If you’re new to climbing, you might find that seasoned climbers seem to speak a language all of their own. They do… kind of. In the U.S, Canada, and other Commonwealth countries, climbing speak is actually derived from English and contains many words also found in its parent language. Despite this, many neophytes are baffled by some of its terminology, and I’m regularly asked to explain the difference between words like ‘deadpoint’ and ‘dyno’. Luckily, you now have this article – a handy reference for all things climbing.
Styles of climbing
Climbing routes that are protected with bolts. Often referred to simply as Sport. Also the most popular type of climbing.
Traditional climbing. This involves climbing routes which are protected with pieces of removable gear (see active pro and passive pro) placed by the leading climber.
Climbing short, challenging walls or boulders without a rope. When attempting these ‘problems’, climbers are protected by boulder pads placed on the ground.
High bouldering. Climbing higher than normal bouldering height and into broken ankle territory.
Climbing without gear (other than shoes and chalk bag). Always risky.
Deep water soloing. That’s climbing above deep water with no gear.
A type of climbing in which you use only your hands and feet to ascend a rock face. All the styles of climbing listed above are types of free climbing.
A type of climbing in which you pull on the gear to ascend a route – as opposed to using it just for safety and descending as with free climbing.
Climbing low commitment routes at an area that’s a short walk from the car (usually under an hour). A relaxed climbing outing.
Styles of ascent
Any kind of lead ascent in free climbing where the climber does not fall or rely on the gear.
The most difficult form of ascent. To climb a route clean (bottom to top without relying on the gear) on the first attempt with no prior knowledge of that route.
To climb a route clean on the first attempt but with prior knowledge of the route. Boulders that can be inspected from the ground before the first attempt can only be flashed and not onsighted.
To climb a route clean after having spent some time on it rehearsing the moves. To claim a send as a true redpoint, the climber has to hang the draws while climbing.
Similar to a redpoint in that the route is climbed clean only after previous attempts, only now the draws are already hanging on the route when the climber starts. Easier than a red point.
To climb a route, usually a dangerous trad line, on lead after rehearsing the moves and gear placements beforehand on top-rope.
To climb a route by starting at the bottom and working your way up. The climber might take some falls, but eventually climbs the route clean. The alternative is to pre-inspect the route while rappelling or top-roping.
First ascent (FA)
The first person to climb a route claims the FA and gets to name and grade it. Amongst driven and adventurous climbers, FAs are much sought after.
To send a route with power and style
To take the sharp end is to lead a route. That means starting a climb with the rope on the ground and clipping it into gear as you go.
To climb a rope with the rope running through gear at the top anchors. Usually a safe way to climb as falls are limited and soft
To climb a route after the leader, who then belays from above. It is common to follow on trad routes and multi-pitch sport routes. The following climber is also called the second.
Types of holds & rock features
A pocket that takes only a single finger. Usually only found on hard routes.
A hole in the rock large enough to take two fingers, sometimes three.
A crater-like depression in the rock. These can be juggy, slopey, or crimpy.
A slopey or non-positive hold that has to be held with an open hand
A small edge that has to be held in a crimp – that is with knuckles bent and fingertips angled downwards
A more or less square-cut hold bigger than a crimp but smaller than a rail
A protruding rock feature that you pinch between fingers and thumb to generate purchase
A large in-cut hold that you can get your whole hand in. Also known as a bucket
A horizontal crack that is relatively square-cut and uniform inside
A downward facing hold. This is almost always grabbed palm-up.
The vertical kind. Dictates a whole different climbing technique and is usually only mastered by trad climbers.
A crack wider than your fist. Requires special techniques such as hand and foot stacking and is synonymous with ‘sufferfest’
A crack big enough to climb into
Also known as an open book corner. A corner that is roughly 90 degrees or wider
A large edge of rock protruding from the main wall. This can be rounded and blunt or sharp. Essentially the inverse of a dihedral
A relatively featureless and vertical section of rock. Favoured by sport climbers, who protect them with bolts.
A wall that is less than vertical and has even smaller features. This type of terrain often calls for a technique that involves smearing and precision balance.
A rock that is tightly wedged in a crack
Describes a route with large gaps between gear placements or bolts. Committing
Terrain that feels high and ‘out there’
More difficult than the advertised grade suggests
The hardest part of a route
Pumpy. Strenuous enough to induce lactic overload in the forearms
Requires intricate movement and skill
Loose, dirty, and often dangerous
Bombproof, solid, excellent. Used to describe both rock quality and gear placements
Not dirty or lichenous
Describes a crack that widens outwards. Not positive. Difficult to protect and move off
To force a limb into the rock to get extra purchase (even if it’s marginal). The most commonly used scumming technique is the kneebar.
A type of grip in which the knuckles are flexed in a way that puts your fingertips at a 90 degree angle to a hold. Usually used on small holds with defined edges
A technique that involves camming your hand inside a crack to obtain a purchase
Involves camming two or three fingers into the sides of a thin crack or tapered pocket. Like a hand jam but for smaller features
Using your index finger and thumb to create a ring – with the tip of both finger and thumb touching – around a constriction in a crack
Pulling away from a vertical hold to enable upward movement
Pushing into a vertical hold with the hand turned outwards.
Climbing a vertical crack by opposing repeated and strenuous sidepulls with smeared feet
To gain height by rocking one’s centre of gravity onto a high foothold
A semi dynamic move in which the climber lunges to a hold at the limit of their reach. At least one foot and one hand maintain contact with the rock throughout the move.
A move in which a climber throws herself towards a hold that would otherwise be out of reach. In a dyno, both feet leave the rock.
To climb using only your arms
A move used to get onto a ledge. Similar to how you get out of the pool – by pushing down on your palms
A move used on steep rock. One knee is rotated inwards and downwards to get one hip closer to the wall and extend your reach. Also known as Egyptian
A resting position afforded by scumming a knee under or behind a feature in the rock. A good kneebar will get you a no-hands rest.
Footwork that involves pressing the sole of your shoe (under your toes) into a featureless section of the rock to gain purchase
Using the edge of your shoes to gain purchase on a feature in the rock. This can be instepped (using the inside of your foot) or backstepped (using the outside of your foot).
Use of the heel to grip and pull the body up or sideways (to enable compression). Heel hooks can also afford good rests.
Holding a leg out to improve balance during a move.
A move in which you push your feet into the opposite sides of a chimney or dihedral to obtain purchase. Also known as stemming.
To pull hard on a hold. Doesn't actually necessitate the use of technique.
To clean vegetation off a climb
To redirect the rope from the quickdraws at the top of a route through the top anchors themselves. This allows a climber to remove their quickdraws from the top anchors before lowering off.
To use a stick or special pole to clip the first or even second bolt. Useful if the these lower clips would be sketchy
Hanging on the rope (on lead) to figure out the moves
As a verb, this means to figure out all the moves on a route over a series of sessions before linking them in a send.
To catch a falling climber softly. The belayer achieves this by making a small jump as the rope tightens in a fall.
To ascend a rope using prusik knots. A self-rescue technique
To use a toothed ascending device to go up a fixed rope. Commonly used in big wall climbing, where the seconder sometimes ‘jugs’ or jumars up behind the leader.
Bivouac. To camp temporarily with little or no shelter
To climb down a route. Used when lowering off or rappelling is not an option
To reduce lactic acid levels in your forearms by giving them a gentle shake, thereby encourage blood circulation.
A multi-pitch belay stance with no little or no ledge to stand on.
Protection. Trad gear that attaches to the rock and which you clip the rope through. Protection can be active or passive.
Protection that has moving parts – often springloaded. These include cams, BallNutz, and Big Bros.
Protection that does not have moving parts. These include hexes, nuts and tricams.
A nut or hex
Gear used for connecting the rope to a piece of pro or bolt. These include quickdraws, alpine draws, and runners.
Camming device. A spring loaded type of protection that is used to protect parallel sided cracks. The original cam was the Friend, and some veterans still call cams by this name.
Already in place. This is used to describe gear (often a peg or nut) that is left on a route.
An additional piece of gear used to create redundancy. Most often relied on in trad climbing
A climber’s personal collection of protection. It can also refer to the gear he or she racks up with for a given climb. In this case, the rack might be adapted to a route or area.
An ATC or other model of tubular belay device
A popular auto-braking belay device made by Petzl
Personal anchor system (PAS)
An adjustable lanyard.
A piece of gear like a sling or personal anchor system that is used to connect the climber to the anchors while cleaning, preparing a rappel, or changing over on a multipitch stance.
The CE stamp marks products that have been produced in accordance with the standards of the European Economic Community. These standards dictate the levels of safety and quality that manufacturers have to adhere to.
This international climbing federation established the first safety standards for climbing gear (and are still slightly more stringent than CE standards). Most load-bearing gear (especially ropes and slings) are designed to hold up against the UIAA’s tests.
The walk or hike to the climbing area
Information about a route given to you by another climber. This can also be acquired by watching a climbing work or send a route.
Giving beta when it is not asked for. Also known as spraying
The friction that makes a rope difficult to pull through gear or bolts
A novice climber. Someone who moves like the cartoon character
A climber who spends almost all of his time in the gym. Usually lacks real rock skills
A climber who is belayed from above. Here the leader – now the belayer – essentially has the second on top-rope. Standard practice on multi-pitch climbs
Loose piece of flapping skin torn away from your hand in a hard move.
To have your foot touch the floor during an attempt to send a boulder problem.
To have an arm and leg swing sideways away from the rock. This occurs when you are off balance and usually results in lost purchase and a fall.
A clipping error in which the climber clips their rope through the quickdraws in a Z pattern. Happens when you pull slack up from below the last draw and then clip the next draw.
To have the belayer take slack out of the rope and then put their weight on. To make the rope tight
To be overcome by fear
When lactic acid levels in your forearms results in an energy-sapping burn
A fall. Usually happens when you are pumped or gripped