In the fall of 2013, Finnish climber Nalle Hukkataival took a trip out to Lappnor, Finland, a new bouldering area about an hour east of Helsinki on the country's forested southern coastline. When he arrived, his old friend, Marko Siivinen, pointed out a nameless hunk of rock the size of a bus that looked like it was about to topple over.
With just a few obvious holds on the flat face, Hukkataival, 30 could see the line to the top immediately. It looked like a V14 problem—expert-level but not impossible. He stepped up to the wall and gripped two vertical ridges, compressing them as though he was closing a sliding door. But the moment he dabbed his right foot onto the wall, he plopped onto the padded mat beneath. It was the first sign that this project wasn’t going to be as easy as he’d thought. “If it looked as hard as it is, I wouldn’t have even tried,” Hukkataival says.
Over the next four years, Hukkataival would make an estimated 4,000 attempts on the bouldering project before finally conquering it last October. “I thought he was going crazy at some point,” Siivinen, 36, says. “I was feeling guilty that I showed it to him.”
Hukkataival has given it a V17 grade, which—if given the nod by future climbers—would make it the hardest bouldering problem in the world. As a self-professed guardian of the integrity of the grading system, it’s not a claim he makes lightly, and top climbers who have visited the boulder agree it has potential. “I’ve been traveling for 12 years non-stop,” Hukkataival told Outside. “The whole time I’ve been looking for something with the perfect level of difficulty.” (So far, no other top climber has repeated the ascent, which is the next step in corroborating the V17 rating.)
To put things in perspective, a V0 bouldering problem is like climbing a ladder. Problems in the V4 to V5 range have skimpier handholds and require the technique and finger strength of a dedicated amateur. V9 and above are pro-level, the kind of problems featured in climbing competitions. Currently, the number of climbers in the world who have scaled a V15 is fewer than 100. A V16? Just five.
This boulder—which Hukkataival christened Burden of Dreams after a 1982 documentary about director Werner Herzog’s monomaniacal quest to move a steamship over a mountain in the Amazon—stands alone. It is like Yosemite’s Dawn Wall writ small, an exercise in frustration that Hukkataival documents in a short film called the Lappnor Project, which will be out February 8. The problem consists of just five or six hand movements to the top with funky moves like a piano match, where Hukkataival has to lift his index finger from a crimp to fit his other hand on securely. The footwork may be even more critical. In the beginning, Hukkataival couldn’t even do some of the individual moves, let alone string them together. In total, the climb is a combination of precise, dynamic lunges to sloping holds and powerful body-tensioning static moves.