Climbing Glossary

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Ice Climbing Vernacular
 Go to Cameron Burns' Ice Climbing Glossary for a peek into the speak of those who can't get enough of the frozen stuff.

From truckers to skaters, leathernecks to rainbow children, nearly every group that finds community away from the mainstream has its own language to express itself.  In both word and deed, climbers may be the oddest of the bunch. Not only do they scale ridiculously high walls for fun, but they're nearly incomprehensible when they try to tell anyone outside of their clan about the experience. We've come up with a glossary to help newbies adjust to the strange vernacular of the climbing world. Read on and educate yourself to talk the talk as the rest of you learns to walk the walk. Climb on!

abseil: British equivalent of rappel; to descend a stationary rope using a friction device to control the rate of descent

acute mountain sickness: the body's response to a lack of oxygen (hypoxia) that is a product of high altitude; symptoms include headache, insomnia, and nausea

aid climbing: climbing in which the climber relies on the rope or gear for upward progress or to support his or her weight

alpine: the region of a mountain above the tree line

anchor: the point at which the rope is fixed; mainly for a rappel, at the end of a pitch, or at a top-rope site

arete: a sharp, outside corner of rock

armbar: a method of holding onto a wide crack

ascender: a piece of gear that allows the climber to ascend a rope; when attached to the rope, it grips in one direction (down) and slides in the other (up)

back clean: removing protection while seconding a route; see clean

bashie: malleable metal that's been hammered into a crack as an anchor

belay: procedure of securing a climber by the use of a rope; a climber is on belay when when the belayer is prepared to lock off the rope in the event of a fall

bergschrund: the highest crevasse on a glacier; separates the glacier below from the ice or snow wall above.

big wall: extremely long, multi-pitch routes, which usually cannot be climbed in a single day; also known as wall

bight: a loop or bend in a rope

biner: slang for carabiner, see below

bivouac or bivi: camping on a mountain out on the climb

bolt: a rod of metal placed in a hole drilled for that purpose; the carabiner clips to a hanger, ring connected to the bolt

bomber or bomb-proof: an anchor system or placement that can be fully trusted

bucket: a very large, incut handhold that you can wrap your fingers over; a hold like the rim of a bucket

buttress: a prominent feature of rock that juts out from the side of a mountain

butterfly coil: quick method of coiling a rope, in two sets of bights of doubled rope, then tied off in the middle for easy transport

cam: [noun] a mechanical device that widens as it rotates, used in the cracks of rock for protection

carabiner: an aluminum, steel, or titanium snap-link used primarily for holding the rope and connecting it to gear, commonly referred to as biner

ceiling: a section of the climb that juts abruptly outward and looms overhead; also called roof or overhang

cerebral edema: the swelling of the brain due to lack of oxygen; see acute mountain sickness

chalk: magnesium carbonate; the same stuff your teacher used for writing on the blackboard, used to counteract sweaty hands and improve grip

chalkbag: piece of gear used to hold chalk; usually clipped to the harness with a biner

chimney: [noun] a wide crack (usually more than 18 inches) ascended by wedging the entire body in and shimmying upwards; [verb] the act of climbing such a crack

chock: a wedge or mechanical device slotted into a crack as an anchor (see nut)

clean: the act of removing protection from a pitch when seconding or rappelling (see back clean)

climbing skins: attachments for the base of skis that brake in one direction and slide in the other; used for climbing, then removed for a ski descent

col: a high mountain pass; a dip or saddle in a mountain ridge, often between two peaks.

couloir: a steep snow- or ice-filled gully on a mountainside

crag: a small cliff

crampon: a close-fitting metal spike frame on a climber's boot that allows secure movement on hard snow and ice

crevasse: a deep crack in glacial ice caused by the slow movement of the ice

crimper: a small edge that only your fingertips can grip

crux: the most difficult section of a climb or pitch

Published: 28 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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