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 Lesson 19: Climbing Vocabulary

0081Kevin.jpg (106004 bytes) Welcome to the EverestNews.com Lesson plans developed by Kevin Cherilla ( base camp manager of the NFB 2001 Everest Expedition and 7th and 8th grade physical education teacher from Phoenix, Arizona) and the staff at EverestNews.com, the largest mountaineering publication in the world.

If you would like to hire Kevin as an Everest speaker e-mail us at everestnews2004@adelphia.net today !

The following vocabulary words are used for rock and ice climbing along with mountaineering.  Use these words in vocabulary quizzes and make up your own word searches.


German term (also employed by the British) for rappel; a method for descending a fixed rope by means of sliding and braking mechanisms known as belay devices. 

Aid Climbing:
Direct use of fixed or placed protection (pitons, spring-loaded cams, bolts, rivets, etc.) to support a climber's weight and assist in upward progress. 

Climbing aids made of nylon webbing used to step upward on big walls. 

Aid Route:
A technical rock climb that requires the use of artificial devices such as pitons, spring-loaded cams, bolts, rivets, etc. to support the climber's weight for upward progress. 

Alpine Start:
The push-off time (generally around 2 a.m. or earlier) for a summit run in order to return to camp by nightfall, as well as to avoid the dangers of melting ice and snow as the day's heat progresses, which make the climb dangerous. 

Alpine Style:
An ultra-lightweight method of climbing in which equipment and food rations (i.e., comfort and security) are trimmed to the barest essentials in order to facilitate a swift ascent to the summit. 

Acute Mountain Sickness. A cluster of symptoms brought on by lower blood levels of oxygen at higher altitudes. Symptoms include headache, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, malaise and disturbed sleep. 

Point where the rope is secured to the rock with either fixed bolts, rocks, trees or non-fixed gear to provide protection against a fall. 

A steel piton folded lengthwise. 

The route undertaken to reach the technical portions of a climb. 

A sharp ridge of rock or snow and ice found in rugged mountains or when two planes of rock or snow wall jut from a face and intersect. 

Mechanical sliding and braking devices used to move up a rope. Sometimes generically referred to as the brand name Jumar. 

Air Traffic Controller. A popular belaying and rappelling device which, when used in conjunction with a locking carabiner, provides a safety brake on the rope. 


To give up on a rock climb or summit attempt for reasons that range from the legitimate (weather, lateness, injury, fatigue) to the suspect (hunger, thirst, discomfort, job obligations, waiting wives, husbands or significant others). 

Thin crack protection utilizing sliding ball-and-ramp construction. 

Base Camp:
The lowest, largest (and most luxurious) fixed camp on a major ascent. 

Bat Hook:
A bat hook is a hook filed to a sharp point for tapping into shallow drilled holes for aid climbing. 

Safety technique in which a stationary climber provides protection, by means of ropes, anchors and braking devices, to an ascending partner. 

Belay Device:
A forged metal device of various configurations through which a climbing rope is threaded and then linked to a carabiner in order to provide friction to brake a fall. 

Belay Slave:
One who can be persuaded by any means (promises, deception, love, coercion) to stay on the ground and provide a safety belay for a procession of climbers 

Belay Station:
A stance on a rock face of varying degrees of discomfort from which a climber provides roped protection for his or her ascending partner. 

A gap or crevasse which appears between a glacier and the upper snows of a mountain's face. 

Any advance information (weather, rock or snow conditions, terrain features, local lore) which helps in planning or negotiating a climb. 

Big Wall Climb:
A technical rock climb so long and sustained that an ascent normally requires more than a single day. 

Bird Beak:
A thin, hooking-type piton used to hook small cracks. Bird beaks are easily removable and used on clean ascents. 

A temporary camp — sometimes planned, often not — that provides little or no shelter from the elements. Bivy, or Bivi, for short. 

Black Ice:
Permanent ice found in shady couloirs or on steep north faces that is usually extremely hard, dense and difficult to climb. 

Stout metal pin drilled in the rock of steep routes to provide permanent protection for climbers. 

Has extremely high quality and dependability. Usually refers to a handhold, but can also describe a piece of equipment, a campsite or any generally positive or beneficial item or state of being. 

It's an extra-wide-angled piton used primarily in the early days of big wall climbing. 

To climb short, hard routes on low-lying rocks without protective gear. 

A handhold large enough to latch the entire hand onto — as with the lip of a bucket. 

A rock formation that projects out from the line of a face. 


Generic term for mechanical spring-loaded devices of varying sizes and manufactuer (Friends, Camalots, TCUs, etc) which can be inserted in cracks to secure a climbing rope. 

Dynamic climbing move executed using the arms only, orignated by Wolfang Gullich.

Forged aluminum or steel devices of various shapes (oval, D-ring, etc.) with a spring-loaded gate through which a climbing rope can be threaded. The most basic all-around tool on a climber's rack, they are used variously for such activities as belaying, rappelling, prusiking and clipping into safety anchors. (Common usage: "Biner"). 

Powdered magnesium carbonate used by climbers to dry sweaty hands. 

A protruding lump found in granite which provides excellent handholds or foot placements. 

A crack large enough to climb inside of. 

Slang for loose rock. Also choss pile: an unappealing rock or route. 

A very steep gully. (Chute is French for "fall," and refers to the rockfall often found in such gullies.) 

A steep-walled mountain basin which usually forms the blunt end of a valley. (French for "circus.") 

To remove the protective gear placed by the climbing leader while ascending. Usually accomplished by the following climber, or "second." Also can refer to climbing an aid route without a hammer. 

Cleaning tool:
A narrow metal device with a hooked end used for removing nuts or cams stuck in cracks. Also employed post-climb as a beer bottle opener. 

Clipping in:
The act of a climber using a carabiner to connect to belays and anchors or to connect ropes to protection. 

A dip in a ridge that forms a small, high pass. 

A malleable chunk of metal (once made of copper, but now often aluminum), swaged (attached) to a flexible wire loop, that can be hammered into small depressions in the rock for protection in aid climbing. 

An overhanging mass of wind-sculpted snow projecting beyond the crest of a ridge; generally an extremely dangerous feature of terrain. 

An open, steep gully, usually containing ice or snow. 

Crack Climbing:
Free climbing up a rock by wedging one's hands and feet into a crack in the rock and pulling upward. 

Spiked metal devices which attach to climbing boots to provide purchase on ice and firm snow slopes. 

To pull on a hold with maximum force; to expend total effort in any endeavor. 

Climber's wry description of a horrendous fall in which a climber lands on the ground or other solid surface. 

A crack in a glacier surface of varying width and depth, caused by the movement of the glacier over underlying irregularities in terrain. 

A negligible hold that accomodates only the fingertips. 

The most difficult section of a climbing route. 


Daisy Chain:
A nylon sling sewn into loops; also used to provide supplemental security at belay stations. 

An alloy fluke or plate which is placed into deep snow to provide an anchor. 

Dead Hang:
To hang from a handhold with arms straight so body weight is supported by the skeleton rather than arm muscles. 

A dynamic climbing technique in which a hold is grabbed at the very apex of upward motion, thereby placing the smallest possible load on the hold. 

The ground. 

To have total understanding of a route, a move, a rock problem or a situation. 

A point where two walls meet in a right-angled inside corner, ie. an "open book." 

"Dirt Me":
American slang for "Lower me to the ground." 

To descend a mountain or a rock face without weighting a rope; often accomplished without protection, and hence potentially the most dangerous part of a climb. 

Double Fisherman's Knot:
A solid and reliable knot used to tie two ropes or pieces of webbing together. 

To ascend a section of rock using ice tools, a common technique employed on routes that contain both rock and ice sections. 

Short for "dynamic," a gymnastic upward leap for a distant hold. 


A climbing technique in which the thin edges of the climbing shoes are used to stand on small footholds. 

The act of stringing together two or more hard routes as a single enterprise. Made possible by accelerating the descents in between climbs — by skiing, for example, or by paragliding to the base. 

A climbing adventure in which abnormal events occur on such a routine basis that the feats undertaken to survive them come to seem routine as a consequence. 

Portable "step ladders" usually made of nylon webbing clipped into protection and used to progress upward on steep, featureless rock in aid climbing. 

The condition of being on high vertical rock with full consciousness that nothing exists between you and the distant ground but thin air. 


Face Climbing:
Ascending rock that is predominantly made up of finger pockets and thin edges. 

To retreat in dynamic fashion from a climb. 

Fifi Hook:
The fifi hook is attached to the climber's harness and serves as an emergency or temporary method of clipping in to a piece of gear. 

Figure Eight Knot:
The basic climber's knot. When retraced, it is used to attach a climber's harness to the rope. 

A crack climbing technique wherein the fingers are wedged (often painfully) into a crack for purchase on the rock. 

Fist Jam:
Similar to a fingerlock except that the entire fist is wedged into a crack. 

Fixed rope:
A rope anchored to a route by the lead climber and left in place for all who follow. May also be left by an unknown climber for an unknown length of time. Used to ascend and descend the route when the climbers want to sleep on the ground or are shuttling gear up. 

A large piece of detached skin, often field-repaired with Super Glue or duct tape. 

A crack or chimney whose sides are not parallel, but form two converging planes of rock to the back. 

To successfully lead a climb you've never previously attempted - with no falls or "dogging," (ie. hanging on the rope), but with prior knowledge (beta) of its features or difficulties. 

A usually insecure fin or flake of rock or ice. 

To be the second climber up a pitch, belayed by the leader from above. 

Free Climb:
To ascend steep rock without recourse to artificial aids, using only the hands and feet to propel oneself upward. (Although ropes and anchoring devices are employed for protection, they are not used to bear the weight of the climber or for upward progress.) 

Free Solo:
To climb with no protective devices whatsoever, relying solely on strength, agility, technique and an ability to accept or ignore the consequences of long falls from high places. 

Trade name for one of the original spring-loaded camming devices. 

Front Point:
A technique for ascending steep or overhanging ice. The two forward points and two vertical points of the crampons are used for purchase simultaneously with the supporting balance of hand-held tools, such as ice axes. 


A sharp pinnacle of rock on a ridge. 

An exhilarating (or terrifying, depending on the circumstances) slide down snow or ice on one's feet or backside. 

Flesh wounds on the hands resulting in ugly scabbing, generally incurred during crack climbing. 

To have difficulty grasping a particular hold due to sweat, lactic acid in the muscles, or slickness of the rock. 

Trade name for a belaying device with an "automatic" braking system. 

Extremely scared. 

A novice climber. 


High Altitude Cerebral Edema is the most serious form of altitude sickness, involving swelling of brain tissue. Symptoms include loss of memory and coordination, vision disturbances and hallucinations, paralysis and seizures. Immediate evacuation and treatment is imperative. 

High Altitude Pulmonary Edema, is a dangerous form of altitude sickness involving fluid buildup in the lungs. Symptoms include breathlessness, fatigue, pink sputum and increased heart rate. Going to lower altitude is highly recommended. 

Hand Traverse:
Climbing laterally on rock where there are no footholds. 

Hanging Belay:
A generally uncomfortable belay stance on steep rock where there is no place to stand.

Hang Dogging:
Resting on the rope and protective gear while climbing a sport route. ("Dogging" for short). 

A strong belt made of nylon webbing with leg and/or chest loops used to secure the climber to the rope and to provide a repository for gear. 

Haul Bag:
Large, heavy, unwieldy bag used to carry food, water and gear on big wall climbs. Also know as a "Haul Pig," or just "Pig." 

The point where a cliff or mountain's face steepens dramatically. 

Awful, scary, monstrous; any activity fraught with extreme danger. 

A hexagonally shaped nut attached to a flexible looped wire which is inserted into a rock crack as a protective climbing device ("Hex" for short). 

To be in top condition for climbing. 

Small metal devices used to grip tiny ledges or small holes. 

Abnormally low body temperature caused by exposure to cold and wetness, symptoms of which are sluggishness, reduced mental capacity and apathy. 

A debilitating lack of oxygen. 


Ice Axe:
A mountaineering tool of varying lengths, pointed at the base and with a head consisting of a pick and an adze. 

Ice Fall:
A feature of a mountain's terrain in which a glacier falls so steeply that it creates a series of crevasses and ice pinnacles. Usually one of the most dangerous features encountered on a mountain climb. 

Ice screw:
A threaded piton made of aluminum or some other light metal designed to bore into ice securely enough to act as a protective anchor. 

A hold or depression indented in the wall of a climbing route. 


A technique for climbing cracks in which the fingers, hands, or feet are wedged inside a rock crack to gain purchase and facilitate upward progress. 

Jam Crack:
A crack which is wide enough to accomodate a hand, fist, arm, foot, or elbow (or combination thereof).

To ascend a rope using a mechanical sliding/braking device. 

Jug Hold:
A handhold so luxuriantly secure that it can be grasped like a jug handle. Also known as a "Bomber." 

Trade name for a mechanical sliding/braking device used to ascend a rope. 


Long thin piton used to fit into cracks too narrow for even the tiniest of nuts. 


Layback (Lieback):
A technique wherein a climber's hands are positioned to pull on one side of a crack while the feet push in opposition from the other, facilitating a crablike advance up the rock. 

To be the first climber up a pitch, placing protection in the rock along the way while being belayed by a partner from below. 

Locking Carabiner:
A carabiner whose gate can be screwed or locked tight for increased security. 

Lost Arrow:
Very thin piton. 


Bad, heinous, atrocious, dreadful, ghastly. Usually applies to a piece of protection, but can refer to anything that is generally worthless, disgusting and/or offensive. 

A technique wherein a climber grasps a hold waist-level and powers the body upward with minimal assistance from the feet. (From "mantelpiece.") 

To grasp a hold with both hands, or to place the feet side by side on the rock. 

Mixed Climbing:
Ascending a route by a combination of methods, e.g. mixed free and aid climbing; also, ascending a route wherein both rock and ice, and sometimes snow, are encountered. 

An accumulation of stones and various debris pushed into a large pile by a glacier. 

Multi-Pitch Climb:
A climb that is longer than a single rope length, necessitating the setting of anchors at progressively higher belay stations as the climbers ascend. 

Munter Hitch:
A belay knot through which the rope slides when pulled in one direction and brakes when pulled in the other. 


Nailing a route:
A descriptive term that refers to aid climbing with pitons, which are hammered into a wall's cracks to provide protection. 

Permanent granular snow formed by repeated freeze-thaw cycles which is found above the head of a glacier. 

A small rock protrusion, often a crystal, that can be utilized as a hold. 

A metal wedge with a wire loop that is inserted in cracks for protection. 


"Off Belay!":
Vocal signal from a climber who has reached a safe stance and no longer requires protection from his or her partner. 

A crack, dreaded by most rational climbers, that is too wide for a hand or fist jam and too narrow to "chimney." Generally awkward and strenuous to climb, and difficult to protect. 

"On Belay?":
Ritual query from a climber to verify that his or her belayer is ready to belay the climber. 

On-sight (or "On-sight Flash"):
Leading a climb with no falls and no "dogging" (hanging on the rope) on the first attempt without any prior knowledge (beta) of its features or difficulties. 

Open Book:
A dihedral, or right-angled inside corner. 

Rock or ice that is angled beyond vertical. 


A thin piton resembling a bird's beak. 

To swing on a rope across a rock face to gain a distant anchor point. 

A section of rock between two belay points, no more than the length of one climbing rope. 

Metal spike or peg of various shapes and configurations that can be hammered into the rock for protection, primarily in aid climbing. 

A hole formed by a depression in the rock. Usually measured by the number of fingers that can be crammed in it. 

A lightweight device consisting of stretched nylon over a metal frame which can be hung from a vertical rock face to provide a place to rest/sleep on big wall climbs. 

Protection (or Pro):
Any anchor (such as a nut, chock, camming device, piton or stopper) used during a climb to prevent a fall. 

A sliding friction knot used to ascend a rope; to ascend a rope by means of such a knot. 

A condition of severely depleted strength and lactic acid burn caused by overworking the forearm muscles while climbing.  


The collection of protective devices that a climber carries on a route, attached to harness loops or on a sling slung across the shoulders. 

An ascending ledge. 

Rappel (or "Rap"):
To descend a fixed rope by means of mechanical braking devices. 

To lead a route from bottom to top while placing one's own protection, without falling or hanging on the rope. 

A thin crust of icy snow which accumulates on the surface of rocks. 

A short metal stud which is tapped into a drilled hole and connected to a short sling or hanger. Rivets are used as protection on aid routes and hold the body weight of a climber, even in very shallow holes. 

An overhanging rock ceiling. 

Rotten Rock:
Unreliable rock which has a tendency to break off under a climber's weight. 

The original brass nut or taper, a small and effective form of protection for clean aid. 

An uncomfortably long and often dangerous distance between two points of protection. 


A high pass between two peaks. 

To deliberately underestimate the difficulties of a climb in order to get a climber in over his or her head, often with hilarious or tragic results. 

Easy, unroped climbing. 

A long fall. 

Small loose rocks that gather on the slope at the base of a cliff. 

Scumming (or Scuzzing):
To gain purchase on the rock with body parts other than the hands or feet, however tenuous or aesthetically displeasing. 

The climber who follows a lead up a pitch, belaying from below while the lead advances, then ascending to the end of the pitch. 

A pinnacle or tower of ice, usually unsafe and unreliable in nature, and prone to toppling in warm weather. 

Sewing Machine Leg:
An embarrassing climbing condition caused by panic and/or fatigue which is manifested by an involuntary vibration of one or both legs. Also known as "Elvis Presley Syndrome." 

Sharp End:
The top, or leader's end, of the rope. 

To mount an extended assault on a mountain by moving laboriously upward through a series of progressively higher camps. Siege tactics include the use of oxygen, previously cached equipment dumps, and high-altitude porters to do the heavy lifting. 

An ethnic group of Tibetan origin living below Mt. Everest in the Solo Khumbu area. From the Sherpa's effective monopoly as high-altitude porters, the name has come to be applied generically to all who work in that profession. 

The head Sherpa on an expedition. 

Slab Climbing:
Climbing a smooth sheet of rock that lacks large handholds by holding the body out from the rock and using friction and balance to move around and up the slab. 

Spring-loaded camming devices, such as Friends or Camalots. 

A length of nylon webbing which is either sewn or tied into a loop and is used in conjunction with the rope and anchors to provide protection. Also called a runner. 

A technique of applying to a rock slab as much of the sticky sole of the climbing shoe as possible to achieve maximum friction. 

Loose, powdery snow. 

Sport Climbing:
Ascending routes of extreme gymnastic difficulty protected by closely spaced bolts. 

A rock or snow rib on the side of a mountain. 

Static Rope / Line:
Special climbing rope used ( usually 8 or 9 mm in diameter ) as fixed rope / line for jumaring or rapelling that does not stretch. 

To bridge the distance between two holds with one's feet; to push against adjacent or opposing walls with the feet. 

A trapezoidal metal wedge of varying size attached to a loop of flexible wire which is fitted into cracks and depressions in the rock to provide protection for an ascending climber.  


An accumulation of rocks and boulders that have fallen from a crag or face to form a steeply sloping fan at the base. 

Top Rope:
A climbing rope that is anchored from above. 

A sketch of a route showing its line, bolt placements, belay stances, crux and rating. 

A thin piton resembling a bird's beak. 

Moving sideways across a section of terrain instead of directly up or down. 


A usually awkward and tenuous hold that requires applying upward pressure on a downward facing hold. 

"Up Rope":
Command shouted by a climber when he or she desires a tighter, more secure belay. 


A thin coating of ice on rock which makes for extremely dicey climbing conditions. 


Flat nylon tape or tubing used for slings. 

To delicately rest one's weight on a piece of protection to test its security. 

A type of avalanche which occurs when a snow layer compacted by wind settles insecurely atop old snow; when it detaches it falls in large slabs or blocks of snow. 

To have a route totally figured out. 

A homemade climbing wall. 

Zipper Fall:
A fall of such length and velocity that the climber's protective devices are ripped from the rock in rapid succession. 

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