Rock climbing has significantly increased in popularity over recent years, and it’s not hard to see why!
It is a wonderfully varied and versatile sport that connects people to nature and encourages a healthy body and mind. It also happens to be super fun!
At a professional level, climbing is one of the most physically demanding and impressive sports to be a part of.
From the humble beginnings of rock climbing, climbers have continued to push their bodies to reach new heights and scale new rock faces.
As such, you might be wondering, who is the best rock climber of all time? Well, unfortunately, this is an impossible question to answer.
Considering the number of different climbing styles alone, we cannot possibly isolate just one person.
However, we have been able to narrow our list down to 10! If you’re interested in the best rock climbers to have ever lived, check out our list below. From 1980s icons to modern-day prodigies, and everything in between. Take a look!
1. Tommy Caldwell
We had to kick things off by discussing the legendary Tommy Caldwell. Tommy made himself a permanent spot in the ‘best climbers’ list by topping out the Dawn Wall.
With Kevin Jorgeson, he was the first to climb the hardest big wall in Yosemite.
This wasn’t the first time that the name ‘Cadwell’ saturated conversations within the climbing community. He became famous initially when he was within a group of climbers that got taken hostage on an expedition in Kyrgyzstan.
In fact, Cadwell has had a particularly challenging life. From a particularly difficult divorce to losing a finger,
Cadwell has had a number of difficult experiences that could have and potentially should have, ended his promising climbing career.
However, he places number one on this list for a reason. In addition to being an incredible climber,
whose achievements in multiple climbing disciplines have made him a household name, he hasn’t let his unfortunate experiences get in the way of a thrilling life.
What an inspiration!
2. Adam Ondra
If you’re a fan of watching climbing videos on YouTube, you have definitely seen (or even heard) Adam Ondra. In fact, we’re not sure whether it was his climbing that made him famous, or his signature screaming!
After beginning climbing at 6 years old, Ondra quickly became a climbing phenomenon. By the time he was a teenager, he had begun winning World Championship and World cup events in indoor climbing and bouldering.
Ondra made a name for himself by completing the first ascent of the world’s first 9b+ ‘change’ in Norway. He continued with this theme by completing another climb in the same area and grading it as the world’s first 9c sport climb.
In fact, Ondra has a long list of achievements next to his name, including a whole lot beginning with ‘first person to ever climb…’. He is a truly inspiring climber that continues to push boundaries to this day.
3. Alex Honnold
Regardless of your climbing experience, it’s likely that you’ve heard the name, Alex Honnold. In fact, we think that Honnold deserves a place on this list purely for the way in which he has brought free climbing into the public eye.
Honnold gained a permanent place in the history books when he ascended the 3000 ft face of El Capitan (Yosemite) without any ropes.
This style of climbing is called free solo, and Honnold’s story managed to captivate climbing enthusiasts and laypersons alike.
Although it is this climb that made Honnold the most famous climber of his generation, he has a number of other achievements to his name.
He has climbed routes as hard as 9a sport climbs and continues to give himself seemingly impossible challenges.
In addition to Honnold’s climbing ability, his honest, open, intriguing, and enigmatic personality is one that has won the hearts of individuals across the globe. In the documentary about his ascent of El Capitan, it was hard not to love everything about him.
4. Lynn Hill
Climbing has always been a male-dominated sport, and this aspect of the activity makes Lynn Hill all the more impressive.
In fact, many understand Lynn Hill as a pivotal individual in the sport who changed the face of climbing forever.
At the age of 16, Hill went on a trip to Yosemite that would alter the course of her future career. She became enamoured with the big walls within the world-renowned national park and would soon become known for ascending them.
In fact, she partnered up with Mari Gingery to complete the first female-only ascension of ‘The Shield’. Later in her career, she shook the climbing community by being the first to free climb the Nose on El Capitan.
Hill became a name in mainstream media and took the world by storm. To this day, she still pushes boundaries and holds workshops to help other climbers on their paths.
If you’re interested in learning more about Hill, her book ‘Climbing Free’ is an incredible read.
5. Chris Sharma
In the early 2000s, the words ‘climber’ and ‘Chris Sharma’ were synonymous. In fact, his long hair, uber-relaxed attitude, and energetic climbing style defined the public image of climbing at this time.
Although, more than just a pretty face, Sharma is a climbing phenomenon. He won his first US Bouldering National competition at the young age of 14, and this would set the tone for the next few years of his career.
In fact, when he was still just 14, Sharma climbed the hardest climbing route in the USA. From here, he would become a world-renowned climber who continued to push beyond the grades.
Since then, Sharma continued to push grade boundaries. He spent three years linking the 40-meter route of ‘Realization’,
becoming the first climber to complete a 9a+. Seven years later, he became the first climber to climb a 9b route, and this theme has only continued!
6. Sasha DiGiuliam
Sasha DiGiulian is potentially one of the most famous climbers right now. She is an incredibly versatile climber who just seems to continue to push it harder and harder, whether she’s indoors or outdoors!
When she was young, she was notably one of the strongest competitors in the USA Championships. In 2011, she managed to win the IFSC World Championships in Arco. Following, she became the first woman from the USA to climb a 9a route.
Her recent work continues to amaze the climbing community. In fact, she became a permanent fixture in climbing history when she performed the first free solo ascent of the Misty Wall in Yosemite.
However, she doesn’t just deserve a place on this list for her phenomenal climbing. DiGuliam has also used her newfound position to advocate for many good causes, including action on climate change, eliminating the gender pay gap, and body positivity.
7. Jim Bridwell
It’s impossible to create a list of the world’s best rock climbers without including this man, Jim Bridwell. Bridwell’s career spanned two different eras of climbing history, and he introduced the world to a whole new style of climbing.
Specifically, he was an expert on a style of climbing that can essentially be characterized as ‘do or die’. In these climbs, you either completed the pitch you were on, or you risked your life in the fall.
His most famous climb was actually a 3-person expedition. They climbed the Nose of El Capitan in a day, and this victory permanently etched his name into the history books. This set the scene for most of the other Yosemite fanatics on this list.
Although his climbs may not sound quite as impressive as others here, for his time Bridwell was quite an astonishing figure. Arguably, he was the catalyst that sparked the golden age of climbing, and without him, it is unlikely that this list would be as varied and rich as it is.
8. Ashima Shiraishi
From a golden oldie to a young prodigy, Ashima Shiraishi has to be one of the most technically impressive and promising climbers working today.
She is a top-class boulderer, a phenomenal world-class indoor competitor, a total fashion icon, and goes to school!
When she started climbing at just 6 years old, Shiraishi took on bouldering walls as if it were her second nature. Within just a year, she had begun competing and climbing 7C+ boulders.
Considering her young age, you might have expected her to slow down in her teens, but if anything, she just pushed harder.
By the age of 11, she had become the youngest ever person to climb an 8c+ sports route. Following that huge milestone, she went on to become the first woman ever to climb a V15 boulder!
Unfortunately, Shiraishi missed out on the opportunity to qualify for the Olympics. However, she is setting her sights on Paris 2024. There is just no stopping this girl! We are unbelievably excited to see exactly what she does next.
9. Catherine Destivelle
From a modern icon to an 80s legend, Catherine Destivelle just had to have a place on this list. Not least because posters of her likely lined the childhood bedroom walls of some of today’s most promising climbers.
At the age of 12, Destivelle began bouldering just outside of Paris. By 13, she was sneaking out to the Alps to try her hand in roped climbing. Not long after she began climbing, Destivelle was ascending routes that experienced climbers would find near impossible.
In 1985 she won her first competition in climbing. Following this, she cemented her identity as one of the first professional climbers and even featured in films. During this time, she would become recognizable by her signature pink leotard.
Destivelle was a climber who enjoyed being alone. She would prefer to either fix her own gear or climb free solo. She also managed to survive multiple accidents that could have taken her life. In our opinion, she is one of the boldest female climbers to have ever lived.
10. Dean Potter
Everyone who is even mildly interested in climbing knows about Yosemite and the various climbers who seem to have an obsession with its walls. Well, in the 1990s, Dean Potter was the rebellious face of the Yosemite climbers.
Potter is a character who seems completely unphased by intense and immediate danger. At a young age, he began climbing by using bits and bobs that he found in his Dad’s garage as gear. He even used a clothesline as a rope.
However, when he reached his teenage years, he ditched the dodgy gear altogether and began to free solo. At this time, he became completely obsessed with the climbing lifestyle and would sleep in a tent wherever he could climb.
Potter is on this list because he loved climbing for what it was. He would set himself a challenge, such as speed climbing The Nose, and went on to break his own records over and over again. He really pushed the limits of what a person can do at a height.
With so many inspirational and varied rock climbers, it is impossible to isolate just one as the best. We hope that this list encourages you to get out there and give this wonderful sport your all!