Knowing the Lingo

When I first got into climbing years ago, I don’t really remember learning a bunch of new technical terms. Since I climbed mostly in doors and didn’t stick with it, I guess that’s understandable. That’s also why I was taken aback when I got back into climbing this past year–there was a whole world of climbing vocab I never learned! 

I was constantly staring blankly at people because they were using terms I’d never heard before. As a newbie in a group of seasoned climbers, I had a hard time keeping up because they used so much climbing slang. If I just couldn’t figure out what in the world they were talking about, which was quite often, I’d just suck it up and ask. Lame-o. I’m keeping you from my folly. 

It might seem like using these terms is unnecessary or that you could get by without learning them… but you can’t. You have to learn them and you have to use them–it’s just all part of the experience. You might feel like you’re nerding out on climbing, but everyone will understand exactly what you’re talking about and you wont skip a beat. 

So here’s a list of helpful climbing terms that you will most definitely hear if you venture out doors. I stole these definitions from but added my own two cents. If people are yelling some of these terms from below as you climb, now you’ll know what the crap they mean.

Here’s one I just learned that I thought was kind of cute–Belay Betty – usually a non-climbing significant other designated to belay.

Beta – n. information about a route. This was one of the funnier ones because my friend Laura and I felt so official using it. Here’s an example of how it’s used, “This climb looks hard, give me the beta.” The beta is basically how you climb it, how you use the holds, which holds to use and where the route goes, etc. etc.  

Campus – (1) vb. to work out on a campus board. (2) vb. to climb with feet dangling as if using a campus board. When there are no foot holds to speak of, sometimes you have to campus. 

Chicken Wing – n. A type of arm bar useful in off widths and tight chimneys. Bend arm at elbow so that hand touches shoulder. Insert in crack and push against opposite sides. Works especially well vertically in squeeze chimneys, with elbow pointing up and pressing against one side of chimney, and heel of hand against the other side. 2.(v.) To Chicken Wing: bad climbing form on a face climb where the climber’s elbows point out and back at an awkward angle.

Chickenhead – n. A knobby feature (resembling a chicken’s head) which provides excellent holds for hands or feet.

Clean – (1) v. To remove protection devices (gear). On a multipitch climb, the climber who seconds (follows the leader), takes out all of the removable gear placed by the leader. (2) adj. A clean climb, or a climb that “goes clean” is one that can be done without using a hammer to pound in pitons or mashies. This method is called clean because it does not damage the rock. (See pin scars.) (3) adj. To complete a climb or project without hang-dogging or falling, especially on top-rope. Oh yes, hang-dogging, that’s another one. You haven’t really done a climb, unless you’ve done it clean. 

Crimp – vb. to grip in a way such that fingertips contact the hold with knuckles raised slightly.

Crimper – n. a small edged hold which is conducive to crimping.

Crux – n. the most crucial, difficult part of the climb. Climbs are rated by their most difficult move, aka the crux. 

Dyno – n. abbreviation for “dynamic movement”, a move that requires some use of momentum. (antonym: static movement) 2. (vb.) to perform a dyno. I can’t do this very well yet, but I’m working on it. It’s when you have to “jump” to get a hold. 

Flag – vb. To dangle a leg in a way that improves balance. Also refers to using feet without 
holds to improve balance and create sideways momentum. Its when you cross one of your legs behind the other to help your balance. This is kind of a counter-intuitive move, but it really helps once you get the hang of it. 

Hike – v. To send a climb in excellent style. Usage: “I was falling all over that climb then I took a rest and hiked it.”

Jamming – v. Placing and wedging a body part into a crack in order to hold yourself on the wall.

Jug – n. A big hand hold, usually a great relief to find. (See also, bucket.) Also a verb meaning “to jumar” or the act of ascending a fixed rope with jumars. Usually 5.6 and easier climbs are “juggy”, because they have giant holds. 

Lay back – n/vb. a move requiring pulling with arms to the side and pushing with the feet in the opposite direction. (syn. lieback)

Locking Carabiner – n. A carabiner with either a screw gate, or twist lock, locking mechanism.

Locking off/Lock-off – v./n. A powerful holding position in which one elbow is fully contracted, allowing the other arm to reach out for a hold. Limits the amount of reach available. Locking off is super hard for women because it requires a lot of upper body strength. You’re basically in a one handed chin-up position and reaching for another hold. 

Match – v. To place both hands or feet on the same hold. This was one of the first terms I learned. Its usually very helpful when people suggest that you match on something. For some reason, its easier to tell if you should match from the ground. Maybe its because you feel like every extremity should have its own hold, you are generally against matching… dunno. 

Mantel – n./vb. a climbing technique involving the transfer of upward force from a pulling action to a pushing action much like a child would climb the kitchen counter to reach the cabinets above.

Pumped – adj. tired. referring to the state of forearms in a desperate state, swollen and unresponsive. 

Protection – n. Gear placed on a climb to protect the climber in the event of a fall. ie: nuts, pitons, cams, bolts, quickdraws.

Pinch – n. Any hold that must be pinched.

Quickdraw – n. two caribiners connected by a webbing (usually) or rope. Used to link elements of protection, or more commonly, to link the rope to a piece of protection. It’s good to know what this is when you start building anchors, etc. If someone asks you for a quickdraw, you’ll know what they’re talking about. :) 

Rack – n. The set of protection equipment used for a climb. No, its not what you think. It’s referring to all the gear that climbers lug around with them. 

Redpoint – n/vb. a clean ascent with no falls, placing protection while climbing. Just like “clean”, you didn’t really climb it until you redpointed it. 

Ring lock – n/vb. a Jam for a crack that is wider than fingers and narrower than hands. Involves bridging the crack with the thumb, and stacking the fingers on top of the thumb.

Runner – n. a sewn or tied loop of webbing or rope used to connect protection elements. Another piece of gear that is good to be familiar with when someone asks you for it. 

Roof – n. a 180 degree overhang.

Send – vb to complete a route successfully. Similar to “hiking” something. You’ll probably only hear this when you’ve been complemented for “sending” a climb. 

Slab – n any climb that is less than vertical, especially those devoid of features requiring smearing of the feet. Just like a crack or face climb, this is a particular kind of climb. 

Sling – n/vb a loop of webbing or rope (see runner).

Sloper – n. a downward sloping hold. AKA really freaking hard to hold on to. 

Smear – n/vb the act of placing a large surface area of shoe rubber on a hold to create maximum friction. When there are no foot holds, you have to smear the wall. 

Stem – n/vb movement requiring opposing outward pressure much like a child climbing a door jam.

Taping up – v. The action of applying tape around the knuckles or used to improvise gloves with bare palms in order to protect from rock crystals digging into the flesh. Especially useful in crack climbing. I was recently mocked for taping up. I guess people have mixed feelings about it. However, I climbed a crack without tape over a month ago and the scabs are just barely healing… don’t fight it. Tape up. Chicks may dig scars, but I have a feeling guys don’t. 

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