posted by dpm on 02/05/2013
How hard can outdoor bouldering get? It seems like a simple question, there seems to always be a swath of stone that's harder to climb than the last one. But as elite climbers draw closer and closer to the limits of human possibility, finding the suitable rock becomes an exercise in exploration. It takes an almost magical combination of elements to produce a truly difficult, yet climbable, problem.
Imagine for a moment that you're given creative freedom to create a hard boulder problem in a gym. You can choose the perfect wall angle, place the holds just far enough apart, and select the perfect sized holds. To make your boulder problem just a bit harder, it would be as simple as steepening the wall by 1 degree, moving a hold an inch further away, adding more difficult moves to the end, or replacing a hold with a smaller one.
Bouldering in the natural world of the outdoors doesn't offer these options. Consider the geology of a V15. If one single hold was just a bit larger, it would be easier. If one hold was missing, it might not be possible. Perhaps the greatest challenge of human progression in bouldering is finding that next level problem. These problems certainly exist but it takes great vision to find one. They are undoubtedly rare, requiring an almost impossibly random smattering of holds and features. The perfect length, steepness, features; everything has to come together in such unison that it might have one rethinking intelligent design and wondering if God wants to see V17.
Christian Core posted a video today that beautifully captures his pursuit of bouldering's next challenge. Core is one of the all-time great boulderers and his opus stands as one of, if not the, hardest boulder problem ever done. When Core claimed the first ascent of Gioia in Varazze, Italy, he proposed a grade of V15. Since then, it's been repeated once by Adam Ondra who suggested V16, making it a contender for the world's hardest.
Now Christian has discovered a next level project, also in Varazze. In the description of the video he notes the grade as, "much harder than 8c+/V16." Two of the world's hardest in one location? Is this a fluke of the area's geology...or do the world's hardest problems exist everywhere, but only in the eye of the beholder?