like Return of the Sleepwalker show linking to be a possible solution to the difficulty problem, asking climbers to find unprecedented ways of linking high difficulty boulder problems into one another.

Floatin’ V16 – Ryuichi Murai

Ryuichi Murai’s Floatin’ is arguably the sickest new problem of this last year. This problem reflects the style of Burden of Dreams in that the small number of punchy moves leave little room for pause on this campus-based problem.

Gioia V16 – Christian Core

Originally rated V15 by Italy’s Christian Core, the limestone crimping test-piece blazed a trail the rest of the world followed. Adam Ondra upgraded the Italian’s climb and the grade has since stuck. Only one person has suggested a V15/16 grade to the climb, but they ascended with a knee bar pad. The climb was originally established, and subsequently repeated without a kneebar pad.

Nexus V16 – Ryuichi Murai

This endurance-based test-piece is rarity at V16, with few examples reflected in the rest of the world. Even Grand Illusion, a 20+ move granite climb in Little Cottonwood Canyon does not feature quite so many moves. Murai established the climb in Ovtrober of 2021, climbing over 40 moves to make the first ascent.

United V16 – Ryuichi Murai

This powerful board climb takes the already imposing Decided V14 and adds a brutal low start. The impossibly physical climb appears to take the hardest things about bouldering and crank them into a small package.

Livin Large V16 – Nalle Hukkataival

Easily one of the more unique climbs in the world, this expression of difficulty is unique from all other problems of this grade. Like Gioia, it was originally put up as V15 and has only been repeated by Jimmy Webb and Shawn Raboutou. While overhung, the delicate smears and committing movements requires absolute focus and some death-defying gaul to make it to the top of the climb. The problem moves through loafy pinches and nothing crimps to ultimately top out one of the most beautiful blocs in South Africa.

Big Z V16 – Shawn Raboutou

Tahoe’s first V16 is a uniquely delicate boulder problem established by American Shawn Raboutou. The climb traverses right through the overhung face across powerful edges. The slow movement of climb ask more than power, instead requiring immense precision. It has not yet been repeated.

Hypnotized Minds V16 – Daniel Woods

Perhaps one of the most classic rock climbs of all time, this thin-edged masterpiece is hunkered in Rocky Mountain National Park. It was recently repeated by Dave Graham and was one of his longest term projects. Woods originally established the climb at V15, but after so many have tried and failed to make the top, the problem received an upgrade.

The Process V16 – Daniel Woods

The now broken Process stands as one of the most notorious problems in the United States. It has not seen a repeat since it was established due to a hold breaking shortly after it was climbed. The death-defying highball requires more than strength, but could become one of the most radical repeats of all time if it gains a second ascent.

Box Therapy V16 – Daniel Woods

This crisp-and-clean Daniel Woods bloc has received a few repeats and even an unofficial proposed downgrade. Still, the beautiful boulder problem makes the list as one worth watching.

Off the Wagon Sit V16 – Shawn Raboutou

This problem has become one of the most repeated, and recently, contested, difficult climbs in the world. The perfect boulder problem is an expression of board climbing. It was recently reported that one of the holds has become larger.

Ephyra V16 – Jimmy Webb

Unique for its delicate mantle, Ephyra is a stunning low-hanging boulder problem established by one America’s strongest boulderers. The physical problem stays high in the shoulders and has seen a few repeats.

Moonlight Sonata V16 – Taylor McNeil

This freshly climbed squeeze bloc is Joe’s Valley first of the grade and was climbed just this last year. It took McNeil a record number of sessions, but represents an aesthetic line in the Midwest waiting for a repeat. The interesting ascent is morpho making the grading for the climb a conversation about reach.

Creature From the Black Lagoon V16 – Daniel Woods

This Daniel Woods classic is unique in the United States for its steep angle and multi-move style. The wild roof climb has become one of the more widely repeated climbs of the grade in the US, but remains a brutal test-piece in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Terranova V16 – Adam Ondra

This boulder problem is a classic example of grip pulling by the world’s greatest outdoor climbing. Although no one appears to travel out to Brno to try this impressive, if not somewhat uncomfortable climb, it represents an expression of Ondra and his ability to find difficulty wherever he goes.

Grand Illusion V16 – Nathaniel Coleman

This endurance test-piece is one of the climbs that put Little Cottonwood Canyon on the map. The unique granite tufa sequence makes the climb an exceptional expression of movement and accessible to route climbers and boulderers alike.

Soudain Seul V16 – Simon Lorenzi

This low left start to Dave Graham’s The Big Island V15 almost became one of the world’s coveted V17s, but appears to have settled more around the V16 difficulty. The resistance based squeeze line is uncommon in the that FA included the use of knee pad.

Big Conviction V16 – Simon Lorenzi

This recent ascent was recently covered here, but represents another way bouldering is developing. As areas become more trafficked, low starts and alternate starts are becoming more common at the elite difficulty ranges. This has always occurred at more accessible ranges, but it goes to show how the world’s strongest are finding even the elite difficulties climbed out.

La révolutionnaire V16 – Charles Albert

This fingery low-ball has received only a small amount of attention in recent years, but the fingery hanging grips of the Albert’s first ascent have made the climb a focus of athletes such as Simon Lorenzi.

Editor’s note: message the editor on instagram to add a missed boulder problem to this list.

Featured image by Sean Faulkner of Zach Galla

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