Free climbers and mountaineers are among the most technically impressive climbers on the planet. Taking on some of the most difficult grades of mountain in the world, these athletes are truly to be admired for their skill and sheer determination. Leaders League has picked our top five free climbers and top five mountaineers of all time, all of whom engaged in challenging human limits out there in nature.
- First ascents of many of the hardest lines of the Cataluña region in Spain
- Opened Sharma Climbing BCN in Barcelona in 2015
“Climbing is merely one of the ways to exist, pass the time and evolve and grow from one moment to the next. That’s all.”
Chris Omprakash Sharma has been rock climbing since he was 12 years old. During a bouldering national champ at 14, Chris had already decided rock climbing was his pulse. On turning 15, he completed a 5.14c climb which was the highest rated climb in North America at that time. He has nailed some of the toughest rock climbing routes in the world like they were child’s play, including Es Pontas and La Rambla. With tons of awards to his name, Chris Sharma is easily one of the best names in the sport. He also gets sponsored by some of the biggest adventure gear and sports companies like Petzl, Nutriex, Evolv, Sanuk and Sterling Ropes. King of Lines is a film that follows his adventures and climbs from all over the world and is also reflective of his personal life as a climber. Chris has now moved to Spain and is busy discovering and setting his next routes in the mountains.
- First woman to free climb the Salathė Wall
- First woman to free solo The Diamond on Long's Peak
"Free soloing is a practice for life. What I learned is that it is all about controlling what is going on in the brain ... There's a euphoria to finishing a long free solo. That's the only way I can describe it. I've never felt that with anything else I've done. But I always feel it after free soloing."
Steph Davis is one of the world’s most experienced free-solo climbers and is also one of the best woman climbers that has managed to inspire youngsters of her age to pick up rock climbing as an activity for liberating soul and fear. Climbing for the love of it has always been her motto to when scaling some of the toughest rocks faces. Up in the mountain, she constantly challenges herself to discover thoughts she never comes across in crowded cities. A law university dropout by choice, she spent years living out of her car and eventually became a sponsored climber. Steph is also a blogger, traveler, vegan activist, BASE jumper and wingsuit flyer, enjoying yoga and is currently based out of Moab, either living in her truck or a tent.
- First woman to give her name to a climbing route (1991)
- First woman to solo ascend the north face of the Eiger (1992)
“Without a rope, there is no fear because to fall is unthinkable.”
Catherine is a French rock climber and mountaineer who is easily among the most recognizable faces in the world of rock climbing. She is a legend among female free climbers, one of those climbers that naturally excels at free-soloing. After quitting her career as a physiotherapist, Catherine became a full-time professional rock climber by entering into her first competition in 1985. She is known for soloing Spain’s infamous El Puro in 1985 and Devils Tower in Wyoming, the USA in 1992. She is also a successful speaker and helps various companies in understanding more about risk, accomplishing goals etc.
- First free ascent of The Nose of El Capitan
- First free 24-hour ascent of The Nose
“For me, climbing is a form of exploration that inspires me to confront my own inner nature within nature. It’s a means of experiencing a state of consciousness where there are no distractions or expectations. This intuitive state of being is what allows me to experience moments of true freedom and harmony.”
A top sport climber in the 1980s, Lynn is considered a legend woman climber who has inspired many women rock climbers of this century. Lynn Hill once set a record that held for 10 years by climbing the 3500-ft. vertical face of the El Capitan without the use of any artificial hand or foot holds. She led the movement encouraging women to get into rock climbing when it was mostly male pursuit. In 2005, she started climbing camps in the United States to popularize rock climbing among young children. Patagonia, the gear and clothing company sponsors her. She is also the first person ever to free The Nose, a technical route once considered impossible to climb.
- First to free climb a legitimate big wall with the first free ascent of the East Face of Yosemite’s Washington Column
- First coast-to-coast crossing of Borneo
“The champion will quickly learn that it is much easier to become one than to remain one. It’s never crowded at the top, but the queue is long and others are banging at the door.”
“If there’s anyone else in the world who deserves to be an adventurous comic-book hero like TinTin, it’s this guy.” American rock climber John Long’s stories go far and beyond the imagination of the masses. After graduating from California, he went on to become one of the founding members of an elite adventure group called Stonemasters. The group was comprised of some of the most famous rock climbers we know today, though relatively unknown back then in their teens. John never restricted himself to just rock climbing and diverged into a lot of other extreme sports activities like caving, base-jumping, alpine climbing, river running, big wave surfing and tons more. He has worked on multiple films and television productions including the box office hit film Cliffhanger, starring Sylvester Stallone, writing the premise for the screenplay.
Sir Edmund Hillary
- First person (along with Tenzing Norgay) to reach the summit of Mount Everest
- As part of the Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic Expedition, he reached the South Pole overland in 1958
“It is not the mountain we conquer but ourselves.”
New Zealand explorer, mountaineer and philanthropist Sir Edmund Percival Hillary was part of the ninth British expedition to Everest led by John Hunt and became the first of the climbers to reach the summit of Mount Everest, with Nepalese Sherpa mountaineer Tenzing Norgay. He was named as one of the 100 most influential people of the 20th century by Time. He made his first major climb by reaching the summit of Mount Ollivier in 1939. Hillary was a navigator in the Royal New Zealand Air Force during World War II. Hillary is the first person to reach the summit of Everest and both the poles. Before the successful British attempt of 1953, he was also part of a British reconnaissance expedition led by Eric Shipton to Everest in 1951.
- First person (along with Sir Edmund Hillary) to reach the summit of Mount Everest
- One of the 100 most influential people of the 20th century by Time.
“To travel, to experience and learn: that is to live.”
Nepalese Sherpa mountaineer Namgyal Wangdi aka Tenzing Norgay was one of the first two individuals, the other being Sir Edmund Hillary, to reached the summit of Mount Everest on 29 May 1953. He was born and brought up in Khumbu in northeastern Nepal, and went to Nepal as a child to work for a Sherpa family. Tenzing received the George Medal from Queen Elizabeth II for his efforts on the successful expedition to Mount Everest. He was awarded the Padma Bhushan by the Government of India in 1959 and the Order of the Star of Nepal by King Tribhuvan of Nepal in 1953.
- First ascent of Mount Everest without supplemental oxygen, along with Peter Habeler
- First climber to ascend all fourteen peaks over 8,000 metres (26,000 ft) above sea level
“I didn’t go up there to die. I went up there to live.”
Italian mountaineer and explorer Reinhold Messner is widely regarded as the greatest climber in history. Besides his active mountaineering career, he is the author of 80 books. His first successful expedition to Himalayan eight-thousanders was his ascent of Nanga Parbat in 1970. Messner eventually conquered all of the eight-thousander peaks in the world and became the first climber with verified ascents of all the 14 eight-thousanders without bottled oxygen. To become an eight-thousanders club member, Messner climbed Mount Everest in 1978 and 1980, K2 or Mount Godwin-Austen in 1979, Kangchenjunga in 1982, Lhotse in 1986, Makalu in 1986, Cho Oyu in 1983, Dhaulagiri in 1985, Manaslu in 1972, Annapurna in 1985, Gasherbrum I or Hidden Peak in 1984, Broad Peak in 1982, Gasherbrum II in 1982 and Shishapangma in 1981.
- The sixth man to reach all 14 eight-thousander summits
- First person to conquer the top 3 summits twice (Everest + K2 + Kangchenjunga)
Spanish Basque mountaineer Juan Eusebio Oiarzabal Urteaga is the first person to conquer the top three summits Everest, K2 and Kangchenjunga twice. He lost all his toes in 2004 to frostbite after summiting K2. His first successful expedition to Himalayan eight-thousanders was his ascent of Cho Oyu in 1985. Oiarzabal eventually summited all of the eight-thousanders peaks in the world successfully and became the oldest climber to summit Kangchenjunga, at almost 53, until Carlos Soria Fontan made his successful attempt in 2014, when he was 75 years old.
- First Australian to climb all 14 eight-thousanders, including Mt Everest
- Lived at high altitude, on the mountains for over 4 years
“I love the feeling of really pushing my body hard and banging that zone where ... a marathon runner will tell you, they get into that comfortable stride and they can go all day, and that’s how I am when I’m climbing. If I can find that zone, I can just go and go and go and I love the feeling of exerting myself to my absolute maximum, controlling it so that I know I’ve got enough energy to keep going.”
Australian mountaineer Andrew James Lock has achieved six first Australian ascents and four solo ascents. Andrew was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia in 2011 for his contribution to mountaineering. His first successful expedition to Himalayan eight-thousanders was his accent of K2 or Mount Godwin-Austen in 1993. Andrew eventually reached all of the eight-thousanders peaks in the world and became the eighteenth climber with verified ascents of all the 14 eight-thousanders without bottled oxygen. His route to eight-thousanders club membership was: Mount Everest in 2000, Cho Oyu in 2004, Kangchenjunga in 2006, Lhotse in 2002, Makalu in 2008, Manaslu in 2002, Dhaulagiri in 1997, Nanga Parbat in 1998, Annapurna in 2007, Gasherbrum I or Hidden Peak in 1999, Broad Peak in 1997, Gasherbrum II in 1999 and Shishapangma in 2005.
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