So there is a lot of talk about "the best" climber in the world. The name that normally comes up is Sharma. But is he, or Woods or Ondra, really the absolute best we have? I say no, and here is why. Although all three of those guys are among the best at what they do, there is also a lot they know nothing about. For example, I suspect none of them know anything about aid climbing or alpine.
I believe that the absolute best climber in the world is whoever is the top all-arounder. Someone who can climb 5.13 trad, 5.14 sport, V-hard bouldering, A4/5 aid, hard alpine and mix, someone who has climbed a few eight-thousanders, knows SAR and self-rescue, has an FA on a grade VII wall, has supreme technical knowledge, ect. Basically, whoever is the most experienced in all genres.
To be honest, I believe the media puts too much correlation with posting high numbers and being the "best". Although I have never climbed with any of the three guys named above, I have climbed with a number of other world-class climbers who are well known, and honestly, some of them suck. Sure, they climb hard as hell, but I look down while pulling the crux and they have a loop of slack on the deck, or they backclip a draw while climbing, or some other silly crap. I cannot possibly fathom how someone like that could be considered a top climber, no matter how hard they climb. So my opinion is that ability and knowledge are not necessarily two in the same in climbing. What do you think?
aid climbing is really just brave engineering. mountaineering is really just brave, steep snow walking, and even hard trad is just brave, but easier climbing. the "best" climber- implies climbing, not bravery or engineering skills, in the popular definition of climbing.
David Lama. Not sure how close anyone is at the moment.
In the vein of Alex Lowe, who was rad, there have been a lot of guys over the years. Kevin Thaw, never thought to be "the best" because all arounders aren't usually the best at any one thing, nailed the above criteria climbing hard near the top end of sport, bouldering, trad and ice and then establishing/repeating some of the hardest aid and alpine routes in the world. He's also done okay at altitude. There are always a few like this. Alain Ghersen, Tomo Cesen (even with the controversies), and others since. Macloed is a good addition. He's not gone into the big mountains yet, and may not, but he fills in the disciplines well.
But Lama is just ridiculous. One of the very best competition, sport, and boulders is now unstoppable in the mountains. What he's doing right now is otherworldly and he's really just getting started. If he stays alive he's going to have an enormous impact on what we view as possible.
Correct question given the topic. The same thing was asked about Huber when he came to the Valley the first time. And though he had not yet done any trad climbing it didn't stop him from changing the standards for traditional free climbing within a year. I don't think "can" is a question. It's "do".
followed by some climbers that I havent noticed on the list so far:
Mason Earle (climbs 13+ trad and has climbed virtually every alpine route in the North Cascades).
UMMM....How has Tommy Caldwell not been mentioned yet?! I think people forget that Tommy does do a bit of alpine when he's not trying to hardest big wall route (possibly) ever, including a first ascent in remote alaska with Hayden Kennedy and Corey Rich this past year.