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All the words you need to know in order to speak cliff diving and rock climbing slanguage… Here are the 50 most important rock climbing terms.

from the “Climbing Dictionary” by Matt Samet, published in 2011 by The Mountaineers Books and with illustrations by Mike Tea – an illustrated historical reference to more than 650 climbing terms, for the world’s most “mega” climbing slanguage resource.

Arête n : A 90-degree outside corner, i.e., the cleaved edge where two cliff facets meet at a right angle like a building corner, or an arête-like or flying buttress such as Rebuffat’s Arête in Eldorado Canyon. Difficult arête routes exploit heel hooks, toe scums, slap moves, etc.

Anchor n : A belay/rappel point generally atop a pitch, marked by fixed protection (like bolts) or built using removable protection.

Armbar n, v : An off-width technique in which you insert your entire arm into a crack and place your palm/wrist/forearm flat against one wall, the elbow cammed against the other.

Backstep n, v : To press your shoe’s external edge onto a foothold and drop the knee lightly, thus bringing the sole’s bottom-outside in contact with the rock and your hip in; often opposed against your other foot’s big toe, off which you resolutely push. Unlike a Lolotte (drop knee), the less aggressive backstep typically exploits footholds below knee level.
*Synonym: Egyptian

Belay n, v : To secure the rope while your partner climbs; you can belay a leader, a second, or provide an on-the-ground top-rope belay. Today, belaying involves using a belay device that introduces friction into the system to help arrest a fall; the guide hand stays on the rope above the device, while the brake hand clasps the rope exiting the device so it’s ready to catch a fall. The one who belays is the belayer, while the imaginary working area (personal space) the belayer needs to safely operate is the belay box.
*Usage: “Tobias: Less spraying and more belaying, please!”

Beta n : A specific, blow-by-blow description of a sequence or climb. More generally, information about a climb or climbing-related (or any) topic.
*Origin: The late Shawangunks and Texas climber Jack Mileski, known for his colorful neologisms. Mileski coined the term at the Gunks in 1981 when films were offered for home viewing in both VHS and Betamax formats. “Let me run the ‘Betamax’ tape for you,” Mileski once told Mike Freeman, describing the 5.12 Kansas City, and then added, “So, Mike, here’s the beta!”
*Usage: “I’m going for the on-sight, but if I botch then holler up beta.”

Bomb-proof adj : Rock and/or protection of such peerless quality and/or reliability that it could withstand a hypothetical bomb blast. Yosemite granite is bomber, while Fisher Towers Cutler sandstone is not.
*Variant: Bomber
*Synonyms: Logger-bob, slammer, stonker, trucker

Bucket n : The most secure of handholds; a hold so deep, incut, and big it’s like grabbing a lithic bucket lip.
*Usage: “Gimme buckets and gimme jugs, cuz Daddy’s so pumped he needs a hug!”
*Synonym: Jug

Cam n, v : Shorthand for spring-loaded camming device (SLCD), a cam is any trigger-activated protection unit employing spring-loaded cam lobes in opposition. Another synonym is friend, taken from Friend, sold by Wild Country since 1978. SLCDs provoked a revolution, opening heretofore difficult-to-protect parallel-sided cracks. In the first year that Wild Country produced Friends, more than 5,000 found their way into American climbers’ hands.

Carabiner n : A snap-link connecting the rope to your protection. Carabiners are the fundamental building blocks of fifth-class climbing.
*Variants: biner, krab (British)
*Origin: Likely the Munich climber Otto “Rambo” Herzog, in 1910. As climbing lore tells it, Herzog had seen a fire brigade whose men wore pear-shaped karabiners (or karabinerhaken: “hook for a carbine”) on their belts, and quickly adopted the gear after testing it on a few practice routes. When aluminum carabiners hit the market at the end of WWII, they weighed only 2.25 ounces (but still held 2,000 pounds) as compared to the 25-ounce steel biners that had preceded them. Pierre Alain, a French climber and engineer, had developed the first aluminum-alloy biners in 1939.

Chicken-wing n, v : A chicken-wing (n) is a creased elbow jammed horizontally or even upward into an off-width or dihedral corner. As a verb, it can either mean to use the hold specified above, or to be so pumped that your elbows, instead of pointing toward earth, stick up and out like chicken wings: Bawk-bawk!
*Usage: “Dave O’s so not in there; if he was chicken-winging any harder he’d be dining with Colonel Sanders.”

Chimney n, v : A crack so wide/deep that you can crawl inside and climb up between its two walls; named for its likeness to the inside of a fireplace chimney. To chimney (v) is to shuffle up a chimney by pressing your back/buttocks against one wall, and, in an Egpytian-like position, to bridge and oppose your feet, alternating which foot presses which wall. You might also bring your hands palm out, fingers down against the opposite wall. One celebrated chimney/squeeze is the Mummery Crack, used by A. F. Mummery on his 1881 first ascent of the Gr{eacute}pon, Chamonix; the chimney was the key to resolving this “unconquerable” peak.

Crimp n, v : A small edge upon which you crimp your fingers, i.e. bend your digits to exert pressure on the knuckles, bringing your thumb against your index finger to close the grip.
*Variant: Any small edge is a crimper, while a crimp-intensive climb is crimpy.

Crux n, v : A route or problem’s most difficult passage or sequence. To crux (v) doesn’t always mean to reach a route’s crux, but instead to redline anywhere on a climb.
*Usage: “Rachel is cruxing hard on Los Dynos del Muerte, and she isn’t even at the crux. Stand by for a takefest.”

Deadpoint n, v : The high point—the moment of weightlessness—achieved by a dynamic move upward, whether or not the body completely separates from the rock; or a movement that incorporates this type of lunge, with the feet typically not leaving the rock (as they do in an all out dyno.
*Origin: From the engineering term dead center, which, says Webster’s, is “the position of a crank when the turning movement on it is zero.” Analogous to climbing, in basketball the dead point describes the temporarily weightless moment atop a player’s jump, when he lets the ball fly. A seminal print appearance was John Gill’s “The Art of Bouldering,” in the 1969 American Alpine Journal: “A properly executed dynamic lieback places the climber’s hand on a hold at the high deadpoint of the swing.”
*Usage: “I don’t care how burly you are, no one’s snagged the Lightning Bolt hold on Midnight Lightning without at least a minor deadpoint.”

Dihedral n : A perfectly cleaved corner that opens at 90 degrees.
*Synonym: Open book

Dyno n, v : A dynamic move in which the climber springs for a distant hold, his feet leaving the rock. Ideally, the hold is grasped at the deadpoint if the motion is vertical or nearly so.
*Origin: Before John Gill made dynamic movement an art during the late 1950s—its “difficult skilled and precise gymnastic ‘release’ and ‘regrasp’” inspired by formal gymnastics—climbers viewed full-body lunges only as pure desperation. (During World War II, the US Army imposed the “three-point suspension” rule [i.e., three points of contact at all times], which became the de facto standard.) Gill described his efforts as free aerials. The shortened “dyno” emerged in the 1970s at the Mount Baldy bouldering area, near Upland, California. There, at Paul Gleason’s (see crimp) home area, the Cuco Boulder housed a high concentration of dynamic problems. Says John Long, who cut his teeth climbing there, “The hardest problems were these big dynamics, and we developed all these goofy words— ‘dyno,’ ‘mo’—it was like we were speaking our own language.”
Today there is an official world-record dyno: 2.85 meters, set by Colorado climber Skyler Weekes on July 3, 2010, at the Cliffhanger Games/World Cup event in Sheffield, England. Weekes has held the record three other times and in the pursuit of his art has fractured his spine and seriously injured his face. “Dynoing far distances between good holds is 95 percent mental and 5 percent physical,” says Weekes, who trains via climbing, vertical-jump basketball, and Muay Thai martial arts. “You have to convince yourself that it’s possible and not to fall—and you can do it!”
*Synonyms: Fire, lunge

Fingerlock n, v : A hold formed by inserting your digits in a finger crack and then twisting, with your weight coming onto the lowest cammed knuckle. Fingerlocks can be done either thumb-up or thumb-down.

Fist jam n, v : To place your fist frontally inside a crack, then clench it to cam it in; can be executed with your palm facing toward or away from you.

Flag v : To drape one leg crosswise across the other, usually behind it (an outside flag), while pointing the flagged leg’s toe into the rock to counter a barn door. With an inside flag, your flagged leg crosses between the other leg and the rock, generally engaging the shoe’s outside edge.

Flare n : Any crack, hole, pod, etc. wider at the mouth than in the back, thus flaring outward. The worst kind is a bottoming flare, both cranky to jam and difficult to protect, though offset cams (different size lobes) make the latter chore easier.

Flash n, v : To send a pitch first try, but with specific beta (perhaps running beta from a friend on the ground).
*Variant: Beta-flash
*Origin: Alison Osius, in climbing publishing since the 1980s, says she assumes the term “just arose because it was a punchy verb, like fire—to fire a pitch.” Flash appeared in print as early as 1973, in Jim Bridwell’s Mountain No. 31 article “Brave New World,” on Yosemite free climbing: “The new ideals have left certain free-climbing ethics pass{eacute}. All-nut ascents, and ‘flashing’ a route (climbing on first try) are more desirable than using pitons and sieging a pitch yo-yo style.” Says Osius, “Until the mid- or late 1980s, there was no difference between flashing and on-sight.”

Gaston n, v : A reverse lieback in which the fingers face inward, as if prying open an elevator door.
*Origin: From French guide, alpinist, and author Gaston Rebuffat, who appeared in a photo in his book On Snow and Rock double-gastoning a smooth off-width on the granite of Chamonix. In that same technique section, Rebuffat also has two photos—one on a wood crack, the other on granite—that show climber hands double-gastoning a crack with the caption, “Resistance with both hands, as if trying to pull the two walls apart.”
Hand jam n, v : A crack technique in which you slot your hand and cup the palm, wrapping the thumb underneath or beside your fingers, to jam against the crack’s walls. A secure hand jam can provide a chance to dead-hang and de-pump.

Heel hook n, v : Glomming your heel onto or around a rock feature and pulling. Heel hooks can be lateral and below you, as in around an arête; and also horizontal and frontal, as in on a ledge in front of your face. Hooks are common on overhanging rock, and rock shoes have evolved accuracy-augmenting advents like ribbed and suction heels.
Heel-toe n, v : A frontal heel hook that cams the big toe against an opposing lip or rooflet, locking you in for a rest on overhanging terrain, or acting as a lever from which to reach. An outside heel-toe involves stepping one leg through, dropping your heel onto a hold, and then camming your shoe’s pinky-toe side.

Hex n : A hollow, slung, or wired, six-sided chock, popular in its bigger sizes for wide cracks.
*Variant: Hexentric (brand name)
*Synonyms: Cowbells (for their clanking), wind chimes

High-step n, v : To bring one foot high and stand frontally on the big toe, recruiting the quadriceps muscle to push and reach.
*Usage: “High-gravity day, not trying the death route super proj!”
Intermediate n : A hold not locked off but merely held, en route to a better handhold above with the same hand. Intermediates can be faux holds that let you ootch your hips higher or otherwise adjust your body position.
*Variant: Intermediary

Jug n, v : A bucket hold so incut and hand-friendly, it’s like the handle on a one-gallon jug (n); to jumar a fixed line (v).
*Usage: “Jugs are better than hugs, which are better than drugs.”
*Synonyms: Bucket, Thank God hold

Kneebar n, v : A leg “hold” created by camming your knee/lower thigh up under or against some blocky, cracky, or roofy feature in opposition to your foot. A solid kneebar might let you take off both hands and de-pump, even on overhanging stone; however, it also requires calf flexion and core tension. Kneebar aficionados wear neoprene kneepads with sticky-rubber patches, held fast by duct tape and spray-on adhesive; this, in turn, requires diligent leg shaving.
*Synonym: Colorado etrier (for its prevalence at Rifle)

Lieback n, v : To lean horizontally (sideways) off a hold, often a crack, and walk the feet high in opposition.
*Origin: The Bavarian mountaineer Hans Dülfer, a student of opposition forces and climber balance, refined liebacking in the early 20th century (the French knew it as the dülfer), part of that era’s defining of the basic rock principles still used today.

Mantel n, v : Pressing down on a ledge or boulder lip with one or both arms, recruiting the triceps, while you rock over your foot; short for mantelshelf. A beached whale is a poorly executed mantel.
*Variant: Lip experience (a high, heinous mantel or similar transition from steep to slabby terrain atop a boulder problem)
*Usage: “Gym boulderers have no clue how to mantel. Get them outside and watch the fish-flopping begin!”

Nut n : A passively (versus actively, as with cams) seated, removable metal wedge. The brand name Stopper (originally made by Chouinard Equipment, starting in 1972) might also be used—stopper, or wired stopper—in the generic sense.

Off-width n : A wide, off-sized crack too big for fist jams yet too narrow to be a squeeze chimney. Off-widths are generally 4 to 12 inches wide and require hand-fist stacks, kneebars, Leavittation, etc.
*Origin: One über-famous off-width is Twilight Zone (5.10d), at Yosemite’s Cookie Cliff. On the September 1965 first ascent, the off-width master Chuck Pratt had his belayer, Chris Fredericks, take him off while Pratt was well up the crux second pitch, so that Fredericks could rappel on an extra rope, run to the car, and return with the wide bong piton Pratt hoped would protect the 6-inch crack. The bong, alas, didn’t fit, but Pratt completed his lead anyway, meat-packing himself into the maw.

On-sight n, v : To climb a route on your first try with no prior knowledge of the beta.
*Synonym: A vue

Pitch n, v : A rope length; more slangily, a climb (“Get some good pitches in today?”). This is another unit of climbing measurement that, unlike standard units of measurement (meters, feet, etc.), remains open to fluid interpretation. If simul-climbing (the alpinist’s day out in the mountains), a pitch can be climbing before the leader stops, builds a belay, and brings up his second so they can exchange roles. Thus a simul-climbing “pitch” can be 1,000 feet on rock, or even 10,000 feet on the face/slope of a mountain. In sport climbing, a pitch can be as miserly as 15 feet.
Alternatively, to pitch out a climb describes the way a multipitch route is done, i.e., how the individual pitches are broken down. As a verb, to pitch means to fall.

Pocket n : An inset hole, divot, or rock hollow. Pocket climbing, as often found on welded tuff and limestone, isolates finger tendons, so can be tweaky. Many of the original (1980s) sport areas featured pockets: From Buoux and the Verdon Gorge, France, to Smith Rock, Oregon.
*Usage: “Christian Griffith, in 1987, became so enamored with the Buoux pocket test piece Chouca (5.13c) that he obsessively filed away callus on, chewed away the cuticles of, and super-glued his fingers so they’d fit the solution holes.”
*Synonyms: Doigt, solution hole, solution pocket

Pump n. v : That tight, weak, swollen feeling in the forearms that comes, while climbing, from the accumulation of lactic acid combined with restricted blood flow. It’s much easier to get pumped than to de-pump. Also, as a verb, to sag to a straight-armed position and then cock to initiate a dyno or deadpoint.
*Usage: “I have the perma-pump; no matter how long I rest, I’m totally flamed out 15 feet up.”
Quickdraw n : A bar-tacked nylon runner (dog bone) with a loop on each end to accommodate a carabiner. Used to clip the rope into protection while reducing rope drag.
*Variant: Draw

Redpoint n, v : To free-climb a route sans falls, after any amount of rehearsal (i.e., not on your first try).
*Variants: Bluepointing (belaying a redpoint), brownpointing (a spurious redpoint achieved via dubious means), etc. Basically, you can add the suffix pointing to any climber’s name or a climbing noun to concoct some funny derivative.
*Origin: The late German climber Kurt Albert, who, at his local Frankenjura in 1975, painted his first red circle under Adolf Rott Ged.-Weg (5.10a), on Streitberger Schild, to indicate he’d freed every move. Once he successfully linked the moves, Albert filled in the circle, hence the term rotpunkt, or “red point.” Albert, according to Lynn Hill, might have borrowed the red-circle logo of the German brand Rotpunkt, a maker of coffee carafes.
*Usage: “Since I’ve been trying this turd for five days, it’ll be a quick catch—I’m in redpoint mode.”

Runout n (run-out, adj) : The length of rope between each protection piece; more specifically, a runout is any notable (10 feet or more) protectionless stretch. Most run-out routes assume danger grades.

Sling n : A sewn, typically shoulder-length nylon runner used to clip in long to protection, build anchors, carry gear, etc.
*Origin: The UK manufacturer Troll was the first to sell sewn slings, beginning around 1967; they were based on the original Troll Tapes.).

Sloper n : A downsloping handhold that relies on skin friction and an open-hand grip. Slopers can prove unusable in poor (hot and/or smarmy) conditions.
*Variant: Sloping (adj)
*Usage: “Horse Pens 40 is known for superb Southern sloper problems.”

Smear n, v : To apply your entire forefoot (and not just toe) to the rock, often while slab climbing, stemming, or on large, sloping features.

Sport climbing n : Gymnastic face and overhang free climbing, with the climbs typically having fixed protection like bolts (usually equipped top down with a power drill). Another key feature is the acceptance of hangdogging. Brits for some reason call it sports climbing.

Squeeze chimney n : Bigger than an off-width but smaller than a chimney, a squeeze chimney (12 to 18 inches or so) is a crack up which you must wriggle; these are infamous for provoking claustrophobia. A wise climber will ensure that his torso squeezes through unimpaired, even on a full in-breath.
*Usage: “The Harding Slot on Astroman is the gnarliest squeeze. Heck, the Supertopo guidebook even recommends tying your knot well down the rope so it doesn’t hang up. One climber even sustained a back scar where he’d left a tag-line biner attached.”

Stem n, v : To splay and oppose your legs, {sansV}-like, across a dihedral or to otherwise enter a splits position.
Traditional climbing n : Before sport climbing, all climbing was traditional climbing, in which you started on the ground, placing pro as you went. Today’s slightly modified meaning seems to encompass all gear-protected (natural) leads. (Headpointing is rad trad: “Radical” trad climbing using sport-climbing tactics.) Picture someone walking up to a 5.9 X off-width and leading it from the ground, no falls, no hanging, and perhaps only minimal whimpering: That guy is a core, experienced trad, tradster, or trad dad.
*Variant: Trad climbing

Undercling n, v : Any hold used by turning your palm upside-down, as if receiving alms, and walking the feet up.
*Variant: Undercut.

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