Rock Climbing Terminology

Rock climbing terminology has grown complex enough over the years to become practically unintellegible to the average English speaker, so we’ve arranged a glossary to help convey basic terms to the uninitiated.

Alpine Climbing: Alpine climbing requires mountaineering skills and typically involves climbing an entire mountain.

Aid Climbing: In aid climbing, the climber relies on placed gear to ascend, as opposed to free climbing, in which the climber ascends by hand and foot, climbing natural features under his or her own power

Anchor: An anchor is a point of attachment that connects the roped safety system to the rock or mountain.

Arete: Derived from the French for “edge” or “ridge,” climbers use this word to refer to an outer corner of rock.

Ascent: An ascent is the route of progression from the bottom to the top of a climb.

Ascender: An ascender is a device attached to a rope for the purpose of climbing a fixed line.

Belay, Belayer: A belay is a roped safety system used in climbing; a belayer is one who manages rope for a climber and is charged with arresting the rope in the event of a fall.

Beta: Beta are useful information regarding a climb. They may hints that suggest a sequence of climbing movements or particular handholds and footholds. They may describe necessary gear. Some climbers want no unsolicited beta in order to avoid tainting an on-site. The term originated in the 1970s among climbers who would videotape climbs on a Betamax format then popular. “Can I get the beta for that climb?”

Bomber: A dependable anchor or piece of gear. “So strong you could drop a bomb on it” and it won’t fail.

Bolt: A fixed, permanent piece of protection that is placed by drilling a hole and inserting hardware that is torqued until tight; typically a bolt hanger is bolted to the rock for clipping carabiners

Bouldering: Rope-less technical climbing on small rocks or boulders close to the ground; bouldering tends to be gymnastic and powerful climbing, can often be on very steep or overhanging surfaces; boulderers often place crash pads below the climb in case of a fall; bouldering also involves topping out the boulder and getting on top, usually involves a mantle

Camming Device: a piece of removable spring loaded protection that climbers use to create an anchor in a crack; cams come in a range of sizes and when loaded create outward pressure on the inside of the crack to remain in place

Carabiner: one of the most basic and invaluable pieces of gear; manufactured metal links of various sizes and shapes with an opening or gate; used for clipping rope to anchors, belaying, rappelling , and making connections of all kinds; gate opening can be locking or non-locking

Chimney: a crack large enough to fit your whole body inside; also used as a verb to describe the climbing movement used in a chimney which involves creating opposing pressure on opposite sides of the crack

Chock: describes something that is wedged into a crack; chocks are pulled into constrictions to create passive anchors, passive meaning no moving parts; can describe a rock or “chockstone” and also various manufactured pieces of gear that utilize downward and outward constrictions in cracks to create points of protection

Crag: a specific rock climbing area or location with lots of climbs

Crash Pad: used for padding a landing area in case a boulderer falls off the boulder or needs to drop off or jump down; large foam mats made for bouldering usually folded in half and carried to bouldering areas

Crimp: a small handhold that only accepts fingertips; used as a verb to describe the sometimes painful technique used for small handholds where the thumb is wrapped over the top of the fingertips

Crux: the most difficult move or sequence of moves on a rock climb

Descent, Descender: a means or path for getting down off of a rock climb or mountain; a descender is a device that is attached to the rope and allows the climber to apply friction to the rope for rappelling

Dihedral: two walls coming together at approximately 90 degrees at an inside corner

Dynamic Rope: rope used for climbing that has some elasticity to limit loads/forces on the climber and the protection/anchors

Dyno: the most dynamic of climbing movements, usually involves springing with ones legs and a lunge or a throw to a hold at the height of one’s reach or beyond. A big dyno sometimes involves an all-points-off jump to distant handhold(s)

Edging: a footwork technique that uses the outside or inside edge of the climbing shoe to stand on small edges or footholds

Exposure, Exposed: refers to the airy feeling from the empty space that surrounds the climber on route; usually this increases with height; when trees or rock closes in around a climb the feeling of exposure is decreased

Fixed Gear: permanent protection on a climb; can describe pitons, chocks, or other permanent protection that is not removable; fixed gear can be intentional or unintentional Fixed Line: a rope that is anchored in place by a hard knot or hitch

Flash: successfully completing a climb on the first try, climber may have prior knowledge or beta

Free Climbing: free climbing involves making upward progress using one’s physical ability and hands and feet on rock; as opposed to aid climbing

Free Soloing: free climbing technical rock climbs with no rope or safety system

Gaston: a handhold that is gripped by exerting outward pressure away from your body, the thumb pointing down and elbow out

Gear: manufactured technical climbing equipment; also used as an inclusive term to describe the protection one places in cracks on a traditional climb Hueco: Spanish for “hole,” a large hole in the rock used as a hand/foothold

Jug: a large handhold that is easy to grip

Lowering: using a friction device to manage rope moving through an anchor to control a climber’s descent

Lead Climbing, Leader: climbing that involves trailing a rope below you as you climb, clipping into intermediate pieces of protection on the ascent that reduce the length of a fall; the belayer pays rope out to the leader through a belay device and in the event of an accidental fall, the belayer applies friction to the rope and arrests the fall; the leader risks a “lead fall” which is a fall from a point above the last piece of protection; a lead fall is at least double the distance he climbs above his last piece of protection

Mantle: a move that involves turning a pull into a push like getting out of a swimming pool without a ladder; bouldering typically involves a mantle to get on top of a boulder Mountaineering: involves climbing a mountain and requires all of the skills needed in a mountain environment including exposure to severe weather; can involve technical movement over rock, snow, and ice

Multi-pitch: a climb that is more than a rope length in height; climbing that involves setting up intermediate belays Nuts: tapered metal chocks attached to looped metal wires that are used as traditional climbing protection and anchors; name comes from early climbers chocking machine nuts in the rock for protection

On-site: often considered the most admirable ascent; completing a lead climb successfully on the very first try without falling and without any prior knowledge or advice (beta) about the climb

Pendulum: swinging sideways on a climb; can be intentional or more often unintentional and undesired

Pinch: a handhold or grip that involves squeezing and using the opposable thum

Pitch: a climb shorter than a single rope length

Piton: a metal spike that is hammered into the rock and used as protection

Pocket: a round hole in the rock used as a handhold; can be small enough for only one finger (mono- pocket) or much larger

Protection: gear that is placed in the rock to reduce the length of a leader fall and/or to create an anchor

Rappel: descending a fixed line using a friction device or descender

Rest: stopping on a route to recover strength; can be a useful ledge or just a good handhold or foothold that allows a climber to regain some depleted strength; the most restful is the “no hands rest” which allows the climber to take hands off the rock entirely

Route: a determined path of least resistance up a rock or mountain

Rock Climb, Rock Climbing: technical climbing up a route that should be climbed with roped belays and protection to catch an accidental fall

Scrambling: usually un-roped climbing on terrain that is not yet steep or difficult enough to be considered technical rock climbing

Send, Scend: short for ascend or ascent

Soloing: climbing alone; can be done with ropes or without

Sloper: a rounded handhold usually oriented for a downward pull that relies only on friction between rock and skin; usually more difficult that handholds with some positive edge or grip

Sidepull: a handhold that feels best pulling from one sideways direction

Smearing: a footwork technique utilizing the bottom rubber of the climbing shoe under the ball of the foot; the goal is to keep the heel low to force more surface contact

Sport Climbing: generally well protected technical rock climbing where the leader relies on clipping established, permanent fixed bolts for protection; climbing that does not require mountaineering skills

Stance: a position used for a belay; also a restful position on a climb

Static Rope: rope with little or no stretch; often used for building anchors; also used for fixed lines and some fixed rappels

Stemming: using the legs to make a bridge between two opposing walls or footholds; helps to keep weight off of the hands

Top-roping: technical climbing where a solid anchor has been established at the top of the climb through which slack is pulled to keep a rope tight against the climber as she makes upward progress; toproping is arguably the safest way to climb because a fall has minimal consequence

Traditional Climbing: a more adventurous style of climbing where the leader relies on placing his own protection or gear in cracks as he climbs; sometimes used synonymously with crack climbing

Traverse: moving laterally on a climb Whipper: a long leader fall

Yosemite Decimal Scale: a scale for rating technical rock climbing in the United States; the YDS breaks fifth class (technical, vertical, roped) climbing into decimal ratings; the scale begins with 5.0 and progresses upward with difficulty: 5.0, 5.1, 5.2, etc.; climbs above 5.9 are further broken down with a letter: …5.9, 5.10a, 5.10b, 5.10c, 5.10d, 5.11a, 5.11b, etc. with each letter representing one full rating harder

Help build our guide to rock climbing terminology.

Have we left out any important terms that the uninitiated climber might need to know? Please contact a member of our editorial staff at West Virginia Explorer to suggest new terms.

Content sponsored by New River Climbing School

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