Have your friends taken you rock climbing but you found yourself lost in what seemed like a completely different language? Climbers use a lot of jargon to describe their sport, talk about their projects, rant about conditions and discuss beta. We understand it can be really hard to keep up with all the rock climbing terms around you.
Fortunately, we at The Adventure Junkies are here to add some clarity to the confusing array of words swirling in your head. In this article, we define the things climbers say so that you too can confuse your coworkers with phrases like, “The beta was nails and I greased off the spoogy holds.”
Rock climbers talk in their own language. In their world, there is jargon for everything. To speak like a rock climber, you need a large database of terms and a lot of practice using them. Spend time with other climbers in the gym and outside, especially veteran climbers, to glean the local dialect.
The following list of over 200 terms is not exhaustive, but it will certainly get you started. Not every term is exclusive to climbing, but all are used by climbers. Be aware that several terms can be used as both verbs and nouns.
ROCK CLIMBING TERMS
Abseil – See Rappel. A term commonly used in Europe and Australia.
Aid Climbing – Ascending a wall by pulling on fixed or temporary pieces of gear rather than climbing under your own weight.
Anchor – A point of attachment for a climbing rope. Sport routes often have bolted anchors, but gear, slings or the rope itself must often be used to construct an anchor.
Ape Index – The distance from fingertip to fingertip with arms outstretched. Climbers measure their ape index in + and – inch increments in comparison to their height.
Approach – The hike required to reach a climbing destination.
Arête – Two planes of a rock that intersect to make an outside corner.
Back Clip – An error made by a lead climber where they thread their rope through a quickdraw backward, increasing the chance of the quickdraw unclipping in the event of a fall.
Back-Up – Refers to any system which has a back-up in place, adding redundancy. An obvious example is two anchor points at the top of a route, one providing back-up to the other.
Bare Down – To hold on and pull really hard on a hold. Example: “Bare down on that crimp!”
Barn Door – To swing away from the wall in an off balance fashion.
Beached Whale – Awkward belly-first top outs that involve a lot of thrutching and poor mantelling form.
Belay – To take up the slack through a belay device (top-rope belay) or feed slack through a belay device (lead belay) for a climber.
Belayer – The person who handles the rope through a belay device on the ground when their partner is route climbing.
Beta – Information or instructions on how to do a climb. “Micro Beta” describes very specific details about how to climb the problem or route.
Beta Map – A visualization tool, where the beta for a route or boulder problem is sketched out on paper.
Beta-Mime – When climbers act out entire sequences on a climb at the base of a route or problem.
Biff – An unexpected fall from anywhere on a climb.
Big Wall – A long multi-pitch route that typically takes multiple days to complete.
Bight – A small bend or fold in a length of rope.
Bivouac – Sleeping without a tent, for example in a bivy sac or on a big wall.
Body Belay – Friction-dependent belay technique for which the rope passes around the belayer’s body. Outdated and only used in emergencies.
Boinking – A technique used by lead climbers to get back on the wall after falling on a steep route. Involves grabbing the climber’s end of the rope above the tie-in point, thrusting hips as high as possible, and then letting go. The belayer drops, and the climber is closer to their last draw.
Bolts – Can be expansion or glue-in. Once in the rock, hangers are attached creating “permanent” protection for sport climbs.
Bombproof/Bomber – A very, very good hold, or a very secure piece of gear.
Booty – Abandoned gear that an incoming climbing party discovers. Often trad gear that was left on the route.
Boulder Problem – A short climb on a boulder with a series of hard moves. The term “problem” alludes to the need to solve the moves or sequence.
Bouldering – Climbing a sequence of condensed, hard moves on a small(ish) rock referred to as a boulder. Boulder problems are protected by crash pads and spotters. Problems are usually topped out.
Brake Hand – The belayer’s hand that protects the climber in the event of belay device fail. A belayer’s brake hand should never leave the rope.
Burl – To muscle through a climb.
Butt Dragger – An extreme lowball boulder problem, often a traverse.
Camming – To rotate into place and wedge until tight. Can refer to equipment or body parts.
Chimney – A constriction that is large enough for the entire body to move through. Chimneys are climbed using opposing force between feet and body.
Chipping – When someone manufactures a route or boulder problem by creating or enhancing holds. Chipping is generally considered as bad form and should always be avoided.
Chockstone – A rock that is tightly wedged into a crack or constriction.
Choss/Chossy/Chosspile – Bad rock. Often brittle, manky, crumbly, wet, or otherwise awful.
Clean – To climb something bottom to top with no falls or takes. Also refers to preparing the rock to be suitable for climbing on a new route or boulder problem.
Climber – In general, a person who engages in some form of climbing. Some people choose to identify themselves more specifically. Here are examples: Ice Climber, Gym Climber and Sport Climber.
Climbing – An activity that involves ascending rock, plastic, ice, or snow, usually under the force of one’s own body.
Come On! – A phrase frequently yelled by belayers, spotters, and bystanders when someone is trying hard on the route.
Comps – Competition events. Comp climbers spend most of their time climbing indoors preparing for comps on the circuit such as World Cup Events.
Core Shot – When the sheath of your climbing rope bursts open to reveal the core strands.
Crag – A climbing area, often a small cliff.
Crank – To pull really hard on a hold. Similar to Yard.
Crater – See Deck.
Crimp – A small hold or edge. Also describes the hand position climbers often use to grab a small hold or edge.
Crozzly – A hold that is uncomfortable to hold on to, aka toothy.
Crush – To send a route in phenomenal style, or to try really hard when sending. “Crush It” is used to encourage climbers to send a route or boulder problem.
Crusher – A person who climbs really well and strong. A more intense version is “Bonecrusher”.
Crux – The hardest moves on a route or boulder problem.
Cruxing – When a climber is struggling in the hardest moves on a route or boulder problem. Example: “He’s cruxing out!”
Dab – When any body part of a climber touches the ground/pad/hard object/spotter/etc while they are bouldering.
Deck – When a lead climber takes a ground fall.
Deep Water Soloing – Soloing (no partner or protection) above deep water. In the event of a fall or when finished the route, the climber drops into the water.
Developer – A person who invest time, energy, money and labor into creating new routes for climbers to enjoy.
Dihedral – Two planes of a rock that intersect to make an inside corner.
Directional – Protection placed on a route to prevent a top rope climber from taking a huge swing in the event of a fall on steep terrain or a traverse.
Dirt Me – Phrase used by rope climbers to ask their belayer to lower them back to earth.
Dirtbag – A climber who lives out of their vehicle on the road and climbs as much as possible while spending as little money as possible.
Dirty – Refers to a route or boulder that has not been cleaned by natural elements or humans to be suitable for climbing. Can also refer to dirty, loose rock, moss, lichen, vegetation, etc that is found on route.
Drag – Excess friction created in a system when the rope is zigzagging through protection or running over features.
Dry Fire – When one hand blows off a hold when pulling hard. Often results in one-hand-clapping, and knuckle bashing into the rock or wall.
Dynamic – Rope used by climbers that elongates under the force of a fall. Also used to describe movement in which climbers use momentum to get from one hold to another.
Eliminate – A boulder problem that restricts the use of certain holds on the wall.
Elvis Leg – When a climber is nervous, afraid, or fatigued on the wall and one leg begins to shake uncontrollably.
Ethics – Rules that climbers abide by. Ethics are often specific to different regions and passed down through mentors in the community.
Eurostyle – Language of comp climbers. Refers to boulder problems in a gym that are set using large volumes and involve trickery such as running starts and dynos.
Exposure – Airy positioning where the climber is high up and surrounded by space. Often experienced on multi-pitch routes, routes that extend above cliffs/ravines, and arêtes.
FA – First Ascent of a route or boulder problem.
FFA – First Free Ascent: Term applied to routes that were first sent using aid climbing techniques. Also stands for First Female Ascent: Refers to the first female to send a route or boulder problem.
Flail – When limbs seem to have a mind of their own when climbing. Usually sloppy or poor form.
Flake – A thin piece of rock that is separated from the main wall. Flakes often make for very positive holds, but can also be hollow and chossy.
Flapper – Large skin flap ripped off of the hand when falling off a hold.
Flared – A crack with non-parallel sides.
Flash – To climb a route or boulder problem with no falls on your first try, with some previous beta (knowledge/information) of the route.
Flash Pumped – When your arms get so pumped on the first route of the day that you are essentially out of luck for the rest of the day. Often resulting from a poor choice of warm-up.
Float – To climb a route or boulder problem with what appears to be very little effort. Opposite of Thrutch.
Follow – On multi-pitch climbs, the second climber who follows the leader up the route.
Font Scale – Bouldering grade scale used internationally. Developed prior to the V-scale, but never popularized in North America.
Free Climbing – Refers to any type of moves executed under the climbers’ own power to gain upward progress.
Free Soloing – Refers to climbing routes alone and without the use of any equipment or ropes.
Gardening – When a climber excavates dirt/moss/lichen/vegetation from a hold.
Get Purchase – To grab a hold or press into a foot and be able to use it to the climber’s advantage. Example: “It was hard to get purchase off that sloper”.
Gluing – Reinforcing holds that may break or have broken. Typically should not be done without permission of the First Ascentionist. Opposite of Chipping.
Gobies – Cuts and gouges in the back of a climber’s hands resulting from crack climbing.
Grades – Term used by climbers to describe the difficulty of whatever they are climbing. There are multiple grade scales used in climbing.
Greasing Off – Slipping off a hold due to it being warm or greasy with chalk, sweat, or humidity.
Gripped – To be paralyzed by fear.
Grovel – An execution of bad climbing form that still gets you to the top of a rock climb.
Gumby – A newbie climber who doesn’t really know what they’re doing.
Gym – Indoor climbing facility.
Gym Rat – A person who only climbs in a climbing gym and is there all the time.
Hangdog – Resting on the rope multiple times on lead. This term can be used in a variety of ways. Examples: “dogging” your way up or doing a move “off the dog.”
Hanging Belay – When the belayer is anchored into the wall and suspended in their harness while belaying.
Hard Catch – When a belayer does not leave a lead climber enough slack, resulting in the climber slamming into the wall in the event of a fall.
Have It – Phrase used to encourage climbers to get after it and try hard.
High Ball – In bouldering, a very tall boulder problem that often involves a no fall zone.
High Point – When attempting to redpoint a route, the high point refers to the highest point on the wall that the climber reached before falling.
Honnolding – Standing on a ledge face-out from the wall. True “honnolding” is without a rope.
Hueco – A large hole in the rock.
Janky – Describes a sketchy anchor.
Jug – A very positive hold which can usually be grabbed with the entire hand.
KiloNewton – A measure of force used in climbing. One kN is equal to 224.8 lbs.
Lead – When a climber heads up a route carrying the rope with them while the belayer feeds slack. The rope is clipped into protection while the climber ascends.
Low Ball – In bouldering, a very short boulder problem, often where all the hand holds can be touched from standing on the ground.
Low Point – When attempting to redpoint a route, the low point refers to the lowest point on the wall from which the climber climbed clean (no falls) to the anchor. Alternatively, the term can also be used to describe the lowest point on the route where the climber fell after leaving the ground.
Lurpy – Similar to Thrutch, but somewhat more wobbly.
Make Quick Work – To figure out the moves/beta on a route or boulder problem and send quickly.
Manky – When a route or particular holds are wet or soggy.
Multi-pitch – Routes that ascend tall walls beyond the reach of a single rope length. Multiple pitches on top of each other.
Nails – Term describes something that is very hard. Also used for things that are both hard and good.
Numbing Out – When your fingers get numb from climbing in the cold. Does not necessarily result in the screaming barfies.
Off-width – Refers to a crack that is too large for fists but too small to chimney.
One Hang – When attempting to redpoint a route, the one-hang refers to when you climb the route bottom to top with a single fall.
Onsight – To climb a route (on lead) on your first try with no falls, having no previous beta (knowledge) of the route. Not usually applied to boulder problems.
Overhanging – When a rock face is steeper than vertical. Often synonymous with “steep”.
Pad – Used in describing the anatomy of the finger. The first pad (also called the tip) is crucial in climbing. Climbers often use the pad a measure of hold depth. Example: Half-pad edge, quarter-pad crimp. “Pad” is also short for crashpad.
Pebble Wrestling – See Bouldering.
Permadraw – A quickdraw permanently left on a route, composed usually of a steel cable and biners, screw-locked to a bolt. Often located in high-traffic sport climbing areas with steep routes.
Pinkpoint – Climbing a route with no takes or falls, on pre-placed gear. Applies mostly to trad climbing, the term is out of fashion in sport climbing.
Pitch – A single rope length. Single pitch routes are usually half the length of a single rope.
Placement – A space in the rock into which traditional gear can fit.
Pocket – A round hole in the rock into which you can usually insert between one and four fingers but not typically the whole hand.
Positive – Usually refers to a very good hold.
Project – A route or boulder problem that a climber is working the moves on to try to send.
Projecting – The process of working the moves on a route or boulder problem, usually over days, months, or even years.
Protection – Anything used to secure the rope to a rock, snow or ice and prevent a climber from taking a dangerously large fall.
Psyched – To be very excited/stoked/amped.
Psyched Out – To be scared or afraid to commit or try something.
Pumped – A build-up of lactic acid in the forearms that leads to pain, tightness and an inability to engage the hand effectively.
Pumpy – A route or boulder or sequence of moves that is sure to make the climber pumped.
Punt – A fall (or repeated falls) off a route in the home stretch or easy sections.
Pure – A term used to describe a very beautiful, clean line.
Rack – The gear that a climber uses to protect their climb.
Rapid Fire – To repeatedly attempt something without adequate rests or breaks.
Rappel – Technique used to descend a rope.
Redpoint – To climb a route or boulder problem with no falls after having tried it at least once before.
Redpoint Crux – Not the actual crux of the route, but a mini crux where there is a probability of falling on redpoint. The redpoint crux typically comes sometime after the true crux.
Rest Day – A term used by climbers to define a day that they do not spend climbing.
Resting – Refers to a location on the route where you are able to get a stance and shake out your arms. Also used to describe the breaks between attempts on routes or boulder problems.
Retire – To remove from use a piece of climbing gear due to age or damage.
Rig – Slang for Route. Example: “Come on, send this rig!”
Roof – A very steep overhanging section of rock, often approaching horizontal.
Rope Soloing – Climbing without a partner but with the use of ropes and equipment.
Route – A sequence of moves up a rock face that is typically climbed with a rope, equipment, and belayer.
Running Beta – Information about the climb that is delivered to the climber while they are in the midst of climbing.
Run-out – Long distance between protection on a route, either bolts on a sport climb or gear on a trad climb.
Sandbag – A route or boulder problem that is on the hard end of a given grade, stiff. A “sandbagger” might tell someone that a climb is much easier than it actually is, thus “sandbagging” them.
Screamer – Long fall on a rope, often followed by screaming; see Wobbler. A Screamer is also a piece of equipment used for aid climbing.
Screaming Barfies – When a climber’s hands become so numb from climbing in the cold, that the blood returning to the fingers after climbing is incredibly painful to the point where you scream and feel like you will throw up. More common when ice climbing.
Second – The climber who is belayed from the top to follow a leader up on a multi-pitch pitch.
Send – To climb a route or boulder problem from bottom to top with no falls or takes.
Send Beer – What many climbers drink to celebrate finishing off a project.
Send Train – An occurrence where one climber sends a route or problem and several other climbers proceed to send it in sequence, thus creating a “send train”. The first climber to fall derails the send train.
Sending Temps – When conditions are perfect for sending. Usually cold, with fairly low humidity.
Sewing Machine Leg – See Elvis Leg.
Shaking Out – What climbers do when they get to a rest mid-route. Refers to relieving some of the “pump” in the forearms. See Resting.
Sharp End – The end of the rope that a lead climber ties into.
Shock Load – When a sudden force is applied to a static system.
Short-rope – When a belayer does not feed their lead climber enough slack, forcing them to have to pull up hard on the rope. Typically occurs when clipping as a result of an inattentive belayer.
Shut Down/Smack Down – To fail profusely.
Sidepull – A climbing hold that is oriented vertically, allowing the climbing to lean their body weight away from it.
Simul-climbing – When two people connected by a rope, with at least some gear between them, are climbing simultaneously. Common on fast ascents of multi-pitches and big walls.
Slab – Low angle climbing, often with few holds and requiring friction technique.
Slack – Extra loose rope in a climbing system, between the belayer and the climber.
Sloper – Usually a large rounded or flat hold that a climber cannot crimp on or insert their hand into.
Smedge – Smear edge.
Soft – When a route or boulder problem climbs slightly easier than the given grade.
Soft Catch – When a belayer gives a lead climber the perfect amount of slack (and sometimes a small jump), resulting in the climber having a comfortable and cushioned fall onto the rope.
Soloing – Climbing without a partner.
Speed Climbing – In competition climbing, refers to a timed ascent of a standard route. Outdoors, speed climbing usually refers to climbing big walls very quickly. [link: speed ascents of the nose]
Spit Off – To fall off a boulder problem or route. Used in the context of the climb throwing the climber off.
Split Tip – A slice in the first pad of the finger, usually resulting from grabbing a very sharp hold.
Splitter – A parallel sided crack.
Spock Hold – A hold that the climber grabs with their hand in the shape of the Vulcan salute.
Spoogy – Refers to an almost wet, chalk-caked hold. See Manky. Can also describe soggy tips after too many burns on a climb.
Sporty – Long distance between bolts on a sport route, see Run-out.
Spotter – A person who helps redirect a boulderer to their pad in the event of a fall.
Spray – To provide extensive beta, often when unsolicited. Climbers also spray about themselves, by bragging about their accomplishments through posting videos, pictures, links to 8a scorecards, etc.
Spray Lord – A person who is constantly spraying.
Sproggle Hold – A hold that splits the fingers into several mini pockets or divets.
Static – Minimal movement or stretch. Also refers to climbing slow and in control without the use of momentum. Opposite of Dynamic.
Stiff – When a route or boulder problem climbs slightly harder than the given grade.
Technical – Refers to climbing routes or problems that demand good technique. Often with small holds and precision footwork. Technical routes are usually near vertical.
Thrutch – An off-balance movement that doesn’t really feel good. Used to describe somewhat poor form in getting from one hold to another. Opposite of Float.
Thumbdercling – An undercling that you can only hold with a thumb to get purchase.
Tips – Fingertips.
Topo – An overview “map” that shows location, general line, and information about climbing routes.
Top-out – On a boulder problem, the final moves that involve mounting the boulder to stand on top.
Top-rope – Climbing when the rope is already running through an anchor at the top of the route.
Try Hard – Used as a noun to describe whether effort was used. For example: “I brought all my try hard today.”
Undercling – A climbing hold in which the positive direction is oriented downwards, forcing the climber to pull upwards on the hold to get purchase.
V-scale – Also known as the Hueco Scale. Bouldering grade scale invented by John Sherman, with difficulties ranging from V0-V17.
Walk – To climb a problem or route effortlessly in perfect style. See Float.
Weekend Warrior – A person who works a Monday to Friday job and can only get outside to climb at the local crag on weekends.
Whipper – A very large fall taken on lead.
Wired – Very well-memorized and/or practiced beta and moves.
Wobbler – Tantrum or fit thrown by a climber after taking a long fall. Often off a project or when seemingly close on an onsight/flash attempt.
Woody – Home climbing wall.
Wrecked – When unable to climb anymore due to extreme fatigue and exhaustion.
Yard – To pull down really hard on a hold during a climbing move
Yardsale – A lot of back-to-back yarding on holds. Also refers to gear strewn all over the crag.
Yosemite Decimal System – The route grading system used in North America.
Z-Clip – An error made by the lead climber when they draw up slack to clip from beneath their last piece of protection.
Zipper – When pieces of protection sequentially pull out of the rock when a lead climber falls.