Rock Climbing Dictionary: Key Words and Terms

Everyone has to start somewhere.  But sometimes when you are beginning your rock climbing career, you might be lost in the lingo that is much different from any other lingo that you have heard.

Everyone has to start somewhere. But sometimes when you are beginning your rock climbing career, you might be lost in the lingo that is much different from any other lingo that you have heard.

This list will help you understand what people are talking about on the rock. Whether in Squamish, Yosemite, or anywhere else, climbers speak the same language, so getting these key words and phrases down will help you show that you are “In the Know”.

Here is a brief list to help you out:

Footing techniques
Edging
When a climber uses the inside of the foot to stand firmly on a foothold.

Backstepping
When a climber uses the outside of the foot to stand on a foothold, while the side of the body faces the wall.

Smearing
When a climber places the foot directly on the wall or rock without using any footholds.

Heel hooking
When a climber uses the heel to press down on a foothold, usually at or near chest level.

Toe hooking
When a climber uses the toe to press down on a foothold commonly on underclings (ceilings) Page text.
Hand techniques

Crimp
When a climber’s hand can grip a hold using mainly finger strength, specifically the first joint in the fingers and also the second finger joint.

Open hand grip
Similar to crimping but with an open hand.

Gaston
When a climber uses a handhold from the side to achieve a better grip. Elbows point out.

Jug
When a climber can grip a hold with the most ease and use all fingers and forearm strength. Commonly found on beginner level climbs.

Pinching
When a climber must pinch a (usually smaller) hold by using the thumb and fingers to pinch the sides.

Side pull
Basically crimping but the hold is positioned to the side of a climber and the climber must pull sideways instead of upwards.

Sloper
Climbers must use an open hand (like palming a basketball) to grab on to holds that have little to no difference in surface texture.

Motions and movements
Crossing
When a climber crosses one hand/arm over the other to reach a hold.

Hand-foot match
When a climber places a hand and a foot on the same hold at the same time.

High stepping
When a climber must take a large step to reach a foothold.

Mantle
Pushing in an upward motion on a hold in a similar fashion one might use to push himself/herself out of a pool from the deep end. Climbers push up rather than pulling in this move.

Foot switch
When a climber must put one foot on the hold the other foot is currently on, he or she must slowly slip the correct foot over the incorrect foot to continue the climb.

Match
When a climber places both hands (sometimes feet) on the same hold.

Bicycle
When a climber holds onto a larger hold with one foot on the top and the other beneath, used for balance.

There are many other terms to be familiar with. The “Bible” of all mountain activity is a book entitled: Mountaineering: The Freedom of the Hills. Definitely pick it up if you are just starting out, and it will give you a better ‘hold’ of what climbing (and all forms of mountaineering) is all about.

See you in the hills!

By Steve Andrews

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