Seb Bouin on "DNA"
Seb Bouin on the first ascent of "DNA," 5.15d/9c, in May; (photo/Lena Drapella via Black Diamond)

World’s Hardest Sport Climb? Seb Bouin Thinks His New Route Cuts It

Veteran 5.15 climber Seb Bouin holds a handful of unrepeated first ascents 5.15b and harder. After some scrutiny, he thinks his new route in France is equivalent to the hardest sport climb on the planet.

Sebastien “Seb” Bouin is no stranger to the “hard hard.” Among his 20-plus 5.15 redpoints, many are first ascents. Among those, several have gone unrepeated for years.

Now, the French climber thinks he authored a route as hard as any bolted climb anywhere on Earth. “DNA,” 5.15d/9c, took Bouin 150 days of work over 3 years. He estimates he tried the route 250 times — by comparison, Alexander Megos’ “Bibliographie,” 5.15c/9b+, required 40 days of work.

When he finally clipped the chains in early May, he could hardly believe it.

“When I got to the top of the last hard part, I didn’t quite understand, I had so many doubts, I was so afraid of the last moves for fear of falling,” Bouin wrote. “[Then] I was there, the DNA project was done. I spent so much time doing the same moves, falling dozens and dozens of times in the same place. It’s still hard to realize.”

‘DNA’ of the World’s Hardest Climbing

“DNA” takes a steep line of sparse holds directly out of the massive La Ramirole cave above the Verdon Gorge in France. To climb it, you’ll want to make sure you’ve warmed up — the route kicks off with five bolts of 5.14b terrain. After that, hopeful repeaters will launch into a V11 boulder problem that Bouin called physical, low-percentage, and “random.”

The second crux is finicky, requiring good friction. It clocks in at V12. If you’re still on, cop a rest and keep it together on a final 5.14c headwall.

seb bouin 5.15d
Bouin rests before the “DNA” headwall; (photo/Drapella)

Careful Grade Analysis

If Bouin’s grade seems audacious, his intent in issuing it was the opposite. The 29-year-old considered multiple parameters in assigning “DNA” the world’s hardest current grade, putting it on par with Adam Ondra’s “Silence” (5.15d).

“This is the big question,” he said, referring to the numerical difficulty. “There are two possible scenarios, [5.15c or 5.15d]. But before I decide, I’m going to weigh the pros and cons to have the clearest mind. I’ll take different parameters to try to be as accurate as possible: comparisons with other routes, time spent, climbing style, etc.”

In Bouin’s analysis, he considers his other 5.15c ascents. He accounts for his shorter work sessions on different routes like “Bibliographie” and asserts that many of his own 5.15 lines remain unrepeated. “La côte d’usure,” 5.15a, has sat silent since 2018; “La rage d’Adam,” 5.15b/c, has seen no ascents since Bouin’s in 2019.

He also regards his climbing style. The steep, physical climbing at La Ramirole, he says, suits him better than small holds between long reaches on the more vertical cliffs of Céüse — the home of “Bibliographie.” Therefore, he reasons, the long work session indicates “DNA” could be significantly harder.

Bouin Opens the Door: 5.15d or Not?

In the end, Bouin plays the climbing advocate first. Admitting that he left himself and the route open to the possibility of a downgrade, he’s more interested in finding out what others think than claiming the “world’s hardest” title.

He said, “[5.15d] is my ‘proposition’ for ‘DNA,’ which now needs other climbers to give their consensus — to either confirm or adjust. Our sport is beautiful, we don’t need judges, we are the judges. It’s beautiful, but at the same time quite hard in this kind of situation, at the very cutting edge.

“That’s why I would love to invite the world’s top climbers to come and give DNA a go.”

Read Bouin’s full ascent report, including weather conditions, tactics, and more, on Black Diamond’s website.

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Sam Anderson
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Sam has roamed the American continent to follow adventures, explore natural wonders, and find good stories. After going to college to be a writer, he got distracted (or saved) by rock climbing and spent most of the next decade on the road, supporting himself with trade work. He's had addresses in the Adirondack Mountains, Las Vegas, and somehow Kansas, but his heart belongs in the Texas hill country.