In the articles about rock climbing, professional terms often appear. So we wrote this “climbing terminology” for easy reference.



To descend a rope using a descender or maybe with just the rope round your body (a classic abseil). Potentially lethal; the cause of more deaths than actually climbing upwards. Often abbreviated to AB.


A thin blade mounted perpendicular to the handle on an ice axe that can be used for chopping footholds in snow or ice.

aid climbing

Any 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, any climbing that is done in the mountains, especially mountaineering. May include a mixture of ice climbing and dry-tooling. To climb “alpine style” generally means carrying all of one’s gear in a backpack, even for multi-day climbs.

alpine start

To make an efficient start on a long climb by packing all 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 base of a technical climb. Although this is generally a walk or, at most, a scramble, it is occasionally as hazardous as the climb itself. Special shoes called approach shoes are often preferred over climbing shoes for an approach.


To climb a rope using an aid device.


A device for ascending a rope.

automatic belay

A fast method for setting up a two-point anchor in sport climbing, using the climbing rope to attach to the anchor points.



bachar ladder

A piece of training equipment used to improve campusing and core strength.


Using the outside edge of a foot to stand on a hold.

back and foot

A technique for climbing chimneys where you put your back on one wall and push your feet against the opposite wall.


A dangerous, incorrect method of clipping a quickdraw where the rope runs from the outside of the draw inward instead of the proper inward-to-outward method. A backclipped rope can unclip itself.


To retreat from a climb.

ball nut

A type of aid protection consisting of a nut and a movable ball.


If all points of contact a climber has with the wall are on a straight axis, or close to it, their body may be vulnerable to swinging uncontrollably downward around this axis, 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 often 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 different types of belay device exist, including ATCs, grigris, Reversos, Sticht plates, eights, and tubers. Some belay devices may also be used as a descender. A Munter hitch can sometimes be used instead of a belay device.

belay loop

A sewn loop on the front of your harness that a belay device is clipped to for belaying or rappelling.


Tips on how to do a climbing sequence.


A loop of rope that does not cross over itself.


A point of protection permanently installed in a hole drilled into the rock, to which a metal hanger is attached, with a hole for a carabiner or ring.

bolt chopping

The deliberate and destructive removal of one or more bolts.




A pile of rock, wood or both used to mark a route or route junction.


A spring-loaded device used as protection.


Aluminum snap link used for myriad tasks, the primary one being to connect the rope to the anchor.


Magnesium carbonate powder applied to hands to keep them dry and improve grip.

chalk bag

A hand-sized holder for climbing chalk that is usually carried on a chalkbelt or clipped to a harness for easy access during a climb.


1. A rock cleft with mostly parallel vertical sides, and 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 pressure on the opposing faces of the vertical walls.

2. The process of using such a technique .


A naturally occurring stone wedged in a crack.


To remove protection (cams, pickets, etc.), usually the responsibility of the last climber in a rope team.

clipping in

The process of attaching to belay lines or anchors for protection.


An overhanging edge of snow on a ridge.


A gully, sometimes a potential route. A chute or bowling alley is steep enough for rock or ice fall to be a concern.


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.


A pair of metal frameworks with spikes attached to boots to increase safety on snow and ice.


The most difficult portion of a climb.


A crack in a glacier surface. Crevasses vary in width and depth and are often concealed by surface snow that forms a snow bridge. Concealed crevasses are one hazard on glaciers. The other is falling rock.




Any device (picket, shovel, bag of snow) buried in snow to serve as an anchor.


An inside corner of rock with more than a 90-degree angle between the faces.


To have a complete understanding of a particular climbing move or route.


Protection placed to prevent a following or toproping climber from swinging on a route that involves a traverse or overhang.

down climb

Descending a pitch often requires more skill than climbing up and therefore provides good practice for the climber and, sometimes, the belayer. Because down climbing is statistically safer than rappelling, down climbing is preferred to rappelling when time allows.


The use of tools designed for ice climbing, such as crampons and ice axes, on bare rock, i.e. not on ice.

drop knee.

A 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.


A jump or leap in which both feet leave the rock face and return again once the target hold is caught.




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


A narrow ledge on a rock wall.


Using the edge of a climbing shoe on a foothold. In the absence of footholds, smearing is used.


An otherwise ordinary climb rendered difficult by a dangerous combination of weather, injuries, darkness, lack of preparedness, or other adverse factors.


The distance from the climber to where the climber would likely stop in the event of an unprotected fall.



face climbing

Any climbing that involves ascending a vertical rock face using finger holds, edges, and smears, as opposed to crack climbing.

fall factor

A formula-derived number representing the severity of a fall. Calculate it by dividing the length of a fall by the amount of rope in play.

fall line

The direction a fall will take. The belay position and belay anchors must be in line with the fall line to prevent a pendulum effect. Avoid climbing in the fall line of another climber higher on the pitch, of a cornice or anything else that might come down the mountain. When traversing a glacier, stay lower on the glacier than the collection of rocks that have fallen onto the glacier.

finger crack

A fissure the size of a person’s fingers, from fingertips to knuckles deep.


Camming fingers into cracks. There are a variety of fingerlocks, used for different crack sizes.

fist jam

jam used for fist-sized cracks, accomplished by wedging a fist into the crack.

fixed protection

a permanent piece of gear for anchoring into a wall. usually a bolt or piton.

figure-eight knot

The basic climber’s knot, when retraced, used to attach a climber’s harness to the rope and for many other purposes. Not to be confused with a figure-eight belay and rappel device.

fisherman’s knot

A knot used to make small-diameter rope, like prusik, into slings. For large-diameter ropes, use a figure-eight knot to connect them as a figure-eight knot will better slide over obstacles without becoming caught.

fixed rope / fixed line traverse

A rope anchored to a route by the lead climber and left in place for others who follow, a mechanical ascender or, on a traverse, clipped-in carabiners sliding along the rope can be used both for climbing assistance and for protection.


climbing a route on the first try

free climb

To climb using only one’s hands and feet without artificial aids. A belay rope may be employed. As opposed to aid climb.




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.

girth hitch

A knot made by looping the end of a sling over itself, often used to attach to anchors, to connect multiple slings for a longer sling, and to connect one’s ice ax to the harness.


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

golden retriever

When a climber is cleaning a route and forgets to pull out a piece or unclip the rope and begins to climb above the piece, rendering the top rope ineffective.


Trail mix for periodic nibbling to maintain energy levels between meals on long climbs or hikes. The name comes from “Good Old Raisins and Peanuts.


Having accidentally gone off-route while leading and become lost on a rock face in an area much more difficult than the intended climb. The word arises from the climb “Gronk” in Avon Gorge, which is notorious for this.


A synonym for cup, commonly used in bouldering.

gym climbing

Climbing indoors on artificial climbing walls. This is typically for training, but many climbers consider indoor climbing a worthwhile activity in its own right.



high-altitude cerebral edema (HACE)

A severe and often fatal form of altitude sickness caused by extended periods of physical exertion without sufficient oxygen.

hand crack

A crack wide enough to accept an entire hand, but not so wide it requires a fist jam.

hand jam

Technique used to climb hand cracks by slotting/camming a cupped hand into a crack.

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 the foot by flexing the hamstring. This technique is notable since in most forms of climbing one uses the toes to push.


The upper section of a mountain where the terrain is set off from the terrain below by being more steep.

high ball

A high, dangerous boulder problem.

hueco scale

Also known as the V-scale, invented by John Sherman, a.k.a. “The Verm,” hence “V.” The standard method in America for rating the difficulty of a boulder problem.


A place to temporarily cling, grip, jam, press, or stand in the process of climbing.


1. Equipment used in aid climbing.

2. A climbing technique involving hooking a heel or toe against a hold in order to balance or to provide additional support.



ice hammer

A lightweight ice axe with a hammer and pick head on a short handle and no spike.

ice piton

A long, wide, serrated piton once used for weak protection on ice.

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 10 to 23 centimetres.

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.



To wedge or jam body parts — fingers, a hand, a foot, etc. — into cracks and apply torque to adhere to the rock. Both strenuous and remote from ordinary experience, jamming is difficult to learn and requires real rock to do so as gyms do not replicate cracks well. Once mastered, jamming often becomes the hold of choice by crackmasters.


A particularly small foothold, usually only large enough for the big toe, sometimes relying heavily on friction to support weight.


A shortened term for jug hold, both noun and verb.


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.


Locking the lower half of your leg in a gap by pressing with the knee and pushing with the foot against two opposing rock features.


laybacking also liebacking.

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


(sharp end of the rope, on point): To be the first climber up a pitch and to place protection along the way while being belayed by a partner from below.


Using tendon strength to support weight on a handhold without overly tiring muscles.


mantel also mantle.

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. Abbreviation of mantelshelf.

mixed climbing

Ascending a route involving a combination of snow, rock or ice.


Short for “mono doigt.” A pocket with room for a single finger.


A random accumulation of boulders, rocks, scree and sand carried down the mountain and deposited by a glacier. Crossing a moraine is not especially dangerous but is slow going and is only chosen when alternative routes would take even more time.

multi-pitch climbing

Any climbing done on routes that are too long for a single belay rope, and hence consist of multiple pitches which must be belayed separately.




In a climbing gym, the natural features of the wall texture itself, i.e. those which can be climbed on but are not bolt-on holds.

no-hand rest

An entirely leg-supported resting position during climbing that does not require hands on the rock.

nut also stopper

A metal wedge with a wire loop for insertion into cracks in rock for protection.



off belay

Called out by a climber when requesting that the belayer remove belay equipment from the climbing rope (e.g. when cleaning top protection from a lead route). Replied to with “belay off”.


A crack too wide for fist jams and too narrow to be a chimney.


Climbing a route without falling or resting on gear, and with no prior beta or knowledge of the moves.


A section of rock or ice that is angled beyond vertical.



A steel cable, usually four to six inches long, with a screwlock carabiner on the bolt end and a regular carabiner on the clipping end. These are permanently fixed to bolts, and popular in heavily trafficked crags such as Rifle Mountain Park in Colorado. Permadraws make climbing and lowering convenient and efficient since you don’t have to fiddle with placing or retrieving your own quickdraws.


The portion of a climb between two belay points. A “full pitch” is the same height as the length of one’s rope: 50–60 metres (160–200 ft).


A flat or angled metal blade of steel which incorporates a clipping hole for a carabiner or a ring in its body. Pitons are typically used in aid climbing, where an appropriate size and shape is hammered into a thin crack in the rock and preferably removed by the last team member.


1.The process of setting equipment or anchors for safety.

2.Equipment or anchors used for arresting falls.


A sliding friction knot used to anchor a small diameter rope to a large diameter rope, also, to ascend a rope with prusik slings. The knot bears the last name of the Austrian climber who devised it.




Used to attach a freely running rope to anchors or chocks.


A screw-type oval-shape stainless steel carabiner which is smaller than a normal oval-shape biner, particularly one used for attaching to the chains of the master anchor.



A generic term for the collection of gear you are taking up on a climb. Usually composed of slings, protection, quickdraws, carabiners and other equipment for getting up and back down.


The process by which a climber descends a fixed rope using a friction device.


Free climbing by leading after having practiced the route beforehand (either by hangdogging or top roping). See also clean and pinkpoint.


A thin layer of ice and hard snow over rock. Verglas is a thin layer of ice over rock. Both are hazardous conditions that might end an ascent.


A sewn or tied sling of webbing of various lengths, though typically 24 inches long.

running belay

A similar technique to a fixed-line traverse except the rope moves with the climbers.


The term for being far above your last piece of protection.




A high pass between two peaks, larger than a col.


Easy unprotected climbing.


Small, loose, broken rocks, often at the base of a cliff; also any area or slope covered in such rocks. Scree is distinguished from talus by its smaller size and looser configuration.


To cleanly complete a route, i.e. on-sight, flash, or redpoint. See also ‘scend.


A climber who follows the lead, or first, climber.


The act of planting the pick of an ice axe into the snow to arrest a fall in the event of a slip. Also a method of stopping in a controlled glissade.

shock load

A force exerted on an anchor when weight is suddenly dropped onto it.


Method for gripping a vertical edge that entails pulling with the hand and pushing with the feet.


A hold or part of a hold in which the surface slopes down toward the ground, with very little positive surface.


Loose, powdery snow incapable of holding protection.

sport climbing

Climbing a bolted rock route (sport route), a type of climbing with some of its own terminology.


A rock or snow rib on a mountain, a lateral ridge.Pinkpoint and redpoint refer to the degree the route has been set up.


To bridge the distance between two holds with one’s feet, to push against adjacent or opposing walls with the feet as one might do in a chimney.

stick clip

A specialized pole for placing a quickdraw (usually with the rope pre-clipped) into the first bolt of a sport climb.




An accumulation of rock larger than scree that has fallen to its location. The presence and amount of talus should be considered when crossing a slope or climbing the pitch above it.


Called out by a climber when requesting that the belayer remove all slack.

toe hook

Wrapping the top of the foot up or around a rock feature.

top rope

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


A person who adheres to the principles of traditional climbing: to place and remove the protection used on a climb, to use no device or technique that will scar the rock or mountain.


Moving laterally over a section of rock during a climb.




A technique needed to make slow upwards progress on holdless rock, especially off-width cracks.

undercling also undercut.

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



A technical grading system for bouldering problems, invented by John Sherman.

V-thread also Abalakov thread.

A type of abseiling point used especially in winter and in ice climbing.


A large, hollow, bolted-on bouldering hold.


water knot

A knot used to tie lengths of webbing together or into slings.


Flat nylon tape or tubing used for slings and harnesses.


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


A homemade 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.




A hold appearing to be composed of a different type of rock than the surrounding rock face.


Yosemite/Tahquitz Decimal System

An evolving system to define route difficulty numerically with fine definitions within Class 5. The system bears the names of where it developed in the 1950s.



Clipping into a piece of protection with the segment of rope from beneath the previous piece of protection, resulting in a potentially dangerous tangled configuration of the belay rope. If not corrected, this can result in high drag.

Z-pulley 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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