Climbing Jargon

When I first starting rock climbing, I didn’t know anything about the different terms and what it all meant. I thought an onsight was counted so long as you made it to the anchor and it didn’t matter whether you had to hang dog on the way up.

As part of my rock climbing education, below is one of the climbing dictionaries I used to help me understand what’s what.


A vue French for “onsight”

Abseil British equivalent of rappel. Rappel is a French word meaning “to retrieve,” which you would do to your rope after you slide down it – if you want to use it again.

Abseil German word that means “to rope down.”

Aid climbing climbing in which the climber ascends or rests by making use of the rope or gear to support his/her weight.

Alpine style an approach to climbing peaks in which the ascent is made in one push, usually by traveling as light as possible.

Anchor any tree, block, nut, bolt, friend, camalot or other protection device that holds a climber or team to a wall, slope or cliff with rope, slings and carabiners.

Ascender a piece of gear (e.g. Jumar) that enables a climber to ascend a rope. Attached to the rope, it will grip in one direction (down), slide in the other (up).


Back-clean removing protection from a section of a pitch that has already been climbed for use on the upper section of the pitch.

Back-clip improper method of clipping rope into a carabiner such that the rope could more easily unclip itself.

Barn-dooring when a climber swings out (like a door) as a result of being off-balance; as from a lieback position.

Belay an old sailing term, meaning to secure. The use of a rope to stop a climber’s potential fall.

Bergschrund the uppermost crevasse on a glacier, where the glacier separates and flows away from the snow/ice field that feeds it.

Beta advice on how a route should be climbed-as if the no-longer-marketed Sony Betamax were used to video-tape a climber doing the moves and the video were replayed for learning the moves.

Big wall extremely long, multi-pitch routes which usually cannot be climbed in a single day.

Bight a bend in a rope.

Biner short for “carabiner.”

Bivi to bivouac. To spend the night out, usually with minimal gear.

Bloody tips the condition of having raw and bleeding finger tips from rough holds.

Bomber an anchor system or placement that is very solid and can be trusted 100%.

Bobpoint (slang) a new style of ascent in which an ascent is not actually made. It is merely enough to know that you were capable of doing the route. Technical term for: “I could’ve done it,” “Ran out of time,” “Too hot,” “Holds too greasy,” etc.

Bucket a very large incut hold that you can wrap your fingers over.

Burly powerful or strenuous.

Butterfly or backpack coil quick method of coiling a rope, in two sets of bights of doubled rope, so that it may be easily transported, tied to the back like a pack.


Carabiner an aluminum, steel or titanium snap-link used for holding the rope and connecting it to gear.

Chalk made from magnesium carbonate. Gymnasts, weight lifters and climbers have used chalk to counteract sweaty hands and improve grip.

Cheese Grater the act of taking a large fall, while leading on less than vertical rock, that results in sliding down the rock and usually causes abrasions to the knees and/or hands and elbows. Also, a crack that can shred unprotected hands.

Chock an artificial chockstone wedged into a crack for protection by hand without the use of a hammer.

Classic term that refers to a climbing route which is reknowned, usually locally and nationwide.

Cleaning removing protection while seconding or rappelling.

Coldshut steel rod bent into a loop and usually, but not always, welded shut. Used for bolt hangers.

Cordelette 16-20 foot length of 6-8mm kernmantle cord tied in a loop and used to equalize several belay anchors.

Cornice overhanging lip of snow, formed by wind, on the top of ridges – overhangs in the leeward direction.

Couloir snow or ice filled gully.

Counterbalance technique in which the body is brought into balance by extending one part in the opposite direction of the move the climber is trying to make.

Crater to hit the ground before your rope catches you.

Crevasse deep crack in a glacier.

Crank pulling up hard on a hold.

Crimper small feature or hold which only your finger tips can make contact.

Crux hardest part of a climb or pitch.


Daisy chain — A series of carabiners or loops sewn into a piece of webbing so that there are many places to clip into it.

Deadpoint — The top of a swing or controlled lunge, when upward motion has stopped but downward fall has not yet begun.

Deck — Slang for falling and hitting the ground. As in, “Did you see that guy deck?! Is he ok?!”

Dirt me — “Lower me to the ground; I’m done with the pitch and have put the rope through the anchors at the top.”

Draw — Short for “quickdraw.”

Dyno — a dynamic move or lunge


Edging — Technique in which the climber places his/her feet on narrowly protruding edges.

Elvis — A bad case of the shakes, as in “Look at that guy on the BY doin’ the Elvis!” We’ve also been using it to mean large camming devices, like a #6 Friend or #5 Camalot.

Epic — Slang term for a climbing adventure that was long, arduous or somehow much more than you bargained for.

Equalized — Usually used in reference to anchors set in such a way that the weight of the climbing team and/or the force of a fall is distributed equally among all the pieces that are part of the anchor.

Expedition style — An approach to climbing big peaks in which the ascent is made by shuttling gear and establishing a series of camps that eventually puts the climbers in a position to make a summit bid.


Face climbing — Using the features that protrude from a rock face (rather than cracks in the face) to climb.

Fecofile — probably the most elegant way to talk about a device for disposing of human waste while climbing a big wall (a.k.a. shit-tube, big-wall john, poop-tube).

Finger stack — A method of jamming in which the fingers are stacked on top of each other in a thin crack.

Fixed line — A rope left attached to an anchor so it can be readily used for ascending or descending. Used to avoid releading part of a climb or to enable a relatively quick, safe descent during storm or darkness.

Flag — A move in which a foot is placed off to one side, not necessarily on a hold, in order to prevent barn-dooring.

Flash — redpoint ascent, first try on lead, utilizing prior inspection, information or beta from others.

Follow — After one climber leads a pitch, a second (or third or fourth, ad inf.) will climb it while the leader belays them from above.

Free climbing — Using only natural features to support the climber’s weight during an ascent.

Free-solo — To free-climb without a rope and therefore without needing a partner.

French Angle — The act of counter-balancing a barn-door or swing by holding a leg out behind you. “When you get up to that arete, you gotta pull this heinous french angle.” Some people improperly use the term “flag” for this technical climbing maneuver. See Flag for clarification.

Friends — The original spring-loaded camming device with a trigger to retract the cams.


Gaston — Pulling with both hands in opposite directions and away from each other.

Glacier travel technique — In order to prevent an injurious fall into a crevasse, partners must walk roped together. Prusik knots should already be attached to the rope so that the climbers can prusik out of a crevasse or set up a pulley system to haul the victim out if he/she cannot prusik out.

Glissade — A quick method of descending a snowfield, in which the climber sits, crouches or stands, with an ice axe ready for self-arrest, and slides down the slope. In the sitting or crouching position, the tail of the axe can be used as a rudder to control direction and speed.

God-Save-Me — (Australian) A type of hold, usually large. When a climber is completely gripped and lunges wildly for an unknown hold, only to find that it is so good that they couldn’t possibly fall off it, it is referred to as a “god-save-me.” The term refers to the emotional plea made just as the climber commits to the move.

Goldline Rope — The brand name of a laid (twisted), sheathless nylon rope. It was the most widely used climbing rope in the US in the ’60s.

Grade — The difficulty rating attached to a climb.

Greenpoint — To flash a route on toprope.

Gripped — Scared.


Hangdog — To learn or practice the moves of a pitch while hanging from the rope.

Hanging belay — To belay hanging from bolts or gear placed in cracks, without a substantial ledge on which to stand or sit.

Head Farm — A section of an aid climb that contains numerous fixed copperheads.

Heel Hooking — Placing your heel on a hold while climbing and using it for leverage or balance. You can use this maneuver effectively to rest or pull off of with holds that are above a roof or overhang.

Heinous — An extremely difficult or dangerous.

Hex — Short for Hexentric. A hollow, nut-like, hexagonal-shaped type of protection.

Hippyheads — Grass hummocks that are commonly found on New England rock routes, and in other swampy places.

Hueco — a hole or pocket in the wall/rock.


Icefall — The fractured, tumultuous, unstable part of a glacier, where it flows over a relatively steep drop. Analogous to a river rapid.


Jam — To place a body part in a crack and use it to gain leverage.

Jiggery-Pokery — Shady tactics used to complete a climb, such as stick-clipping or pre-placing gear.

Jingus — An adjective used to descibe marginally placed pro that inspires fear. An old 1/4-inch bolt is a great example.

Jug — A large hold. “To jug” means to jumar.


Knee-bar — Knee-foot counterpressure (with one leg), such as between two stalactites on an overhanging climb, that may allow the climber to let go with both hands and rest.

Knee Clamp — Using the knee instead of the foot to climb. If I witness you doing it, you owe me a beer.


Lead climbing — Style in which the first climber (the leader) places protection as he/she climbs and is belayed from below.

Lithuanian Elbow Clamp — A rest position used just before committing to a strenuous mantel, developed by Jonas Grina at Rotary Park, Horsetooth Reservoir near Fort Colins, Co. The upper arm is placed on the ledge and the hand of that arm is wedged under the chin to establish this wonderful rest position.

Lock Me Off! — The phrase a climber uses to tell the belayer to lock the belay device off before the climber lets go of the rock.


Manky — A piece of protection that is questionable; it may or may not hold a fall.

Mantle — A maneuver in which the climber uses a hold to press up onto straightened arms, then brings his/her feet up to match on the same hold.

Mono pocket — A hole into which only one finger can fit.


Nut — A chock. The first artificial chockstones were threaded hexagonal nuts picked up along railroad tracks on the way to British crags. A sling was put through the hole and a krab (karabiner) attached to the sling.


Off-width — A crack that is too large for fist jams yet too small to accommodate the whole body and be climbed like a chimney.

Onsight — Redpoint ascent of a route, pitch or boulder problem with no beta or prior knowledge of the moves.

Over-the-shoulder — See Sling.


Pinkpoint — Same as a redpoint, but with pre-placed protection or draws.

Pitch — One rope length, from the ground or one belay station to the next belay.

Pin — A piton.

Protection — The gear that a climber attaches the rope to as he/she climbs.

Prusik knot — A loop of cord or webbing is wound around a rope of larger diameter. When the knot is properly tied and weighted, it should not slip; when unweighted, it can slide up or down the rope.


Quickdraw — A short piece of webbing and two carabiners, usually sewn in.


Rack — The collection of gear a lead climber takes up the climb, usually on a gear sling and/or attached to his/her harness.

Rage — A superlative description of a strong, well-executed, powerful or any other good move. As in, “Woah, I thought that guy was gonna biff, but when he got to that super-slopey crux he walked it. Man, he raged.”

Rappel — To self-lower from the top of a climb using a rope.

Redpoint — To lead a climb you have fallen or hung on before, placing protection, without falling or weighting any protection on the way up.

Ring-jam — Also know as a finger-stack or thumb-stack type of jam. Can you say “inch-and-a-quarter?”

Runners — Traditionally, a “running belay,” so called because it extends the belay to each piece of protection (as long as the protection doesn’t fail). American climbers often refer to any sling they carry for protection (or extending protection) as a “runner.”

Runout — Description of a climb or section of a climb in which protection is spread out far enough to make the prospect of a fall long and especially frightening.


Sandbag — A climb that is technically more difficult than someone’s stated numerical rating would imply.

Screamer — A long fall.

Scumming — Common crack-climbing technique of using some body part frictioned against the rock (i.e. hip scumming, butt scumming, etc.). Full-body scumming can be helpful when manteling onto a ledge with no useful holds above.

Scuz — The act of smearing a part of your body, other your hands or feet (shoes), against the rock.

Second — After the leader, the next person to climb a pitch. “To second” means to follow a pitch.

Send — To redpoint a route.

Serac — Building-size blocks of glacial ice, such as those found in an icefall. Seracs can collapse spontaneously and wipe out anything below.

Sewed-Up — A reference to a climb in which the leade has placed protection extremely close together, usually levery 5 feet or less.

Sewing-machine — When a tired climber’s legs begin to shake up and down.

Sketchy — Featureless and therefore difficult and hard-to-protect rock.

Slack — Extra rope.

Slings — A sling of nylon or Spectra/nylon, webbing or cord. Usually carried over one’s shoulder — single, doubled or tripled, depending on the length of the sling.

Sloper — A hold which is sloping, not incut.

Smearing — Technique in which the climber gains purchase on the rock using friction from the sole of the shoe.

Smedge — To simultaneously smear and edge.

Snot — A very, very small hold on an indoor wall.

Spectra — A type of rope or cord that is strong and not elastic.

Splash — To take a bloody ground fall.

Sport climbing — Climbing routes on which pre-placed bolts are used for protection.

Spot — To protect a climber by preparing to prevent their head from hitting the ground if they were to fall.

Stalter — To move one hand quickly from one hold to another via an intermediate.

Static Rope — A kernmantle rope with no elasticity, e.g. a haul line.

Stemming — Technique in which the hands and/or feet are pressured in opposition far out to each side, as in a dihedral or wide chimney.

Stick-clip — Using a device to attach the rope to the first bolt of a climb from the ground. Doing so protects the climber from hitting the ground if they should fall before the first bolt.

Swinging leads — On a multi-pitch route, the pattern of alternating the roles of leader and follower.


Take — To hold the climber tightly with the rope.

Tension — To hold the climber tightly with the rope.

Testpiece — A climb that is representative of the hardest, best climbs in an area.

Thank God Ledge — A ledge found few and far between on an otherwise blank big wall. Thank God refers to the appreciation of the lead climber who reaches the ledge in desperation.

Toe Hooking — The same type of maneuver as a heel hook, only executed with the toe.

Toprope — Any situation in which the belay is above the climber.

Traditional climbing — Climbing routes on which removable gear is placed for protection by the leader as he/she ascends. The second removes the gear.

Trucker — An excellent pro placement. This piece is so bomber that you could drop a truck on it, and it still wouldn’t pull.

Turf Shot — An ice tool placement in which the pick is placed in grass or moss. This maneuver is common in New England and is often very secure.



Vapor lock — Climber or climbers (typically beginners) who forget to use their brains while climbing, and who freeze in place. This is much like an automobile with the same problem.


Walk — Climbing a route with such ease and finesse that you make it look quite easy. “After I came screaming off that route, a passing local sandbagged me and walked it.”

Webbing — Flat profile nylon.

Whipper — A long lead fall in which the leader is jerked about on the end of the rope.

Wigged — The feeling of an extreme adrenaline rush that follows a tough ascent or long fall. “After the crux, I was wigged.”

Winger — A long lead fall. See screamer.

Wired — Knowing a route so well that you can, without much thought or effort, complete it perfectly.



Y.D.S. — Yosemite Decimal System for rating climb difficulty (ranging from 5.0 to 5.14).


Z-Clip — Clipping the highest point of protection with a section of rope pulled up from below the last piece you clipped. This a dangerous practice, and should be avoided.

Zipper — A series of protection placements that pop out in sequence when the leader falls.

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