Climbing Lingo Glossary : Terms You Never Knew

It can be totally intimidating as a newbie climber when you realize you have no idea what your climbing partner(s) or instructor is talking about when they tell you to “use your bashies before you attach the quickdraw!”  The more you learn (and the faster) the better it is.  Here’s our best to get you started quickly!  Please keep in mind that this guide is NOT EXHAUSTIVE!  That means there are way more terms, definitions and words out there that are not included here.  In fact, if we included them, the article would be inappropriately long (much like reading and encyclopedia).  We’ve found in our research that no website or one source has all the used climbing lingo words or definitions, but we’re confident ours is an excellent starting place for a beginner!  Have at it!

A

Ablation Zone – the general area of a glacial field where annual melting meets or exceeds the yearly snowfall accumulation

Abseil—(pronounced AB-sail) The process by which a climber descends from a fixed rope in a controlled manner. The term is typically used in Europe and Australia.

ACD (Active Camming Device)—A protection device that secures into cracks in a rock or pockets using spring-loaded cams.

Active protection—A piece of climbing protection that has moving parts, typically with springs. Examples include camming devices (spring-loaded), sliding wedges and tube chocks.

Adze – a thin blade that is mounted perpendicular to the handle on an ice ax and it can be used for chopping footholds for use in your ascent.

Aid climbing—A style of climbing that makes use of rope, fixed bolts, and other fixed devices, rather than features on the rock itself, to ascend the face.

Anchor—A point of attachment for a climbing rope, usually made with slings, runners or the rope itself. May be top-rope anchors, belay anchors or a protection piece mid-climb.

Alpine climbing—Climbing in the mountains which usually includes a mixture of ice climbing and hiking.  Usually all gear is carried in a backpack and most often the trip is multi-day.

Approach—The route or walk in to the starting point or base of a climb.  It can be as hazardous as the upcoming climb!

Ascender—A mechanical device that slides upward when put on a fixed rope but catches when weight is put on it, allowing a climber to use the rope to move upward or to haul gear without it slipping.

Arm Bar – Jamming your actual arm into a crack and locking it into place to aid in a climbing maneuver.

B

B-Grade – This is a grading system for bouldering problems.  It is not as common as the updated, widely used “V” grading system.

Backup—Any additional protection that is added to help with redundancy to an anchor or anchoring device.

Bail – To retreat from your climb.

Barn door— An off-balance movement or swing sideways away (out from) a rock that is a result of being off-balance.

Bashies—Malleable (soft-ish) anchors which are “bashed” into small cracks for use in aid climbing. They are either impossible or difficult to remove.

Belay—To keep a climber from falling too far by using friction on a rope.  Typically a friction-enhancing device is used to accommodate a controlled descent.  Even wrapping a rope around a waist would be considered a type of “Belay” device.

Bent-gate carabiner—Sport-climbing carabiner used on the rope-clipping end of a quickdraw. The bent gate provides a larger opening than straight-gate carabiners provide for clipping in the rope.

Beta—Advice or Information about a specific climbing route. “Running beta” is information given while the climb is being executed.  Some climbers avoid beta as it can “affect” or “taint” the climb.

Bight—A bend in a rope or a folded section of rope.

Big wall—A climb where climbers often take several days to complete, using a “camp” base with food, provisions, sleeping bags, etc.

Biner—Short form of “carabiner”.

Biomechanics—The study of the mechanics of muscular activity.

Bivouac—Typically a temporary camp or camping scenario under little or no shelter. In terms of climbing, it usually refers to an overnight sleep on the actual vertical face of a cliff or rock.  It can include rudimentary sleeping gear or none at all.

Bivy—Short for bivouac.

Bollard – This is an unusual but effective technique whereby a climber cuts a typically circular “ditch” a few inches wide (in the shape of a circle or oval) into the hard snow surface in order to wrap a rope around the circle (in the ditch) for a belay anchor where ropes are not available.  The large knob or ice (can be rock) is fairly large (about 4 – 8 feet in diameter) though sizes vary greatly.

Bolted route—A route protected with pre-placed bolt anchors rather than removable protection pieces. A sport route.

Bolts—Metal bolts drilled into the rock for use as permanent protection protection points on sport or aid climbs. Hangers are attached to the bolts for clipping in your rope via a carabiner or ring.

Bombproof anchor—A hold or anchor that is VERY security; for example, a top-rope anchor around a large, stable tree trunk or immovable boulder.

Bouldering—Climbing on large boulders close to the ground without the use of a rope. Crash pads and spotters form your safety instead of ropes or water, etc.

Bucket—A larger area for your hands to grab (handhold)

Bummer – a word that is usually slang for a tough and uncomfortable hold which often causes abrasion or even injury to a hand (usually tears or cuts).

Buildering – The (mostly illegal) act of climbing buildings.

C

Cam—Spring-loaded device that is used as protection (see P category).

Camming—The act of turning or twisting into place until wedged or held securely with friction.

Campusing – The act of climbing with arms only and not using feet.

Cambered sole—An arched sole (curved) with a down-turned toe. It is a quality found on rock climbing shoes for more advanced climbers.

Carabiner—Metal ring with a spring-loaded gate on one side used as a connector. It comes in various shapes and sizes.

Caving—The pursuit of cave exploration using many of the same techniques as climbing.

Chalk—A compound of carbonate of magnesium,  used on a climber’s hands to improve grip by absorbing sweat.

Chalk bag—Small bag worn on the harness to hold climbers’ chalk.  It is meant for easy access during a climb.

Chest harness—A harness used along with a seat harness to keep the body upright in case of a free fall

Chest Jam – Literally “jamming” one’s torso into an appropriately-sized crevice or crack.  It is used mostly for resting.

Chicken Wing – a crack climbing maneuver where a hand is set on one side of a large crack, and a shoulder on the other side to gain sufficient friction for a move.

Chipping – The process of improving or altering a hold by permanently changing it through actual “chipping” with a tool.  It is usually considered wrong and unethical.

Chock—A term used to describe a passive protection piece wedged into cracks for use as an anchor for a rope during a climb.

Chockstone—Rock or stone tightly wedged in a crack. Originally used for climbing protection by girth-hitching a runner around it and clipping the rope in. Precursors to metal chocks.

Choss – Loose or bad (aka “rotten”) rock.

Clawing – the act of using the toe of the boot (or crampon) as well as other tools like ice axes, to ascend a slope.

Clean—The act of removing equipment and items from a route.  It also refers to a route that is free of vegetation and loose rock.

Cleaning Tool – a device used for removing old equipment (like bashies and nuts) from a route.

Climber—One who participates in the act of climbing.

Climbing gym—A specially designed gymnasium for indoor climbing.

Climbing wall—A wall of artificial rock (often not designed to look like rock at all) in a climbing gym.

Clipping in—The act of attaching to anything like an anchor or belay line.

Copperhead – a small unit (nut) attached to the end of a short piece of looped wire.  It is used as an anchor where appropriate.

Cordelette – This is a longer cord used to tie together multiple points of anchor.

Crab—A slang term for a carabiner.

Crack—A fissure in a rock wall, typically used for hand- and footholds while climbing. Can be paper-thin to larger than body size.

Crag—A small cliff face or a minimal number of boulders in an area.

Crampons – metal framework attached to the bottom of a climbing boot (mountaineering) which increases friction (and safety) on ice.

Crater – The act of hitting the ground while falling (instead of being safely slowed or caught by a belay rope).

Crux—The most difficult portion or sequence of moves on a climb.

D

Daisy chain—A specialized sling with multiple loops for use as an adjustable anchor. Often used in big wall climbing.

Dialed – the status of having a full and complete knowledge of a specific route or even a specific climbing maneuver.

Dihedral—This is an inside corner of a rock where the angle is more than 90 degrees.

Dirtbag—A climber who is considered to be living very frugally and often working odd jobs to support their climbing passion/lifestyle.  The idea is that they live this way in order to maximize climbing time.

Downclimb – The act of descending a climb after it is complete (or other conditions necessitate a completion of the climb).

Drag—Excessive friction created when a climbing rope passes (often via a zig-zag route) through multiple pieces of protection. Drag can often pull a lead climber off balance.

Dry-tooling—The act of using ice climbing tools like axes and crampons on rock and NOT on ice or snow.

Dynamic Belay—A technique of slowing or stopping a fall using a smooth braking action to reduce stress on the protection points (minimizing the danger of pulling a protection point loose) while simultaneously reducing the trauma (on the climber) of an abrupt and sudden stop.

Dyno – an abrupt, fast and dynamic motion where both feet leave a rock face and return only after a target hold is caught.  It resembles something that would be called a jump or leap outside of the climbing world.

E

Edge—A thin ledge on a rockface.

Eight-Thousander – A mountain that rises 8000 or more meters above sea level.

Elvis Legs – This is a condition in which a climber’s knees are wobbly from fatigue, resembling the on-stage dancing style of the rock music icon.

Epic – a climb that would otherwise be considered ordinary, is rendered more treacherous due to a combination of factors like weather, lighting (darkness), injuries or other factors that add danger or discomfort.

F

Face climb – The act of ascending or climbing a vertical rock without using cracks.  Only finger holds, edges and smears are used.

Feature – A part of an indoor climbing wall which sticks out of the wall itself as a permanent “feature” in the wall.  It is there as another obstacle to deal with on your climb.

Via Ferrata – This is a mountain path or route whereby danger is minimized by the presence of steel cables or chains that are fixed to the rocks in a permanent fashion.  They are more common in the Alps than in North America.

Figure 8 – This usually refers to a belay device shaped like the number eight.

Flagging – a technique of using a leg or legs to help in balance and positioning rather than using legs to support weight.  One would typically try to use flagging as a preventative measure against barn-dooring.

Flapper – Usually refers to a piece of loose skin resulting from a traumatic tear (often a callus).

Flat-Lander – Refers to a “regular” citizen who is a NON-CLIMBER.

Follow—To be the second up a climb or what the second does.

Free climb—To climb using only hands and feet on the rock. Rope is used only for safety and is not relied upon for upward progress. Opposite of an aid climb.

Free solo—Climbing without aid protection or belay.  It really means climbing without a rope.

Friction—A fancy name given to the act of climbing on a slope with nothing other than the natural friction between a climber’s shoe sole and the climbing surface.  No holds or cracks or other aids are used in the climb – just plain gravity!

G

Gate Flutter—Refers to the Spring-loaded opening or gate on a carabiner opening during a fall.

Glacier Travel – The act of climbing or hiking on a glacier surface.  Often a rope is used as a safety against falls.

Glissade—A willful and voluntary act of sliding down an alpine slope of ice or snow (not rock).

GORP – Here’s a classic acronym.  It’s used in just about every outdoor venture like wilderness canoeing, hiking, climbing, kayaking and camping.  It stands for “Good Old Raisins and Peanuts.  It’s a type of trail mix that offers an excellent mix of nutrition, taste and value.  It often refers to other mixtures (ie. Cashews, chocolate chips and dried cranberries) that are based on the same idea or concept as raisins and peanuts.

Grade – the term given to an objective measure of the level of difficulty of a climbing route.

Gripped – refers to being frightened or even panicked.  It can encompass the act of grabbing a rock too tightly due to fear.

Grovel – (verb) the act of climbing with an incorrect technique.  If used as a noun, it can refer to a specific climbing route or wall that is “unloved” and is seen to have little value.

Gumby – a negative term used to describe an inexperienced and unknowledgeable climber.

Grease Ball – refers to a climbing route that is over-used, rendering the rocks (holds) to become well-worn and thus, “greasy” and slippery.

H

Hamster—This is the act or motion of a climber pulling himself/herself upwards with both arms moving in exact unison in front of the chest.  It looks like a hamster on a treadmill or during the act of feeding.

Hand Jam – The act of inserting a hand into an opening in the rock (open-handed like you’re ready to do a “high five”) and then moving the thumb towards the other 4 fingers.  This motion expands your hand and makes a tight fit to allow a climber to complete the move using the jam as a handhold.

Hang dog—The act of resting on the rope or item of protection as you lead climb.  Your weight is not being held by any rock or climbing surface.

Hanging belay—To belay facing the wall while suspended by your harness to anchors. The belayer is hanging in mid-air, suspended.

Harness—A belt or webbing and leg-loop apparatus that attaches a climber to a rope. It is meant to allow a climber to hang in mid-air safely.

Heel Hook – The act of using one’s heel (the back) to apply pressure on a hold if no sufficient traditional foothold is available.

Hex – this is a protection device.  It is hexagonal in shape, and involves a short, thin rope attached to the hex-shaped nut which is placed in a crack.  It wedges itself with pressure to create and maintain a secure hold.

High Ball – refers to a tall bouldering problem having a dangerous climbing height (given that bouldering has no protection other than mats and spotters).

Honed – Being in the best condition physically and mentally for climbing.

Horn– This is a large (pointed) chunk of rock sticking out from a wall or rock face.  It is typically a great hand or foothold.

J

Jamming—The act of wedging a body part into a crack on a climb for the purpose of pulling oneself up to climb.

Jib—A small foothold which may be only spacious enough for a toe.

Jumar—The original mechanical ascender which is often applied to a generic (other name brand) ascender.  It can be used as a verb to refer to the actual act of ascending with a mechanical ascender.

K

Knee Bar—The act of using a knee or thigh as a brace against a rock protrusion.  It is used to gain leverage or allow for a rest on overhanging rocks.

L

Lead Climbing—To be the first person on an ascent whose responsibility is to either attach belays an/or ropes to various protections or anchor points, or by first installing anchors and quickdraws and then attaching the belay.

Leg loops—The part of a climbing harness that goes around the upper legs of the climber and provides support. Typically attached to the waistbelt, although some waistbelts and leg loops are sold separately for a more customized fit.

Laybacking—A climbing technique that uses friction and counter-pressure of hands pulling and feet pushing. The term “lie-back or layback refers” to the body position of leaning backwards and to one side with arms straight and feet shuffling up the wall in a position that appears as though the climber is attempting to pull or move part of the wall to create a crack by pushing with his feet and pulling with his hands.

Liquid Chalk – climbing chalk in liquid form.  It has many advantages over traditional powder chalk like having a longer hold time and minimizes or eliminates the need for continual re-chalking.

Low-Angle – refers to a climbing rock face or wall angle that is shallower than vertical.  The opposite to a low angle would be an overhang.  The low-angle would be far easier to climb than an overhang.

M

Mantel—refers to a climbing maneuver that is used to pull over or mount a ledge when no holds are available

Mantle—The covering or external “sheath” on a climbing rope.

Merkel – The act of retrieving a climbing partner’s equipment or gear when the owner of the gear is unable to retrieve it him/herself.

Move – this is the name given to a specific maneuver or climbing technique to complete a climbing move or to progress through the climb

N

No-Hand Rest – A resting position that uses no hands at all, but relies entirely on leg-support.

Nub – A very small hold which cannot be used for more than only a few fingers or perhaps the tip of the toes.

Nut—A soft metal item used as a wedge to create a protection point.  It is similar to a hex, but the shape is usually a cube or elongated cube (aka. 3D rectangle or square)

O

Off-belay—A verbal cue called by a climber to a belayer, requesting that a belay is ceased (usually temporarily) or belay equipment be disengaged.

Off-width – An opening in the rock that is too narrow for a body (smaller than a chimney) but too wide for a useable foot or hand jam.

On sight—To lead a climb on the first attempt with no practice beforehand.

P

Panic Bear – A beginner climber who may panic during a climb and hold desperately to handholds while searching for footholds.

PCD (passive camming device)—A piece of protection without moving parts, such as a hex or a nut.

Peak-Bagging – This refers to a systematic and deliberate goal to climb a pre-determined number of specific summits (usually in a somewhat common area geographically, but can refer to a number of peaks all around the world).

Pitch—The length of a climb that can be protected by one length of rope measuring 45-60 meters.  It can also refer to the part of a climb between two belay points.

Piton—A flat, wedge-like blade of metal that is pounded into a rock face and then clipped to the climbing rope for protection. It is most often removed by the last climber.

Protection—Any device or method used to secure a climbing rope to rock, snow or ice to prevent a climber from and unwanted fall (an anchor used to arrest a fall).

Polish – refers to the finish on the rock face (or rocks) on a popular climbing route.  The rock face is “polished” by the excessive, high traffic and wear on the rock face and it results in slippery and more difficult to grip rocks.

Pressure Breathing – this is the act of forcefully pushing out your breath (exhaling) to facilitate an effective oxygen and carbon dioxide exchange at a high altitude.

Problem – refers to the path or route of a climber involved in the discipline of bouldering.

Punter – refers to a climber who is enthusiastic and over-ambitious, but lacks the skill set and level of preparation needed to climb successfully.

Purchase – this is the act of having an effective hold on a climbing feature like a rock, crack or protection point.

Q

Quickdraw—A short runner that is attached to anchors like a hex or nut.  A climber would attach his rope to a runner.

R

Rack—refers to the set of gear carried in the course of a climb.

Rand—A rubber strip running around the edge of a shoe where the upper meets the sole. On climbing shoes, the portion that does much of the gripping on the toes and heels.

Rappel—To descend a cliff or rock face by lowering on a fixed rope.  Most often, feet will be against the wall. Friction is placed on the rope, usually with a belay device, to keep the descent controlled.  Rappelling can happen even when

Red point—To lead a climb using a free-climbing technique, but only after having reviewed, studied and practiced the climb route in advance.

Route—The path or moves up a specific climb.  Similar to a problem, but not used when referring to bouldering as much as rock-climbing in general (trad climbing, sport climbing, etc).

Runner—Nylon slings used by climbers for a variety of tasks.

Runout—The space or distance between 2 points of protection (ie. Anchors).  The term “runout” is also used to describe a section of a climbing route.

S

 Sandbag – A climbing route that carries a lower rating designation than is likely should have.

Screamer—A long fall on a rope – often loud. It also refers to a nylon webbing material that is sometimes used to attach a climber to a weak anchor point or protection.  In the event of an anchor failure or fall, the nylon webbing is made to tear apart while absorbing some fall energy and reducing shock on both the protection point and climber.

Scree – a collection of smaller, loose rocks at the base of a climb, wall, cliff, etc.

Second—A climber that follows or is the second climber on a route, right after the lead climber.

Self-Arrest – The process of planting an ice axe into the snow (either side of the axe) to stop a slip or unintentional descent down a slope.

Sewing Machine Leg – see “Elvis Legs”

Sit ‘n Spin – used to start a rappel or descent from the top of a wall/cliff.  One would sit on the edge of the precipice and hop over the edge while spinning to face the edge of the cliff and simultaneously applying pressure to the wall with feet.

Skittling – a reference to “Skittles” candies which are multi-colored.  It refers specifically to the act of climbing in an indoor gym while ignoring the color-coded routes.  All/any colors are used.

Slab-climbing – a type of rock climbing where a climber ascends a rock face that is less than vertical, using only features that are small while emphasizing balance and footwork to reach the goal.

Sloper – a hold which has very little grip value because it is at a sloping or poor angle.

Smear—refers to a climbing style whereby the sole of the shoe provides friction (traction) to move ahead in the climb.

Solo—To climb alone while setting one’s own protection, or to climb without protection at all.

Sport climbing—Rock climbing using pre-placed protection such as bolts or a top rope. This contrasts with Traditional Climbing in which climbers apply and then remove protection points to keep a climb more natural and “clutter-free”.

Soupy – This is a handhold that is slippery and wet.

Spinner – refers to a hand/foothold in an indoor climbing gym which is insecure and will actually revolve or turn when grabbed.

Splitter—An obvious split in a rock face traveling in a vertical direction (up and down) with a consistent opening size.  It is named most often if the surrounding cliff rock face is otherwise clean and featureless.

Static Rope – the opposite of a Dynamic or “elastic” rope.  A static rope has virtually no give and is not made to be elastic.

Stemming – A climbing technique using two joined cliff faces that have an angle less than 180 degrees.  In other words, it’s a corner on a wall with any degree of angle other than straight across like a flat wall.

Step-Cutting – the act of using an ice axe or other tool to scoop divots for foot placement in ice or snow.

Step-Kicking – the act of using one’s boots to kick into snow or ice to form divots for foot placement by climbers yet to come.

Sweeper – this is the final climber in a group, who is usually tasked with retrieving fallen items and removing protection, etc.

T

Take – an instruction yelled by a climber directing a belayer to ensure that all slack in a line is removed completely.  It is used just before a particular maneuver where tension will be applied to the belayer, and any slack may cause a shock to the climber, belayer and protection point(s).

Talus – refers to large fragments and chunks of rock splayed across a mountainside.  Talus is most often rigid, secure and stable (pieces range from a few feet in radius to the size of a small building).

Technical Climbing – a style of climbing using a rope and a method of protection.  This is opposed to other types of climbing like glacier travel or scrambling.

Top Out – the act of finishing a climb by reaching the very apex of the structure one is attempting to summit or climb.

Top rope— (verb form) means to climb or belay from an anchor point directly above the climb itself.  Typically a belayer is involved, and in order to reach the top anchor point to apply the rope, there must be relatively easy access to the top point.

Traditional or “trad”—A rock climbing method using protection points placed by the lead climber and removed by the sweeper or final climber.  This is different than sport climbing, in which protection is pre-placed and most often permanent.

Triple runner—A 14-foot length of webbing tied into a loop with a water knot, used for attaching pro to the climbing rope, but more often for creating anchors. Usually must be wrapped three times to be carried over one shoulder of the climber.

Twin ropes—this is a roping system whereby 2 thinner ropes are used rather than the more common option of one thicker rope.  This system is often used as a safety feature which reduces the chances of an accident resulting from a severed rope (from the rock face).

U

Undercling—A climbing move in which a rock is grasped with the palm and often the fingers, are facing up and away from the ground.

V

Verglas – this is a thin layer of ice that is found covering a rock face.  It is often dangerous to climb because of the insufficient depth available for crampons to hold effectively.

W

Webbing—Woven flat strip of material used for sling making.

Wedge—A protection piece that is jammed into position inside a crack.

Whipper—A relatively long fall whereby the climber falls to below the last applied protection point.

Wired—A climbing route which a climber knows well and has practiced quite a bit, and therefore can complete the climb easily.

X

X – Rating from the Yosemite Decimal System given to a climb or route that has insufficient protection.  They are usually very dangerous and it is recommended that climbers stay clear of a climb with an X-rating.

Xeno – a hand or foot hold that looks quite different in its geological composition from the rock from which it protrudes.

Y

Yosemite Decimal System (YDS) – this is a very important numerical rating system that is used primarily in the United States.  It is a fluid system which changes as new ratings are created due to more difficult climbs being created and completed (or other factors).  See LOTS more info HERE.

Z

Zipper (fall)— this refers to a fall where each item of protection fails in sequence as the climber falls.

 

Peter Stec

Hey Knife Up gang!  I'm Pete and I'm just a small man in a small rural town who loves the outdoors as much as the other million internet users that cruise sites like Knifeup.com every day.  The difference is that I like to share what I know, and research what I don't totally know, so that YOU can have all the info you need to feel confident and prepared for all things outdoors related! And, for those who care, I have 42 years of wilderness canoeing and bushcraft experience in Northern Ontario and spend most of my Summers covered in mosquitos and fish slime, but hey, it's a lifestyle choice eh?
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