If you’re new to the walls, rock climbing slang can quickly render a sentence meaningless. Luckily, Adrian Mascenon’s been on the climbing scene for a fair while now, and he’s here to get you smacking your lips with the best of them.
Any non-climber that has meandered through the bush near climbers at a crag, shouldn’t feel all that guilty if they thought they were about to stumble across some sort of ancient cultist ritual.
Like many sports, climbers have an extensive glossary of terms that isn’t far off its own alien language to most. You’ll likely hear a myriad of herculean groans and pained yelps all folded into an assortment of words and phrases such as “YES”,“COME ON”, “SLAP IT” and “SQUUUEEEEEZE”.
So whether you’re an innocent bystander asking yourself “where’s he putting who’s fist?” or, more likely, new to the wonderful world of climbing, here’s a quick rundown of what you can expect to hear at the crag or at the gym.
Besides, it’s scientifically proven that you’ll look way cooler if you use them yourself.
Though this article will dabble in the jargon of climbing as well as the slang, certain terms for technical equipment and techniques have been intentionally left out. Much of the climbing world can, and should only be learnt through experience, for your safety and those around you.
Let’s Start With The Basics
Gym – Indoor rock climbing gym or center.
Crag – Cliff or outdoor climbing area.
Climber – Duh.
Belayer – The person that belays the climber by managing the rope, in order to catch the climber in a fall.
Types Of Climbing
Top Rope – The kind of roped climb most commonly found at a gym, where the climber is attached to one end of the rope, which then passes up and over an anchor at the top of the wall before coming back down to the belayer.
Sport Climbing – Roped climb where fixed points of protection (rings or bolts) are clipped in to as the lead climber ascends. The seconder (i.e. clean queen), would then climb the route as a top rope, “cleaning” it (retrieving the placed gear).
Trad Climbing – Traditional Climbing, where removable protection is strategically placed as the leader ascends.
Soloing – Climbing routes without a rope.
Deep Water Soloing – Climbing without a rope, but over deep water as the name suggests; a.k.a. DWS.
Pitch – Part of a climb that can be completed with a single rope length.
Multi-pitch – A long climb that requires multiple ‘pitches’ to ascend the entire wall.
Bouldering – Climbing boulders, or shorter, challenging routes (known as problems) without a rope, but with a foam crash mat laid underneath as protection.
Let’s Get Descriptive
Highball – A high boulder, where a fall could have consequences.
Run out – when points of protection on lead are quite spread apart. Fall when you’re run out and you’ll likely experience a…
Whipper – A big lead climbing fall. Wpshh.
Sandbag – A climb or route that is deceptively more difficult than its advertised grade.
Overhang – A wall or section of a wall that hangs out and over the bottom of the wall.
Roof – An overhang or section of one that’s gone a full 90 degrees. Like a roof.
Slab – Opposite of an overhang, where instead the wall is at a positive angle.
Choss – Terrible rock quality. Sandy, covered in vegetation etc.
Bomber – Rock solid. Obviously. The opposite of choss. Can not only refer to quality of rocks or holds, but protection and anchor points.
Beta – Information about the climb, or how to complete the climb, or parts of it.
‘Tall’ beta – A magical force that allows climbers over 6ft to skip the hardest parts of a climb.
Sprayer – Someone who constantly sprays beta at you when you probably don’t want it.
Project – A particular route or problem that a climber is working to complete. One day.
Crux – The most difficult moves, or section of a climb.
Send – To complete a climb. “JUST SEND IT!”
But How Did You Send?
Crush – To completely dominate a climb.
Just – A word that is used when giving beta to explain something impossible, i.e. “Just pull yourself up”.
Hang dog – To ask the belayer to take tension on the rope so you can lean against it and rest, part way through a climb.
Redpoint – To complete a sport or trad climb from the bottom without falling or ‘hangdogging’.
Onsight – To complete a climb on the first attempt, without having heard any beta or knowing anything about the climb.
Flash – To complete a climb on the first attempt.
Top – To reach the top and successfully complete a boulder problem.
Top out – To climb up and over a wall or boulder so you end up on top of it, essentially completing the climb. (More commonly in bouldering, however, not all problems top out – i.e. in a cave.)
Limbs In Motion
Campus – To forgo the evolutionary miracle of feet and climb with only your arms.
Dyno – A dynamic movement. i.e. Jumping for a hold.
Static – Completing a movement smoothly, without needing a dyno.
Deadpoint – Sticking a hold that is at the maximum reach. i.e. Semi-static as it incites a swing, but you’re not quite flying.
Hand jam – To jam your hand or fist into what’s often a crack, in order to pull off it.
Heel hook – Using the heel of your foot to hook onto a hold.
Toe hook – Using the…. You get the idea.
Bicycle – Often in a roof, pushing on a foot hold with one foot whilst simultaneously pulling on it with a toe hook.
Bat hang – Hanging by your feet.
Drop knee – Turning the foot and dropping the knee inwards so as to use the outside edge of the shoe.
Mantle – Press down on a lip and climb up and over it. Imagine getting out of a pool.
Flag – To place a foot out somewhere on the wall to aid balance and prevent barn dooring.
Smear – Taking advantage of sticky rubber climbing shoes to stick your foot on the wall where there’s no hold, and ‘smear’ against it.
Barn door – To swing out from the wall like a barn door.
Elvis leg – When your calves start to feel the groove and uncontrollably start bouncing. Also known as Sewing Machine Leg. “Would you like some milk with that shake?”
Types of Holds
Footer – Foothold. Somewhere to put your foot.
Jug – A large hold you can get your hand around. “Get your hands on those jugs!”
Crimp – or Crimper. A small edge where only your fingertips are pulling on the hold.
Sloper – A hold often with no incut, that relies on friction to hold on to.
Pinch – A hold that is squeezed between the thumb and fingers.
Undercling – A hold that faces downwards, and is held with the palm facing up.
Side pull – A hold that’s pulled from the side.
An arrogant hunter whose unrequited feelings for the intellectual Belle drive him to… A reversed side pull, where the thumb faces down. Imagine pulling elevator doors open.
Heuco – A type of hold that resembles a hollowed out cavity in the wall.
Arête – A part of the wall where the wall itself juts out to a sharp vertical ridge or point.
Let’s Get Physical
Heady – A climb that is quite mentally demanding, usually due to height or exposure.
Exposure – The nerve wracking, mentally demanding factor of feeling a long way up. Often experienced on multi-pitch climbs, run out pitches above the tree line, or sketchy highball boulders. “Dude, the exposure up there felt like I was up in the stratosphere!”
Gripped – ‘Gripped’ with fear, due to exposure or physicality of the climb.
Pumped – Muscle pump, where blood engorges muscles due to intense loading – mainly forearms for climbers.
Pumped out – When your forearms are so pumped that you feel absolutely useless.
Flapper – When you know you’ve been climbing hard because you blow a flap of skin off of your finger.
Hopefully you can now decipher the Ancient Greek that you hear climbers throwing back and forth. Heed this warning though; climbing slang is a dynamic and evolving beast. Different areas around the world vary in their own colloquial prose, even going from gym to gym within the same town it can all change on a whim.
There are phrases out there that cannot dare to be left within the confines of a glossary, but are rather a sacred rite of passage (that frankly no one really understands anyway).
So before you go asking “Who’s schwarmy?” or “What’s a brownpoint?” or “Whose nipples didn’t I squeeze hard enough?”, understand that some things simply aren’t meant to be understood.
Just hold on, and give it a twist.
Wait we’re still talking about climbing right?
Outraged that your favourite term didn’t make the cut? Comment it below!
Feature photo by @mevans_photography