Climbing Dictionary

Climbing is confusing enough without having to learn a whole new language. Hopefully this dictionary will prove useful in translating some of the words and terms that you will hear or read.

This isn't by anyway an exhaustive list, so if you have a definition that you feel should be included, contact us and we'll add it to the list.

A - B - C - D - E - F - G - H - I - J - K - L - M - N - O - P - Q - R - S - T - U - V - W - X - Y - Z


Abseil To descend a rope by sliding down it using a descender. Can also be done by wrapping the rope around your body to form a classic abseil. One of the most dangerous aspects of climbing!
Adze The flat cutting end of the head of an ice axe
Aid Climbing The method of climbing up the rock using items of protection as holds. The protection could be either fixed or places by the climber
Aid Route A route which can only be climbed using aid climbing techniques
Alcove A belay ledge that is surrounded on all sides by rock. Sometimes known as a sentry box.
Alpine Start Getting up VERY early to start a route. By very early, I mean well before the sun comes up. This technique is employed by Alpine climbers to get the best of the snow and ice conditions and (in some cases) to avoid the queues!
Alpine Butterfly A butterfly knot
AMS Acute Mountain Sickness
Anchor The point where the rope is attached to the rock. This could be via placed or fixed protection.
Arête A narrow ridge running vertically up the rock
Ascenders Devices used to ascend a rope e.g. prusik loop or jumar
ATC Air Traffic Controller belay device made by Black Diamond
Avalanche Movement of snow and ice down the mountain.

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Back & foot A technique for climbing chimneys. You place you back against one wall of the chimney and push your feet out against the other wall.
Barn Door To swing away from the rock when all the holds are to one side of your body. Very common when climbing arête's.
Belay The place where you attach yourself to the rock. This can either be during a pitch where an item of protection becomes a running belay or at the top of a pitch where you use multiple pieces of protection to generatea solid anchor.
Belay, to The act of protecting another climber by preventing the rope slipping during a fall. Usually through the use of a belay device
Belay Device An item of equipment used to control the rope and provide friction while belaying. Examples include the gri-gri and sticht plate
Bent Gate Karabiner A karabiner where the gate is bent to make it easier to clip a rope. Usually found on one end of a quickdraw
Bergschrund The crevasse at the top of a glacier or snowfield where it joins onto the rock or snowfield of the mountain side.
Beta Inside information about a climb e.g. trick moves or protection
Beta Flash To lead a climb with no falls but with the benefit of some information from a previous ascent.
Big Wall A climb that is so long that it may take several days.
Biner Nickname for a karabiner
Bivouac A sleeping place on a route. Could be a large comfortable ledge. Or a cold uncomfortable night hanging from a stance.
Bivi Short for Bivouac
Black Ice Old ice that has been exposed to extremely cold temperatures
Blue Ice Very dense ice with few bubbles and a watery hue
Body Belay To perform a belay by wrapping the rope around the body.
Bold Guidebook speak - usually referring to routes that have little or no protection
Bolt Type or permanent protection common on the continent. Generally only used in the UK on sports routes.
Bomber A solid piece of protection that would hold a falling car!
Bombproof The assumption that an anchor is bomber
Bong An extra wide piton. Rarely seen
Bouldering A increasingly popular element of the sport, where the individual climbs unroped on boulders at the bottom of crags. Usually to a height that is safe to jump off - but not always!
Bouldering Mat A crash mat placed at the bottom of bouldering routes to protect the climbers fall
Bowline A type of knot used by some climbers to tie into their harness. Has similar uses to a figure of eight and is easier to untie after loading. It is however a lot easier to tie incorrectly
Break A horizontal crack in the rock
Bridge To climb a wide chimney or groove by applying equal pressure with feet and hands on opposite sides of the rock feature
Bucket A huge hold that the whole hand can grasp. Also known as a jug.
Buttress A large protruding face or area of rock that stands away from the mountain face.

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Cam Generic term for a spring loaded camming device. Examples include WC Technical Friends or Black Diamond Camalots
Camming Method by which Friends and Hexes grip the rock. As weight is applied then an outward pressure is generated by the device which grips the rock. This is usually generated by rotation of all or part of the Hex or Friend.
Campus Board A wooden training board found at climbing walls to improve finger strength.
Carabineer American spelling for a karabiner
Chalk Used by many climbers to improve the friction between the hands and the rock or wall.
Chest Harness Extension to waist harness to provide a higher tie in point. Useful when wanting to avoid inverting in a fall. An example of this would be glacier travel when wearing a rucksack, where a fall into a crevasse could result in the rucksack turning you upside down. Something which is less than desirable!
Chimney A wide crack which a climber can fit inside. Requires special climbing techniques such as bridging or back and foot.
Chockstone A stone wedged into a crack. Can be any size from a small pebble to a huge boulder in a chimney.
Chute A very steep gully. A very common site for rock fall so beware!
Cirque French for corrie
Classic Abseil An abseil performed without a descender by wrapping the rope around the body to cause friction. Only used as a last resort as can be very uncomfortable!
Clean To climb a traditional route without falling or an aid route without the use of a hammer
To remove protection, loose rock or plant life from a route to make it easier or safer to climb
Cliff A vertical section of rock
Clip The action of attaching the rope to a piece of protection, usually through a quickdraw or karabiner.
Clove Hitch An easily adjustable knot. Useful for attaching the rope to a karabiner
Col A pass high in the mountains
Cord Thin static rope (less than 7mm diameter). Often used to make prusik loops
Corner The opposite to an arête, similar in appearance to the inside of the spine of an open book.
Corrie A dead end valley situated high on the mountain side. Usually has steep sides and attracts and holds snow during the winter
Coulior A steep gully which could contain snow or ice. A very common place for stone fall in the alps.
Crack A split or fissure in the rock. Horizontal versions are commonly referred to as breaks. Wide cracks are otherwise known as chimneys or offwidths
Crag An outcrop of rock on which climbing takes place.
Crampons Pointy footwear attached to boots to allow an individual to walk or climb ice
Crank To pull on a hold as hard as possible
Crest The top of a ridge or arête
Crevasse A crack within a glacier. Can be near or on the surface and as such a danger to climbers. Can range from a few inches to tens of metres deep!
Crimp A very small hold - the kind I avoid!
Crux The harness moves or move on a route. Usually described by the technical grade on a UK traditional climb
Cwm Welsh spelling for corrie

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Daisy Chain A sling with a series of loops that can be used to easily adjust its length. Often used in aid climbing
Deep Water Soloing Climbing a cliff route above the sea without placing protection or the use of the top rope. The deep water beneath the cliff provides the protection with the climber landing in the water if they fall.
Disco Leg The jittery leg that comes about when a climber becomes nervous. Also know as Elvis or Sewing Machine
Descender A device used to provide friction on the rope during an abseil. Examples are a belay plate and figure eight device
Double Fisherman's Knot A knot used to join 2 ropes together. The knot is secured by the opposing forces of the two rope pulling against each other. Also used for tying the two end so of a piece of cord together to form a prusik loop
Double Rope Used as a pair with the rope clipped into alternate pieces of protection. Thinner than a single rope so more prone to damage from sharp edges. Useful in reducing rope drag on UK routes with one rope clipped to left hand items of protection and the other to the right hand ones. Once tried you never go back!
Downclimbing The process of climbing down the rock face. A useful technique when climbing ridge routes and when setting up an abseil isn't necessary. Also used when above protection on a climb and needing to descend back to a place of safety
Dynamic Belay The art of allowing the rope to slip through the belay device during a severe fall. Has the benefit of reducing the impact force on the system but the risk of killing the leader if not done properly.
Dynamic Rope A rope that stretches when loaded as opposed to a static rope which does not.
Dyno A dynamic move towards an out of reach hold

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Edging Climbing using the edge of the foot on small holds
Epic The descriptive name given to a climb that starts well but turns into a hairy adventure. Usually heard time and time again in the pub and are some of the best climbing stories.
Exposed A position where you are suddenly aware of how high you are above the ground. Can be very exhilarating but can sometimes result in disco leg, especially if you are miles from any protection.
Extender Another name for a quickdraw

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Fall What you would expect, to fall from a climb. Not to bad if on a top rope, can be quite worrying if in the lead.
Fall Factor Calculated by dividing the length of the fall by the amount of rope paid out.
Figure Eight Metal device used to provide friction on the rope during an abseil
Figure of Eight Common knot used by climbers to attach the rope to their harness
Fingerlock Strenuous technique where fingers are wedged into a crack to form a hold. Not for the faint hearted!
Fisherman's Knot Simple knot for tying two ropes together. The double fisherman's is recommended.
Fissure An open crack in the rock
Fixed Protection Items such as bolts and rings that are permanently fixed to the rock face to use as protection. Can also included immoveable items of protection such as cams and nuts. Although classed as fixed there is no guarantees and they are used entirely at the climbers own risk
Flag The process of sticking a foot out to one side to provide balance. This is an especially useful technique when trying to stop yourself from barn dooring
Flake A thin slice of rock that is partially detached from the rock face. Care must be taken as it could be loose
Flared A crack or chimney where the two sides are not parallel
Flash To climb a route first time, with out fall. Beta may have been acquired before the ascent.
Flexible Friend A camming device with a flexible stem, allowing it to bend when under load.
Following What a second does when ascending a climb after somebody else has lead it
Free Climbing Climbing only using natural holds for hands and feet. ropes and protection can be placed but must not be used to help the climbers progress
Free Solo As with free climbing but without the use of a rope or protection. Very dangerous as a fall could result in death!
Friend The trademark used to describe camming devices manufactured by Wild Country. Can be sometimes used a generic term to refer to all camming devices

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Gardening The act of cleaning vegetation from a route to aid progress
Gate The section of a karabiner which opens
Gear Another name for items of protection
Glacier A slow moving permanent body of ice found in high mountain areas. A wet glacier is covered by snow and is the most dangerous type with the crevasses hidden. A dry glacier has no snow on it with the ice and crevasses exposed.
Gnarly Used to describe hard or difficult climbs or moves
Grade A value expressing the difficulty of a climb in relation to others. There are numerous grading systems used around the world to describe snow, ice and rock routes. Further information can be found on this on our Grades page.
Gri-gri A belay device made by Petzl which automatically grips the rope when its loaded. Handy when the leader falls but less so when they are after some slack rope for a difficult move
Gripped When a climber moves beyond the disco leg stage and is practically paralysed by fear
Groove A long shallow indentation in the rock face that is not deep enough to be called a crack or defined enough to be referred to as a chimney
Gully A wide but shallow ravine that runs down a mountainside. Can produce some interesting climbs in the winter.

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HACE High Altitude Cerebral Edema. This is when liquid starts to form on the brain as a result of being at high altitude.
Half Rope Same as a double rope.
Hand Jam Similar to a finger lock but in wider crack where the whole hand can be wedged to produce a hold. Needs practice but when mastered can be very useful on gritstone routes
HAPE High Altitude Pulmonary Edema. This is when liquid starts to form in them lungs due to exposure to high altitude. Can quickly lead to HACE if descent is not immediately made to lower altitudes
Harness A combination of a waist loop and two leg loops which are used to securely attach the climber to the rope. Used by all climbers except those soloing.
Headpoint A trad route which is led free but after practice using a top rope. protection could also have been pre placed, especially around the harder moves. This is the trad equivalent of a red point.
Heel Hook The act of hooking your heel over a hold or ledge and using your legs to pull yourself up. Excellent technique for using holds that could not otherwise be reached with your hands. A lot of yoga is recommended before attempting this!
Helmet A solid device worn on the head to protect the climber from hitting their head during a fall or from falling items from above
Hex Shortened version of Hexentrix. A large nut with a hexagonal shape which also has camming properties. Many people prefer to use friends, although a Hex is very effective.
HMS A type of large karabiner. Useful when using an italian/munter hitch. it is named after the German word for a munter hitch belay which is 'Halbmastwurfsicherung'
Hold Anything that can be held onto while on a climb

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Ice Axe Used for climbing, glacier crossing or building anchors on winter climbs
Ice Screw Item of protection used on ice climbs. They come in various styles and lengths and can be screwed into ice and then clipped to.
Italian Hitch A type of note used to provide friction and generally used in conjunction with an HMS krab. Useful for belaying or lowering a second. Also known as a Munter Hitch

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Jamming The action of inserting part or all of your body into a fissure in the rock. Can be as small as a finger lock to offwidth cracks which take whole arms and legs
Jug An extremely large hold which your whole hand will go around. The climbers equivalent of heaven after a series of gnarly moves!
Jugs American term to describe ascenders such as Jumar's
Jumar A type of ascender

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Karabiner An oval shaped metal loop with spring loaded gate. Used to attached the rope to items of protection. They come in numerous forms: HMS, screwgate, snaplink, wire gate.
Kernmantle Rope A modern dynamic climbing rope. The name comes from the components of the rope which are a bundle of continuous nylon fibres making up the core (Kern) surrounded by a protective sheath (Mantle).
kN Abbreviation for kilonewton and seen on climbing gear. Used to define the breaking limit of an item of gear. The higher the better!
Krab Short for karabiner

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Layaway A technique for improving the grip on a hold by leaning away from it
Layback A technique used to climb features such as arête's and cracks using the hands and feet in opposition i.e. the hands pull on the crack using a layaway, while the feet push.
Leader The person first up the climb who places the protection as they go
Lead The act of leading a climb
Ledge A flat area of rock. Can be very narrow or large enough to park a car on. Useful for belays and bivi's
Lock off A technique where you hold onto one hold with a bent arm while reaching for another. Can lead to pumped arms very quickly!
Lowering The act of control the descent of somebody.

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Mantleshelf The technique used to climb onto a ledge. Similar to that used by swimmers getting out the side of a pool
Mixed Climb A climb which is tackled using a variety of techniques. These could be free and aided or rock and snow & ice.
Mountain Rescue The voluntary organisations (in the UK) which come to your assistance when in difficulty.
Multi Pitch Climb A climb that requires one or more intermediate stances/belays before it is completed.
Munter Hitch A type of note used to provide friction and generally used in conjunction with an HMS Krab. Useful for belaying or lowering a second. Also known as an Italian or Friction hitch

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Needle Rock structure with pointy shape. An example in the UK would be Napes Needle in the Lake District
Névé Well consolidated snow that has been formed by repeated freeze thaw cycle. Usually found in areas which have permanent snow fields or which hold the snow for long periods of time.
Nut A small metal wedge which is threaded with a steel wire. These are placed into crags and are the simplest form of protection
Nut Key An essential item to remove nuts that have become jammed in the rock

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Offwidth Refers to a crack that is too wide to hand jam and to narrow to climb as a chimney. Usually involves sticking whatever body part into it that you can (arm or leg or both) and struggling to the top
Onsight Similar to flash climbing a route but without the benefit of any beta. Probably the purest form of climbing.
Over cam When the cams on a friend are compressed to their smallest size. If the cam has been placed this usually results in a trip to the gear shop as its unlikely to come out.
Overhand knot A very simple and solid knot. Can be used to to join two ropes together (two knots and with plenty of tail) in what is referred to as the European Death knot by Americans. Does has the benefit of giving a knot with a flat underside which when pulled, is less likely to get caught on edges during retrievable abseil's than a double fisherman's.
Overhang Any rock or ice face that is more than vertical

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Pass A low point between two mountain summits
Peg Another name for a piton
Pendulum Supported traverse using the rope from above.
Pitch A section of the route between the ground and a belay or two separate belays if on a multi pitch route.
Pinkpoint To climb a bolted route after placing quickdraw's on all the bolts and possibly practicing the more difficult sections.
Piton A piece of metal hammered into a crack to provide protection. These are generally used in cracks that are either to big or small to take a nut and come in a variety of shapes and sizes.
Pinch Grip where pressure is applied to opposing sides of a hold
Placement The section of a rock face into which an item of protection can be placed
Pocket A hole in the rock face that can be used as a hold
Protection Items that are placed during the climb to act as anchors in the case of a fall
Prusik Length of narrow rope or cord that when wrapped around the rope will grip it. Useful to safe guard an abseil or as an asecender.
Pumped The feeling found in overworked muscles when climbing hard or hanging around on marginal holds trying to place protection.

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Quickdraw A sling with a karabiner at each end, which is used to connect the rope to an item of protection

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Rack The climbing gear that is carried during a climb
Ramp An ascending ledge
Rappel American word for abseil
Redpoint Similar to pinkpoint but without the pre placed quickdraw's
Rib Similar to an arête but slightly less well defined
Ridge A high dividing point coming away from a mountain
Rockover Climbing move involving pushing body weight over one raised knee to allow a hold that is out of reach to be accessed. Very complex!
Roof Significantly overhanging part of a climb which could be horizontal
Rope Used to attach climbers to each other an to protection. Are either static or dynamic.
Route The way up a rock face
RP A tiny version of a nut designed to fit the thinnest of cracks
Runner An item of protection through which the rope can run as the leader or second climbs
Runout The distance between the leader and the last runner.

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Saddle A high pass in the mountains. Same as a col
Sandbag A route who's grade hides its difficulty This could be because its undergraded or that it needs a trick move to beat the crux.
Scrambling Easy climbing
Screwgate A karabiner whose gate can be locked with a screw
Second The climber that follows the leader up a climb
Serac A tower of ice on a steep glacier or an ice fall. They are very dangerous and gravity can cause them to fall at anytime. Beware!
Sharp end The leaders end of the rope
Short Roping Technique used when climbers want to move over easy ground together climbing at the same time. Both climbers are tied into opposite ends of the rope with the climbers carrying a proportion of the rope as coils around each of their shoulders.

It can also refer to technique where a leader keeps a second on a short tight rope to to prevent a fall.
Side pull A hold that has to be used from the side
Sit Start The starting of a bouldering problem from a sited position
Slab Flat angled section of rock
Sling A length of tape that is sewn or tied into a loop
Smearing Foot technique where the largest part of the sole of the climbers shoe is pressed against the rock to create friction
Snaplink A karabiner
Soloing The art of climbing without a rope or protection.
Sport Climbing Climbing routes which use bolts
Spot To protect a climber during a fall by catching or deflecting them and reducing the momentum of the fall. This technique is only possible when the climber is close the ground and is therefore only really relevant to bouldering.
Stance A constructed belay while on a route.
Sticht Plate A style of belay device originally designed by Franz Sticht. It consists of a metal place with two holes, through which the rope is passed and clipped through a karabiner.
Stopper Knot A knot which is tied in the tail of rope to stop another knot from slipping and potentially coming apart.
Summit The top of a mountain

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Tarn A small lake found in the Lake District
Tape Knot A rethreaded overhand knot used to attach two ends or separate pieces of tape
Tail The length of rope left after a knot has been tied.
Tat Old rope or tape either left on a route - use with extreme caution! Can also refer to old rope that you take onto a route to form slings for abseil anchors
Thread A hole in the rock which can be used to create runner by threading a sling or nut through. Could also be created by a chockstone.
Thrutch A climbing technique employed in chimneys and offwidths. Basically brute force and determination. Not pretty!
Toe The lowest point at the bottom of a buttress
Topo A drawing or picture found in guidebooks showing the line of routes up a crag.
Top Rope Free climbing a route with the security of a rope from above
Trad Same as traditional
Traditional A climb where the leader places the protection as they go
Traverse A horizontal section of a climb or a climb as a whole

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Undercut See undercling
Undercling A hold that is usually only worth using from above by grasping its underside. Normally requires some form of lieback to use and can be quite difficult.

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Wall A flat vertical section of rock
Warthog A spike that is hammered into frozen turf or poor ice. Popular on mixed winter routes.
Water Ice Ice formed directly by frozen water. May have water running through it and contains very few air bubbles. Very clear and can be brittle
White Ice Made from melted snow and contains lots of air bubbles
Wire Another word for a nut

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Article written by Giles Thurston on May 31, 2008


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