Looking for the hardest climbs worldwide? From near-vertical granite walls and icy ascents, to contorted sandstone spires, bolted volcanic domes and hanging limestone crags. Every climber will have an opinion on the best rock climbing locations, but surely the toughest climbs are more set in stone?
The hardest climbs worldwide
Plucking out some of the best-known and most revered routes from around the globe, our ‘top ten’ embraces this diverse discipline, and gives an insight into some of the most challenging routes in the sport.
Unhealthily obsessed by scaling massive chunks of rock and making your way back down again? Then be sure to attempt at least one of these world-class challenges at some point in your lifetime.
The 10 best rock climbing locations
El Capitan, Yosemite National Park, US
Not just an old Apple operating system! In the north of Yosemite National Park, the largest exposed granite monolith in the world rises 900 metres above sea level.
A sheer vertical ascent, with almost no joints, ‘El Cap’ has two main faces and offers routes of varying difficulty. Of these, ‘the Nose’ is both the most famous and the most challenging route, and was first summited in 1958 by US climber, Warren Harding.
Matterhorn, Zermatt, Switzerland
At 4,478 metres tall, the Matterhorn is one of the highest peaks in the Swiss Alps. First climbed in 1865 by British climber Edward Whymper and his team. The Matterhorn was the last great Alpine peak to be climbed, signalling the end of the Golden Age of alpinism.
One of the Alp’s deadliest peaks, three of Whymper’s team were lost on the descent and, since 1865, more than 500 climbers have perished here. Whilst the Hörnli ridge is the most popular route to the summit and one of the hardest climbs. The North Face, which was first summited in 1931, is considered the most challenging.
The Stolen Chimney, Fisher Towers, Utah, US
The western formation of Utah’s ‘Fisher Towers’ is known as ‘Ancient Arts Tower’. Within this series of sandstone turrets is the gnarled spire of the Stolen Chimney, rising 250 feet above the desert floor, and culminating in a wedge-like peak, known as ‘Corkscrew Summit’.
Its bulbous shape makes it technically different from other climbs in the area and its iconic form has meant that the Stolen Chimney has been regularly featured in mainstream ads and Hollywood films.
Not only is it one of the hardest climbs worldwide, it is also stunningly unique. This makes it one of the best rock climbing locations for the sheer experience.
Nameless Tower, Baltistan, Northern Pakistan
The best-known granite spire in Pakistan’s ‘Trango Towers’ series, rises 6,239 metres above the Baltoro Glacier, alongside some of the largest cliffs and one of the hardest climbs worldwide.
The summit of Nameless Tower juts 1000 metres above the ridgeline. Of the eight recognised routes to the peak, ‘Eternal Flame’ is a favourite. The first climber to summit the tower was Joe Brown and his team in 1976.
Cerro Torre, Patagonia, Argentina
Rising 3,128 metres above a glacier, this sheer, snow-clad wall is the tallest in a chain of four granite peaks. Brutally steep and exposed to Patagonia’s unforgiving elements, Celle Torre presents a formidable challenge to even the most accomplished climbers.
First summited in 1959 by Cesare Maestri (Italy) and Toni Egger (Austria), in just four days, many climbers still consider this to be one of history’s greatest ascents and one of the worlds best rock climbing locations.
Paarl Rock, South Africa
Also known as Pearl Mountain, this domed rock is the second largest granite outcrop in the world (after El Cap). With few handholds, its smooth surface and rounded shape make for a challenging climb. Paarl’s dozen or so bolted routes are the domain of experienced climbers only.
Cochamo Valley, Chile
The Cochamo Valley is home to thousand-metre walls and granite crags, with plenty of unclimbed lines still awaiting a first ascent.
The ‘Yosemite of South America’, Chile’s glaciated National Park is far less developed that its US cousin, and visitors can enjoy much greater freedom here, without the park restrictions – or amenities – of Yosemite.
One of Cochamo’s most famous climbs is known as ‘E.Z. Does It’. A challenging crack and slab ascent of the valley’s most prominent face, ‘Trinidad’.
The Dolomites, Italy
Just south of the Austrian/Italian border, The Dolomites is a vast area of vertical limestone peaks, many of which rise to 3000+ metres above rolling Alpine meadows.
For many, the Dolomites’ major attractions are its 800 metre, multi-pitch walls, which can be easily reached via short walks from the road. The most famous of these is the Cima Grande. At 450 metres, this sheer, 16-pitch big wall climb draws ambitious climbers from around the globe.
Considered one of the greatest north walls in the Alps, the stunning Dolomite scenery is the backdrop to one of the hardest climbs worldwide.
Silence, Flatanger, Norway
This granite cave in Flatanger, Norway is graded as a 9c climb. It is also considered by many as the worlds hardest climb.
If you like them tough, Norway is home to some of the best rock climbing locations on the planet. This climb was given the name Silence in 2017, after Czech climber Adam Ondra completed it to become the first person to complete a 9c single rope climb ever.
The climb has three different boulder problem cruxes to navigate, starting with a 8C sequence, followed by an 8B, and then a 7C+. These are reached by 20 meters of 8b climbing and series of knee-bars that required extremely specific training by Adam to complete.
9b+, La Dura Dura, Oliana, Spain
This difficult climb was made infamous by a film in 2013, that focused on two of the worlds greatest climbers chasing the first assent.
After about 70 attempts, Chris Sharma bolted the line and Adam Ondra was again the first to complete it. Chris Sharma then made the climb six weeks later. The climb was named 9b+ by Adam Ondra and is one of the hardest climbs he has completed.
Are these the best rock climbing locations?
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