February 26, 2021

Best Climbers in the World

12 min read

With so many different disciplines and diverse talent in rock climbing, it’s hard to narrow down the best climbers in the world. 

Whether it’s by making legendary first ascents, redpointing grades that were nearly unimaginable 30 years ago, or breaking gender barriers, the climbers on this list have redefined what’s possible in climbing.  

In no particular order, here are our picks for the best climbers in the world in 2020. 

Alex Honnold

Nationality: American 

Born: August 17, 1985

Height: 5 ft 11 in / 180cm 

Known for: Free soloing, big wall speed climbing  

Notable ascents and achievements:  

  • The Nose on El Capitan in Yosemite, California, USA (2018) – new speed record of 1:58:07
  • Freerider on El Capitan in Yosemite, California, USA (2017) – 5.13a / 7c+ – El Cap’s first free solo ascent 
  • Too Big to Flail in Bishop, California, USA (2012) – 5.13d / 8b free solo or V10 / 7C+ highball boulder – first ascent 
  • Regular Northwest Face of Half Dome in Yosemite, California, USA (2008) – 5.12a / 7a+ – first free solo ascent 

Known for his hair-raising free solo ascent of Freerider on El Capitan, which featured in the Oscar-winning documentary Free Solo, Alex Honnold is one of the world’s most famous climbers. 

Honnold has made many notable free solo ascents, including Half Dome (5.12) in Yosemite, El Sendero Luminoso (5.12d) in El Potrero Chico, Mexico, and Moonlight Buttress (5.12d) in Zion, Utah.

When Honnold does climb with a rope, he often speed climbs big walls. Currently, he holds the speed record for The Nose on El Cap, along with fellow climber Tommy Caldwell. 

Honnold started climbing at age five and later dropped out of college to climb full-time. He lived in a van for over ten years and now owns a home near Las Vegas. In addition to climbing, Alex is known for his philanthropic endeavors through the Honnold Foundation, which seeks to improve energy access worldwide with solar power projects. 

Margo Hayes

Nationality: American 

Born: February 11, 1998 

Height: 5 ft 3 in / 160 cm 

Known for: Sport climbing 

Notable ascents and achievements:  

  • Papichulo in Oliana, Spain (2019) – 5.15a / 9a+ – first female ascent
  • Biographie in Céüse, France (2017) – 5.15a / 9a+ – first female ascent 
  • La Rambla in Siurana, Spain (2017) – 5.15a / 9a+ – first woman to climb 5.15

Margo Hayes originally trained in gymnastics and hoped to compete in the Olympics as a gymnast, but she switched her sights to climbing at age ten. Hayes has earned a spot as one of the best climbers in the world with several first female ascents of 5.15 sport routes and strong performance on the competition scene. 

Hayes’ greatest achievement to date is her ascent of La Rambla 5.15a (9a+) in Siurana, Spain, when she became the first woman to climb an undisputed 5.15a. She quickly followed this accomplishment with another 5.15a redpoint and first female ascent – Biographie, in Céüse, France. In 2019, Hayes sent her third 5.15a, Papichulo in Oliana, Spain. 

Originally from Boulder, Colorado, Hayes was drawn to France and moved there in 2016 to be closer to challenging climbing areas and competitions in Europe. She now splits her time mostly between France and Colorado. 

Adam Ondra

Nationality: Czech 

Born: February 5, 1993

Height: 6 ft 1 in / 185cm 

Known for: Sport climbing and bouldering 

Notable ascents and achievements: 

  • Super Crackinette in Saint-Léger-du-Ventoux, France (2018) – 5.15a / 9a+ – first 9a+ flash in the world 
  • Silence in Flatanger, Norway (2017) – 5.15d / 9c – the world’s first 5.15d
  • La Dura Dura in Oliana, Spain (2013) – 5.15c / 9b+ – the world’s second 5.15c 
  • Change in Flatanger, Norway (2012) – 5.15c / 9b+ – the world’s first 5.15c

Adam Ondra began climbing at age three, and by 13, he had already sent his first 5.14d (9a). Having climbed more than 1550 routes graded 8a or higher and nine different V15 (8C) boulder problems, Ondra has proved over and over again that he is one of the strongest climbers in the world. 

Ondra has consistently broken barriers in rock climbing. In 2012, he successfully climbed Change in Flatanger, Norway, the world’s first sport route graded 5.15c. Two years later, Ondra became the only male athlete to win the World Championship in bouldering and lead climbing in the same year. 

He made history again in 2017 by climbing Silence, also in Flatanger, which became the first sport route in the world with a proposed grade of 5.15d. 

Ondra is easily identifiable in climbing videos because of his signature screams on the wall, which he uses to control his breath and conserve energy. 

Sasha DiGiulian 

Nationality: American

Born: October 23, 1992

Height: 5 ft 2 in / 157 cm 

Known for: Sport climbing, alpine climbing

Notable ascents and achievements:  

  • Misty Wall in Yosemite, California, USA (2017) – 5.13a / 7c+ – first free ascent 
  • Magic Mushroom on the North Face of the Eiger in Switzerland (2015) – 5.13a / 7c+ – first female free ascent 
  • Era Vella in Margalef, Spain (2012) – 5.14d / 9a – third woman to climb 5.14d 

Sasha DiGiulian began climbing at age six and went on to complete over 30 first female ascents and eight significant first ascents around the world. 

In 2015, DiGiulian became the first woman to free climb the 5,900-foot Magic Mushroom 5.13a (7c+), one of the most difficult routes on the Eiger and one of the most technically challenging climbs in the Alps. 

Together with Jon Cardwell and Marcus Garcia, DiGiulian made the first continuous free ascent of Misty Wall 5.13a in Yosemite in 2017. 

When she redpointed Era Vella in Margalef, Spain in 2012, DiGiulian became the first American woman and third woman overall to climb 5.14d. She has also onsighted multiple 5.14a (8b+) sport routes. 

In addition to climbing, DiGiulian is known for promoting diversity and gender equality. Through various programs and advocacy, she seeks to inspire young girls to pursue outdoor adventures like rock climbing. 

Tommy Caldwell 

Nationality: American 

Born: August 11, 1978

Height: 5 ft 11 in / 180 cm 

Known for: Sport climbing, big wall climbing 

Notable ascents and achievements:  

  • The Nose on El Capitan in Yosemite, California, USA (2018) – new speed record of 1:58:07
  • The Dawn Wall on El Capitan in Yosemite, California, USA (2015) – 5.14d / 9a – first ascent
  • Fitz Roy Traverse in Patagonia, Chile and Argentia (2014) – 5.11d / 7a – first ascent 

Tommy Caldwell has established some of the hardest climbing routes in the United States and is known as one of the best all-around climbers in the world. 

With an inspiring backstory that includes losing part of his index finger and escaping a hostage situation in Kyrgyzstan, Caldwell often pursues challenging objectives where success is anything but certain. 

Caldwell began climbing at an early age with his father, who helped him learn how to convert fear and doubt into inspiration and motivation. 

He has free climbed 12 different routes on El Capitan, including the Dawn Wall (5.14d) in 2015 with climber Kevin Jorgeson. The route is considered by many to be the hardest rock climb in history due to its height (3,000 feet) and sustained difficulty over 32 pitches. Along with Alex Honnold, Caldwell currently holds the speed record for The Nose on El Cap. 

Anak Verhoeven 

Nationality: Belgian 

Born: July 15, 1996 

Height: 5 ft 4 in / 163 cm)

Known for: Sport climbing

Notable ascents and achievements:  

  • Joe Mama in Oliana, Spain (2019) – 5.15a / 9a+ – first female ascent 
  • Sweet Neuf in Pierrot Beach, France (2017) – 5.15a / 9a+ – first time a woman claimed the first ascent of a 5.15a route 
  • Sang Neuf in Pierrot Beach, France (2017) – 5.14d / 9a – first time a woman claimed the first ascent of a 5.14d route 

Anak Verhoeven has been climbing since she was four years old. She began competing in international competitions by the age of 14 and has achieved many firsts for women in climbing since then. 

In 2017, Verhoeven sent Sang Neuf 5.14d (9a) in Pierrot Beach, France, and became the only woman to put up a first ascent of a route at this level. 

Shortly afterward, Verhoeven redpointed Sweet Neuf 5.15a (9a+), another route she established in Pierrot Beach. With this ascent, she became the second woman to climb 5.15a (after Margo Hayes) and the first woman to make a first ascent of a 5.15a route. 

Before Verhoeven climbed Sweet Neuf, she had already sent 26 routes graded 5.14a or higher. She claimed her second 5.15a in 2019 – Joe Mama in Oliana, Spain – and has been focusing on hard sport climbing outdoors throughout 2020.  

Tomoa Narasaki

Nationality: Japanese

Born: June 22, 1996

Height: 5 ft 7 in / 170 cm 

Known for: Bouldering 

Notable ascents and achievements:  

  • Decided in Mt. Mizugaki, Japan (2019) – V14 / 8B+ – fifth climber in the world to flash a V14 
  • First place in Bouldering World Cup and Combined World Cup (2019)
  • First place in Bouldering World Championships and Combined World Championships (2019)
  • First place in Bouldering World Cup and Bouldering World Championships (2016) 

Narasaki is one of the best climbers in the world due to his strong performance as a boulderer competition climber. Although Narasaki is strongest at bouldering, he excels at all different competition disciplines, including lead climbing and speed climbing.  

Narasaki is the current world champion and climbing World Cup holder for bouldering and the combined event, which includes three disciplines: speed climbing, lead climbing, and bouldering. As a result, he is a favorite to win the gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics. 

Having previously trained in gymnastics, Narasaki started climbing at age ten. Only ten years later, he won his first title as World Champion and World Cup holder in 2016 in the bouldering discipline and solidified his place among the world’s elite climbers.   

In addition to his top performance at climbing competitions, Naraski has seen significant success bouldering outdoors. In 2019, he became the fifth climber in the world to flash a V14 when he sent Decided in Mt. Mizugaki, Japan. 

Ashima Shiraishi 

Nationality: Japanese-American 

Height: 5 ft 1 in / 154 cm

Born: April 3, 2001 

Known for: Bouldering, sport climbing 

Notable ascents and achievements:  

  • Horizon in Mount Hiei, Japan (2016) – V15 / 8C – first female to climb V15 
  • Ciudad de Dios in Santa Linya, Spain (2015) – 5.14d/5.15a (9a/9a+) – first female ascent 
  • Open Your Mind Direct R1 in Santa Linya, Spain (2015) – 5.14d / 9a – first female ascent 

Ashima Shiraishi has been known as one of the best climbers in the world since she was a child and has broken records time and again. 

She started climbing at age six and became the youngest person to send V13 a mere four years later when she was ten years old.

At 11, Shiraishi became the youngest person to climb 5.14c (8c+), and by 13, she had become the second female and youngest person to climb 5.14d/5.15a (9a/9a+). 

Shiraishi continued her journey as a climbing prodigy and became the first female to send a V15 (8C) boulder problem with her ascent of Horizon in Mount Hiei, Japan, when she was just 14 years old. 

Shiraishi has an impressive tick list for any elite climber and especially for a 19-year-old. She has climbed 15 boulder problems graded V13 (8B) or higher and nine sport climbs 5.14b (8c) or higher. 

Chris Sharma

Nationality: American 

Born: April 23, 1981

Height:  6 ft 0 in  / 183 cm 

Known for: Sport climbing, deep water soloing, bouldering 

Notable ascents and achievements:  

  • La Dura Dura in Oliana, Spain (2013) – 5.15c / 9b+ – the second person in the world to climb a 9b+ sport route 
  • Es Pontas Arch in Mallorca, Spain (2007 and 2017) – 5.15a / 9a+ – first ascent 
  • Jumbo Love in Clark Mountain, California, USA (2008) – 5.15b / 9b – first 5.15b in the world
  • Biographie in Céüse, France (2001) – 5.15a / 9a+ – considered to be the first 5.15a in the world at the time 

Chris Sharma has been climbing since the age of 12 in California and won the Bouldering Nationals a mere two years later. Since then, Sharma has achieved many firsts in rock climbing and has consistently solidified his place among the best climbers in the world. 

At age 15, Sharma climbed Necessary Evil 5.14c (8c+) in the Virgin River Gorge, USA. At the time, it was considered to be the hardest route in North America. 

In 2008, Sharma made the first ascent of a massive 250-foot-long sport route called Jumbo Love in California and became the first person in the world to climb 5.15b (9b). 

Sharma is known for bolting and logging first ascents of many of the hardest climbs in Catalonia, including La Dura Dura 5.15c (9b+) in Oliana, Spain. While Ondra got the first ascent, Sharma sent the route about a month later and, in doing so, became the second climber in the world to redpoint 5.15c. 

Angela Eiter 

Nationality: Austrian 

Born: January 27, 1986

Height: 5 ft 1 in / 154 cm

Known for: Sport climbing

Notable ascents and achievements:  

  • La Planta de Shiva in Villanueva del Rosario, Spain (2017) – 5.15b / 9b – first woman to climb 5.15b
  • Hades in Götterwandl, Austria (2014) – 5.14d / 9a – her first 5.14d
  • Hercules in Götterwandl, Austria (2014) – 5.14c / 8c+ – first ascent 

Angela ‘Angy’ Eiter started climbing at age 11. Although that’s relatively late compared to many climbers on this list, it didn’t stop her from quickly becoming one of the best climbers in the world. 

Many consider Eiter to be one of the best competition climbers in history. From 2004 to 2006, she won three Lead Climbing World Cups in a row and has won four World Championships in total. 

She suffered a serious accident at the World Cup in 2008, resulting in a severe shoulder injury that required surgery and around nine months of rehabilitation. In spite of the injury, Eiter managed to come back even stronger and has seen some of her greatest successes as a climber after this event. 

In 2017, Eiter became the first woman to climb 5.15b (9b) with her ascent of La Planta de Shiva in Spain, and, for now, she remains the only woman to climb this grade. 

Interestingly, Eiter completely skipped over the 5.15a grade and went straight from 5.14d to 5.15b. She has redpointed four different 5.14d routes and has yet to complete a 5.15a. 

Other notable achievements for Eiter include onsighting Skyline 5.13d (8b) in Bürs, Austria in 2006, and putting up a first ascent of Hercules 5.14c (8c+) in Götterwandl, Austria in 2014. 

Alex Megos 

Nationality: German  

Born: August 12, 1993

Height: 5 ft 8 in / 173 cm 

Known for: Sport climbing, bouldering 

Notable ascents and achievements:  

  • Bibliographie in Céüse, France (2020) – 5.15d / 9c – second proposed 5.15d in the world
  • Perfecto Mundo in Margalef, Spain (2018) – 5.15c / 9b+ – fourth climber in the world to climb 9b+ 
  • Fightclub in Banff, Canada (2016) – 5.15b / 9b – first ascent, Canada’s first 5.15 
  • Estado Critico in Siurana, Spain (2013) – 5.14d / 9a  – first 9a onsight in the world

Alex Megos started climbing at age six and has been participating in climbing competitions since age 13. Many believe Megos could be the first climber to break the 5.16 barrier. When you look at his accomplishments, it’s easy to see why. 

In 2013, Megos became the first climber ever to onsight 5.14d (9a) with his ascent of Estado Critico in Siurana, Spain. Since then, he has onsighted two other routes graded 5.14d – TCT in Gravere, Italy, and Underground in Arco, Italy. 

Megos is known for repeating some of the hardest climbs in the world extremely quickly, many of which took other climbers months or even years to complete. For example, Megos climbed Sharma’s Biographie 5.15a (9a+) in a day and redpointed Action Directe 5.14d (9a), a famously challenging sport route in Frankenjura, Germany, in only two hours. These are feats no other climber has been able to achieve. 

In August of this year, Megos made the first ascent of Bibliographie in Céüse, France, and gave it a proposed grade of 5.15d (9c). In doing so, Megos joined Adam Ondra as the only two climbers in the world to climb a route of this difficulty.  

Janja Garnbret

Nationality: Slovenian 

Born: March 12, 1999

Height: 5 ft 5 in / 164 cm 

Known for: Bouldering, Sport climbing 

Notable ascents and achievements:  

  • Seleccio Natural Santa Linya, Spain (2017) – 5.14d / 9a – her first 5.14d
  • Miza za šest in Kotečnik, Slovenia (2015) – 5.14c / 8c+ – her first 5.14c
  • Avatar in Pandora, Croatia (2015) – 5.13d / 8b – onsight 

Janja Garnbret started climbing at age seven and quickly became well-known in the youth competition climbing scene. Since then, Garnbret has been a top performer in global climbing competitions at both youth and adult levels. 

Garnbret is known for her jaw dropping strength and breathtaking aerial acrobatics. Janja dances up slabs, locks off easy on micro crimps, and effortlessly commits the dynos.

She won the Combined and Lead disciplines in the Climbing World Cup three years in a row (2016-2018) and the Bouldering and Combined disciplines in 2019. The same year, Garnbret became the first IFSC competitor ever to sweep and win all six World Cup bouldering events. This is a completely unprecedented feat and it is a testament to her dominance and consistency in a sport.

In 2019, Garnbret also won three of the four disciplines in the World Championships – Bouldering, Lead, and Combined. Due to her incredible success in these competitions, Garnbret is a top contender for the Olympic gold medal when climbing makes its debut at the Tokyo Olympics. 

Outside of competitions, Garnbret has numerous achievements, including redpointing two routes graded 5.14d (9a) in 2017 (Seleccio Natural and La Fabela pa la Enmienda) and onsighting Avatar 5.13d (8b) in 2015. 

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