Climbing Dictionary

Rob Pizem on the first Ascent of "Walking on Water" 5.13a. This route is uniquely placed in Zion National Parks Narrows, one of the last frontieres for FA's in the park. Photo: Keith Ladzinski

Anchor: The two bolts, usually equipped with chains or fixed lowering gear, at the top of a route. The anchor is where the climb ends, and the goal in sport climbing is to reach the anchor without falling.

Arete: This rock feature is an edge pointing out from the wall and defined by the joining of two planes of rock. An arete can be blunt, round, or sharp.

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

Belay: The technique used by a belayer to hold a rope in order to arrest a falling climber.

Belay device: The device a belayer uses to hold the rope. There are two basic types of belay devices: passive/standard and auto-locking. An auto-locking belay device is best for sport climbing.

Beta: Any information about how to do a specific climb.

Bolt: Permanent protection drilled into the rock. Bolts are outfitted with hangers that make it possible to clip a quickdraw to it. Modern sport climbs use bolts for protection.

Brake hand: The dominant hand, used to prevent the rope from sliding unchecked through a belay device. Never take your brake hand off the rope.

Carabiner (also biner): The aluminum snap link used for clipping. Carabiners come in a variety of designs such as the wire gate, closed gate, bent gate, D-shaped, oval-shaped, pear-shaped and locking.

Cleaning an anchor (also “threading the chains”): The technique of untying at an anchor to thread the rope through the fixed metal links.

Cleaning a route: The technique used to take one’s quickdraws off a climb. After reach the anchor, the belayer lowers the climber down while he retrieves his quicdraws.

Chalk: Magnesium-carbonate dust applied to hands to keep them dry and improve grip.

Choss: Rock of inferior quality. Be careful of climbing in chossy areas: rocks could break, injuring you or your belayer.

Crag: A wall with a collection of routes.

Crimper: Small edge just wide enough for fingertips to hang onto it. One “crimps” on a crimper. You can grab a crimper in one of three positions: full crimp, half crimp and open crimp.

Crux:  The most difficult section of a climb.

Dihedral (also “corner” or “open book”): The vertical line that two planes of rock intersect. A dihedral is the opposite of an arete.

Drop knee: The technique of placing you foot onto a foothold, and rotating your knee so that it points downward.

Dynamic rope: A rope that stretches in a fall. Dynamic ropes, as opposed to static ropes, are used for free climbing.

Dyno:  A “dynamic” move where a climber jumps and “sticks” a distant hold.

(Re-traced) Figure-8: A knot used to attach a climber to the end of the rope. A figure-8 is tied to a harness.

Figure-8 on a bight: A figure-8 tied in the middle of the rope. Various applications in sport climbing, usually when cleaning a route.

Flash: Sending a route on your first try with beta.

Flash pump: The feeling of swollen, aching forearms that happens on the first route of the day. Avoiding the flash pump involves warming up slower, on easier routes.

Free climbing: Using your hands and feet to climb up a rock face.

Free soloing: Free climbing a route without the safety of a rope.

Gaston: Best described as a side-pull that faces the wrong way, this is an edge/crimper that is held with the hand in a thumb-down position, making the elbow pointing up/out to the side.

Gripped: Being terrified to the point that you don’t want to let go.

Hangdogging: A style of climbing where one hangs on bolts in order to figure out the moves.

Harness: Made of webbing, a climber wears a harness around his body to attach themselves to the rope.

Heel hook: Foot technique where a heel is placed on an edge/foothold and used by pulling down with the hamstring.

Hueco: A large hole in the rock.

Jug: A large hold. Also referred to as “buckets.”

Kneebar: 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.

Layback: Technique of pushing on a face with the feet while pulling with the hands on an opposing edge or crack.

Leading (also “the sharp end”):  Climbing up a route and clipping the rope to the bolts using quickdraws for protection.

Mantel: Moving onto a shelf of rock by pressing down on it with one or both palms until you are able to stand on the “mantel.” Like getting out of a pool.

Mono: A one-finger pocket.

Move: A single “move” is placing a hand or foot onto the next rock hold.

Onsight: The style of climbing a route without on your first try without any beta.

Pitch: A pitch is a section of rock that has a definitive start and a definitive end at an anchor. In sport climbing, you will mostly be doing “single-pitch” routes, which are usually about half of a rope’s length long. Multi-pitch routes go up cliffs that are longer than one rope length. On a multi-pitch climb, the climber leads up the first pitch and then clips into the anchor; he then belays the second climber up. As the “second” climbs the pitch (on toprope), he cleans the quickdraws. Upon reaching the anchor, it now becomes his turn to lead the second pitch. And so on. The team continues to ascend the cliff like this. Multi-pitch climbing requires more advanced techniques that are beyond the scope of this book. Seek proper instruction before tying in to a multi-pitch climb.

Pinch: A handhold that one squeezes between the fingers and thumb.

Pocket: A small hole in the wall that one grabs with the fingers. Pockets come in two-finger and three-finger sizes. A one-finger pocket is called a mono.

Project: The route that you are currently trying to redpoint.

Protection (also pro): In trad climbing, the protection is removable gear such as cams and nuts that are placed in the rock to catch a climber’s fall. With sport climbing, the protection is the pre-placed bolts.

Pumped: A build-up of lactic acid in the forearms from the fatigue of free climbing.

Quickdraw (also draw): Two carabiners connected with a nylon or Spectra sling, or “runner.” A quickdraw has a definitive top and bottom carabiner. The top carabiner clips to the bolt hanger, while you clip the rope to the bottom carabiner.


Rappel: Descent technique where a climber uses a belay device to slide down a rope.

Redpoint: Climbing a route without falling or resting on gear after previously rehearsing the moves.

Redpoint crux: The section of difficult moves near the top of a route that gives one difficulty on the redpoint attempt.

Roof: An overhanging feature that juts out 90 degrees from the vertical rock face. A roof could be small, or tremendous in size.

Route: A route is a rock climb. All routes have a name and a grade.

Run-out: When the distance between two bolts is far, a climb is said to be “run-out.”

Send: Generic term for successfully climbing a route without falling or resting on gear.

Sidepull: A hold that faces away from the body that you can grab by pulling toward you.

Slab: A route that is less steep, typically under 90 degrees.

Sloper: A hold that must be gripped with an open hand because of its sloping nature. Using a sloper depends on friction, balance and body tension.

Shaking out: The resting technique of holding your arm out away from the rock and shaking it in order to reduce the feeling of being pumped.

Smear: A sloping foothold: the ball of the foot is “pasted” onto the surface in order to gain purchase.

Soft catch: A belaying technique that prevents a falling climber from swinging into the wall.

Stem: A body position of standing on oblique holds, such as in a dihedral, by pushing in opposite directions with the feet.

Stick clip: A telescopic pole with an apparatus at one end that allows you to clip quickdraws to bolts and ropes to quickdraws.

Technical (also “techy”): A description of a move a route that requires technique. Technical routes tend to have small footholds that require a slow, precise style of climbing. Vertical routes tend to be described as technical. Overhanging routes, while requiring good technique, are not usually described as technical.

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

Top rope: When a climber has the security of a rope from above.
Undercling: A down-facing hold that is grabbed palms up.

Whipper: A big fall.

Working a route (also “projecting”):  The process of figuring out moves by hangdogging with the goal of one day redpointing the climb.

Z-Clip: An incorrect way to clip where the leader pulls up slack from below a lower quickdraw and clips it to the higher one.