Nathaniel Soon asks and attempts to answer the question: what's the hardest move ever done in climbing?
Whether you love them or hate them, climbing would not be what it is without grades. Our alpha-numerical difficulty-rating systems are extremely subjective, at times controversial, and ever-evolving inventions that climbers use for benchmarking and comparison.
And how are grades assigned? Long multi-pitch routes are graded based on the hardest pitch of all. As for a single-pitch sport or trad climb, the crux moves or boulder sequences are typically what make the grade, with the overall feeling of diffficulty contributing to some degree, too (plus a danger rating for trad grades, of course).
For instance, Silence 9c is mostly defined by its unusual and powerful 8C feet-first crux. Alphane 9A — a long boulder problem — breaks down into a powerful and crimpy 8B+ straight into an 8C endurance-based second-half, according to the first ascensionist, Shawn Raboutou.
But can climbing be dissected even further, with individual moves being assigned clear-cut grades? Online punditry is rife with discussion over this exact question: what currently stands as the hardest single move ever done in climbing (and how hard is it)?
The Burden of the First Move
Burden of Dreams 9A, first ascended by Finnish climber Nalle Hukkataival in 2016, has lately been back in the spotlight. Will Bosi most recently claimed the coveted first repeat of the world's first 9A boulder. Unlike his third ascent of Alphane 9A several months prior, he confidently confirmed Burden's grade this time, agreeing with Hukkataival and giving it a solid 9A. "I'm still sure it's the hardest boulder I've done and I believe it's a big enough step to be 9A!", he said in a recent interview with UKC.
Some of the world's strongest, including Aidan Roberts, Toru Nakajima, Vadim Timonov Stefano Ghisolfi and Raboutou, have all spent considerable time on the short five-mover testpiece as well. The consensus? The very first move, which involves pulling off from a sit-start and going for a massive deadpoint to a bad crimp, is by far the hardest.
Bosi had been sharing regular updates about his progress on Burden on Instagram and in his latest update prior to his send, he proposed the grade of this first move to be 8B/8B+ on its own. After working the problem with him, Ghisolfi seems to agree. "I know only a bunch of climbers were able to stick the first move…". Besides Hukkataival and Bosi, those select few include the likes of Raboutou and Nakajima, both of whom have climbed multiple 8C+s.
Could this single move then be the hardest ever successfully done in the history of climbing? In an old Mountain Project forum thread, one commenter mentioned that it had been previously speculated among pro climbers that "there is no such thing as a single move harder than 8B that has been done by humans". Just like the first boulder or sport climb of a new grade, perhaps the first move of Burden has finally broken this ceiling.
Could climbing's hardest move to date actually have been done on an indoor boulder?
To give a sense of the true difficulty of the move, before heading to Finland, Bosi had spent ten days at the Lattice Training HQ on the now-famous indoor replica. His training involved offloading weight to gradually recruit strength in a never-before-seen pulley contraption.
The first move of the indoor replica likewise took him the longest to pull off. The first-ever time he succeeded on the first move was captured in a video by Ghisolfi, where the pair were attempting the replica together. Immediately after, he excitedly exclaimed "We're going to Finland!", indicating just how hard the replica must have been, and rightfully so, relative to the actual bloc.
"That's probably the hardest individual move I've ever done. I don't think I've spent that many sessions on a move, and done the move," he said. He went on to propose the move to be 8B+/8C on its own, which he felt was unfathomable. Relative to Alphane 9A which took him ten sessions to send, this one move on the replica took him nine.
During a livestream on his very first session in Finland, Bosi would go on to stick the first crux move 8B/8B+ within just 25 minutes of work. It was clear that for this first move, the replica is much harder than the actual boulder. It's fair to say, then, that the hardest move ever done in climbing might actually be on an indoor problem – a sign of the times, no less.
Another tangible metric when surveying the hardest move ever done in climbing has to be replicability. While Burden has only been climbed twice, four or more climbers have already succeeded in doing the first move. Beyond Burden, surely there must be other single moves that have been done once, after significant effort, and have yet to see a successful repeat. Here's several other contenders for climbing's hardest single move yet:
Ryuichi Murai's Floatin 8C+ in Mizugaki, Japan
In December 2021, after more than a year of work, Ryuichi Murai finally sent Floatin 8C+ located in Mizugaki Yama, Japan. At the time, that was his fourth boulder of the grade. The minimalist problem, formerly known as the Launch Pad Project, encompasses only six moves, three of which he did footless. In fact, the very first move where he launches off the ground from tiny crimps to yet another might very well be the world's hardest campus move, and perhaps one of the world's hardest single moves ever done.
Adam Ondra's Silence 9c in Flatanger, Norway
After working Silence for an entire month in 2022, Ghisolfi managed to make big links including sending the route from the upper half of the first crux (8C or perhaps harder according to him) and making the first repeat of Adam Ondra's training link-up Move Hard 9b.
In his video series, he appears to have managed every single move of Silence so far, except one – the crux move of the crux boulder. The move, which precedes the feet-first sequence into the crack, is a difficult third-consecutive left hand bump to a slot, which Ghisolfi described as "the hardest, most painful hold on Silence". So far, only Ondra has successfully dispatched this single move (and the entire route) after multiple seasons of attempts.
Bernd Zangerl's First Try in Rakchham, India
Austrian climber Bernd Zangerl has for decades been one of the most gifted boulderers in the world. While he has spent the past decade developing the village of Rakchham in India as a world-class climbing destination, even now, at 44, he remains at the top of his game in establishing hard boulders.
In November 2022, after seven years of work, he sent the boulder First Try in Rakchham, which he proclaimed to contain the "hardest single move in [his] life", a move he had tried the most over the years. He did not grade his "lifetime" problem, but suggested that it boiled down to a single move that could be 8B+ on its own, and possibly "the hardest move in bouldering".
Charles Albert's Futuristic Fontainebleau Projects
Albert, more famously known as Barefoot Charles, had been under the radar until his latest Reel Rock portrait gave the world a glimpse into his vision for bouldering. He spends his days trying to pull off the most improbable of moves in the forest of Fontainebleau. As fellow climber Giuliano Cameroni puts it, he is only invested in boulders 9A and harder, way beyond the present limit. Climbing barefoot, he has previously established some of the world's hardest boulders like No Kpote Only (once the world's second 9A) and La Révolutionnaire Assis 8C+.
In the film, he is seen working several projects such as Le Barbier, Le Jeté and the Charlatan Project. Easily establishing on Le Barbier, the hardest moves seemed to be moving to and off microscopic crimps, which look likely 3 millimetres or thinner. He finally sticks one of the moves for the first time.
We then got to witness Albert on the aptly-named Le Jeté, a one-move dyno problem, which to him, might be 8C as a single move. Of course, that is currently unheard of, and he has yet to succeed on that move. And finally, in the very last scene of the film, he looks straight at the camera after giving his best attempt on the Charlatan Project, exclaiming, "I just did the hardest move of my life!". It is a single move from one undercling to another, which according to Cameroni, Albert had tried for five years prior.
While the boulder still remains to be sent (or at least that is our assumption for now), that previously impossible move was finally unlocked. Only time will tell exactly how hard some of these individual moves Barefoot Charles has pulled off are, but for sure, they must be some of the hardest in the world.
Adam Ondra's Vasil Vasil 9b+ in Sloup, Czech Republic
Out of all of Ondra's hardest sport ascents, Vasil Vasil is the least known, and aside from his latest Zvěřinec 9b+, the only one that has yet to even be attempted. Located in Sloup in his home country of the Czech Republic, Ondra first bolted the route in 2008 and did the crux move for the first time only three years later.
He finally sent Vasil Vasil in 2013. In an interview with Climbing Magazine, he broke the route down into seven metres of "burly 8b" into its main 8B+ crux boulder, with a single move that is "at least 8B". Ondra explained that "it is basically a one-mover", which at the time led climbing writer Andrew Bisharat to rightfully speculate that Vasil Vasil might "contain the hardest single move of rock climbing in the world".
Le Bombé Bleu Project in Buoux, France
Could the hardest climbing move also be the coolest? A mythical project that still sits unclimbed in the French destination of Buoux may hold the answer. Bolted by Marc Le Menestrel in the 1990s, Le Bombé Bleu has been tried by the likes of Ben Moon and Chris Sharma, but a heinous single move which involves a big dyno from a left hand mono into a far two-finger pocket, reminiscent of the famous Action Directe, has continued to shut the world's best down.
This crux move involves absolute precision on the steepest part of the wall and until 2021, Le Menestrel had still yet to witness anyone unlocking it. This finally changed when Nico Pelorson, known for famously downgrading two former 9A boulders (Albert's No Kpote Only and Simon Lorenzi's Soudain Seul), succeeded and graded the single move at 8B. While he has yet to send the entire route, he feels confident, and from his videos, might very well take a leaf out of Albert's playbook and do it barefoot too.