The Climbing Glossary
30 Oct 2014
Ever wondered what the difference is between free climbing and free-soloing? How about a redpoint and a deadpoint? Re-bolting vs retro-bolting? And what on earth is a carrot bolt?
Learn the lingo here. If you don’t find what you need or you don’t agree with the definitions, let us know. We’d love to hear from you.
Cord with a diameter of 1-9mm used for anchors, prusiks, slings and other purposes. Climbing accessory cord is usually nylon with a kernmantle construction, but can also be made of dyneema and other fibers.
Aid climbing involves placing, testing, weighting and pulling on traditional gear, slings, bolts and other artificial aids to ascend a cliff face. Aid climbing was traditionally used to scale long cliffs, which have sections which are too steep or technically difficult to free climb. Free climbing involves using your body to climb natural features of the rock, with equipment, ropes and a belay as a back-up in case you fall.
Climbing in an alpine environment or in the mountains, usually on granite or limestone peaks. Alpine climbing is not exclusively on rock, but can also include ice climbing and mixed climbing. It can also refer to a style of mountaineering, which involves being self-sufficient and moving quickly in the mountains with minimal equipment (alpine style).
An off width climbing technique involving turning your body sideways to the crack and placing your entire arm in the crack. Press your palm against one side of the crack and your elbow on the other. Use the opposing force to get a secure jam.
Acronym for air traffic controller, a brand name for a tubular belay device. ATC has since become a generic term for all tubular belay devices.
A device used as a safety back-up. Auto-blocks are commonly used while abseiling or hauling. While abseiling, a friction hitch can be placed above or below the belay device to grip the rope in the event that you let go of the brake end.
Auto-locking belay device
Some belay devices incorporate an automatic camming action to arrest a fall. These include the Petzl GriGri, Faders SUM and Edelrid Eddy. Despite the name, these devices require a sound understanding of how they (and other) belay devices work, and have been responsible for several fatal accidents in the hands of unskilled or inattentive users.
To retreat or back off a climb.
A carabiner which is carried primarily to be left behind if you need to retreat from a climb.
This can happen when your center of gravity moves too far to one side and you can’t find a way to re-establish yourself on the wall. If you are only holding on by one hand with one foothold and they are both on the same side, you can lose your balance and swing out sideways like a door swinging open.
Any climbing-related information. Usually shared amongst climbers, generally covering subjects like the sequence of moves on a climb, but also about where the crux is, how to find a route, how to find a crag.
Protecting a climber from falling to the ground by using ropes and a friction device (belay device). Traditionally belays didn’t require friction devices, instead relying on the friction of the rope around your body, or the resistance of a body wedged between two rocks.
A piece of equipment that is used to create friction in a rope and help the belayer to arrest a climbing fall.
Used increasingly by belayers to reduce neck strain. Prism lenses reflect images from above so that the belayer can maintain an attentive watch on the climber while looking forward, not up.
Big wall climbing/Big walling
Climbing long, adventurous routes on big cliffs, usually over two or more days. Big wall climbing generally involves establishing camps on the cliff using portaledges, haul bags and complex hauling systems.
Adjective used to describe a climber who is daring or a route which requires some daring: the climber/route is bold.
These are stainless steel hangers, which can be placed over carrot bolts to make them usable for climbing. Clip the top carabiner of your quickdraw through the hanger (caution – ensure that you use solid gate carabiners, NOT wire gates. Wire gates can allow the hanger to lift off the carrot bolt, resulting in zero protection for the climber).
Solid: something that you have complete confidence in. Usually refers to a traditional gear placement or a jam that you feel is very reliable.
Climbing gear that is dropped or left behind on a route (often stuck in a crack), then discovered, retrieved and often kept by other climbers. NB: As tempting as it can be to keep booty for yourself, it is considered good practice to try to find the owner of booty before claiming it. Checking around the crag or local campsite and posting information about the gear you have found on online forums are good ways to find the original owners.
A climber who dedicates themselves to the pursuit of booty retrieval. These climbers can often be found with hammers, nut keys and custom-made gear retrieval devices, trawling popular routes after holidays and long weekends for hidden treasure.
A lightweight chair which can be attached to a climbing anchor. Used during extended hanging belays, for example on aid climbs and big walls, to prevent discomfort and pain for the belayer.
Climbing on large boulders or small cliffs. Bouldering is a style of climbing which focuses on the physical, technical aspects of movement on rock. Ropes are not used for protection – instead bouldering pads (shock absorbing mats) and good spotting are used to cushion falls. Boulder problems range from traverses at ground level to highball problems, which can be up to 15m high.
A large, incut hand-hold which you can wrap your fingers over. Also see jug.
Good-natured but pejorative slang for new climber – got the gear but no idea. Generally characterized by crag conduct that is not strictly unsafe but often not recommended. Also see numpty.
A campus board is a training tool used to build dynamic strength, power and finger strength. It is quite a simple setup, comprising a slightly overhanging wall with wooden panels (rungs/holds) spaced evenly up the wall. These panels can be different distances, widths and angles to accommodate climbers at different stages of their training. A campus board is generally used with the feet hanging free, moving explosively from rung to rung.
Commonly found on older climbs in the Blue Mountains, carrot bolts are generally machine bolts with a hexagonal head, which are either bashed or glued into the sandstone and can be found in various states of rust and disrepair, while some are shiny and new. Climbers need to bring removable bolt hangers or bolt brackets to place over the hexagonal head before they can use carrots for climbing.
Magnesium carbonate or a similar compound used on your hands to absorb sweat and increase friction. Many climbers carry a small brush to remove the build up of chalk on climbing holds.
A bulging protuberance of rock with a narrow neck which you can place a sling around as an improvised piece of ‘gear’ to protect a section of a climb.
An off-width climbing technique, which involves jamming your whole arm into a wide crack and pushing off either side with your shoulder, elbow and hand (need image)! Also see arm bar.
A wide cleft in the rock, usually with parallel walls and large enough to fit your body into.
The climbing technique used in chimneys (chimneying), usually involves getting inside the chimney with your back facing one wall and your feet pressing against the other, then inching upwards using your hands, back and feet.
Loose, unreliable and friable rock, likely to break under bodyweight.
A clean ascent of a climb is one which does not involve a fall. If you climb from the bottom to the top without falling, you have climbed the route ‘clean’.
To clean a route is to remove any removable protection, such as quick draws or traditional gear. This is generally done by the last person to climb the route.
Synonym for quickdraw, e.g. climbing to the next clip.
The act of clipping a rope through a quickdraw, e.g. I’m about to clip.
Not recommended. A big mess of ropes, knots and slings.
The core is the internal portion of a climbing rope, which provides tensile strength. It is surrounded by a protective sheath. Climbing rope cores are generally made of nylon.
More commonly used as a verb in general English – ‘she is committing to the task’ – it is often used as an adjective by climbers, describing a climb (or section of a climb) which is a little frightening or involves some risk (real or perceived). For example, ‘it was a committing move’.
A variation on the stick clip, which involves swinging a loop of rope around like a lasso to clip the rope through a quickdraw on the first bolt.
Using fissures, cracks and crevices in the rock as hand and footholds, as well as places to put traditional protection.
A climbing area, usually a relatively small one with lots of single pitch routes within easy distance of one another.
Climbing at a crag.
To pull as hard as possible on a hold.
To climb powerfully.
A hand hold which is a small edge, usually no deeper than your fingertips.
Using this kind of handhold generally involves bearing down on the small edge and bending your knuckles upwards to increase your power. The thumb may also be brought up over the index finger to increase power. Crimping puts a significant amount of pressure on your joints and tendons, and is a common cause of pulley and other finger injuries.
Carabiners are designed to be loaded predominantly in one direction: along the spine. Cross-loading occurs when a rope, sling or device pulls or levers across a weaker axis.
Climbing vernacular for climbing really well or at your best. Someone who crushes can be called a crusher.
The most difficult part/s of a climb
A long sling with a sewn loop at each end and bar tacked segments along its length. Used primarily for aid climbing, but can also be used as a personal anchor system by climbers who understand their limitations for this application.
Moving dynamically to a hold at full stretch, while keeping both feet and one hand on the rock and without jumping.
Climber who has forgone the comforts of civilised society to devote their life the the pursuit of the unadulterated climbing lifestyle. Generally living in the dirt, camping, no job, scraggly hair. If male probably has an unkempt beard.
To repeatedly try and fall off a route, hanging on the rope or off bolts between attempts.
A lead belay technique which takes into account variables such as weight discrepancies between belayer and climber, friction, fall length, ledges and other obstacles in the fall line, rope stretch and other factors.
A dynamic, jumping movement to reach a hold.
Standing on a foothold, strung out with your leg shaking like Elvis. Common causes include fear, terror, exhaustion. Often lowering the heel and extending the calf will relieve Elvis leg. Also see sewing-machine leg.
Climbing using edges, pockets and other features protruding from or cut into a vertical or overhanging cliff face.
Fall factor is one of the key factors that influences the ‘hardness’ of a fall – the force that is transferred onto a climber and their equipment. The fall factor is a useful way of differentiating between falls of the same length, but which have different outcomes due to the amount of rope out between the belayer and the climber.
Fall factors are quite complex and can be influenced by many things, but a good starting point is the basic equation:
The Fall Factor = Distance fallen/ Length of rope out.
A fissure or crack which is the right size to fit your fingers.
A fissure or crack which is the right size to fit your fist.
This refers to the first time a new route is climbed. The first ascentionist generally gives the route a grade and is credited with the first ascent in guide books.
Using your feet as a counterweight for balance, rather than placing them on footholds.
Feeling lethargic or low on energy.
A thin, semi-detached slab of rock.
Preparing the rope for a climb by untangling it, passing it through your hands meter by meter and arranging it in a pile below the route (flaking the rope).
A crack with walls that are narrow towards the back and progressively wider towards the front. Flared cracks are best protected with specialised traditional gear (offset) and call on a range of unique climbing techniques to negotiate them.
Climbing a route on your first attempt without falling, but with some form of beta – either verbal, written or visual.
The sensation of being suddenly pumped as a result of a steep climb or challenging move – usually on a warm up route. A flash pump will often subside quickly.
Short for footholds – usually edges or other protrusions. For footholds in a crack see crack climbing.
A method of attaching one rope to another in a way that is easily adjustable. Prussic knots, klemheists and French prussics are all friction hitches.
The first modern spring loaded camming device, designed by US climber Ray Jardine.
Rock climbing using equipment for protection, but not as a physical aid. Sometimes mistaken for free-soloing.
Rock climbing without any assistance from equipment and without a rope. Also called soloing.
A hold which is gripped side-on with the fingers pushing away from the body and the elbow out. Named after French alpinist Gaston Rebuffat.
Rather engaged or otherwise terrified. A pronounced emotional response to a scenario that may involve being run out, pumped, about to be spat out of a flared crack or otherwise undesirable situation.
A climbing fall where your protection or belay fails and you fall to the ground.
A fissure or crack in the rock which fits your hand when placed in the crack with the thumb oriented up or down in the crack.
A training tool for building finger strength, which consists of a board up to shoulder width apart, with holds of different shapes and sizes carved out of it. The board is hung on a wall or frame high enough that you can hang from the holds. The holds might include crimps, pockets, slopers, jugs and edges. There are many different ways to train on a hang board, and many suggested programs available online. Injury due to overtraining on fingerboards is quite common, so they are generally only recommended for experienced climbers who have already built up a solid base of finger strength. If you are new to climbing and psyched to hang board, choose a board with many large, comfortable holds and follow a beginners’ program to build strength gradually.
A belay stance where the belayer is attached to an anchor on the cliff. There are no ledges to stand on and the cliff falls away steeply.
Using mechanical advantage to assist in pulling climbers or gear up a cliff. Generally used in big-wall and rescue situations.
Using the back of your heel for leverage, balance or movement. Heel hooking involves hooking your heel over an edge and bending your knee to generate power.
High gravity day
A day when it feels like you just keep falling. And it couldn’t be that hangover or bad night’s sleep.
A highball boulder problem is longer than your average boulder problem. It requires mental and physical strength, as a fall from anywhere near the top could mean serious injury or worse.
The technique of placing a body part (feet, hands or other) in a fissure or crack in the cliff and using balance, finesse and torque to create a secure position so you can move upwards.
A large, bucket-like handhold with a lip you can wrap your fingers over. Also see bucket.
Ascending a rope, generally using mechanical ascenders.
A jumar is a brand of mechanical ascender made in Switzerland in the 50s. Over the years jumaring has become a widely accepted term for ascending a rope with mechanical ascenders, often used interchangeably with jugging.
Most climbing ropes have a kernmantle construction, which means that they are made up of an inner core to provide tensile strength, and an outer sheath to provide abrasion resistance and durability.
Jamming a knee into a crack and using oppositional forces to create a secure stance.
A fall while lead climbing.
In a climbing partnership, the leader is the person who climbs first and places quickdraws or traditional gear. They will then generally belay the second from the top or the bottom.
Climbing a route placing protection as you go (traditional gear or quickdraws) and clipping the rope through this protection to minimise the risk of a ground fall. You can learn the fundamentals of single pitch sport lead climbing in the Indoor to Outdoor Conversion Course.
A powerful climbing position where the climber has their elbow bent and arm muscles contracted. When this position is maintained it is called a lock off. Some climbers train their ‘lock-off strength’ by doing exercises such as chin ups and pausing at different points throughout the movement before lowering.
Locking off also refers to securing a rope and preventing it from moving through a belay device while on belay, allowing a belayer to go hands free – for example in a situation where the belayer needs to conduct a rescue. This is usually done by tying a series of knots or hitches in the rope. Lock off techniques used for self-rescue and rescue of others are covered in Self Rescue 1.
A carabiner with a screw gate or other kind of locking mechanism that prevents the rope from unclipping accidentally. Locking carabiners are generally used in anchors and other areas where it’s critical that it remain closed.
Low gravity day
A day when gravity feels at its lowest, you are climbing strong and sending hard. The last known hoax low gravity day was on January 4th, 2015, with NASA and Dave Graham declaring that a rare planetary alignment would result in momentary weightlessness.
A climbing move used to ‘top out’ or move from a vertical surface to a horizontal surface. This may involve pulling on holds, but more often involves reaching up and pushing down on the horizontal surface, getting your feet as high as possible and shifting your centre of gravity up and over.
Milking a rest
Making the most of an opportunity to rest on a climb to increase the chances that you will complete it without falling off.
A mixed climb in the Blue Mountains is one protected by several types of gear including carrot bolts, ring bolts and traditional gear.
Climbing, generally in an alpine setting, which involves rock and ice climbing techniques.
A climb which is longer than one rope length. Multi-pitch climbing involves setting multiple anchors on the cliff as you climb.
Nut Key/Nut Tool
A piece of gear used to help when removing traditional gear if it gets stuck. Most nut keys have a hook on one end and a hole or carabiner at the other, for attachment to the harness. It is a good idea to attach your nut key to the carabiner via a lanyard or accessory cord, or keep it attached to the rope as you work, to reduce the chance of dropping it.
Good-natured but pejorative slang for new climber – got the gear but no idea. Generally characterized by crag conduct that is not strictly unsafe but often not recommended. Also see bumbly.
Successfully completing a climb on the first attempt, while placing gear, without falling, without any beta and without having seen anyone climb it before.
A fissure or crack which is too wide to fit your fingers, hands or fists, but too narrow to fit your entire body. Requires creative techniques of stacking, chicken winging, wedging and wiggling. And groveling.
A section of cliff which is steeper than vertical but not horizontal like a roof.
Acronym for Personal Anchor System: an adjustable attachment point from the climber to the anchor. PAS’ include slings, chain reactors, and daisy chains, which help to make rethreading routes, abseiling and establishing anchors more efficient.
Traditional climbing gear offers protection without a camming action, for example wires or tricams and hexes (in some configurations).
A climbing hold with two edges which it is possible to pinch, as well as the technique for holding this hold.
A rope-length, or the space between the start of the climb and the anchor.
Passive climbing protection, generally used for mountaineering and hammered in to the rock. The odd rusty piton can be found and clipped (with a grain of salt) on traditional routes across Australia.
A compact and portable ledge that can be assembled on the cliff and attached to an anchor on the wall. Once assembled it provides a comfortable, flat surface for cooking, relaxing and sleeping on the wall.
Abbreviation for protection, usually traditional protection.
This is the process of trying to climb an extremely challenging route without falling. This can occur at any level of climbing, as long as a clean ascent of the route is out of reach for you. It begins with an attempt involving falling and flailing, followed by a strategic approach to unlocking sequences, maximizing efficiency and finding rests on the route. Climbers will often project routes for weeks, months or years, making hundreds of attempts before sending. Also called working a route.
A prussic is a length of cord or sling used to create a friction hitch around the rope (called a prussic knot). This hitch can be used to ascend the rope or act as a back-up safety while abseiling, among other things.
Experiencing the disabling and somewhat painful sensation of lactic acid build-up in the forearms, calves, or any other part of the body. This can become so intense that it is impossible to hold onto even the largest holds on a climb.
Can also mean excited.
A route will be described as pumpy if it’s steep or overhanging and has a tendency to make anyone who isn’t an endurance machine pumped.
Lighthearted, somewhat derogatory term for an inexperienced climber.
Used to attach your rope to a bolt or other protection in the wall while leading. Made up of two carabiners joined by a sling, one carabiner is clipped through the bolt or traditional gear. The climber’s rope is clipped through the other end. Can be shortened to draw.
Replacing existing bolts with new bolts of the same style.
Changing the nature of a climb with bolts. This can include replacing existing bolts with new bolts of a different style (eg. carrot bolts>ring bolts), adding new bolts to an existing climb, or adding bolts to a climb which was first climbed using only traditional protection. Retro-bolting is generally frowned upon, unless done in consultation with the first ascentionist and local climbing community.
To complete a climb without falling and while placing gear, but not on your first attempt.
A stainless steel bolt which has a closed loop at one end. Many sport climbs in the Blue Mountains have ringbolts, but it’s always worth checking, because carrot bolts require bolt hangers. When the shaft of the bolt is glued into the rock, the loop protrudes. Climbers clip their quickdraws through the loop of the bolt and there is no need for bolt hangers or any other gear.
A method of weight transfer which involves putting weight on one’s toe and bringing your center of gravity over that toe.
A horizontal section of climbing.
A small section of horiztontal roof (usually less than one bodylength).
Friction caused by a rope passing through quickdraws and over rock, made worse by points of protection that are in a zig zag, rather than a straight line. Rope drag can be so severe that a climber can barely climb on due to the friction. Rope drag can be minimised by strategic use of quickdraws of different lengths.
Nylon, vinyl, canvas or other protective material used to create a buffer between the rope and sharp or rough edges, preventing abrasion.
A climb which has well-spaced bolts or limited opportunities to place traditional protection might be described as run out. Run out climbs generally have the potential for larger falls.
A climb which is much harder than the grade suggests.
A time-honoured climbing tradition, and one that polarizes climbers. Encouraging climbers to attempt a climb which is either more difficult, terrifying or downright awkward than the grade or guidebook suggests.
In a climbing partnership, the second is the person who follows or seconds the leader up the route. While seconding, they will often be responsible for cleaning the route.
To successfully complete a climb without falling. Used particularly after working or projecting a route.
A series of hand and foot holds which require complex or tricky technical movements and body positions to negotiate.
A tricky climb, which contains many sequences.
Sewing machine leg
Climbing term for shaky legs while climbing. Also see Elvis-leg.
Often done at a stance while resting, shaking the hands can relieve the lactic acid build-up that causes climbers to pump out, improving your chances of sending.
The outer layer of a climbing rope, which provides abrasion resistance and durability, protecting the core.
A vertical-edged hold which is gripped with the fingers pulling sideways towards the body.
A climb which is one rope length or less and has an anchor at the top.
Sub-optimal or in some way dodgy. Can be used to describe a potentially unreliable piece of traditional gear, loose rock or entire climbs!
This verb describes a climber who is feeling (or looking) like they might panic or fall. Sewing machine leg, placing sketchy gear and calling ‘watch me!!’ are generally good indicators of a climber who’s sketching.
A cliff which is less than vertical. Slab climbing relies heavily on friction, balance, technique and excellent footwork.
A section of rope which is not tight or taut.
A climbing call to ask the belayer to feed some rope out through their belay device.
A length of webbing – usually nylon or dyneema – which is either sewn or tied into a loop. Used primarily for building anchors, making quickdraws and personal anchor systems.
The results of a belay technique which increases the distance fallen and reduces the impact on the equipment, rope and climber. Particularly important when the climber is lighter than the belayer, or while trad climbing.
Sport climbing is a style of rock climbing where the emphasis is on physical strength, stamina and efficiency. Routes are generally 15-30m long, although they can be much longer. Sport climbers clip quickdraws into bolts fixed to the cliff to protect themselves as they ascend a route.
Actively protecting your climber by positioning yourself to break or re-direct their fall onto a crash pad.
A relatively restful and well-balanced position found between climbing moves. Before placing traditional protection or clipping a quickdraw, you generally want to find a comfortable stance with good handholds.
A controlled movement which is not dynamic.
A climbing technique used in cracks and corner systems, using friction and weight opposition to press with your hands and step upwards with hands and feet on opposite sides of the crack. Somewhat like climbing up a door frame.
Clipping the first bolt of a sport climb using a long stick to protect the first moves. Also see cowboy clip.
A natural hole in the rock which you can place a sling through as an improvised piece of ‘gear’ to protect a section of a climb
The technical term for awkward, uncomfortable wiggling, squeezing, jamming and generally groveling to attain vertical gains on a climb. Generally occurs in off width cracks.
Reaching the top of a climb and, rather than clipping an anchor at the top of the route and lowering off, you climb onto the top of the cliff, ridge or summit.
Rock climbing with a rope that goes from the climber to an anchor at the top of the climb and straight back to the belayer. This is what you find in most Australian climbing gyms and is a great introduction to the sport of climbing
Short for topographic map, a climbing topo is an image that includes a photograph or visual depiction of a climbing area or cliff with climbing routes marked on it. A topo might also include information about climb grades, pitch lengths and other useful tips for climbers.
Traditional climbing (trad climbing)
A style of climbing which involves the use of removable protection (see traditional gear), to climb routes. Traditional routes generally follow natural lines of weakness in the rock, such as cracks and flakes.
Removable protection including camming devices, pitons, wires/nuts/chocks, hexes, tricams and big bros.
Unlock a sequence
The process of experimenting and discovering the most efficient technique for negotiating a section of a climb.
A woodie (or home woodie) is an art form, a way of life and a labour of love: a bouldering wall built in the home, garage or shed. Woodies can be small – just a single wall – or quite elaborate with features and many walls of different or adjustable gradients. Problems are set using holds similar to those you find in the gym or sometimes handmade holds fashioned from rock and wood. Often the social heart of a climber’s home, the woodie is a place to train without leaving the comfort of your home.
Working a route
A large lead fall.
This dictionary is a work in progress. Can’t find what you’re looking for? Think you have a climbing word which should be here? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org