Fake It ‘til You Make It – A Bluffers Guide to Climbing Lingo

 
A multitude of terms exist for every aspect of climbing, from equipment, to balance to training and beyond. Conversations of experienced climbers can be perplexing to the novice. So don’t be befuddled and immerse yourself in the language of climbers. Hundreds, if not thousands of terms are in use, many sound humorous at first, but end up having a very specific application. So pulled from a very wide choice, here are a few for a taster:
 
AID CLIMBING
 
Using climbing equipment to rest or to pull up on is classed as ‘aid climbing’. Aid climbing is a niche sport within climbing and although often practiced at the same cliffs is considered the opposite of ‘free climbing’.
 
Aid climbing includes all types of artificial assistance from a brief rest on a bolt to 100% artificial methods.
 
“Did you hear that John flashed the route?”, “Well I heard that he aided the crux.”
 

Photo 1
 
ALPINE START
 
Parlance for ‘early start’, usually before 5am, but could be as early as midnight. Useful for avoiding queues, warm conditions and getting back before the pubs close.
 
“We are going to need an Alpine start for this route.”
 
ARÊTE
 
The opposite of ‘corner’. A sharp ridge of rock. Often suitable for a ‘layback’.
 
“Catch the arête and layback to the jug” or “The route takes the magnificent flying arête.”
 

 
ASS DRAGGER
 
A boulder problem so low that avoiding contact with the ground is difficult. The ‘crux’ is avoiding the ‘dab’.
 
“I don’t like the look of this problem, it’s an ass-dragger and these are new trousers.”
 
BACK AND FOOT
 
An old school technique for climbing chimneys and corners. The back is placed squarely on one wall and the feet on the other.
 
BARN DOOR
 
Often experienced on ‘arêtes’. When a climber has only two points of contact using either the right or left side of their body, the other half may swing uncontrollably out from the wall like a door on a hinge.
 
“She nearly flashed it, but barn doored off on the last move.”
 
BAT HOOK
 
Much to the disappointment of Batman fans this is a narrow-tipped hook customized to fit a shallow bolt hole. And cannot be used to scale buildings at speed.
 
“Protection on the route is terrible, just a couple of bat hooks to slow you down.”
 
BETA
 
Climbing a route having already gained prior knowledge of certain aspects of it. For example the location of the ‘crux’ or how to place the protection or how to do the moves. The origins of this word within climbing are not clear, but it is possibly from “Betamax”, an old videotape format.
 
“Would you like the beta, or are you going for the ‘on-sight’?”
 
BOMBPROOF
 
Slang for strong and well placed pieces of protection. Also sometimes used for describing rock quality.
 
“Go for it, that nut is bombproof.”
 

BREAK
 
Nothing to do with taking a break. A horizontal crack, often with good holds is called a break.
 
“You won’t get a rest and protection until the break at half height”.
 
BRIDGE
 
Useful in chimneys, corners and grooves. The bridging manoeuvre as the name implies involves spanning a large gap with arms and legs and equalising the body pressure.
 
“Bridge up the groove, don’t look down.”
 
BUCKET
 
A large hand hold resembling the side of a bucket.
 
“Keep going… in two meters there is a bucket.”
 
BULGE
 
A small, often rounded overhang. Often the most strenuous part of a climb.
 
“Save some strength for the bulge.”
 
BUTTRESS
 
A prominent area of rock that juts out from a cliff or mountain.
 
CHEST JAM
 
Jamming the torso into a wide crack, increases friction. Useful for resting.
 
CHIPPING
 
Artificially creating holds where there were none previously, usually using a hammer and chisel (hence the name). Drilled holes also constitute ‘chipping’. Chipping new routes is highly controversial and chipping established routes is one of the gravest crimes in climbing, and could lead to harsh punishment. Chipping in old quarries is more likely to be tolerated.
 
“Awesome line, shame the first guy had to chip the crux.”
 
CHOSS
 
Poor quality rock which can give way when climbed on. Hopefully not combined with ‘crater’. Can include soil dirt and vegetation.
 
“The first half of the route is choss, but then ‘bomber’ rock for the second half.”
 
CRATER
 
Hitting the ground at the end of a fall instead of being caught by the rope.
 
CRIMP
 
A small often flat hold, just big enough for the fingertips. Also see ‘slimp’.
 
CRUX
 
The hardest part of a climb or sometimes the place where the greatest danger exists. Or if you are unlucky, both at the same time. The grade of a route is based on the difficulty of the crux. However, routes that have a very homogonous level of difficulty with no sections that stand out as harder than the rest are said to have ‘no crux’.
 
“For me the crux is at the start, because if you fall you will ‘deck out’.”
 
DECK OUT
 
This phrase has nautical origins and refers to falling to the ground unwillingly.
 
“Decking out was not an option.”
 
DIRTY
 
A section of lichenous, soily or vegetated rock. Also associated with ‘Choss’.
 
“Nobody has climbed it in a while, so the cracks are dirty.”
 
DRAG
 
Friction created by poor rope management. Worse on a winding pitch. The situation occurs when pulling a rope through a number of protection points, or over rock prominences. Protection placements that zigzag rather than run in a straight line can make the rope drag—Friction created when a climbing rope passes through multiple pieces of protection, especially if they are not in a straight line up the route. Can lead to significant extra weight for the leader ad can be the equivalent of pulling up a car tyre.
 
“I had to rest on the peg because there was so much drag.”
 
DISCO LEG
Sometimes referred to as ‘Elvis leg’, this is uncontrollable shaking of one or both legs while climbing. Caused by large amounts of unused adrenaline within the body. Typically, disco leg will occur when the climber is nervous but stationary.
 
“Disco leg nearly shook me off the foothold, but then I managed to calm down a bit.”
 

DOGGING
 
Sounds dodgy, but this popular term refers to repeatable failed attempts at a route. Considered by many to be simply ‘cheating’. Usually dogging is used as a substitute to climbing when the route is too hard for them.
 
“I’m not fit enough for this route, but I’m going to dog it anyway just to get a good look.”
 
EXPOSED
 
An often misinterpreted word then simply means an airy position high off the ground. Could also be used in proximity to a dangerous obstacle like a spiked boulder. This word is often wrongly used with a meteorological context.
 
“I felt really exposed on the crux, I’m glad I didn’t fall there.”
 
FLAG
 
Dangling or sticking a leg in the air to improve balance when climbing.
 
FLAKE
 
A flat flake of rock, often partially detached. Flake lines make fantastic natural climbing lines due to the fact that they usually provide a long continuous hand hold. Flakes can be tiny right through to absolutely huge. Care can be needed, especially if you think the flake is moving!
 
“Follow the flake all the way until it runs out; don’t pull on it too hard.”
 
FLAPPER
 
A minor but very common climbing injury. Sharp rock can cause a painful skin detachment, usually on the finger ends. Continuing to climb with a flapper can be a very uncomfortable experience. Most common in bouldering and sport climbing.
 
FLEXIBLE FRIEND
 
Nothing to do with your yoga partner. A flexible friend is a camming device with a flexible wire stem. In the event of a fall, the stem bends rather than leveraging itself and weakening on sticking out rock.
 
“I put two flexi friends in the break, bomber for the next move.”
 
GRIPPED
 
Characterized by intense anxiety or fear, and accompanied by twitching muscles, rapid breathing, and muscle contractions. The word comes from gripping the rock for dear life. Usually brought on by difficult and dangerous moves a long way above your last piece of protection.
 
“I can’t move, I’m too gripped, watch me!”
 
HARROWING
 
A climb so taxing that the result is psychological pain.
 
HEADPOINT
 
A play on the term redpoint, which refers to the style of ascent of bold climb. Basically it means to lead a sparsely protected climb that is more mental challenging than a physical one. Usually a route is headpointed after top rope practice.
 
For instance, you may have already practiced a route on top rope, and are now going for the headpoint, the word ‘head’ referring to the route being a great mental challenge.
 
“I’ve headpointed a few E7s but only ever lead E5 onsight.”
 
HOLIDAY GRADES
 
Non-deliberate or possibly deliberate soft grades at sport climbing areas. Commonly makes climbers feel good about themselves and gives false indications of one’s fitness. Areas with harsher grading are often referred to as ‘old school’, usually on cliffs which have been climbed on for a long time. For example Stoney Middleton on Verdon.
 
Coincidently, Holiday grades are usually found on crags in Southern Europe!
 
“He’s unsighted 7b+, but that was in Kalymnos, you know… holiday grades.”
 
HIGHBALL
 
Imported from America, this term refers to high boulder problems with increased consequences of a fall from the top. The opposite is ‘lowball’, which are more suitable for toddlers and the aged.
 
“That climb used to be a route, but if you are using pads it is just a highball boulder problem.”
 
ITALIAN HITCH
 
The Italian Hitch is an extremely useful knot as it can be used for belaying, abseiling, and rigging. It is a friction device which creates friction by rubbing on a carabineer, so the descent can be controlled like a belay mechanism. But since this knot leaves a lot of bends in the rope, the Italian Hitch can continuously twist the rope. Best used for lowering people short distances or as an back up rappel or belay system. Particularly recommended when you have dropped your abseil device down the cliff.
 
“ I dropped my belay device, so I’m going to rap down on an Italian.”
 
JAMMING
 
Wedging a body part into a crack. Usually the hands, but can also be arms, feet, legs and occasionally head.
 
LAYBACK
 
Climbing a steep arête, edge or crack by side-pulling the edge with both hands and relying on friction or small holds for the feet.
 
“It was easier to layback the crack, rather than trying to jam it.”
 
MANTLESHELF
 
A traditional climbing move used to surmount a ledge or feature in the rock in the absence of any useful holds directly above. Named after the ledge above a fire place, the technique involves pushing down on a ledge as opposed to pulling oneself up. A little like the motion employed when exiting a swimming pool. When ice climbing, the mantle can also be performed by moving the hands to the top of the ice axe and pushing down on the head of the tool.
 
“The crux was a delicate mantelshelf onto a slopping ledge.”
 
MARE
 
An abbreviation of the word ‘nightmare’. Usually used in the context of “having a mare”. Experiencing a particularly ‘harrowing’ time on a route or move.
 
“She’s having a mare on the ‘crux’. She’s got ‘disco-leg’ and her gear has fallen out.”
 
OFFWIDTH
 
A particular size of crack. Off widths are wider than hand cracks, but not wide enough for the legs or upper body to fit inside; this width is the most difficult to master, as it requires movements that can be physically awkward or uncomfortable. Can result in a time consuming three up, two down rhythm accompanied by grunting and moaning.
 
ONSIGHT
 
The most sought after and purest way to climb a route. This implies no prior knowledge or ‘beta’. The route must be climbed cleanly without falls or rests. If a climber has seen someone else climb the route, then it is not a true onsight.
 
“His onsight was ruined because his mate was shouting out ‘beta’.”
 
PEEL
 
Taking a fall, usually unexpectedly.
 
PLACEMENT
 
The precise place in the rock or ice where the climber wishes to place protection. Nuts, cams, pegs or ice screws can be used. The quality of the placement can range from ‘sketchy’ to ‘bomber’. Considerable skill is needed to make good gear placements.
 
Photo 2 Placement
 

PRO
 
Short for protection.
 
PUMPED
 
1: A climber gets pumped when his arms become weak and burning with lactic acid caused by overworked muscles, usually on strenuous overhanging climbing. Usually experienced in the forearm and forming even a basic grip can become impossible. A climber who is pumped will find it difficult to hold on, and may struggle to lift or clip a rope.
 
“I was so pumped that I couldn’t even hold the jugs.”
 
2: Feeling of anticipation and energy before or after a challenging climb.
 
RIPPED
 
1: A potentially ‘harrowing’ occurrence, when ‘placements’ rip out during a fall. Could easily result in ‘decking out’.
 
2: A visibly muscular but lean upper body.
 
“Have you seen puny Paul these days, well he’s not puny any more. He got ripped.”
 
ROPE GUN
 
The most capable climber in the group. The person who can get the rope up there for the rest of the party.
 
“ We are going to need a rope gun on this. Hold on a minute, here comes one now..”
 
RUNOUT
 
A long distance between two points of protection which in some circumstances might be perceived as frightening or dangerous. This term is also used to describe sections of a route that are deemed to be poorly protected.
 
SLIMP
 
A newly coined term combining the properties of both a slopping hold and a ‘crimp’. In other words a ‘sloping crimp’ Crimps are small holds so this combination makes for one of the worst types of hold.
 
“Good luck on flashing that 7b, the upper wall is on slimps.”
 

Photo 3 TAT
 
 
TAT
 
Slings and ropes left behind on belays on multi pitch routes. Often weather affected, particularly by sun fading. It is often prudent to take extra tat to back up aging anchors.
 
“There is an abseil station with a load of tat and a carabineer at the top of the cliff”
 

 
THANK GOD HOLD
 
A large rest hold at the end of a difficult, strenuous or run-out section of climbing. A sense of great relief and wellbeing is felt as the fingers curl around the hold.
 
ZIPPER
 
This refers to a fall of such length and velocity that the climber’s protective devices are ripped from the rock in rapid succession.
 

Written by Matt Dickinson IFMGA Mountain Guide at Mountain Tracks.