Climbing Glossary




The process by which a climber can 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.

Aid climbing

A style of climbing in which standing on or pulling oneself up via devices attached to fixed or placed protection is used to make upward progress.

Alpine climbing

Generally climbing in the mountains. Probably includes a mixture of ice climbing and dry-tooling. Alpine style generally means carrying all gear in a backpack even for multi day climbs.

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.


An arrangement of one or (usually) more pieces of gear set up to support the weight of a belay or top rope.


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.


A small ridge-like feature or a sharp outward facing corner on a steep rock face

Arm bar

Jamming an arm into a crack and locking it into place.


To climb a rope using aid device.


A device for ascending on a rope.



A potentially hazardous mistake that can be made while lead climbing. The rope is clipped into a quickdraw such that the leader's end runs underneath the quickdraw as opposed to over top of it. If the leader falls, the rope may fold directly over the gate causing it to open and release the rope from the carabiner.


If a climber has only two points of contact using either the right or left side of their body, the other half may swing uncontrollably out from the wall like a door on a hinge.


To protect a roped climber from falling by passing the rope through, or around, any type of friction enhancing belay device. Before belay devices were invented, the rope was simply passed around the belayer's hips to create friction.

Belay device

A mechanical device used to create friction when belaying by putting bends in the rope. Many types of belay devices 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 loop

The strongest point on the harness. This is the loop you use your belay device on. You should not tie anything around the belay loop such as a daisy chain or sling. The belay loop will wear more quickly.

Belay slave

Someone that volunteers for, or is tricked into, repeated belaying duties without partaking in any of the actual climbing.


An unscheduled overnight bivouac often due to an epic.

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 on how to successfully complete (or protect) a particular climbing route, boulder problem, or crux sequence. Some climbers believe that beta 'taints' an ascent.

Big wall

A climb on which most parties will spend more than one day. Big wall style generally refers to hauling the needed gear (food, water, sleeping bags) in a haulbag. Instead of carrying the gear on their person, the climbers put it in the haul bag and raise it in between pitches.


See Carabiner.

Bivy (or bivvy)

From the French "bivouac". A camp, or the act of camping, overnight while still on a climbing route off the ground. May involve nothing more than lying down or sitting on a rock ledge without any sleeping gear. When there is no rock ledge available, such as on a sheer vertical wall, a portaledge that hangs from anchors on the wall can be used.


A lightweight garment or sack offering full-body protection from wind and rain.


A large knob of rock or ice used as an 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 carabiner or ring.

Bomb-proof anchor

A totally secure anchor. Also known as bomber. Bomber can also refer to a particularly solid handhold or foothold (a "Bomber Jug")


Gear left behind at a climbing area.


The practice 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.


The same position as chimneying, but with one leg in front and one behind the body.


A climbing technique wherein a hand or foot is moved to one hold then quickly moved up immediately to a further hold. This is often done over short distances advancing from an inferior hold to a superior one.




A distinctive pile of stones placed to designate a summit or mark a trail, often above the treeline.


A spring-loaded device used as protection.


The act of climbing without using any feet.

Campus board

Training equipment used to build finger strength and strong arm lock-offs.


Metal rings with spring-loaded gates, used as connectors. Usually oval or roughly D shaped. Also known as crab or biner (pronounced kar-uh-bee-ner).


A compound used to improve grip by absorbing sweat. It is actually gymnastics chalk, usually magnesium carbonate. Its use is controversial in some areas.

Chicken head

see bollard, horn.

Chicken Wing

This is a crack climbing technique. A hand is placed on one side of the crack and the shoulder on the other.


  1. 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.

  2. The process of using such a technique (chimneying).


  1. A mechanical device, or a wedge, used as anchors in cracks.

  2. A naturally occurring stone wedged in a crack.


Loose or "rotten" rock.


In bolted climbing, an extendable pole which allows the climber to reach the first bolt from the ground, thus making the route safer and less committing. Ethically controversial.


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 small nut with a head made of soft metal on a loop of wire.


A long loop of accessory cord used to tie into multiple anchor points.


An inside corner of rock, the opposite to an arête (UK). See Dihedral.


An overhanging edge of snow on a ridge.


A steep gully or gorge frequently filled with snow or ice.

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.


To pull on a hold as hard as possible.


  1. A hold which is only just big enough to be grasped with the tips of the fingers.

  2. 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. Also known as "Cutting feet."


Daisy chain

A special purpose type of sling with multiple sewn or tied loops, used in aid and big wall climbing. It is designed to hold a climber's bodyweight, rather than arrest a fall, and while the sling as a whole will have a strength rating comparable to that of a standard sling, the individual loops will typically have much lower ratings.

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. Any object that is buried in order to make an anchor, or what you become if that anchor fails.


  1. The ground.

  2. To hit the ground, usually the outcome of a fall.


A device for controlled descent on a rope. Also called a rappel device. Many belay devices may be used as descenders, including ATCs, figure eights, or even carabiners. See rappel.


An inside corner of rock, with more than a 90-degree angle between the faces. See also corner and arête.


climbers living cheaply and supporting themselves through odd jobs in order to maximize the amount of time climbing.

Double Rope

The use of two separate ropes usually of thinner diameter to climb with to reduce rope drag

Drop Knee

Method for reducing muscle strain in arms when holding a side grip. One knee ends up in a lower position with the body twisted towards the other leg. It can give a longer reach as the body and shoulders twist towards a hold.


Using tools for ice climbing like crampons and ice axes on rock.

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.


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.





First ascensionist

The person who performed the first ascent.

Fist jam

A type of jam using the hand. See climbing technique.


Climbing technique where a leg is held in a position to maintain balance, rather than to support weight. Often useful to prevent barn-dooring. There are three types of flagging:

  1. Normal flag: Where the flagging foot stays on the same side (e.g. flagging with the right foot out to the right side of the body)

  2. Reverse inside flag: Where the flagging foot is crossed in front of the foot that is on a foothold

  3. Reverse outside flag: Where the flagging foot is crossed behind the foot that is on a foothold


  1. A thin slab of rock detached from the main face.

  2. A method of untangling a rope in which the rope is run through the climber's hands and allowed to fall into a pile on the ground. Useful when preparing a rope for coiling, or before starting a lead climb, to ensure the rope is fed cleanly and without twists. Often called "flaking out" a rope.


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 after having received beta of some form. Also refers to an ascent of this type. For ascents on the first attempt without receiving beta see on-sight.

Foot jam

Also known as the heel-to-toe jam. It involves jamming the foot into a larger crack by twisting the foot into place, the contact with the crack being on the heel and toes.

Free climbing

  1. Climbing without unnatural aids, other than used for protection.

  2. Often incorrectly used by non-climbers as a synonym for soloing.

Free solo

Climbing without aid or protection. This typically means climbing without a rope.

French free

Also known as French climbing, or French freeing, it is the use of aid climbing techniques to bypass a section due to climbing difficulty, rock conditions, etc.; typically for only a short section of the total climb.[4]





A climbing grip using one hand with the thumb down and elbow out, often thought of as a reverse side pull. The grip maintains friction against a hold by pressing outward toward the elbow.


A pinnacle or isolated rock tower frequently encountered along a ridge.


A usually voluntary act of sliding down a steep slope of snow.


A belay device designed to be easy to use and safer for beginners because it is assisted-braking 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.





Making progress by inserting the hand (usually vertically with the thumb uppermost) into a crack and then pushing the thumb downwards towards the palm. This expands the hand and can make a highly secure placement. In the UK this move was credited with facilitating the advances in free climbing in the late 1940s and 50s made by climbers such as Joe Brown and Don Whillans although they did not invent it.'


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.

Haul bag / Pig

A large and often unwieldy bag into which supplies and climbing equipment may be thrown.

Heel hook

Using the back of the heel to apply pressure to a hold, for balance or leverage; this technique requires pulling with the heel of a foot by flexing the hamstring. This technique is notable since in most forms of climbing one uses the toes to push.

High Ball

A tall boulder problem. Falling becomes more dangerous due to the increase in height.


Large, pointed protrusion of rock that can be slung. Typically also makes a good handhold. Known in the UK as a "Spike". See bollard, chicken head.

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 tool

A specialized elaboration of the modern ice axe (and often described broadly as an ice axe or technical axe), used in ice climbing, mostly for the more difficult configurations.


Wedging a body part into a crack.


A shortened term for Jug Hold, both noun and verb. 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.





Climbing a vertical edge by side-pulling the edge with both hands and relying on friction or very small holds for the feet.

Lead climbing

A form of climbing in which the climber places anchors and attaches the belay rope as they climb (traditional) or clips the belay rope into preplaced equipment attached to bolts (sport).

Leader Fall

A fall while lead climbing. A fall from above the climber's last piece of protection. The falling leader will fall at least twice the distance back to his or her last piece, plus slack and rope stretch.


Made from sling, used in Aid climbing to ascend the rock



Mantel (abbreviation of mantelshelf)

A 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 oneself up. In ice climbing, manteling 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.


To use one hold for two limbs.


(French monodoigt 'single finger') A climbing hold, typically a pocket or hueco, that only has enough room for one finger.


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 which is usually over 30mt





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 metal wedge attached to a wire loop that is inserted into cracks for protection. See hexcentric.

Nut Key

Tool used to remove protection from rock.





A crack that is too wide for effective hand or foot jams, but is not as large as a chimney, one needs to jam parts of their body into crack to climb.


A clean ascent, with no prior practice or beta. For ascents on the first attempt with receiving beta see flash.

Open book

An inside angle in the rock. See also dihedral.




  1. Swinging on taut rope to reach the next hold in a pendulum traverse.

  2. A swing during a fall when the last piece of protection is far to one side.

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 metres. 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.


A potential new route or bouldering problem that is being attempted, but has not seen a first ascent yet.


  1. Process of setting equipment in cracks in rock for anchors.

  2. Equipment or anchors used for arresting falls. Commonly known as Pro.


  1. A knot used for ascending a rope. It is named after Dr. Karl Prusik, the Austrian mountaineer who developed this knot in 1931.

  2. To use a Prusik knot for ascending a rope.


  1. To have such an accumulation of metabolic waste products in the forearm, that forming even a basic grip becomes impossible. A climber who is pumped will find it difficult to hold on, and may struggle to lift or clip a rope.

  2. (Psychology) A feeling of anticipation and energy before a challenging climb.




Used to attach a freely running rope to anchors or chocks. Sometimes called quickies, draws, or extenders.




The set of equipment / protection  carried up a climb to keep one safe


The process by which a climber may descend on a fixed rope using a friction device. Also known as abseil or roping down.


To complete while placing protection on a lead climb after making previous unsuccessful attempts, done without falling or resting on the rope (hangdogging). Also see clean and Roof

A steep overhang which transitions sharply into shallower climbing often blocking direct sight of the feet causing the climber to find footholds blindly.


A long portion of a route with minimal protection.




A climb which receives a much lower grade than deserved. Also used as a verb when referring to the act of describing a climbing route as easier than it actually is.


A large ice tower.

Sharp end

The end of the belay rope that is attached to the lead climber. Being on the sharp end refers to the act of lead climbing, which is considered more psychologically demanding than top-roping or following, since it may involve more route-finding, as well as the possibility of longer, more consequential falls.

Side pull

A hold that needs to be gripped with a sideways pull towards the body.


A technique where both climbers move simultaneously upward with the leader placing protection which the second removes as they advance. A device known as a Tibloc which allows the rope to only move in a single direction is sometimes used to prevent the second climber from accidentally pulling the lead climber off should the second slip.

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. Noted as SS or SDS in some topo guides.


A relatively low-angle (significantly 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.


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.


Describes a clean crack with perfectly parallel sides, usually in an otherwise blank face. Generalized to refer to any great climb, happy situation, or even favorable weather.

Sport climbing

A style of climbing where form, technical (or gymnastic) ability and strength are more emphasized over exploration, self-reliance and the exhilaration of the inherent dangers involved in the sport. Sport climbing routes tend to be well protected with pre-placed bolt-anchors and lends itself well to competitive climbing.


A method of protection commonly used during bouldering or before the leader has placed a piece of protection. The spotter stands beneath the climber, ready to absorb the energy of a fall and direct him away from any hazards.


Of a style of climbing or specific move, not dynamic. In general this entails movement of a limb to a new hold without the simultaneous transfer of weight. Instead weight transfer occurs after the limb has moved.


  1. The simultaneous use of two widely spaced footholds.

  2. Climbing using two faces that are at an angle less than 180° to each other.

Stick clip

A long stick on the end of which a climber can affix a quickdraw. It allows the climber to clip a quickdraw to the first bolt on a sport climb while still standing on the ground. 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 by attaching a quickdraw to a stick with a rubber band.


  1. A wedge-shaped nut made by Black Diamond.

  2. A knot used to prevent the rope running through a piece of equipment.




Called by a climber when requesting that the belayer remove all slack. See hang dogging.

Toe hook

A toe hook is securing the upper side of the toes on a hold. It helps pull the body inwards—towards the wall. The toe hook is often used on overhanging rock where it helps to keep the body from swinging away from the wall.

Top rope

To belay from a fixed anchor point above the climb. Top-roping requires easy access to the top of the climb, by means of a footpath or scrambling.


To complete a route by ascending over the top of the structure being climbed.

Traditional climbing (Trad Climbing)

A style of climbing that emphasizes the adventure and exploratory nature of climbing. While sport climbers generally will use pre-placed protection ("bolts"), traditional (or "trad") climbers will place their own protection as they climb, generally carried with them on a rack.



A hold which is gripped with the palm of the hand facing upwards




A thin coating of ice that forms over rocks when rainfall or melting snow freezes on rock. Hard to climb on as there is insufficient depth for crampons to have reliable penetration. See also clear ice and glaze ice.




Hollow and flat nylon strip, mainly used to make slings.


A lead fall from above and to the side of the last clip, whipping oneself downwards and in an arc. Has come to denote any fall beyond the last placed or clipped piece of protection.


See nuts.


X (Protection Rating)

A rating from the Yosemite Decimal System given to climbs that have very poor or no protection. These climbs often present risk of serious injury or death if a fall were to occur, even if the climb is properly protected.







Clipping into an anchor with the segment of rope from beneath the previous piece of protection, resulting in a potentially dangerous tangled configuration of the belay rope.

Zipper fall

A fall in which each piece of protection fails in turn. In some cases when the rope comes taut during a fall, the protection can fail from the bottom up, especially if the first piece was not placed to account for outward and/or upward force.


Also Z-system. A particular configuration of rope, anchors, and pulleys typically used to extricate a climber after falling into a crevasse.

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