rock climbing courses

Glossary of climbing terms

There are so many terms used by climbers and to the uninitiated these can sound like a language of their own. Below is a Glossary of all the major terms and expressions, so hopefully the next time someone is talking about grabbing chicken heads, Egyptians, pink-points and walking on jellyfish, it will start to make a little more sense.

ABSEIL. A German word meaning to come down a rope. In climbing terms an abseil is using special equipment to come down a rope, this can be done to get back down from the top of the climb or done in emergencies.
AID CLIMBING. A means of climbing up a rock face by placing protection into the rock and then standing on special equipment that is clipped in to the protection.
ALPINE BUTTERFLY. A knot used to make a loop in a rope. Often used by guides to tie people onto a rope when walking across glaciers.
AMERICAN TRIANGLE. A way of clipping 3 things together (ie. two bolts and a krab) that should be avoided at all costs.
ARÊTE. A rock feature, a corner that sticks outwards
ARM BAR. A climbing move where the climber uses their arm to wedge into a crack.
ASCENDER. A piece of climbing equipment used to help a climber move up a rope.
AUTOBLOCK. American phase for a prussic knot.

indoor climbing courses

BACK STEP. A climbing move where the body is turned sideways to the rock.
BELAY DEVICE. Climbing equipment that is used to attach a rope to a harness. The rope can move through the device but can be used to hold the weight of the climber should they fall off.
BELAY STANCE. When a lead climber reaches the top of the pitch they will attach themselves to the rock and belay the second climber. The area that the lead climber has attached themselves to is called the belay stance.
BELAY. A way of holding a rope to keep the climber safe. This is often done with a belay plate.
BETA. American term for route information, such as where the handholds are and how to hold them.
BICYCLE. A climbing move used to keep the feet on when climbing on overhangs. One foot is placed on a foothold and the other foot is placed behind the same foothold. The climber can now squeeze the hold between the feet.
BIG BRO’S. A type of climbing protection used in large cracks. This resembles a tube, which can be lengthened to fit into the crack.
BOLD. A route that does not have a lot protection. The climber will have to take a bigger than normal risk to reach the top.
BOLT. A metal clip drilled into rock that climbers can clip a rope into.
BOMBER. A natural protection placement that is amazingly strong.
BOTTOM ROPE. A way of climbing where the rope is always above the climber. The climber is belayed from the bottom. This is often used in climbing walls.
BOULDERING. Low level climbing often done above crash pads.
BOWLINE. A knot used to tie a loop into a rope. Often used to tie a harness into a rope
BREAK. A horizontal crack that runs for a couple of metres.
BRIDGE. A climbing move where the feet are placed on two different walls (often the walls are facing each other) and the legs make a ‘bridge’ from one wall to the other.
CAM. A active piece of protection. This device expands into cracks; the more weight placed on the cam the more than cam will expand into the crack.
CAMPUS BOARD. A training aid made of horizontal rungs. The climber has to reach to top without using their feet.
CHALK. Used to absorb sweat from the climbers hand.
CHICKEN WING. A crack climbing technique. Opposing pressure is used between the shoulder and hand. A hand is placed on one side of the crack and the shoulder on the other.
CHIMNEY. A large crack that you can fit your whole body in.
CHIPPING. Making new holds in the rock. Should never be done.
CHOCKSTONE. Wedging a small rock into a crack. This is then used to tie a sling around so the climber can clip their rope into the sling.
CLEANING. Removing the natural protection as you climb. This is normally done by the second person to climb the route.
CLOVE HITCH. A knot used to clip a rope onto krabs. Often used at the belay stance is the knot is very adjustable and can be tied with one hand.
CORDELETTE. American term for a loop of rope around 7mm thick. This is used to make belay stances or in rescue situations.
CORNER. A rock feature, opposite to an arête.
COW BELLS. A term used to describe the noise that all the climbers’ equipment can make whist walking to and from the cliff.
COW’S TAIL. A length of rope with a krab on one end and the other attached to a harness. Often used to keep climbers safe on rope courses and via-ferrata.
CRACK. A split in the rock. These can be of any length and of any width. Often climbed using crack climbing techniques such as hand jams.
CRAG. Another name for a cliff face.
CRIMP. A way of holding small holds. The thumb is placed over the fingers to provide extra grip
CRUX. The hardest part of the climb.
DAISY CHAIN. A sling that has lots of loops in it. These loops can be used to clip different things into. Often used in aid climbing.
DEAD END. The ropes coming from the belay plate are given names. The strand that is attached to the climber is called the live and the other end is called the dead end. You must never let go of the dead end whilst belaying.
DEAD POINT. When climbers dyno for holds there is a point when the body is neither moving upwards or downwards, this is called the dead point. This is the ideal time to grab the hold you are jumping to.
DEEP WATER SOLOING. A form of climbing with no ropes. This is done above water, often at sea cliffs to minimise the danger. That said, it can still have risks, a bad fall into water can result in a cheap colonic irrigation or a punctured lung.
DISCO LEG. The resulting action of being terrified. A nervous involuntary movement that causes the leg to shake when placed onto footholds.
DOGGING. Nocturnal activities in a car park or a style of climbing. If a climber falls on a route, takes a rest then carries on from that point with starting again, it is called dogging a route. This is often used to practice a route, which is then climbed later in one go.
DOUBLE ROPES. Climbers will often use two ropes when climbing routes. Both ropes are used at the same time, it is normal to clip one rope into the protection on the left side of the route and the other rope is used on the right side of the route.
DROP KNEE. A climbing move often used on overhanging rock. The feet are placed on two separate footholds and one leg is rotated to the knee is pointing towards the other leg. This places more weight onto the feet and allows the climber to let go with one hand.
DYNAMIC ROPE. There are two types of rope, dynamic and static. Dynamic rope is stretchy, so when a climber falls off, the rope stretching absorbs the energy of the fall. Bungee jumpers use this principle with their equipment, although bungee ropes are extremely stretchy.
DYNO. Jumping for a handhold.
indoor rock climbing EGYPTIAN. Another name for a drop knee.
ELIMINATE. A route where you are only allowed to use certain handholds.
ELVIS LEG. See disco leg.
ESCAPING THE BELAY. A term to describe the procedure for the belayer to let go of the belay plate and remove themselves from the belay stance.
ÉTRIER. Aid climbing equipment. An etrier is like a small (2m) rope ladder. This is clipped into the protection and then stood in.
EXCITING. A term often found in guidebooks. This term is used to put positive spin on a route that is frightening or terrifying.
EXPOSED. A feeling of been exposed to the environment and the situation you are in. This often come when you find your self next to a steep drop with little rock around you. Some climbers love this feeling and others can find it intimidating.
EXTENDER. Another name for a quickdraw.
FALL FACTOR. When a climber falls off a large amount of energy is created. The fall factor is a measurement of this energy. A factor 2 fall is the highest. The biggest influence of fall factor is the amount of rope that can absorb the energy. If a climber falls 10m on 5m of rope the fall factor is worked out by dividing the length of fall by the amount of rope, in this case 10/5=2. A fall factor of two can only occur on multipitch climbs where the climber falls from above the belay stance with no protection.
FIGURE EIGHT. An abseil device that is rarely used outside an instructed abseil session.
FIGURE FOUR. A climbing move where the leg is hooked over the arms to gain extra reach. Rarely used in rock climbing but sometimes used in ice climbing.
FIGURE OF EIGHT. A classic knot used to tie a rope into a harness.
FINGERBOARD. A board with lots of handholds shaped into it. This is used to hang off so the climber builds their grip strength.
FISHERMAN’S KNOT. A knot that can be used to tie two ropes together or used to back up the main figure of eight knot.
FLAG. A climbing move where one foot is placed on a foothold and the other is ‘flagged’ to the side to help keep balance.
FLAKE. A rock feature. A section a rock that is peeling away from the main face. This often creates a sideways facing crack. Some flakes are solid whereas others feels like they may fall away from the rock at any point.
FLASH. A style of climbing. A climber reaches the top of a climb, having never tried it before but has been given some ‘beta’ about the climb.
FREE CLIMBING. An American term used to describe normal climbing, as opposed to aid climbing. Free climbing is different from Soloing.
North Wales FRIEND. A brand name for a cam. This is often used to describe all types of cams
GASTON. A way of holding a sideways facing handhold. The hold is held with the thumb downwards. This is a very strenuous position and is normally avoided by most climbers. Named after French climber Gaston Rébuffat.
GEAR. Another name for protection
GRADE. All climbs are given a grade depending on their difficulty. There are many types of grades used in different countries. We use the British system for traditional climbs and the French grade for sport climbing.
GRI-GRI. An mechanically assisted belay plate. This device will help the belayer hold the rope in the event of a fall.
GRIPPED. Another name for being frightened. When we become scared whilst climbing, we often start to grip too hard and even freeze up. This is being gripped.
GROOVE. A rock feature used to describe a furrow or a rut within the rock.
HARNESS. Climbing equipment. A material waistband with two leg loops. Used to hold the climber if they fall.
HEADPOINT. A modern climbing style. A route is practiced on top rope before being lead on traditional gear.
HEEL HOOK. A technique where a climber uses their foot like a hand. The heel is hooked around the handhold to help hold the climber.
HEEL-TOE JAM. A climbing move where the foot is placed in a crack. The foot is then orientated and wedged into the crack.
rock climbing protection HEX. Short from Hexcentric. This is a form of protection that can be used as a nut or placed so that it wedges itself into a crack when weight is applied.
HIGH STEP. A climbing move where the climber has to use a high foothold.
HIGHBALL. A high boulder problem.
HOLD. Something to place your hands or feet on.
IN SITU. A guidebook term meaning climbing equipment that has been left attached to the rock. This can range from a old sling to a pre placed bolt.
INJURIES. We are not designed to climb rock. This results in many climbers gaining overuse injures or even injuries from taking bad falls
ITALIAN HITCH. A type of knot that can be used to belay with. The rope will slide through the knot, but if the climber falls the friction created by the knot will make the rope easy to hold.
JAMMING. A climbing technique used to climb cracks. Hands or feet can be placed into the crack and ‘jammed’ in place so the climber will not fall off.
JELLY FISH. See disco leg.
JUG. A large handhold.
JUMAR. An device used to climb a rope. This device can slide up the rope but not back down.
KARABINER. A metal clip used to clip things onto. There are many different types depending on their shape or the type of gate used to open and shut the clip.
KLEMHEIST KNOT. A type of prussic knot.
KRAB Short for Karabiner.
LAYBACK. A type of climbing where the climber leans away from the handhold. The feet often have to be placed high up and to the side, which allows the climber to lean, back further.
LEADER. The first climber to climb the route will take the rope up with them, attaching it to protection as they go.
LIVE ROPE. See dead end.
LOCK OFF. A type of climbing move often used by the very strong. The climber pulls up with their arms and then locks the arms in the bent position.
MANTLESHELF. A climbing technique where the climber has to push down on a handhold.
MIA. Abbreviation for Mountain Instructor Award. A highly qualified instructor that can teach all aspects of rock climbing, scrambling and hill walking. Renowned for bragging about their achievements! A good person to get climbing courses and scrambling courses from.
MICRO’S. Very small nuts.
NUT KEY. A 20cm piece of metal that is used to remove nuts if they become stuck.
Rock climbing nut NUT. A type of climbing protection that is wedged into V shaped cracks.
OFFWIDTH. A size of crack that is too large to fist jam yet too small to fit your body in. This type of crack can be very hard to climb.
ONSIGHT. A style of climbing. The climber climbs the route first time, having never climbed it before and not received any information on the route from other people.
OPEN GRIP. A way of holding handholds. The fingers are placed on the handhold but the thumb is not used. This is less damaging to tendons than the crimp grip.
OVERHAND KNOT. A simple yet strong knot, sometimes called a granny knot. Can be used to tie ropes together or to make a loop in a rope.
OVERHANG. A rock feature that leans towards the climber. Can be very hard to climb.
PEG. An piece of aid climbing equipment. A peg can be hammered into the rock so the climber can clip their rope into it.
PINCH. A way of holding a handhold – by pinching the hold between your fingers and thumb.
PINKPOINT. Style of climbing. Climbing a route first time, having never climbed it before. The climber has received some beta on the route and the protection/quick draws are already in place.
PITCH. Climbs that are longer than one rope length are divided into pitches. A climb can be 1 pitch up to 30+ pitches.
PITON. See peg.
PLACEMENT. See protection.
POCKET. A type of handhold. A small hole in the rock that can be used to place your hands (or feet).
POP. A dyno but your feet stay on the footholds.
PROBLEM. A name for a bouldering route. The route up a boulder can often be problematic and the solution often has to be worked out. This is normally working out how to use the holds and the sequence they are used.
PROTECTION. A climber has to keep themselves safe as they climb. This is done by fixing the rope onto bits of metal that are wedged into the rock. These bits of metal have lots of names such as nuts, micros, cams and hex’s.
PRUSSIC A type of knot. A small loop of rope is wrapped around the climbing rope using this knot. The prussic can slide up and down the rope but when weight is applied to it, the prussic will lock onto the climbing rope.
PUMP. Sustained climbing leads to the arms becoming tried. If a large amount of Hydrogen ions (waste product of anaerobic metabolism) are allowed to build up this can lead to a painful feeling in the arms and will reduce the muscles’ ability to work.
QUICKDRAW. A piece of equipment that is used to fix a rope onto the protection. A quickdraw is made from two snaplinks held together with a short sling.
RACK. All of the climbers equipment. This can be made of nuts, cams, hex’s, quickdraws, slings, snaplinks and krabs.
RAPPELL. An American term for Abseil
REDPOINT. A style of climbing. Reaching the top of a climb in one go with no falls. The route can be practiced as many times as you like before you try to redpoint the route.
RETRO FLASH. A style of climbing. You have climbed the route in the past but have forgotten how to climb it. You then repeat the route on a later date.
ROCKOVER. A climbing technique. Using a high foothold and rolling your body over the foothold so all your weight is committed to the hold. ROOF. A steep overhang
RP. A brand name for a very small nut.
RUN OUT. See bold.
RUNNER. Often used to describe protection.
SANDBAG. A route that is much harder than it appears or than its grade suggests.
SCOTTISH VD. A typical sandbag route, often really easy climbing followed by an extremely hard finish.
SCRAMBLING. A mix between climbing and walking. The climbing sections tend to be short and quite easy. A variety of rope techniques are needed to safely reach the top.
SCREAMER. A type of equipment that is attached to protection. In the event of a fall some of the stitching is designed to rip and therefore absorb some of the energy of the fall.
SECOND. The second person to climb the route. The leader will climb first, placing protection as they go. The second will then climb the route removing the protection so it can be used again.
SEMI STATIC ROPE. Often called a static rope. This is a rope that does not stretch as much as a dynamic rope.
SHARP END. A term often used to describe leading.
SIDEPULL. A hand hold that its orientation forces you to pull sideways on it.
Kent climbing SLAB. A rock feature. Used to describe a section of rock that leans away from the climber.
SLAP. The sound make when a climber desperately grabs a handhold.
SLING. A length of Nylon or Dyneema tied into a loop. It is often used to tie around objects such as trees.
SLOPER. A type of handhold that does not have a positive edge. This type of hold tends to be very rounded and can be extremely hard to hold onto to.
SMEARING. A very common climbing technique. The foot is placed on a sloping foothold or a part of the wall that does not have any positive footholds. The climber then uses the friction between the shoes and the rock. This can often be enough to hold the climber in place or at least enough to allow them to let go with one arm.
SNAPLINK. A strong metal clip that has a gate, which allows the climber to clip things into it. The gate is spring loaded so it will automatically shut.
SOLO. Climbing the route with no ropes. It can also mean Aid climbing on your own but with ropes.
SPA. A climbing instructor award stands for Single Pitch Award. An SPA holder can teach climbing on low-level cliffs, that have easy access. They are not allowed to teach lead climbing, sport climbing or scrambling.
SPIKE. A small rock feature that sticks upwards. Often used to put slings around as a form of protection.
SPORT CLIMBING. A type of climbing that uses pre-placed bolts instead of natural protection. The bolts have been drilled into the rock and the climber will use a quickdraw to attach their rope onto the bolts.
SPOTTING. A term taken from gymnastics. A spotter is some one who stands behind the climber to make sure they to do not fall onto their back. This is often used in Bouldering.
STEP THROUGH. A climbing technique where the climber crosses one leg underneath the other in order to reach a foothold.
STITCH PLATE. A type of belay plate.
STOPPER KNOT. A knot used to back up the main knot. Often a fisherman’s knot is used.
TAPING UP. Crack climbing can be extremely tough on your skin. Often climbers will ‘tape up’ and cover their hands will zinc oxide tape.
TAT. Old climbing rope that has been left on the route. This is often used to attach climbing ropes to so the climbers can abseil back down.
THANK GOD HOLD. A large hold that come at the end of a hard sequence of moves.
THREAD. A small hole in the rock that goes in at one point and comes out at another. This is often used to place a sling through as a form of protection.
TOPPING OUT. Reaching the top of the climb or boulder problem.
TOPROPE. This is similar to a bottom rope in that the climber rope is above the climber as they climb the route. The only difference between this and a bottom rope that the belayer is at the top of the route instead of the bottom.
TRADITIONAL. A type of climbing where the climber will place their own protection as they go. The second climber who is belayed by the first then removes the protection.
TRAVERSE. Some a climber will have to avoid a section of route, as there on no holds or it is too hard. The climber will then have to climb sideways, this is called a traverse.
TRI CAM. A type of protection. This piece of equipment has 3 points of contact with the rock, when weight is applied the tri-cam will rotate and expand itself into a crack.
TWIN ROPES. Similar to double ropes except both twin ropes must be clipped into each bit of protection or bolt.
UNDERCLING. An upside-down handhold that has to be pulled upwards.
VIA-FERRATA. A type of rock climbing that uses fixed metal wires, permanent metal rungs as well as natural rock features. The climber will attach themselves to the metal wires with cow tails so they remain safe.
WALK-IN. Often cliffs have to be walked to before the routes can be climbed. The walk is often referred to as the ‘walk in’.
WINGER. A long fall by the lead climber.
WIRE BRUSHING. A way of cleaning handholds that can be very damaging to the rock.
WIRE. Another name for a nut.
YO-YO. A climbing style where the climber falls off and is then lowered back down to the ground, leaving the gear in place. The climber will then try the climb again, if they reach the top it is referred to as a yo-yo ascent.
ZAWN. A small channel going back into a sea cliff. These often provide some good climbing but can be damp and greasy as they receive little sun or wind.
ZINC OXDIDE TAPE. A type of tape used to wrap around fingers and hands. This is done to protect the hands during crack climbing or to help support finger injuries.


Association of Mountaineering Instructors Mountain Leader Training Association National Navigation Award Scheme British Mountaineering Council Environmentally friendly climbing courses
© Mountain Trips 2020