Appendix:Glossary of climbing and mountaineering

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This page is a glossary of the jargon related to climbing and mountaineering.

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Contents: 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


ablation zone 
The area of a glacier where yearly melting meets or exceeds the annual snow fall.
The process by which a climber may descend a fixed rope. Also known as rappel.
A thin blade mounted perpendicular to the handle on an ice axe that can be used for chopping footholds.
alpine start 
To make an efficient start on a long climb by packing all your gear the previous evening and starting early in the morning, usually well before sunrise.
altitude sickness 
A medical condition that is often observed at high altitudes. Also known as Acute mountain sickness, or AMS.
An arrangement of one or (usually) more pieces of gear set up to support the weight of a belay or toprope
The path or route to the start of a technical climb. Although this is generally a walk or, at most, a scramble it is occasionally as hazardous as the climb itself.
An outside corner of rock. Also a method of indoor climbing, in which one is able to use such a corner as a hold. See also dihedral.
A device for ascending on a rope. One type of mechanical ascender is the jumar.
A proprietary type of belay device. (A subtle play on fact that ATC also stands for Air traffic controller.)


A grading system for bouldering problems, invented by John Gill. Now largely superseded by the "V" grading system.
A hazardous mistake that can be made while lead climbing. The belay rope is clipped into a quickdraw in the wrong direction causing an increase in friction on the rope and an increase in the likelihood of the rope becoming unclipped during a fall.
To retreat from a climb.
Swinging out from the wall like a door on a hinge.
To protect a climber from falling using a rope, friction, and an anchor.
belay device 
A mechanical device used to create friction when belaying by putting bends in the rope. Many types of belay device exist, including ATC, grigri, Reverso, Sticht plate, eight, and tuber. Some belay devices may also be used as descenders. A Munter hitch can sometimes be used instead of a belay device.
belay slave 
Someone that volunteers for, or is tricked into, repeated belaying duties without partaking in any of the actual climbing.
Bergschrund (or schrund)
A crevasse that forms on the upper portion of a glacier where the moving section pulls away from the headwall. Also called a 'shrund.
Advice and/or instructions on how to successfully complete a particular climbing route.
beta flash 
Ascent of a climb on the first attempt with some knowledge beta of that climb, with no falls or hangdogging. Also see on-sight.
See carabiner.
bivy (or bivvy)
A camp, or the act of camping, from "bivouac." On a big wall, camp can be made on a natural ledge or an artificial one, generally a cotlike device called a portaledge that hangs from anchors on the wall.
A lightweight garment or sack offering full-body protection from wind and rain.
A large knob of rock or ice used as a belay anchor.
A point of protection permanently installed in a hole drilled into the rock, to which a metal hanger is attached, having a hole for a biner or ring.
bolt chopping 
The deliberate and destructive(and sometimes justified) removal of one or more bolts.
bomb-proof anchor 
A totally secure anchor. Also known as a bomber. Anchors are often misclassified as such.
The practise of climbing on large boulders. Typically this is close to the ground, so protection takes the form of crash pads and spotting instead of belay ropes.
To quickly move up a hand or a foot a small distance from one useful hold to another.
A large handhold.
The art of climbing on buildings, which is often illegal.
A prominent feature that juts out from a rock or mountain.


A distinctive pile of stones placed to designate a summit or mark a trail above treeline.
A spring-loaded device used as protection. See Spring loaded camming device.
campus board 
Training equipment used to build finger strength and strong arm lock-offs.
Metal rings with spring-loaded gates, used as connectors. Also known as crab or biner.
A compound used to improve grip by absorbing sweat. It is actually gymnastics chalk, usually magnesium carbonate. Its use is controversial in some areas.
xhalk bag 
A hand-sized holder for a climber's chalk that is usually carried on a chalkbelt for easy access during a climb.
A rock cleft with vertical sides mostly parallel, large enough to fit the climber's body into. To climb such a structure, the climber often uses his head, back and feet to apply opposite pressure on the vertical walls.
The process of using such a technique.
A mechanical device, or a wedge, used as anchors in cracks.
A naturally occurring stone wedged in a crack.
Loose or "rotten" rock.
See Grade.
Use of front points of crampons, ice axe pick and ice hammer pick to climb a slope.
To remove equipment from a route.
A route that is free of loose vegetation and rocks.
To complete a climb without falling or resting on the rope. Also see redpoint.
In aid climbing, abbreviated "C", a route that does not require the use of a hammer or any invasive addition of protection (such as pitons or copperheads) into the rock (see protection).
cleaning tool 
A device for removing jammed equipment, especially nuts, from a route. Also known as a nut key.
climbing area 
A region that is plentiful with climbing routes.
climbing command 
A short phrase used for communication between a climber and a belayer.
climbing gym 
Specialized indoor climbing centres. See gym climbing.
climbing shoe 
Footwear designed specifically for climbing. Usually well fitting, with a rubber sole.
[climbing technique 
Particular techniques, or moves, commonly applied in climbing.
climbing wall 
Artificial rock, typically in a climbing gym.
clipping in 
The process of attaching to belay lines or anchors for protection.
A small pass or "saddle" between two peaks. Excellent for navigation as when standing on one it's always down in two, opposite, directions and up in the two directions in between those.
A steep gully or gorge frequently filled with snow or ice.
An overhanging edge of snow on a ridge.
Crack climbing 
To ascend on a rock face by wedging body parts into cracks, i.e. not face climbing. See jamming and chimney.
A small area with climbing routes, often just a small cliff face or a few boulders.
Metal framework with spikes attached to boots to increase safety on snow and ice.
Using crampons to ascend or descend on ice, preferably with maximum number of points of the crampon into the ice for weight distribution.
Accidentally piercing something with a crampon spike.
To pull on a hold as hard as possible.
crash pad 
A thick mat used to soften landings or to cover hazardous objects in the event of a fall. See: bouldering mat
Hitting the ground at the end of a fall instead of being caught by the rope.
A small but positive hold, with very little surface area. See also Nub.
The process of holding onto a crimp.
The most difficult portion of a climb.
Where a climber's feet swing away from the rock on overhanging terrain, leaving the climber hanging only by their hands.


daisy chain 
A special purpose type of sling with multiple sewn, or tied, loops. It is significantly weaker than a normal sling.
dead hang 
To hang limp, such that weight is held by ligament tension rather than muscles.
deadman anchor 
An object buried into snow to serve as an anchor for an attached rope. One common type of such an anchor is the snow fluke.
A dynamic climbing technique in which the hold is grabbed at the apex of upward motion. This technique places minimal strain on both the hold and the arms.
The ground.
To hit the ground, usually the outcome of a fall.
A device for controlled descent on a rope. Many belay devices may be used as descenders, including ATCs, eights, or even carabiners.
To have complete understanding of a particular climbing move or route.
A drug used to inhibit the onset of altitude sickness. Otherwise known as Acetazolamide.
A dihedral.
An inside corner of rock, with more than a 90-degree angle between the faces. See also arête.
direct aid 
A type of tension climbing consisting of using one or more belay ropes to haul the leader up to the next point of protection.
To descend by climbing downward, typically after completing a climb.
dry tooling 
Using tools for ice climbing like crampons and ice axes on rock.
A method of rappelling, without mechanical tools, where the uphill rope is straddled by the climber then looped around a hip, across the chest, over the opposite (weak) shoulder, and held with the downhill (strong) hand to adjust the shoulder friction and thus the descending speed.
dynamic belay 
Technique of stopping a long fall using smooth braking to reduce stress on the protection points and avoid unnecessary trauma from an abrupt stop.
dynamic rope 
A slightly elastic rope that softens falls to some extent. Also tend to be damaged less severely by heavy loads. Compare with static rope.
dynamic motion 
Any move in which body momentum is used to progress. As opposed to static technique where three-point suspension and slow, controlled movement is the rule.
A dynamic move to grab a hold that would otherwise be out of reach. Generally both feet will leave the rock face and return again once the target hold is caught. Non-climbers would call it a jump or a leap.


A thin ledge on the rock.
Using the edge of the climbing shoe on a foothold.
A climbing technique used to reduce tension in arms while holding a side grip.
A mountain that tops 8,000 metres.
A term from bouldering describing a move or series of moves in which either certain holds are placed 'off bounds' or other artificial restrictions are imposed.
Empty space below a climber, usually referring to a great distance above the deck through which the climber could fall.


face climbing 
To ascend a vertical rock face using finger holds, edges and smears, i.e. not crack climbing.
Undesirable downward motion. Hopefully stopped by a rope, otherwise see mountain rescue.
figure four 
Advanced climbing technique where the climber hooks a leg over the opposite arm, and then pushes down with this leg to achieve a greater vertical reach. Requires strength and a solid handhold.
finger board 
Training equipment used to build finger strength.
first ascent 
The first successful completion of a route.
fist jam 
A type of jam using the hand. See climbing technique.
fixed rope 
A rope which has a fixed attachment point. Commonly used for abseiling or aid climbing.
Climbing technique where a leg is held in a position to maintain balance, rather than to support weight. Often useful to prevent barn-dooring.
A thin slab of rock detached from the main face.
An injury consisting of a piece of loose (flapping) skin. A climber will usually just repair these with sticky tape or super glue.
To successfully and cleanly complete a climbing route on the first attempt.
What the second does.
Mountain that tops 14,000 feet in the contiguous United States.
free climbing 
Climbing without unnatural aids, other than used for protection.
Climbing technique relying on the friction between the sloped rock and the sole of the shoe to support the climber's weight, as opposed using holds or edges, cracks, etc.
A name brand of a type of spring loaded camming device (SLCD), sometimes used to refer to any type of spring loaded camming device.

A usually insecure fin or flake of rock or ice.


A type of climbing grip. Best described as a handhold that is only good from the side, but you must hold it with your elbows pointing out.
A pinnacle or isolated rock tower frequently encountered along a ridge.
Geneva rappel 
A modified dulfersitz rappel using the hip and downhill arm for friction, rather than the chest and shoulder, offering less complexity, but less friction and less control.
glacier travel 
walking or climbing on a glacier; a rope is usually used to arrest falls into crevasses, but protection is not used.
A usually voluntary act of sliding down a steep slope of snow.
Trail mix for periodic nibbling to keep high energy level between meals on long climbs or hikes. An acronym for 'Good Ol' Raisins & Peanuts'
Intended as an objective measure of the technical difficultly of a particular grade climb or bouldering problem. More often is highly subjective, however.
A surveying term for referring to the slope of an incline. (Grade (geography))
A belay device designed to be easy to use and safer for beginners because it is self-locking under load. Invented and manufactured by Petzl. Many experienced climbers advocate the use of an atc type device for beginners
Scared. Also over gripping the rock.
To climb with obviously poor style or technique.
A climbing route judged to be without redeeming virtue.
An inexperienced (or unsafe) climber.
Gym climbing 
Climbing indoors, on artificial climbing walls. This is typically for training but many people consider this a worthwhile activity in its own right.


HACE (acronym)
high altitude cerebral edema - a severe, and often fatal, form of altitude sickness.
hand traverse 
Traversing without any definitive footholds, i.e. smearing or heelhooking.
While lead climbing or on top rope, to hang on the rope or a piece of protection for a rest.
hanging belay 
Belaying at a point such that the belayer is suspended.
HAPE (acronym)
High Altitude pulmonary edema - a serious form of altitude sickness.
See climbing harness. A sewn nylon webbing device worn around the waist and thighs that is designed to allow a person to safely hang suspended in the air.
haul bag 
A large and often unwieldy bag into which supplies and climbing equipment may be thrown.
The region of a cliff or rock face that steepens dramatically.
Also known as a brain bucket or skid lid. It can save your life, but only while worn.
A protective device. It is an eccentric hexagonal nut attached to a wire loop. The nut is inserted into a crack and it holds through counter-pressure. Often just termed hex.
A place to temporarily cling, grip, jam, press, or stand in the process of climbing.
To be in peak mental and physical fitness for climbing.
Climbing equipment used in aid climbing.
A climbing technique.


ice axe 
A handy tool for safety and balance, having a pick/adze head and a spike at the opposite end of a shaft.
ice hammer 
A lightweight ice axe with a hammer/pick head on a short handle and no spike.
ice screw 
A screw used to protect a climb over steep ice or for setting up a crevasse rescue system. The strongest and most reliable is the modern tubular ice screw which ranges in length from 18 to 23 cm.
ice piton 
Long, wide, serrated piton once used for weak protection on ice.
indoor climbing 
See gym climbing.


Wedging a body part into a crack.
jug hold 
A large, easily held hold. Also known simply as a jug.
  1. A type of mechanical ascender.
  2. To ascend a rope using a mechanical ascender.


Klemheist knot 
An alternative to the Prusik knot, useful when the climber is short of cord but has plenty of webbing.
Climbers rely on many different knots for anchoring oneself to a mountain, joining two ropes together, slings for climbing up the rope, etc.


lead climbing 
A form of climbing in which the climber places anchors and attaches the belay rope as they climb.
leader fall 
A fall while lead climbing. A fall from above the climbers last piece of protection. The falling leader will fall at least twice the distance back to her last piece, plus slack and rope stretch.
Or layback. A climbing move that involves pulling on the hands while pushing on the feet.
locking carabiner 
A carabiner with a locking gate, to prevent accidental release of the rope.


A climbing move used to surmount a ledge or feature in the rock in the absence of any useful holds directly above. It involves pushing down on a ledge or feature instead of pulling down. In ice climbing, a mantle is done by moving the hands from the shaft to the top of the ice tool and pushing down on the head of the tool.
The external covering of a climbing rope. Climbing ropes use kernmantle construction consisting of a kern (or core) for strength and an external sheath called the mantle.
To use one hold for two limbs, or to swap limbs on a particular hold.
A crevasse that forms where the glacier pulls away from a rock formation.
Mountain rescue 
A friendly team of people that may come and rescue you after an injury or accident. May also search for overdue climbers, at no small peril and expense. Also see coroner and rescue doctrine of negligence law.
Application of a specific climbing technique to progress on a climb.
multi-pitch climbing 
Climbing on routes that are too long for a single belay rope.
Munter hitch 
A simple hitch that is often used for belaying without a mechanical belay device. Otherwise known as an Italian hitch or a Friction hitch.


Permanent granular ice formed by repeated freeze-thaw cycles.
no-hand rest 
An entirely leg-supported resting position during climbing that does not require hands on the rock.
A little hold that only a few fingers can grip, or the tips of the toes.
A mountain or rock that protrudes through an ice field.
A metal wedge attached to a wire loop that is inserted into cracks for protection. See hexcentric.
nut key 
See cleaning tool


objective danger 
Danger in a climbing situation which comes from hazards inherent in the location of the climb, not depending on the climber's skill level. Most often these involve falling rock or ice, or avalanches.
A crack that is too wide for effective hand or foot jams, but is not as large as a chimney.
on-sight climbing 
A clean ascent, with no prior practice or beta.
open book 
An inside angle in the rock. See also dihedral.
A section of rock or ice that is angled beyond vertical. See roof.


peak bagging 
To systematically attain designated summits under prescribed conditions.
To fall.
Swinging on taut rope to reach the next hold in a pendulum traverse.
Long, tubular rods driven into snow to provide a quick anchor.
To complete a lead climb without falling or resting on the rope (hangdogging), but with pre-placed protection and carabiners. Also see clean and redpoint.
pinch hold 
This is a hold where you must pinch it to hold on. They come in various sizes.
In the strictest climbing definition, a pitch is considered one rope length (50-60 meters). However, in guide books and route descriptions, a pitch is the portion of a climb between two belay points.
A flat or angled metal blade of steel which incorporates a clipping hole for a carabiner or a ring in its body. A piton is typically used in "aid-climbing" and an appropriate size and shape is hammered into a thin crack in the rock and preferably removed by the last team member.
pton catcher 
clip-on string fastened to piton when inserting or removing, so as to avoid loss.
plunge step 
An aggressive step pattern for descending on hard or steep angle snow.
Of a hold or part of a hold, having a surface facing upwards, or away from the direction it is pulled, facilitating use.
pressure breathing 
Forcefully exhaling to facilitate O2/CO2 exchange at altitude. Also called the "Whittaker wheeze".
Process of setting equipment or anchors for safety.
equipment or anchors used for arresting falls. Commonly known as Pro.
A knot used for ascending a rope. It is named after Dr Karl Prusik, the Austrian mountaineer who developed this knot in 1931.
To use a Prusik knot for ascending a rope.
To have such an accumulation of lactic acid in the flexor digitalis (forearm), that forming even a basic grip becomes impossible. Often easy activities such as holding a joint become difficult or impossible.


Used to attach a freely running rope to anchors or chocks. Sometimes called "quickies" or just "draws."


The set of equipment carried up a climb; also, the part of a harness (consisting of several plastic loops) where equipment is hung, ready to be used.
The process by which a climber may descend on a fixed rope using a friction device. Also known as Abseil or roping down..
The replacement of bolts on an existing climb.
To complete a lead climb without falling or resting on the rope (hangdogging). Also see clean and pinkpoint.
rest step 
Energy-saving technique where unweighted (uphill) leg is rested between each forward step, sometimes by "locking" knee of rear leg.
The addition of bolts to an existing climb.
Horizontal overhang.
An basic item of climbing equipment.
The path of a particular climb, or a predefined set of moves.
Another term for sling.
An inordinate span between two points of protection.
A long portion of a route with minimal protection.
RURP (acronym)
stands for Realized Ultimate Reality Piton. Miniature, postage-stamp sized piton originally designed by Yvon Chouinard.


A high pass between two peaks, larger than a col.
A climb which receives a much lower grade than deserved. A traditionally protected climb can, if undergraded, be very dangerous, and the term sandbag is often said with a note of respectful dread.
Non-technical climbing.
  1. A long and loud fall.
  2. A nylon webbing structure consisting of one large loop sewn up in multiple places to make a shorter length. In the event of a fall the sewn sections part, absorbing some of the fall energy and decelerating the climber.
Small, loose, broken rocks, often at the base of a cliff.
A climber who follows the lead, or first, climber.
The act of planting the pick of your ice axe into the snow to arrest a fall in the event of a slip. Also a method of stopping in a controlled glissade.
Cleanly completing a route. ie on-sight, flash, redpoint. Sometimes even on tr.
A large ice tower.
sewing machine leg 
The involuntary vibration of one or both legs resulting from fatigue or panic. Also known as "Elvis Presley Syndrome", or "Disco knee".
sharp end 
The end of the belay rope that is attached to the lead climber.
side grip 
A (usually vertical) hold that needs to be gripped with a sideways pull. Often just simply called a "side pull."
Head sherpa mountain guide.
sit start 
Starting a climb from a position in which the climber is sitting on the floor. This is common in climbing gyms in order to fit an extra move into the climb.
A relatively low-angle (singinficantly less than vertical) section of rock, usually with few large features. Requires slab climbing techniques.
slab climbing 
A particular type of rock climbing, and its associated techniques, involved in climbing rock that is less than vertical. The emphasis is on balance, footwork, and making use of very small features or rough spots on the rock for friction.
Portion of rope that is not taught, preferably minimized during belay.
(acronym) Abbreviation for spring loaded camming device, a type of protection device. These are better known by the term cam.
Webbing sewn, or tied, into a loop.
A sloping hold with very little positive surface. A sloper is comparable to palming a basketball.
To use friction on the sole of the climbing shoe, in the absence of any useful footholds.
A type of tubular ice screw that is inserted by hammering.
snow fluke 
An angled aluminium plate attached to a metal cable. The fluke is buried into snow, typically used as a deadman anchor.
solo climbing 
Climbing without any protection (free solo) or setting and cleaning ones own protection on an ascent.
sport climbing 
A form of climbing where grace and technical (or gymnastic) ability are considered more important than danger, exhilaration or brute strength. Sport climbing routes tend to be well protected with pre-placed bolt-anchors.
An alternative to belaying commonly used during bouldering. A friend of the climber stands beneath them and prevents awkward falls or falls onto hazards.
Of a style of climbing or specific move, not dynamic.
static rope 
A non-elastic rope. Compare with dynamic rope.
  1. The simultaneous use of two widely spaced footholds.
  2. Climbing using two faces that are at an angle (<180) to each other.
sticht plate 
A belay device consisting of a flat plate with a pair of slots. Named after the inventor Franz Sticht.
stick clip 
A device used in sport climbing to clip the first bolt. This is especially useful if the first bolt is high up, and out of the comfort zone of the climber. A stick clip can be bought, or easily made.
  1. A wedge-shaped nut.
  2. A knot used to prevent the rope running through a piece of equipment.
  1. The summit (or high point) of a mountain or peak.
  2. To reach such a high point.
swami belt 
A kind of proto- climbing harness consisting or a long length of tubular webbing wrapped several times around the climbers body and secured with a water knot. Largely eschewed today in favor of commercial harnesses.
A dynamic form of the lieback described above, rotating off one foot while maintaining a grip with that hand, then grabbing a high handhold at the deadpoint of the swing. This move if frequently reversible, unlike more aerial dynos.


Large rock fragments forming an often unstable slope below scree.
When, after a whipper, or long fall, a climber falls past their belayer, who is generally lifted up off the ground.
technical climbing 
Climbing involving a rope and some means of protection, as opposed to scrambling or glacier travel.
A technique for maintaining balance using a taught rope through a point of protection.
Bad technique or 'body climbing' specifically at Mount Arapiles.
top rope 
To belay from a fixed anchor point above the climb.
To go on to the top of a boulder while bouldering, or the top of a climb while top roping.
A technique that is typically used while cleaning gear from a steep route. A quickdraw is clipped between the climber's harness and the rope that is threaded through the gear. As the climber is lowered by the belayer, they will descend along the line of the gear.
To climb in a horizontal direction.
A feature of a route that allows relatively easy progress in a horizontal direction.
A Tyrolean traverse is crossing a chasm using a rope anchored at both ends.
A pendulum traverse involves swinging from a protection point.
A belay device.
A limestone formation, like a stalactite attached to the wall. e.g. "Mega Tufa Wall", Mallorca


A hold or flake that is upside down.


A technical grading system for bouldering problems, invented by John Sherman.
A thin coating of ice that forms over rocks when rainfall or melting snow freezes on rock. Hard to climb on as crampons have insufficient depth for reliable penetration.


A bamboo stick with a small flag on top used to mark paths over glaciers and snow fields.
Hollow and flat nylon strip, mainly used to make runners and slings.
As in, "weighting the rope." Any time the rope takes the weight of the climber. This can happen during a minor fall, a whipper (long fall), or simply by resting while hanging on the belay rope (see also hangdogging.)
A lead fall from above and to the side of the last clip, whipping oneself downwards and in an arc. Has come to be the term for any fall beyond the last placed or clipped piece of protection.
To have the moves required for completing a climb memorized. See dialled.
A slang term for nuts.
A home made climbing wall. Often specifically a hybrid between a climbing wall and a fingerboard. Specifically called such because of the wooden panels (usually left unpainted) used to attach the climbing holds to.



Yosemite Decimal System 
A numerical system for rating the difficulty of walks, hikes, and climbs in the United States. The rock climbing (5.x) portion of the scale is the most common climb grading system used in the US. The scale runs from 5.0 to 5.15a (as of 2005)


clipping into an anchor with the segment of rope from beneath the previous anchor, resulting in an unsafe configuration of the belay rope.
zipper fall 
A fall in which each piece of protection fails in turn.
A particular configuration of rope, anchors, and pulleys typically used to extricate a climber after falling into a crevasse.