With more and more hardcore boulders being put up regularly by new generations of climbers, what is currently the world’s hardest boulder?
Whilst climbing V15 remains an incredible feat of strength and a remarkable accomplishment it has become more and more common to see repeats at this level.
The boulders at the top level are now climbing V16 and as of yet there isn’t even a handful who have entered the elusive V17 group.
In this post we firstly take a look at the history and evolution of the world’s hardest boulder problems followed by looking at what the hardest problem’s in the world currently are.
The World's Hardest Boulder: Quick Summary
For those too eager to get to the bottom, here’s is a quick recap table of the world’s hardest boulders in 2023. And they’re all V17. We include their location and by who it was first sent.
|Burden of Dreams
|Return of the Sleepwalker
|Red Rocks, USA
The History of the World’s Hardest boulder
We start off by looking at the evolution of the world’s hardest boulders.
We include grade proposals, possible downgrades and start from the very first V15…
Dreamtime, located in Cresciano, Switzerland was the first V15 in the world. Fred Nicole sent the climb in 2000 ushering in the new era of bouldering.
Although it was technically the first V15, in 2002 Dave Graham repeated it and found slightly easier beta. This made the most brutal sequence easier and he proposed a downgrade to V14.
This was maintained by most climbers who have repeated it since.
Following this there was Gossip, located in Frankenjura, Germany and climbed by Markus Bock in 2002. Unfortunately, this boulder also experienced it’s own issues and was vandalized in the early 2020’s.
This made it completely unrepeatable. It didn’t see any repeats either so the consensus was never established…
In 2002 Fred Nicole also sent Black Eagle SD and Monkey Wedding in Rocklands. Both of these are now considered consensus V15’s.
The first proposed V16 was in 2004 when Mauro Calibani climbed Tonino ’78 in central Italy. Like many other boulder problems though, this was downgraded to V15/16 by subsequent ascensionists.
The first and confirmed V16, was Hypnotized Minds in Colorado, climbed by Daniel Woods in 2010. The story isn’t straightforward with this one either!
It was initially graded V15 but subsequently upgraded to V16 in 2016. It has since remained a benchmark V16.
Given that Hypnotized Minds was initially graded V15, there is the question of whether Terranova, located in Czech Republic and climbed by Adam Ondra in November 2011 is actually the world’s first V16.
It wasn’t till 2016 when Nalle Hukkataival sent Burden of Dreams in Finland that the bar was raised again.
Two other problems since were initially graded V17 but subsequently downgraded after seeing quick repeats (although this is technically not the reason they were downgraded):
- No Kpote Only
- Soudain Seul
Other than these there are 3 other problems which are potentially the world’s hardest boulder, also with the V17 grade:
- Return of the Sleepwalker
The World’s Hardest Boulder: A Closure Look
Burden of Dreams, V17
First ascent by Nalle Hukkataival in October 2016, Burden is generally considered the hardest boulder problem in the world.
Until April 2023 it had seen many of the best climbers and boulderers in the world working the problem, but no repeats.
This changed in April 2023 when Will Bosi sent the problem after having worked a plastic replica.
The problem is located in Lappnor, Finland and features 5 moves all of extremely low percentage.
It was originally know as the Lappnor project and took Nalle three years and supposedly thousands of attempts to send.
All climbers who have attempted this animal of a boulder problem agree that it is next level.
Return of the Sleepwalker, V17
Return of the Sleepwalker is another extremely difficult boulder problem, located in the climbing area of Red Rocks, Nevada, United States.
Also V17, it is currently the highest difficulty in the V-scale grading system.
The problem was first climbed by American Daniel Woods in March 2021, and with Burden of Dreams, was one of only two proposed V17 boulder problems in the world at the time.
Return of the Sleepwalker involves a series of incredibly challenging moves on small holds and involves powerful and technical sequences that require precise body positioning, finger strength, and explosive power.
The crux move involves a dyno, or a dynamic jump, to a small hold on a steep terrain.
It adds a 7-move sit-start to Sleepwalker, an 8C+ put up by Jimmy Webb in December 2018 and is currently unrepeated.
Alphane is located in Ticino, Switzerland and was originally climbed by American Shawn Raboutou in August 2022.
All three of these climbers have been trying Burden of Dreams but only Will Bosi has successfully sent it.
Surprisingly neither Will or Aidan discussed the grade of Alphane much after repeating the climb. Will did mention that he found Honey Badger, V16, more difficult.
Regardless of it’s difficulty in comparison to other boulders, it definitely remains one of the hardest boulder problems in the world.
All in a couple of months in 2022, Shawn Raboutou put up two first ascents of V17 boulder problems, currently the elusive hardest boulder grade in the world.
After Alphane V17, he sent Megatron V17, in Coloardo’s Eldorado Canyon.
The problem adds seven moves of V15 climbing into Tron, V14, a line established by Daniel Woods in 2017.
Like many of the others on this list Megatron is currently unrepeated.
There we go, the hardest boulders in the world at the time of writing:
- Burden of Dreams
- Return of the Sleepwalker
All of them V17.
With Alphane having seen two relatively quick repeats by Aidan Roberts and Will Bosi will it receive a similar reaction from the climbing community as Soudain Seul or No Kpote Only?
One thing is for sure, Burden of Dreams has been getting lots of media attention and has had only one repeat by Will Bosi.
Could it currently be the hardest of them all?