Stefano Ghisolfi, one of the world's best rock climbers.

The Definitive Guide to Climbing Jargon

Climber lingo got your head spinning like a hanger on a loose bolt? Err …

At any rate, what are whippers, dry fires, and Gumbies? How is “free” a verb? Find out with the GearJunkie glossary of climbing terms.

If you’re new to the sport, the language climbers use can be incomprehensible. Take this passage for example:

“Bro, that whipper puckered me! Thanks for the soft catch. Good thing that placement was bomber. There goes my onsight.”

Anyone who’s spent a few days at the crag has probably heard most of these terms. But deciphering their meaning could entail deep dives down Reddit rabbit holes, months of awkward crag inquiries, or a lifetime of commitment to the fringe lifestyle that generated them in the first place.

Instead, take the short route to send city — er, find the definition you’re looking for faster — with GearJunkie’s dirtbag-compiled glossary of climbing terms.

Climbing Terms Explained

A


Aid Climbing: Ascending the rock by pulling directly on gear for progress. Antonym of “free climbing,” which means using only one’s hands, feet, and the rock for progress.

Silvia Vidal El Cap aid climbing
Silvia Vidal aid climbing on El Capitan early in her career. Note the lawn chair; climbing has an improvisational history.

Alpine Style: A remote big wall climbing method that sacrifices safety but increases efficiency. Alpine climbers carry minimal gear, relying on fitness and mountain sense for success.
Anchor
: An array of bolts or other protection, installed to secure the rope or climbers at the top of a pitch or route. Most anchors include two bolts or three pieces of gear like cams or stoppers.
Ape Index: A measurement of how your wingspan (aka arm span) compares to your height. It is found by subtracting height from arm span.
Approach: The part of getting to the base of a route that doesn’t involve motor transportation. Approaches can involve walking, running, cycling, or paddling.
Arête: [Pronounced “uh-RET”] Where two surfaces of rock join at a corner that creates a triangle facing outward. Open a book, or fold a piece of paper in half. The outside of the fold (the spine of the book) describes an arête.

gritstone climbing on an arete
Siebe Vanhee on the classic arête “Meister’s Edge” E7 6c, Peak District, England.

Arm Bar: If you’re climbing a very wide crack (10-12 inches or so), you can throw an arm bar by placing your palm against one side of the crack and your elbow against the other. To make progress, shuffle the arm bar upward.
Ascender: A device used for ascending a hanging rope. Often, aid climbers and photographers ascend with one ascender in each hand.
Assisted-Braking Belay Device: A belay device that locks the rope automatically, or with minimal action from the belayer. The most common assisted-braking belay device is the Petzl Gri-Gri.
ATC: A metal tube-shaped belay device that locks the rope with friction applied by the belayer. When the belayer holds the brake strand below the device, the rope will not feed through. Stands for “Air Traffic Controller,” originally developed by Black Diamond Equipment.

B


Back Clip: Back clipping occurs when a lead climber clips the rope incorrectly so that the climber’s side of the rope comes out of the carabiner going toward the rock instead of coming out of the carabiner away from the rock. Falling on a back-clipped carabiner is dangerous.
Backstep
: In free climbing, bending the knee to step on a feature behind the climber. Backsteps can stabilize the climber or help upward progress.

will bosi raven tor
Will Bosi throws a backstep (and twists downward for a drop knee) on “Brandenburg Gate,” 9a+/5.15a, Raven Tor, England.

Bail: To abandon a climb, objective, or camp; to give up.
Ball Nut: A specialty piece of traditional (trad) climbing gear involving a partial sphere that slides across an angled plate. As the sphere slides against the angle, it wedges into the crack.
Barn Door: In free climbing, a move that forces the climber’s body to swing laterally to the wall. Often, the climber’s job is to “hold the barn door,” or stop the momentum before they fall.
Base Camp: Traditionally, a large camp in a safe location below a climb. Colloquially, base camp can be any departure point or planning location for a climb; vehicles, apartments, and bars can all be “base camps.”
Belay: To manage the rope while the climber ascends, and arrest it in case of a fall. Unless the climber ventures into unprotectable terrain, the belayer assumes full responsibility for the climber’s safety.
Belay Device: The tool the climbing rope feeds through, used to both arrest the climber’s falls and lower the climber. Depending on the situation, most belay devices can also be used to rappel.
Beta: Information about any route or boulder problem. Usually, beta is an advantage. However, acquiring too much beta before an onsight attempt can invalidate the onsight.
Bicycle: Pushing down with one foot and pulling up with the other to create tension or balance. Typically used in sport climbing and bouldering.
Big Wall: Refers to both objective size and climbing style. Any wall approximately 1,000 feet or higher can be called a big wall. Big wall style refers to siege tactics; multiple nights spent on the wall, installing permanent gear, aid climbing, etc.

Rock Climbing on a Big Wall Crack Route with Portaledge Below
Big wall climbing, with a portaledge below; (photo/Black Diamond)

Bivy: [BIV-vee] A camp, specifically one high on a climb such as on a ledge, ridge, or in a portaledge. Short for “bivouac.”
Boink: If a lead climber falls on a steep route, the only way to get back on may be to boink. First, the belayer takes all the tension in the rope (often by hanging in space themselves). Then, the climber pulls their bodyweight up the rope and releases it. The counterweight of the belayer removes the climber-induced slack, pulling the climber upward.
Bolt: Usually a 3/8″ or ½” stainless steel expansion bolt, installed in the rock for protection or to aid upward progress. Glue-in bolts are also popular. Removable bolts exist but are more expensive and rarer.
Bomber: Totally solid; inspiring the most possible confidence; never coming out or off. Perfect. Synonym to “bullet” or “bulletproof.”
Bonk: To physically shut down while on an approach, while climbing, or while descending from climbing. Usually due to lack of sleep or nutriment.
Booty: Abandoned gear on a route. Usually, booty is trad gear that got stuck in a crack or a carabiner left on a hanger to bail off a route that’s too hard. Subsequent climbers on a route, especially dirtbags, lust after booty.
Bouldering: Climbing relatively short rocks with no protection other than pads on the ground. Bouldering becomes free soloing when the rock is tall enough to kill the climber if they fall.

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Boulder Problem: A set of features on a short cliff or boulder that facilitate, or suggest, a route to the top.
Bump: Moving one hand twice in a row, with no other movements. Also (formerly) “second generation.”

C


Cam: Short for SLCD, or spring-loaded camming device. Cam lobes wedge against both sides of a crack for protection in traditional climbing.

SLCD
A #6 Black Diamond Camalot in an acceptable placement. The lobe at the top of the frame has less than optimal contact with the rock. Note that pushing it in another inch or so could help; (photo/P Burton)

Chalk: Climbers use chalk to dry their hands, improving their grip.
Chickenhead: Picture a doorknob of rock, sticking out from the cliff surface; that’s a chickenhead.
Chicken Wing: A chicken wing is similar to an arm bar (see above) but narrower. To do a chicken wing, jam your palm against one side of the crack and your elbow against the other. If the crack is narrower than your forearm’s length, you’ll be in a chicken wing. Also describes the upward movement of the elbows that is common when a climber is fatigued and struggling to maintain a hold.
Chimney: A space between rock surfaces big enough to accommodate a human body. Chimney climbing is often arduous and abrasive.
Choss: Fragile or breakable rock, especially large swaths of it. A “choss pile” is an entire cliff or formation consisting entirely of choss.
Chuff: General term for failing to send a climb. If you commonly fall during your send attempts, you may be a chuffer.
Clean: 1) To remove quickdraws or trad gear from a pitch or route. 2) To climb a route, pitch or boulder problem without falls, and in good style.
Cord: 1) A climbing rope. 2) Short for cordelette, which is usually a 21-foot strand of 6-7mm cord used to rig anchors.
Corner: Ever been told to go to the corner? That’s a corner. More technically, “dihedral.”
Crack Climbing: Jamming the hands and feet in a crack to make progress. Crack climbing is a form of free climbing. Routes with cracks only (no face holds) are called “pure crack climbs.”
Crag: A cliff, or the area of a cliff used by climbers. A crag implies a relatively small area; Ten Sleep, Wyoming, is much bigger than a “crag.” However, the Valhalla area, home to about 100 routes within Ten Sleep, could be called a crag.

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Crash Pad: A padded mat placed on the ground below a boulder problem. The only form of protection in bouldering.
Crimp: A small handhold that usually requires hyperextending the first knuckle to hold.

crimping during rock climbing
(Photo/ueuaphoto)

Crush: To climb a route, pitch, or boulder problem strongly and successfully, or to do so for an extended session. “Crushing” is an advanced form of “sending.”
Crux: The most challenging section of a climb. A crux could be as short as one move or as long as 50 feet.
Cut Feet: When both feet come off the wall at once, the climber cuts feet.

D


Dab: To touch the ground, or a nearby rock, while attempting a climb. Dabbing invalidates a send and is most common in lowball bouldering.
Deadpoint: A long move, but not long enough to make the climber cut feet. Deadpoints are characterized by the climber latching the hold at the dead point between upward and downward movement.
Deck: 1) The ground. 2) To fall off a roped rock climb and hit the ground.
Deepwater Solo (DWS): Climbing without protection above water deep enough to protect a fall.
Dialed: Knowing a route or crux so intimately that the climber can remember and execute every detail; “she’s got the moves in that roof dialed.”
Dihedral: The inside of a corner (if you open a book, the crease in the middle is the apex of the dihedral). Dihedrals usually have cracks at the back.

climber in a dihedral
(Photo/Alex Eggermont )

Dirtbag: A nomad who lives with few means, who tries to climb or adventure as much as possible, with little regard for monetary or material gain. The greatest dirtbag of all time was Fred Beckey.
Drag: 1) As a climber climbs higher on a route, they carry more rope up with them, through more pieces of protection. The result is that the rope feels heavier. The effect is called “rope drag.” 2) A hold consisting of a flat surface of rock that a climber drags their palm against for friction.
Drive By: In climbing, a drive by move entails grabbing onto a hold while moving past it with a lateral trajectory.
Drop Knee: To do a drop knee, step on a foothold lateral to your body. Then, twist your knee toward the wall until it’s facing downward. A drop knee can add security, power, and leverage.
Dry Fire: When a climber loads up for a move, but at least one point of contact pops off the rock before they start. It’s only a dry fire if it results in a fall.
Dynamic Rope: Rope designed to absorb lead climbing falls by elongating when shock-loaded.
Dyno: In free climbing, a jump. Chris Sharma brought significant attention to the utility of dynos in the 1990s. The word is short for “dynamic.”

E


Elvis Leg: When a climber gets fatigued or frightened, one or both legs may start to uncontrollably shake. The effect can look similar to The King’s dance footwork.
Exposure: While climbing, the sensation of being high off the ground above a sheer section of steep terrain is known as exposure.

F


Face: A steep, vertical cliff relatively void of big features like ledges, caves, etc. Characteristically, face routes have thin cracks or small holds.
Faff: 1) n. A mess of tangled rope and gear, especially at a belay station on a multi-pitch climb. 2) v. To faff is to try to sort out your predicament without actually achieving much. Example: “Are you going to put me on belay or just faff around all day?” (British accent recommended.)
Figure Eight: The standard tie-in knot for climbing.
Figure Four: Throwing one’s leg over their arm for leverage. Most commonly used in ice climbing.

climber using a figure four
Jackson Marvell throws a figure four on a mixed climb in Utah.

First Ascent: The first time a route or formation is ever climbed, according to common knowledge/consensus.
Flag: Straightening one’s leg against the cliff (without stepping on a foothold) to add body tension or positional advantage.
Flapper: Ripped skin on a climber’s hands. Typically, a flapper is a torn blister or callus and results from overuse.
Flare: A “flaring” crack is narrower in the back than in the front. The crack becomes wider toward the opening.

Wild Country Zero Friend cam in flaring crack woman climbing
Placing a cam in a flaring crack; avoiding the nearby bolt to make a traditional ascent; (photo/Wild Country)

Flash: To climb a route with no falls on the first try, equipped with critical information. A flash is one step below an onsight. In bouldering, a flash is the equivalent of an onsight. 
Float
: To execute a route, sequence, or move without apparent effort. To climb but appear weightless.
Follow: In multi-pitch climbing, the follower is the climber below the leader on the cliff. In the typical setup, the belayer becomes the follower once they start climbing.
Free (Climb): 1) Using only one’s hands and feet for progress on the rock; not pulling or stepping on gear. 2) To “free” a route or pitch is to climb it without falls, no matter how many attempts it takes.
Free Solo: Free climbing with no equipment in a situation where a fall would guarantee serious injury or death.

G


Gaston: [Gas-TONE] Using a vertically oriented hold (sidepull) with the thumb side of the hand pointing downward.
Gear: 1) Any equipment used for rock climbing, like bolts, hangers, cams, belay devices, harnesses, ropes, drills, etc. 2) Short for “trad gear,” or protection that can be placed and removed during the ascent.
Gnarly: Brutal, painful, rad, cool, hard, not fun, dangerous, dirty, hardcore, intense, bad, awesome.
Grade: Difficulty of a rock climb.
Gri-Gri: [GREE-gree] The standard auto-locking belay device. Petzl introduced it in the 1990s.
Gripped: Terrified, so as to cling to the rock with a death grip.
Gumby: A noob climber. Typical Gumby behavior includes wearing climbing shoes in the belay area, stepping on the rope, and spilling chalk everywhere. (All of which the author has done prolifically.)

H


Hand Stack: Combining the hands to jam in a crack that’s too wide to jam with just one hand (or “off-width“). Common hand stacks include the butterfly (backs of hands together) and the snail (pinkie side of the fist against the back of the other hand).
Harness: The climber’s main safety gear, tethers the climber to the rope.

closeup of climber putting on harness
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Headpoint: In a headpoint, a climber rehearses a scary or dangerous climb on toprope before committing to climbing it from the ground up.
Headwall: A prominent part of a cliff, usually near the top. A proper headwall is steep and long, forcing sustained climbing movement.
Heel Hook: Pressing one’s heel against a hold for leverage or progress. Heel hooks are among the only ways to use one’s foot above head level. 
Highball
: A tall boulder problem, sometimes approaching free solo height. A highball tops out at least 18-20 feet off the ground.
Hueco: [WAY-co] 1) A rounded hole or pocket in rock, often formed by a primordial air bubble. Hueco is Spanish for “hole” or “hollow.” 2) Short for Hueco Tanks State Park and Historic Site, an origin point of American bouldering.

woman climbing huecos
Climbing on big huecos in the desert.

J


Jam: To wedge a body part, or entire body, into a crack. Hand jams, fist jams, and foot jams are all types of jams.
Jib: A tiny rock outcropping that doesn’t offer much leverage. About the size of a 2×1 Lego brick, ball bearing, or pencil tip.
Jingus: Nonsense, janky, or otherwise unsatisfactory, especially referring to human-controlled elements. If a sport climb has questionable, poorly placed bolts, it’s jingus. If a park is poorly managed, it’s jingus.
Jug: 1) n. The easiest hold to hold onto anywhere on the route; the next best thing to a handle; a bucket. 2) v. To move up a fixed rope with ascenders.

K


Kneebar: Put your foot on one surface of the rock and your knee on another that faces back toward it. Push to create tension.

L


Landing: The area below a boulder problem, where the climber will land if they fall.
Layback: Sometimes, you can climb a crack by working one side with your hands and one side with your feet. Opposing the force between your hands and feet is laybacking.

Person climbing a rock
Laybacking; (photo/Backcountry)

Lead: To lead, tie into the rope on the ground or ledge and start climbing. Leading is the opposite of top-roping because there’s no rope above the leader to catch them in the event of a fall. Instead, the leader takes a whipper.
LFG: Acronym for a certain crude exclamation of psych.
Lockoff: To pull a handhold down to shoulder level or lower and hold it. Sometimes, making the next move on a route requires a lockoff.
Lowball: A boulder problem that is notably low to the ground. On a lowball, dabbing should be possible on many if not all of the moves.

alex honnold bouldering
Alex Honnold lowballing in the desert.

M


Manky: Slimy, damp, funky, or otherwise moist and, as a result, low-quality. Manky bolts or other fixed hardware are often rusty and unreliable.
Mantle: Starting below a flat ledge or surface of the rock, mantle up by heaving your weight onto it. Getting out of a pool without a ladder requires a mantle. 
Master Point
: The equalized point of an anchor, usually two locking carabiners for the climbing rope. 
Match: Holding the same hold with both hands.
Meat Hook: Bending your wrist to 90 degrees to “hook” a big hold, usually one that protrudes out from the rock.
Mono: A pocket in the rock big enough for one finger.
Morpho: “Morphology.” A climber’s body shape, size, and structure.
Multi-pitch: A climb that’s longer than the length of the rope and requires intermediate anchors. The distance between anchors is a pitch.

N


Nubbin: Similar to a jib, a nubbin is a tiny piece of rock that doesn’t offer much leverage. A hold the size of a die, marble, or bottlecap.
Nut (Stopper): A steel wedge with a steel cable attached. Nuts fit in constrictions in cracks and stop falls by wedging downward when loaded.

O


Off Width: A crack that’s wider than the size of the climber’s fist. Off-width climbing covers cracks from about 5″ wide to body size.

 

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Onsight: To climb a route from bottom to top with no falls, knowing no critical information beforehand. In the most adventurous onsights, the climber doesn’t even know the grade of the climb.
Overgrip: To grip a hold harder than you need to. Inefficient because it uses up energy and usually results in forearm pump.
Overstoke: To become so excited, or psyched, as to be obnoxious or even hazardous to a climbing effort.

P


Palm Press: To rotate one’s wrist so the fingers point down and backward, and press down on a hold with the palm. Palm presses are most common on slabs.
PAS: Personal anchor system. A climber attaches a PAS to the hard points of their harness and uses it like an umbilical cord to gear or anchors. A PAS can be a sling, a piece of cordelette tied into a specialty knot like a Purcell Prusik, or a purpose-built rig like this one from Metolius.
PBUS: Acronym for the prescribed hand movements for toprope belaying. “Pull, brake, under, slide.” Works with most any belay device. Watch here.
Pink Point: Climbing a route with gear already placed. Placing gear on lead can significantly add to the difficulty of a route, especially on trad routes.
Pitch
: The distance between belay stations. Typically 70 m (standard climbing rope length) or less, but can be virtually any length in simul-climbing.
Placement: When a climber situates trad gear like a nut or cam in the rock, they’ve established a placement. In a good placement, the piece contacts a large area of the rock and doesn’t wiggle around or “walk” as the rope moves through the attached carabiner.
Pocket: A hole in the rock, suitable for up to four fingers. Pockets exist along a wide spectrum of sizes and the security they offer. A shallow mono offers very little purchase, but a big jug is easy to hold.
Pogo: A free climbing or bouldering move that entails swinging a leg for momentum, and then jumping to an often faraway hold.
Power Spot: As a spotter, physically lifting the boulderer to help them get into position for a move off the ground. Useful when working on a particularly hard move or sequence. Sometimes employed on the first few moves of a sport route.
Project: 1) n. A route or boulder problem that requires multiple sessions to complete. 2) v. To work on completing a route or boulder problem over the course of multiple sessions.
Pucker: To shrink, in fear. Puckering is the automatic reaction when extreme fear is induced.

 

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Pumped: The state of failing, weakening, and the sensations when forearm muscles become too acidic due to the byproducts of anaerobic metabolism. The lower blood pH from deriving energy without oxygen causes a cascade of negative physical events causing the “pump.” To “pump off” is to fall off a route due to pump.
Punter: Mainly used by British climbers, a punter is a climber who develops a reputation for not sending.
Purchase: Measurement of grip or friction on a hold, regardless of its size or shape. A climber can get good purchase or poor purchase on an edge the width of a dime.

Q


Quickdraw/Draw: Rudimentarily, two carabiners connected by a nylon sling. Quickdraws help climbers quickly link the rope to gear or bolts.

R


Rack: All the gear needed for a climb. For some short sport routes, a rack may consist of three quickdraws and a rope. Some trad or aid routes demand much more equipment.

A climber displays a rack of handmade climbing equipment.
Yvon Chouinard with his rack of Hexentrics and Stoppers, clean climbing chocks, ca. 1972; (photo/Tom Frost)

Rappel: Method of vertical descent down a rope, typically with the use of a belay device.
Rating: A measurement of a rock climb’s difficulty. Intended to be objective, but subjective by nature. Also “grade.”
Redpoint: To climb a route on lead without falling, but only after requiring at least one try that does induce a fall.


Rig: A widely applicable term in climbing. “Rig” can be a synonym for a route, a network of bolts on a route, a boulder problem, an anchor, or a vehicle (especially a self-built setup in a camper van or truck).
Rotten (Rock): Low-quality rock likely to break, especially a thin sheet of rock only dubiously attached to the rest of the cliff.
Route: A known, or envisioned, way to climb up a cliff, face, or other rock formation.
Runner: A sling, often about 2 feet long, attached to a piece of gear by the leader, and then clipped into the rope. Runners help reduce rope drag on long or indirect climbs.
Runout: A long space between bolts or gear placements where it’s impossible to place protection. A leader fall in a runout can result in a long, but not seriously injurious, fall.

Person Rock Climbing past a long runout in Black Diamond Vision Helmet
An example of runout. If the climber fell before the placement at their left foot, the fall would be substantial; (photo/Black Diamond)

S


Sandbag: 1) A climb, or climbing area, is sandbagged when the climbing feels harder than the ratings suggest. 2) Showing up to a climb with the wrong information, wrong gear, or forgotten items, or in depleted physical condition. Basically, any shortfall that makes a climb seem harder can be called a sandbag.
Scree: Loose stones or rocky debris accumulated on a slope below a cliff. Also talus.
Send: 1) To lead climb a route without falls, regardless of the number of previous attempts. An onsight is a send, but a send is not necessarily an onsight. If the send occurs on toprope, it’s a “trend.” 2) To top out a boulder problem. 3) To fully go for it; give it one’s full effort. Many climbers have sent all-you-can-eat buffets or coolers full of beer after long days out.
Session: The duration of a visit to a rock climb or climbing area, and all the climbing the visitor does that day.
Sharp End: The end of the rope a lead climber ties into.
Simul-climb: To climb a multi-pitch route with a partner but not use a real belay. Conventionally, simul-climbers decide a length of rope to maintain, and a minimum number of bolts or pieces of gear clipped between them. Instead of a belayer actively catching falls, the passive weight of the climbers arrests the falls. Speed climbers use simul-climbing to shave seconds.
Slab: A low-angle cliff or section of a cliff. Fingernail edges, tiny rock crystals, smearing, and palm presses characterize slab climbing.
Sloper: A big, rounded hold a climber has to use with a flat, or open, hand. Skin-to-rock friction is the primary adhering force. Fred Nicole’s “Karma,” in Fontainebleau, features one of the world’s most famous slopers.

alex megos v15 bouldering
Alex Megos hits a sloper in Switzerland.

Smear: Applying one’s shoe to the rock in a spot with no holds, relying predominantly on the surface area of the shoe on the rock for friction. Also “paste.”
Solo: To climb alone, with a self-belay. Distinct from free solo.
Spinner: When a bolt loosens and pulls away from the rock, the hanger gets loose on the exposed post. The resulting marginally safe hardware is called a spinner because the hanger can spin.
Splitter: 1) A perfect, laser-cut crack in a cliff that consistently cleaves it for many feet. 2) Almost anything else that can be perfect, especially weather. Prone to induce overuse by overstoked climbers.
Sport Climbing: Free climbing with fixed bolts as protection against falls. Sport climbing tactics intend to make climbing safe enough for the climber to more or less comfortably push physical limits. Terrain can be run out, but bolt spacing that could induce severe injury implies a level of seriousness beyond “sport.”
Sprag: To grab a hold with the digits (not including the thumb) spread apart. The Star Trek Vulcan hand sign is a sprag; so is the shocker.
Spray: 1) To divulge critical route information, especially publicly, loudly, or without solicitation. A “spray lord” is someone who constantly offers route beta at the cliff without anyone asking for it. A “spray-down” is an exhaustive monologue of a route’s beta. 2) A gym climbing wall littered with holds. The idea is to consolidate as many different routes as possible into the smallest space.
Stalactite: A drip formation inside a cave or hanging off an overhung wall. Some stalactites are big enough to accommodate a climber’s whole body; others are foothold-sized.
Static Rope: A rope that does not stretch under an applied force. Static ropes are most often used for jugging routes, or to rig long, elaborate anchors.
Stem: In free climbing, to place one’s foot adjacent to their body. Climbers most often use stems to improve balance or arrest momentum while they reach for the next handhold.

indoor climbing
The author stems left while backstepping right on a Moon Board.

Stick Clip: Most commonly, an extension pole with a device designed to hold a quickdraw attached to the end. If the first bolt on a route is concerningly high off the ground, the climber may use a stick clip with a carabiner and rope attached to equip it while standing on the ground. Notably, you can also make your own stick clip with one long stick, one tiny stick, and a couple of inches of climbing tape.
Surf: To move laterally on a climb with the feet, keeping the body position relatively still.

T


Take: To pull slack out of the rope system while belaying.
Testpiece: A quintessentially difficult climb, known to induce climbers’ best efforts. The grade is important but not critical, but testpieces should solidly represent their graded difficulty. Famous testpieces include “To Bolt or Not To Be” (5.14a) “Moonlight Buttress” (5.12c), and “Jade” (V14).
Thumb Catch: Part of a hold that the climber can grip separately with their thumb.
Tick Mark: A small line or dot of chalk a climber uses to mark a hold. Tick marks can aid the projecting process, but ruin other climbers’ exploratory experience and even ruin an onsight. To help maintain the integrity of the sport, any climber who ticks a hold should brush it off between sessions.
Toe Hook: To use the top of one’s toebox for friction on a hold.

rock climber using a toe hook
Throwing a toe hook; (photo/REI)

Topout: Pulling over the lip of a boulder problem or route to stand on top.
Top rope: To climb with the rope fixed to an anchor above the climber.
Trad: Short for traditional, to free climb but place one’s own gear for protection. Trad gear consists mainly of cams and nuts.
Tufa: A rib-shaped formation caused by dripping precipitation on steep limestone. Can, but does not always, terminate in a stalactite.

Martina Demmel Spain climbing
Martina Demmel on a Spanish tufa.

U


Undercling: Picture what your hand does when you lift up a piece of furniture from below. Palms up, fingers facing away from your body: that’s an undercling.

V


V-Scale: John Sherman’s bouldering grade system, developed at Hueco Tanks as American bouldering boomed in popularity. The dominant grading system in the U.S. for boulders.

W


Wasted: Profoundly fatigued; sometimes too tired to continue; shelled.
Whipper: A leader fall. The leader often climbs above their last piece of protection. If they fall, they fall more or less the same distance down past it.
Wire: A piece of passive protection (such as stoppers), threaded onto a piece of load-bearing cable. Also known as a nut or stopper.

siebe vanhee climbing
Siebe Vanhee places a wire in the Peak District; (photo/Andrea Cossu)

Wobbler: When a climber unnecessarily becomes enraged after not sending. Example: cussing at the sky, throwing shoes.
Woody
: An indoor climbing wall made of plywood. Often steep, sometimes adjustable. The MoonBoard popularized woodies around the world.

X


X-Rated: A route with such sparse protection that a leader fall will certainly result in severe injury or death. X-rated routes include “The Bachar-Yerian,” which went up with less than 10 protection bolts in 400 feet of climbing.

Z


Zipper: In trad climbing or aid climbing, a leader fall can rip out multiple placements below. Zippering is when the fall rips several pieces in a row, up to every piece on the pitch.

Sam Anderson
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Sam has roamed the American continent to follow adventures, explore natural wonders, and find good stories. After going to college to be a writer, he got distracted (or saved) by rock climbing and spent most of the next decade on the road, supporting himself with trade work. He's had addresses in the Adirondack Mountains, Las Vegas, and somehow Kansas, but his heart belongs in the Texas hill country.