Glossary of climbing terms

This page describes terms and jargon related to climbing and mountaineering.

Contents: Top - 0-9 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 on a fixed rope. Also known as Rappel.


A thin blade mounted perpendicular to the handle on an ice axe that can be used for chipping.

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 before sunrise.

Altitude sickness

A medical condition that is often observed at high altitudes. Also known as Acute mountain sickness, or AMS.


A fail-safe attachment point for protection.


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.


The outside corner of rock. See also dihedral.


A device for ascending on a rope. A mechanical ascender is the jumar.


A proprietary type of belay device. ATC stands for Air traffic controller.



A grading system for bouldering problems, invented by John Gill for the Yorkshire and the Peak District. Now largely superseded by the "V" grading system.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 give up on 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, tuber, and the Munter hitch. Some belay devices may also be used as descenders.

Belay slave

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


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.


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 an a cotlike device called a portaledge that hangs from anchors on the wall.


An anchor-point permanently drilled into the rock.

Bolt chopping

The deliberate and destructive removal of one or more bolts.

Bomb-proof anchor

A totally secure anchor, or set of anchors. 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.


A deadly fall.


A large handhold.


The art of climbing on buildings. Note that this is often illegal.


A prominent feature that juts out from a rock or mountain.



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.

Chalk bag

A hand-sized holder for a climber's chalk that is usually clipped or tied onto the climber's harness for easy access during a climb.


A rock cleft with vertical sides mostly parallel, large enough to jam an appendage or two into. To climb such a structure, either by jamming or with a lieback.


A mechanical device, or a wedge, used to attach anchors into cracks.


  • 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.

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 between two peaks.


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.


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.

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.
  • the process of holding onto a crimp.


The most difficult portion of a climb.


Daisy chain

A type of sling with multiple sewn, or tied, loops. In many situations this can be more versatile than a normal sling.

Dead hang

To hang limp, such that weight is held by ligament tension rather than muscles.


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.

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.


The apex of an upward dynamic move.


  • 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.


The inside corner of rock. See also arête.


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 shoulder, and held with the downhill hand to adjust the shoulder friction and thus the descending speed.

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.



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 belay device or descender. Named from its appearance as the digit "8".


A mountain that tops 8,000 metres.


State of openness with relation to the distance of a fall.


Face climbing

To ascend on a rock face using finger holds and edges, i.e. not crack climbing.


Undesirable downward motion. Hopefully stopped by a rope, otherwise see mountain rescue.

Finger board

Training equipment used to build grip strength and arm 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.


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 pinnacle or isolated rock tower frequently encountered along a ridge.


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.


Intended as an objective measure of the technical difficultly of a particular climb or bouldering problem. More often is highly subjective, however.


A belay device designed to be easy to use and safe for beginners because it is self-locking under load. Invented and manufactured by Petzl.




  • To climb with obviously poor style or technique.
  • A climbing route judged to be without redeeming virtue.


An inexperienced 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.



High Altitude Cerebral Edema - a severe, and often fatal, form of altitude sickness.

Hand traverse

Traversing without any footholds.


While lead climbing, to hang on the rope or an anchor for a rest.

Hanging belay

Belaying at a point such that the belayer is suspended.


High Altitude Pulmonary Edema - a serious form of altitude sickness.


Climbing equipment used for attaching a rope to a person.

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. 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.


To be in peak mental and physical fitness for climbing.



Ice axe

A handy tool for safety and balance.

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.

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.


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.


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 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 will come and rescue you after an injury or accident. Also see coroner.


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.


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.



A crack that is too wide for effective hand or foot jams, but is not as large as a chimney.


A clean ascent, with no prior practise 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.



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.


The portion of a climb between two belay points.


A metal spike that may be hammered into ice or flaws in rock.

Plunge step

An aggressive step pattern for descending on hard or steep angle snow.


  • Process of setting equipment or anchors for safety.
  • Equipment or anchors used for preventing 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.



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.


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 a lead climb without falling or resting on the rope (hangdogging). Also see clean and pinkpoint.

Rest step

Energy-saving technique where unweighted leg is rested between each forward step.


Horizontal overhang.


An essential item of climbing equipment.


The path of a particular climb, or a predefined set of moves.


Another term for sling.




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


Non-technical climbing.


A long and loud fall. Or 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.


Loose, broken rock that climbers can never avoid.


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


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 on short sport climbing routes and in climbing gyms in order to fit an extra move into the climb.


A relatively flat and featureless block of rock.


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.

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.

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.

Static rope

A non-elastic rope. Compare with dynamic rope.


The simultaneous use of two widely spaced footholds.

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.


  • A wedge-shaped nut.
  • A knot used to prevent the rope running through a piece of equipment.


  • The high point of a mountain or peak.
  • To reach such a high point.


Top rope

To belay from a fixed anchor point above the climb.


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 rock 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 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 rope, mainly used to make runners and slings.


Resting by hanging on the belay rope.


A lead fall from above and to the side of the last clip, whipping oneself downwards and in an arc.


To have the moves required for completing a climb memorized. See dialled.


A slang term for nuts.


A home made climbing wall.



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.

See also

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