Hiking Kilimanjaro will give you a pretty cool Facebook photo album and topping Denali will earn you props, but you’ll have to climb harder and higher to call yourself a real climber. See below for seven difficult mountain and boulder climbs that will put you in the top echelon of the climbing world.
Cerro Torre – A Nearly Impossible Andean Spire
For many alpinists, Patagonia is what climbing is all about: remote peaks, top-notch granite and punishing weather. Cerro Torre, a spire reaching toward the skies in a disputed region between Chile and Argentina, represents that severe ideal perfectly. Cerro Torre was the stone embodiment of a shift in climbing ideals from size to difficulty after most of the world’s highest mountains had been scaled. This granite dagger, at about a third of Everest’s height, was not climbed until 1974, more than two decades after Everest.
Cerro Torre resisted an ascent for millennia before it was finally topped. The spire even won when Italian mountaineer, Cesare Maestri, lugged a 200-pound air compressor up its Southeast Ridge in 1970, drilling 400 bolts into its hard rock. Even then, he made it 150 feet shy of the summit. This year, as Outside Online reports, two young climbers chopped out those bolts.
Cerro Torre and the towers nearby are known for the notorious ice formations — called mushrooms — that sit atop them, which have repelled many climbers from points heartbreakingly close to the summit.
K2 – The Second Tallest Mountain in the World
K2, the second tallest peak on earth, is a climber’s dream, or worst nightmare. Located on the border of China and Pakistan, K2 is more forbidding and much more difficult than Everest, its more trammeled, and only slightly shorter than Himalayan cousin. K2 is far more deadly than Everest, killing one out of every four climbers who reach the mountain’s 28,251-foot peak. Only Annapurna is more deadly. Part of the risk is the mountain’s extreme remoteness. In fact, K2 is so removed from civilization that local people never even gave the mountain a name.
The Nose – An Iconic Yosemite Climb
The Nose is probably the most iconic pure rock climb in the world. It ascends the most prominent feature of the most famous mountain — El Capitan — in one of the most storied national parks on the planet: Yosemite. Unlike other famous routes, The Nose is doable. Even weekend warriors can cruise up the route in two or three days, while quicker, fitter climbers aim for just one.
Most people do not attempt to free climb The Nose the way that Lynn Hill first did in 1993, and Tommy Caldwell and Beth Rodden repeated in 2005. The free version goes at a cool 5.14a, a modest goal in Yosemite, a climbing area known for having some of the stiffest grades around.
Astroman – A Timeless Challenge
Yes, the Nose is a must-do, but it won’t earn you props around the campfire the way that Astroman will. When this route on Washington Column, just down the valley from El Cap, was first free climbed in 1975, it represented a new standard of tough free climbing. It is 1,000 feet of hard cracks and grades up to 5.11c; it goes at 10 pitches. It has held its status, even as standards of difficulty have skyrocketed, because Astroman is difficult, beautiful and a high quality route. Some of its features are among the most talked about — and feared — in all of Yosemite. Two of those are the Enduro Corner, a perfect hand and finger crack that seems to stretch on for miles, and the Harding Slot, a tough Bombay chimney that swallows climbers and is sure to make you fight for every inch of elevation.
Realization – The World’s First 5.15
Realization was the world’s first 5.15 — a difficulty grade that, for decades, seemed impossibly futuristic, if inevitable. Chris Sharma was the climber who made this line, which follows a dark streak on a dreamy cliff at Ceuse, in southern France, a reality. The list of people who have since checked it off their lists is small. For those elites, an ascent is an all but mandatory confirmation into the climbing big leagues. As Sharma tells it, this route was the first to thwart the ace climber who scampered up everything he had ever tried until that point.
The Mandala – An Iconic California Overhang
The Mandala is a perfect prow of overhanging granite known to climbers everywhere. Since its first ascent a dozen years ago, also by Chris Sharma, this 20-foot boulder has been a testpiece for aspiring boulderers. It is far from the hardest problem in the world, but at V12, it ain’t easy, and anyone who pulls it down gets respect. The boulder fields outside Bishop, California, where the Mandala resides, are loaded with top-quality problems of all grades. But any climber vying to be among the best will surely do this one. It’s a near-mandatory stop on the way to what has become the newest frontier of hard bouldering, centered in Bishop: high balls. Those problems, sometimes dozens of feet tall, take the climber far beyond the point where the crash pads below will do any good.
Eiger, North Face – A Century of Inspiration
The North Face of the Eiger is a showcase of bad weather and brittle limestone. This famous mountain in the Swiss Alps has still managed to capture climbers’ imaginations since long before — and long after — it was first ascended in 1938. It has inspired movies and books. “North Face,” a 2008 film, dramatized the story of a strong first ascent bid that never made it. Not to mention “The Eiger Sanction,” a campy 1975 thriller featuring Clint Eastwood. Of course, there is the classic account of the peak’s first ascent by Heinrich Harrer, “The White Spider,” named for a notorious section high on the wall. Today, the Eiger is one of speed climbing’s most hallowed challenges.