Climbing Lingo’s 50 Classics

Posted on Posted in The How To's

Recently we’ve had some comments come forth from readers and friends alike about what certain climbing-specific words mean. And know that it’s not just the ones of you that do not climb, beginners and intermediates alike can be lacking on the subject. If I’ve learned one thing about climbing, its an art that consists of many different forms and techniques. Mastering each one can take months, even years, so why not get a jump start on the skills you might not know by defining them first. We’ve compiled a list of the ’50 Most Common’ terms that you may face conquering the plastic holds of your local gym, suffering frostbite on the snow-capped mountains of the Sierras or simply following along with Wild-Paths.

For your convenience, search for any phrase by using the “CTRL + F” keys on your computer.

“A man does not climb a mountain without bringing some of it away with him and leaving something of himself upon it.” – Martin Conway.

  • Bouldering: climbing on large boulders typically close to the ground which requires the use of safety with crash pads and ‘spotting’ from others.
  • Belay: to protect and guard the safety of a roped climber from falling by passing the rope through a belay device [any type of friction enhancing device, ie) ATC, GriGri]
  • Rappel: the process of descending a fixed rope with a friction [or belay] device, ie) Figure 8, ATC
  • Top Rope: to belay from a fixed anchor point above the climb or at the top of the cliff, wall, route, etc.
  • Lead Climbing: is a type of climbing in which the climber places protection and anchors as they climb on the end of the rope.
  • Sport Climbing: A style of climbing involving technical (or gymnastic) ability that tend to well-protected with pre-placed bolt anchors. Most of the competitive climbing you witness falls into this format (and bouldering).
  • Traditional Climbing: or Trad is a style of climbing that focuses on exploration, self-reliance and the confidence over inherent dangers. These climber’s carry on a rack and place their own gear to protect the climb.
  • Aid Climbing: a style of climbing that crosses over with Trad Climbing in that you place your own gear and protection, yet instead of climbing the rock features only (like Trad) you stand on or pull yourself up via the devices attached to the rock.
  • Free Climbing: climbing only the rock and it’s features; without any un-natural aids. Only using your devices for protection rather than progress.
  • Free Solo: Climbing without aid or protection, generally without harness or rope. Meaning if you fall, serious injury or death will occur.
  • Solo Climbing: as in Rope Solo or Top Rope solo is a form that involves one person setting and cleaning their own protection for an ascent. Most simply explained by climbing by yourself – takes mastery of this system to function as the climber and belayer.
  • Jumar: or Jug to climb a rope using a aid device, ie) Ascender, Prussik



Casey ‘jumaring’ the 1st ‘pitch’ of the Touchstone Wall in Zion National Park.





“In the mountains there are only two grades: You can either do it, or you can’t.” – Rusty Baille

  • Grades: intended as a measure of the difficulty of a particular. Unfortunately, due to the incapabilities of a set scale, it is often highly subjective.
  • V Scale: V0-V16 a technical measure for bouldering problems invented by John Sherman
  • Yosemite Decimal System: developed by Sierra Club in the early 20th century to rate hikes and climbs in the Sierra Nevada range.
  • Technical Difficulty: 1st-5th class, class 1 is the easiest and involves walking on level terrain – this advances til you approach the 5th class [5.0-5.15] which is characterized by vertical or near vertical rock and requires a rope, protection and skill to proceed.
  • Aid Scale: A0-A5 (nailing required, permanent) or C1-C3 (clean aid) is a system used to describe the inherent dangers moreover than the actually difficulties of a route, even though difficulties are focused on in grades.
  • Length of Route: I-VI this system consists of Roman Numeral grades defining the length of time it takes to complete said climb. Grade I is a pitch or two near you car, whereas Grade VI is a multi-day climbing adventure for all including the elite typically covering massive amounts of terrain and elevation.



‘Aiding’ out of the ‘roof’ on Glass Menagerie ‘(C2)’ in North Carolina.





“It’s a wonderful feeling to push even a tiny piece of the planet down beneath one’s feet. If it’s overhanging plastic, it’s going to pump your arms like bloated sausages; if it’s a steep snow-slope at 27000 feet it’s going to deaden the legs and make the lungs like overworked bellows. Either way, the challenges are obvious.” – Adrian Burgess

  • Route: the path of a particular climb, often defined by a sequence of moves
  • Crag: a small cliff or area with climbing routes
  • Pitch: nowadays mostly closely defined as the portion of a climb between two belay points. Yet history considered it a rope length or 50-60meters
  • Topo: is a description of the route featuring a drawing and/or writing illustrating the natural features of set climb
  • Choss: loose or rotten rock. As in ‘watch out for that hot choss coming at ya’.
  • Arete: a small ridge feature along a steep face on the outside corner of rock
  • Crack: ranging anywhere from finger to > body size and requiring intense technique called jams by wedging your fingers, hands, feet, arms or body into feature.
  • Dihedral: an inside corner of rock with more than a 90-degree angle between the faces, often featuring a crack
  • Roof: a horizontal overhang or bulge that can be surpassed using holds, crack(s), etc.
  • Slab: low angle climbing that requires high precision and balance

“In climbing you are always faced with new problems in which you must perform using intuitive movements, and then later analyze them to figure out why they work, and then learn from them.” – Wolfgang Gullich

  • Crimp: a hold only big enough to be grasped by the tips of your fingers
  • Smear: to use the friction of the sole of your climbing shoe against the wall and advance your position. Used in the absence of foot holds.
  • Jam: an aesthetic style that forces you to wedge your finger, hands, feet, arms or body into cracks. Most notable techniques include the hand jam, finger lock, toe cam or the technique of no technique – laybacking.
  • Dyno: a dynamic or gymnastic lunge to grab a hold that would otherwise be out of reach. Typically both feet will leave the rock face and return again once hold is caught
  • Flag: technique where one leg is held in a position to maintain balance rather than support weight.
  • Drop-Knee: placing your toe on a hold and torquing your knee down and in, allowing you to extend your reach further in that direction
  • Mantle: a move used to surmount a shelf or ledge, most of the time causing you to turn your hand backwards and ‘press out’ similar to a gym ‘dip’



Casey ‘laybacking’ an offwidth ‘crack’ in Boulder Canyon for practice.





“Tomorrow ? Probably back on the ground involved in other struggles more dangerous than loose flakes, more demanding than commitment to a desert wall. Dealing with man can be less than beautiful. Climbing is beautiful.” – Bill Forrest

  • Dynamic Rope: a slightly elastic rope that softens falls to an extent
  • Static Rope: a non-elastic rope, used a lot for hauling heavy loads
  • Bolt: pre-placed hardware drilled into the rock that a hanger is attached to, consisting of a hole for a carabiner or ring
  • Quickdraw: double ended carabiners with braided webbing linking both, used to clip bolt and free running rope
  • Camming Unit: or Cam is a spring loaded device used for protection. Placed into cracks or constrictions, in the event you fall, the piece has nowhere to expand – therefore holding you to the rock
  • Nut: or Stopper a small piece of metal protection, sometimes made out of aluminum alloy, steel or brass that is placed and trapped in small wedges or constrictions, holding you into the rock.

Camming Units


Laying my rack of ‘cams’ out after a good cleaning.





“What one leads on-sight, in good, strong style, safely, is what one’s ability is.” – Pat Ament (AMEN!)

  • Beta: advice, tips and information on how to successfully complete or protect a climbing route or boulder problem
  • Clean: to complete a climb without falling or resting on the rope
  • Whipper: a lead fall from above the last protection point or clip, falling in an arc, downwards
  • Take: called out by a climber to request belayer to pull in slack and sit on the rope
  • Onsight: a clean ascent with no prior beta or practice
  • Flash: a clean ascent with beta but no practice on set climb
  • Redpoint: to complete a clean ascent after practicing on a lead climb with previous unsuccessful attempts, falls and/or takes
  • First Ascent: or FA is the first successful completion of a route (aid or free climbing)
  • First Free Ascent: or FFA is the first successful completion of a route without aid

Joseph Hobby 2/3/15

Brave Explorations. Soulful Discoveries.



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