These Are the World’s Hardest Slab Climbs
Slick slate and blank limestone hold some of the world's most technical bolted slab routes
There are hard slab routes around the world, but only a handful have been given 5.14d or harder. These lines are just off vertical and, while many have tried them, have only been redpointed a few times.
In July 2018, Adam Ondra made history in Alberta’s Bow Valley. On June 29, Ondra onsighted Endless Summer 5.13d and Existence Mundane 5.14b. On July 5, he onsighted two 5.14s: First Flight 5.14c and Ojas 5.14a. And he made the first ascents of two 5.15s: Disbelief 5.15b at Acephale, and Sacrifice 5.15a. Disbelief is a blue-streaked line on blank limestone wall. Josh Muller, co-owner of Bolder gym in Calgary, bolted the route five years before. Ondra said the vertical slab line is at the upper end of 5.15b, saying “I cannot think of many other routes where I climbed so close to my limit.” He said the route is a series of low-percentage fingernail-width crimps and a dead-hard foot-hand match. “He’s a strong boulderer,” Ondra said about Muller, “he did all the moves. It has an V15 boulder problem.”
In January 2020, Italian climber Alessandro Zeni made the first ascent of Cryptography at Saint Loup in Switzerland. The route is linkup of Bain de Sang 5.14d, established in 1993 by Fred Nicole, and Bimbaluna 5.14d/15a, climbed by Fred’s brother François Nicole in 2004. In 2017, Zeni sent Bimbaluna and realized the two could be combined. Zeni graded the route 5.15b, one of the hardest slabs in the world. Zeni spent a number of days travelling to the popular crag to project the technical line. Zeni has also established Cosmic Energy, a 5.15a slab in the Dolomites.
The Meltdown 5.14d
The Meltdown was first attempted and bolted by Johnny Dawes in the 1980s, but wasn’t freed until 2012 by James McHaffie. Dawes was one of the world’s best slab climbers at the time and came close to climbing The Meltdown, which was graded 5.14d by McHaffie. It was repeated in 2018 by Spanish climber Ignacio Mulero. After his send, Mulero said, ““Slippery slate slab, weird moves, perfect! There are not too many places in the world to climb on rock like slate.”
Veteran climber Steve McClure has also attempted it, and said it’s “a world of no holds.” ‘It’s found at Tyll Mawr near Llanberis in North Wales next to the the famous Quarryman. Watch McHaffie climb The Meltdown below, and Johnny Dawes attempt it in the 1980s.