Eastern Cape Rock Climbing
Back to index 10.10.2016

The Most Difficult Big Wall Free Climbs in the World

Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson finally freed the Dawn Wall this week. We didn't report on it, apart from announcing last year that every pitch had been freed individually, and making some snarky armchair comments on the media frenzy. If you want to read more about it, just check your facebook or twitter feed, or click here for the best climbing-centered perspective of it.

In terms of total difficulty and commitment, Dawn Wall is the hardest free climb in the world. Yes, there are more committing routes, where retreat and access are more difficult and objective hazards like weather and rockfall more severe. There are also harder single-pitch lines as well, going up to 5.15c. But Dawn Wall, with its six pitches of up to 5.14d, and nine more of 5.13, stands as the most stacked, sustained big wall, with individual moves and pitches that are pushing world standards for difficulty. This line took two of the best climbers in the world seven seasons to complete.

The statistic/numbers junkie site fivethirtyeight.com recently jumped on the issue of Dawn Wall's difficulty. They took into account both the route's length and difficulty, and compared it with other big, hard lines, coming to the conclusion that Dawn Wall is the hardest route in the world, backed by cold, hard data! However, their data and comparison sets were a bit limited, given that they used the routes database over at Mountainproject to see what other big, hard routes are out there. The problem with this is that, while Mountainproject has a great routes database (yes, much better than our own here!), it is still 100% user-submitted. Average Joes like you and me contribute to the routes database, which means that a lot of the most cutting edge lines in the world are simply not catalogued; the only 5.14 big wall even listed on mountainproject is Magic Mushroom. FiveThirtyEight was correct in their conclusion that Dawn Wall is the most difficult big wall free climb in the world, but they missed out on what most of the others are, or how it really stacks up against it predecessors.

So, here they are– some of the biggest, hardest multi-pitches and walls in the world, in order of ascent. We made the cutoff at the arbitrary grade of 5.14a/8b+, which unfortunately leaves out some amazing big wall first ascents by Peter Croft, Todd Skinner, and the Hubers in Yosemite. Regardless, most of these routes, at one time or another, were arguably holders of the title "most difficult big wall in the world."