Adam Ondra and Chris Sharma are, without a doubt, at the top of the world in the climbing scene. But there’s already a new generating of young savages at the ready cracking the most difficult routes in the world – with Alexander Megos and Ashima Shiraishi leading the way. But who will confirm Ondra’s “Silence” route in the Hanshelleren Cave in Norway – possibly the first route at the difficulty level of 9c?
Passion, diligence, and absolute strength of will: Pro climbers live for their sport. But a professional career also demands sacrifice. Training and studies come second. Only two of the strongest climbers in the world have thus far managed to climb through routes at the 9b+ difficulty (French scale): Adam Ondra and Chris Sharma.
Adam Ondra is considered the strongest – he’s always setting new standards. His skills are all self-taught. Only since 2014 has he received professional coaching. What we do know is: He’s constantly pushing the difficulty scale for climbing higher and higher. His latest success could once again revolutionize climbing sports. In September, the Czech athlete celebrated the first ascent of the “Silence” route in Flatanger, Norway. His suggested rating of 9c has yet to be confirmed – but a repetition won’t be long in coming. But who will measure up to the route? We present the ten strongest climbers in the world.
Hildesheim resident Lena Herrmann (*January 28, 1994) is Germany’s strongest female rock climber. Inspired by her father and Northern German climbing personalities, she developed her passion for the competitive sport early on. In 2015 she won the title of German Champion in lead climbing in Frankenthal.
She’s also won multiple competitions in bouldering. She won the German Youth Championship in 2012 and the Junior European Cup in 2013. However, the focus of her career has been sport climbing on the rock face. She’s an especially frequent visitor to her favorite climbing region, Frankenjura: there, in June 2016, she was the first woman to climb the 8c+ difficulty “Battle Cat” route. Lena Herrmann currently lives and studies in Bayreuth, Germany. She’s a member of the Petzl team, and also sponsored by Marmot and Scarpa.
American Chris Sharma (*April 23, 1981) is, next to Adam Ondra, the strongest climber in the world. He grew up in the mountains of Santa Cruz, California. He spent his school years at the Mount Madonna Center, a holistic yoga center where he took yoga class in the forest.
He began climbing as early as 12 years old. Two years later, he won his first competitions. He’s considered the first child phenomenon in climbing sports. Since then he’s established some of the hardest routes in the world, been a pioneer in “deep water soloing” – climbing on the rock face without rope protection deep under water – and a protagonist in numerous climbing films (including ‘King Lines,’ 2007).
His achievements: In 2009 he established what is currently the most difficult climbing route, “La Dura Dura” (9b+), in the climbing region of Oliana in Catalonia. In 2015, he was the first to master the “El Bon Combat” (9b/9b+) in the Cova de L’ocell region near Barcelona, Catalonia – one of the most technically demanding routes in the world. In 2013 he repeated “La Dura Dura” (9b+) after Adam Ondra’s first ascent. Current project: “Le Blond” (9c?) route in Oliana, Catalonia. Chris Sharma’s sponsors include Red Bull and Petzl.
Innsbruck, Austria native David Lama (*August 4, 1990 - †April 16, 2019) was a sports climber, alpinist – and son of a Nepalese mountain guide. The world’s exceptional talent was discovered at the age of five by Peter Habeler during a climbing course.
In 2006, he was the first athlete ever to win both the bouldering and lead world cup, and was also the youngest World Cup winner in history. He’s dedicated his career to mountaineering. In 2012, he succeeded in the first free ascent of the Cerro Torre (Patagonia) via the “Compressor” route (8a).
The film on the ascent (‘Cerro Torre – Not the Ghost of a Chance’) caused a stir because new supports needed to be installed for the filming. Other first ascent: Moose’s Tooth in Alaska via the “Bird of Prey” route (6a, M7+, 90°, A2), Lunag Ri in Nepal. His sponsors were: The North Face, Glorify, Kästle and Leki.
David Lama died in April 2019 in an avalanche accident in the Canadian Rocky Mountains. Together with Hansjörg Auer and Jess Roskelley, who also died, he took a difficult route at Howse Peak.
Hansjörg Auer (*February 18, 1984 - †April 16, 2019) was known above all for his free solo ascent of the “Path Through the Fish” route (7b+, 850 m, 37 SL) on the south face of the Marmolada in the Dolomites. The typically two-day tour only took him two hours and 55 minutes – with a preparation period of just five hours the day before.
Starting in 2004, he pulled off first ascents and repetitions on various expeditions, including in Patagonia, Pakistan, and the Yosemite Valley. Achievements include “Eternal Flame” on the Trango Towers in Karakoram, Pakistan. He ended his professional career as a sports and math teacher to begin his climbing career in 2009. Partners and sponsors included The North Face, Smith Optics, Garmin und Komperdell Bergstöcke.
Hansjörg Auer was also killed in an accident on a joint tour with David Lama and Jess Roskelley in the Canadian Rocky Mountains. The three top athletes were hit by an avalanche during their descent.
American Alex Honnold (*August 17, 1985) is a free solo climber and extreme mountain climber. His biggest achievement to date: On June 3, 2017, he crested the El Capitan in Yosemite Valley on the “Freerider” route, free solo, in 3:56 hours. Free solo means that he climbed the route alone with no rope protection.
In 2014, Alex Honnold climbed the route “El Sendero Luminoso” (7c+) near Monterrey, Mexico, free solo – a 15-pitch tour. He received the Piolet d’Or in 2014 for “The Fitz Traverse” (4,000 vertical Hm, 7a, C1, 65°), Patagonia, which he championed in five days together with Tommy Caldwell. He broke off his studies at the University of Berkeley to climb. He lives in his van to this day. His sponsors include: La Sportiva, The North Face, Black Diamond, Goal Zero.
Franconian Alexander Megos (*August 12, 1993) is one of the strongest rock climbers in Germany and acting European runner-up in bouldering. In Spain’s Siurana in 2013, he achieved the world’s first on-sight ascent (that is, a first ascent without having seen the route beforehand) of a 9a route: “Estado critico.”
In 2015, he climbed the “Supernova” route in Franconian Switzerland, thus presumably establishing the first 9a+/9b-difficulty route in the German-speaking world. He’s also known for extremely fast repetitions of difficult routes: For example, “La Rambla” (9a+) on the second try in 2013.
American Sasha DiGiulian (*October 23, 1992) has won various bouldering and climbing competitions in her career. But she can also produce achievements in rock climbing: In 2011 she was the first woman to ascend the “Pure Imagination” route (9a, later devalued by Adam Ondra to 8c+). In 2012, she climbed the “Era Vella” route (9a; downgrade to 8c+ being discussed) in the Spanish Margalef. In 2017, she will be the first woman to overcome the 700-meter wall “Mora Mora” (8c) in Madagascar. Sponsors include Adidas, Red Bull, GoPro, La Sportiva, Petzl.
Czech citizen Adam Ondra (*February 5, 1993) is considered the strongest climber in the world. As early as 13 years of age, he was already among the world’s elite in the climbing scene and won numerous competitions, including the Lead World Cup at age 16. In 2016, he succeeded in the first repetition of the “Dawn Wall” (9a) on the El Capitan in Yosemite Valley, California – the hardest multi-pitch route in the world.
In 2012 he climbed the “Change,” the first route rated at 9b+. Thus far, only he and Chris Sharma have scaled a route of this difficulty rating. Most recent success in sport climbing: First ascent of the “Silence” route (9c according to his assessment) in the Hanshelleren Cave, Norway in September 2017. According to his assessment, it’s the hardest route ever climbed. Sponsors include Black Diamond.
American Tommy Caldwell (*August 11, 1978) is a successful big wall climber – his roster includes eleven routes on the El Capitan in Yosemite Valley, California (including “The Nose,” which he climbed in less than twelve hours). He also established some of the hardest sport routes in the US. Together with Alex Honnold, he succeeded on “The Fitz Traverse” in 2014 (4,000 Hm, 7a) – the crossing of Mount Fitz Roy from north to south, for which they received the Pilot d’Or.
In 2017, he published his autobiography: ‘The Push: A Climber’s Journey of Endurance, Risk, and Going Beyond Limits,’ in which he processes his kidnapping by the Turkistan Islamic Party during a stay in Kyrgyzstan in August 2000. Sponsors include Patagonia and Edelrid.
American Ashima Shiraishi (*April 3, 2001) began climbing back when she was seven years old in Central Park, NYC. She’s among some of the most extraordinary personalities in bouldering and rock climbing. She’s currently considered one of the strongest junior climbers, of any gender, in the world. At the age of 13, she was the first woman to succeed in two 9a+ climbing routes: “Open Your Mind Direct” and “Ciudad de Dios,” Santa Linya, Spain. Sponsors: The North Face, Coca Cola, Petzl.
Tyrolean Barbara Zangerl (*May 24, 1988) loves climbing and bouldering in equal measure. In first six years of her climbing career, she traveled around the world and tested all kinds of bouldering regions. Her greatest achievement: She was the first woman to boulder an 8b (“Pura Vida” in the “Magic Wood,” 2008, Switzerland).
Due to an injury in 2009, she had to go on a long break from bouldering – and discovered sport climbing. Here, she’s moving at the 8c/+ difficulty. Achievements: First female ascent of the “Alp Trilogy” – “Emperor’s New Clothes,” “Silver Vultures,” “End of Silence” – and the first ascent of the trade route “Hope Principle” (E9/10, 8b) in Voralberg, Austria. In addition to training, she works part-time in a hospital as a radiology assistant. Sponsors: Adidas, Five Ten, Black Diamond.