Climbing Lingo

Each climbing community around the world will have their own slang which refers to various techniques, equipment and moves, but this glossary is a good starting point to get to grips with the lingo at any crag or around the campfire.

Ever been flummoxed by a conversation that sounds like a cross between sexual innuendo and an engineering degree? Each climbing community around the world will have their own slang terms for various techniques, equipment and moves, but this glossary is a good starting point to get to grips (hehe) with the lingo at any crag or around a South African campfire (although if you find yourself in Rocklands during season, you are likely to find Saffas outnumbered by internationals…).

ABSEIL: A descent technique in which a climber uses a friction device to slide down a rope. Also known as a ‘rappel’.

AID CLIMBING: Rock or ice climbing using gear for resting or making progress.

ANCHOR: Two to three points of protection making up one solid point or stance from which one can safely hang/belay/ abseil.

ARÊTE: An acute edge or corner of rock; can be blunt and rounded or sharply defined.

ARMBAR: Arm position formed by pressing a palm against one side of a crack with the elbow against the other. Used in squeeze chimneys and off-width cracks.

BACK CLIPPING: The act of incorrectly clipping a rope into a carabiner by way of having the rope go from the harness and through the carabiner via the back side of the ‘biner, rather than having the rope flow cleanly from the harness and through the front of the carabiner.

BACKSTEP: Using the outside edge of a foot to stand on a hold. Unlike a drop knee, your weight will be directly over the hold.

BELAY: 1. (verb) The technique used to hold a rope in order to arrest a falling climber. / 2 (noun) An anchor to set up a stance.

BELAY/ABSEIL DEVICE: The device through which a bight of rope is passed and clipped to the harness with a locking carabiner. Creates manageable friction in the rope to both hold a fall and an abseil.

BETA: Tips on how to do a particular move or climbing sequence.

BOLD: A route that has little protection, demanding a brave and confident approach.

BOLT: Permanent protection drilled into the rock. A hanger is affixed to the bolt to allow a carabiner to be clipped to it. Most commonly used in sport climbing and for belay and abseil anchors

BOMBER: Protection so unquestionably solid, or a hold so good, that it is ‘bombproof’.

BRAKE HAND: The dominant hand, used to prevent the rope from sliding unchecked through a belay device.

BOULDERING: A gymnastic climbing discipline that is relatively low to the ground, named for the small out door boulders on which it occurs, which does not require ropes, but rather boulder pads ad spotting to protect falls.

CAM: Spring-loaded protection device that, when retracted, can be inserted into parallel-sided cracks. When properly placed in solid rock, a cam will offer easily removable, and bomber, protection.

CARABINER: Aluminium snap link used for many tasks, primarily connecting a rope to an anchor system, and to clipping rope through protection such as quickdraws, nuts or cams. You may hear these referred to as “‘biners”.

CAMPUSING: Climbing or exercising by using hands only, no feet involved; it is a very powerful technique, and should be treated with caution if one is not used to the activity or at a particular level of fitness..

CHALK: Magnesium carbonate powder with drying agent added, applied to the hands to keep them dry and improve grip. Liquid chalk is also available. This combines a 70% alcohol solution with chalk powder to create a fast-drying chalk coating on the hands; it has significantly increased in use and popularity since the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic thanks to its sanitising properties.

CHIMNEY: A crack wide enough for a person to fit inside.

CHOCK: A wedge-shaped piece of protection that slots into the constrictions of a crack.

CLEANING: The act of removing climbing equipment from the rock. In sport climbing, this is done by securing yourself to the anchor with protection and then rethreading the ropes through the chains; this creates a top-rope belay system.

CLIMBER’S END: The rope that comes out of the climber’s side of the belay device and goes to the climber via the top anchor.

CLOVE HITCH: A knot that is extensively used in climbing to secure people or items to anchor points.

CRAG: A large expanse of rock and/or outdoor climbing area.

CRIMPER: A small edge just wide enough for fingertips to ‘crimp’ on.

CRUX: The hardest move or sequence on a climb.

DEAD END: The rope that comes out of the hand side of the belay device and goes to the rest of the unused rope. When belaying this end ALWAYS needs to be held FIRMLY in either one or both hands.

DIHEDRAL: Any open book formation; the opposite of an arête. Also called a ‘recess’ or ‘corner’.

DIRECTIONAL: Protection placed to prevent a following or top-roping climber from swinging on a route that involves a traverse or overhang.

DOUBLE FISHERMAN’S: A knot used for tying two ropes together. Sometimes used to create a loop, such as in a Prusik.

DROP KNEE: Aower body position performed by placing the foot’s outside edge or toe onto a foothold which is off to the side, while rotating the hips so that one knee points downward.

DYNAMIC ROPE: A heavy duty rope used for free climbing because of its elasticity, which helps protect the body and anchors by absorbing the shock generated during a fall.

DYNO: A dynamic move that allows a climber to gain a hold too far to reach statically, releasing all points of contact.

EQUALISED: An anchor that distributes weight to each of its protection points equally.

FIGURE-EIGHT: The knot most commonly used to tie a climber to the end of the rope.

FINGER CRACK: A fissure roughly the width of a person’s fingers, which allows for jamming and locking of the fingertips and knuckles.

FINGERLOCK: Camming fingers into cracks; there are a variety of fingerlocks used for different crack sizes.

FIST CRACK: A crack the size of a fist, generally 7–10cm wide.

FIST JAM: A move which uses the full hand to create a fist which is wedged into the rock, typically on crack climbs, as a form of hand-hold.

FIXED ROPE: A rope tied to an anchor; used for ascending or descending.

FLASH: Similar to an onsight, a flash describes sending a route on the first try with beta and/or after watching someone else climb the route before you.

FREE CLIMBING: A form of rock climbing in which the climber may use climbing equipment such as ropes and other means of climbing protection, but only to protect against injury during falls and not to assist progress, i.e. the climber is exclusively using their body to ascend the rock. Not to be confused with free soloing (see below).

FREE SOLOING: A form of technical ice or rock climbing where the climbers (or free soloists) climb alone without ropes, harnesses or other aids. A very dangerous activity which has proved fatal for many of its veterans.

GASTON: The method for utilising a side-pull using the fingers or hand in a thumb-down position, pushing agains the hold and using the feet to push from the opposite direction.

GIRTH HITCH: A knot used to connect loops or slings to other slings, harnesses, equipment or anchors such as trees. Also known as a ‘lark’s foot’.

HARNESS: A piece of safety equipment constructed of webbing which a climber wears in order to attach to rope/s and/or protective equipment, and carry equipment via gear loops.

HAND CRACK: A crack wide enough to accept an entire hand, but not so wide it requires a fist jam. An ideal width would be around 5cms.

HAND JAM: A technique used to climb hand cracks by slotting/camming and jamming a cupped hand into a crack.

HAND TRAVERSE: To move horizontally across a wall, mainly using the hands to support your weight.

HEEL HOOK: A foot technique where a heel is ‘hooked’ on an edge/foothold and cranked to move without cutting loose; especially useful on overhangs, traverses and arêtes.

HEX: A hexagonally shaped piece of traditional climbing equipment used to protect climbers from falls. They are intended to be wedged into a crack or other opening in the rock, and do not require a hammer to place.

JUG: A large, in-cut hold. Also referred to as a bucket.

KNEEBAR: Locking the lower half of your leg in a gap by pressing with the knee and pushing with the foot against the opposing rock. Great for getting a rest in steep positions.

LAYBACK: The technique of pushing on a face with the feet while pulling with the hands on an opposing edge or crack. Also used to refer to the edge/crack in question.

LEAD CLIMBING: A climbing discipline in which the climber clips the rope to anchor points as they ascend a route or pitch. This does not offer the security of a top-rope system, in which a climber does not fall past a protection point which is below them.

LEADER: The climber who goes up first on a climb, clipping their side of the rope through protection using carabiners or quickdraws.

LOCK OFF: 1 (verb) To hold most of your weight on one bent arm while reaching up with the other. / 2 (verb) To bring the dead end below the device, maximising the amount of friction in the system and causing the device to lock. This needs to happen ASAP if the climber falls.

MULTI-PITCH: A sport and/or trad climbing route which has multiple sections or ‘pitches’. To climb the route, one must make multiple stops at the end of each pitch in a suitable spot known as an anchor or belay station. A pitch is the section of a climb between belay stations is called a pitch.

MANTEL: Moving onto a shelf of rock or ledge by pressing down on it with one or both palms until you are able to stand on the shelf, like getting out of a pool. If a climber struggles to do this with grace and ends up in a horizontal position on the edge, this is referred to as ‘whaling’.

MUNTER HITCH: A friction knot that can function like a belay/abseil device.

NUTS: A collective term for all metal wedges which are used for jamming in constrictions in cracks; often used in trad climbing.

OFF-WIDTH: A crack too wide for fist jams and too narrow to be a chimney.

ONSIGHT: Climbing a route on your first try without falling or resting on gear, with no prior beta or having watched some else climb the route.

OPEN BOOK: See Dihedral.

PITCH: The distance climbed to reach an anchor point or belay stance. Multi-pitch climbs are found on cliffs longer than one rope length. A single-pitch route requires only one rope length.

PITON: Iron spikes (or ‘pegs’) of various sizes and shapes that can be hammered into cracks and clipped for protection. These are rarely used in modern times with the growth of free climbing.

PROTECTION: Equipment placed in the rock to catch a climber’s fall; also simply called ‘pro’.

PRUSIK: A friction knot where a smaller diameter loop of cord (usually 4–6 mm) is wrapped around a rope of thicker width. Often used in mountain rescue and epic ventures to ascend a rope or protect while abseiling.

QUICKDRAW: Two carabiners connected with a short sling or runner made of strong webbing; used to attach the rope to a piece of protection. Also simply called a ‘draw’.

RACK: A selection of gear to be used on a climb. Also, on oft used innuendo in the climbing community (e.g. “Nice rack… hehe.”)

RAIL: A horizontal crack used for a hand hold/s.

REDPOINT: To climb a route (without falling or resting on gear) after a climber has previously rehearsed the moves or attempted to send.

ROOF: An overhang that juts out from the rock face.

RUNNER: A sewn or tied sling of webbing of various lengths, but typically 60 cm or 120 cm in length.

SEND: Climbing a route without falling or resting on gear.

SHAKE OUT: A technique used to relieve the stress or lactic acid buildup in the muscles of the arms by literally shaking the arms around while resting, often while they hang downwards.

SHOCK LOAD: A large force exerted on an anchor point when weight is dropped onto the protection.

SIDEPULL: Method for gripping a vertical edge that entails pulling with the hand and pushing with the feet in an opposing direction.

SLACK: Extra rope in a system. To ‘give slack’ is to pull extra rope through the belay device in order to allow the climber to clip a protection point, set up an anchor point, relieve pressure, or release the climber from the belay.

SLOPER: A hold that must be gripped with an open hand, because of its sloping nature. Effective use depends on friction, balance and body tension.

SMEAR: A friction-dependent foothold where the ball of the foot is pasted over a textured or low-angled surface in order to gain purchase.

SPEED CLIMBING: A climbing discipline in which climber aim to climb a route or pitch as quickly as possible. In modern competition climbing, this involves a standardised route of 10 or 15m which acts as the global speed route. Speed climbing exists in many forms beyond IFSC and Olympic competition climbing..

SPORT CLIMBING: A form of rock climbing that relies on permanent protection in the form of bolts. A rope that is attached to the climber is clipped into the bolt hanger to arrest a fall. Climbers can set up top ropes on outdoor sport climbs by leading climbing and then cleaning the routes.

SPOTTING: The activity of using your arms/hands to protect a climber’s neck/head and ankles in the case of a fall when climbing without a rope; also used to protect a sport climber before they have clipped the first bolt. Spotting involves slowing down and softening the climber’s fall and /or guiding them to a boulder pad, as well as strategically positioning pads to protect against rocks, trees and other natural features.

STACKING: Advanced technique for jamming off-sized cracks. Whereas a jam refers to technique where only one body part can be used, stacking involves using multiple appendages in contorted, stacked positions to fill a crack’s width (e.g. jamming both hands next to one another as a grip).

STATIC ROPE: A rope with very little elasticity; opposite to a dynamic rope. Used for abseiling and fixing, but never leading.

STEM: Technique for climbing opposing corners; holding oneself in place by pushing in opposite directions with the feet and hands, usually in an open book or chimney.

TAKE: The command used to alert a belayer that the rope is about to be weighted. The belayer then ‘takes’ in the rope tightly, eliminating any slack in the system.

TOE HOOK: Wrapping the top of the foot upwards or sideways around a rock feature.

TOP ROPE: A belay system in which the rope is attached to an anchor above the climber, thus preventing the climber from falling past a point of protection. To ‘top rope’ is to climb in this fashion.

TRADITIONAL CLIMBING: A climbing discipline which involves placing protection as you ascend a cliff face and removing this as you go, generally by way of a following climber/s. This allows for the rock face to be undisturbed by bolts and other fixed anchors. Often referred to as ‘trad’ climbing or simply ‘trad’ / ‘tradding’.

TRAVERSE: To move horizontally across a wall.

UNDERCLING: A downward-facing hold that requires a climber to cup the hand underneath and pull upwards on the hold.

WIRE: A nut or wedge on a wire cable; often used as protection on trad climbing.

Z-CLIPPING: The action of clipping the rope to your next bolt from below your last bolt or piece of protection. This is most common on routes with bolts closely spaced and when the climber grabs blindly below their waist for the rope to make the next clip.

If you’re curious about a climbing terms that we may have missed, comment down below and we’ll add it to the list!