Climbing Glossary

Aid Climbing (noun) a form of climbing in which the climber suspends her weight from an anchor, and makes upward progress by placing successively higher anchors and suspending her weight from each higher piece in turn. Aid climbing is to be distinguished from free climbing. A good article on aid climbing can be found here.

Anchor (noun) a secure point of attachment to the cliff or climbing wall that is used for protection. A belay anchor is a set of (usually) two or more anchors at the top of a pitch. In sport climbing the anchors are bolts with bolt hangers, in trad climbing most if not all of the anchors are removable devices such as chocks or spring-loaded camming devices.

Belay Device (noun) a device used in belaying which applies a controllable amount of friction to the rope passing through it.

Belayer (noun) a person who belays. The belayer is the roped climber's indispensible partner. The belayer controls the rope that will suspend the climber in case of a fall or when the climber gets to the top of the pitch or requires a rest. The belayer pays out or takes in slack as the climber progresses up or down the wall, and holds the rope fixed with the help of a belay device when the climber needs to be suspened.

Belay (verb) to control the rope that is attached to the climber. Belaying involves paying out and taking in slack as the climber progresses up or down the wall, and holding the rope fixed with the help of a belay device when the climber needs to be suspended.

Beta (noun) information. Perhaps the most colorful and common piece of climber argot, "beta," comes from a storied progenitor of American sport climbing named Jack Mileski. He coined it in the '80's before VHS defeated Betamax as the dominant video format. Climbers are constantly acting out climbing moves with their hands in order to convey information about the routes their friends are working on, and Mileski thought that this miming was like video replay so he started referring to it as "beta," short for "Betamax." That, however, was just the seed, and the word "beta" has blossomed into probably the most widely used word in the English-speaking climbing world, coming to mean any kind of information at all. You can ask your buddy for the beta on a route and he might tell you there's a bomber jug just after that slopy crimper, or you can ask him for the beta on good beer after your session at the Stronghold and he would certainly tell you about Barbara's 16 taps just across the dog park. NB: Route beta should be administered sparingly and only with permission of the recipient. If you spray beta at someone who has never been on a route you might ruin her on-sight, and besides, sometimes people just want to figure things out for themselves.

Beta Flash (noun) a flash in which the climber had beta about the route.  To be distinguished from an on-sight flash.

Bomber (noun) short for "bomb proof"; very solid. Bomber rock is rock that is not chossy. A bomber hold (as in "that hold just over the roof is a super-bomber jug, dude") is one that is easy to grasp, and so one on which the climber has solid purchase.

Bouldering (noun) a form of free climbing in which the climber ascends shorter routes on smaller pieces of rock than in other forms. See more here.

Boulder Problem (noun) the equivalent of a route in roped climbing.

Chossy (noun) of rock, loose. That is, "chossy rock" is loose rock and a "choss pile" is a crag on which a large amount of loose rock is found.

Crash Pad (noun) a pad used by boulderers to cushion a fall. See, for example, Stonelick crash pads. Crash pads usually fold up and have straps allowing it to be carried like a backpack.

Crimper (noun) a handhold consisting of a small edge sufficient to accomodate only the tips of the fingers. The climber "crimps" it by pressing the very fronts of the fingers downward on the edge that forms the crimper. The hand in the Stronghold's logo is crimping.

Flash (noun) a send accomplished first try; (verb) to send first try.

Free Climbing (noun) a form of climbing in which the climber ascends the route or boulder problem solely by means of her hands and feet. Free climbing is to be distinguished from aid climbing. A common misconception is that free climbing is climbing without ropes. Climbing without ropes is referred to as free-soloing. Free climbing is most often (when it is not bouldering) accomplished with ropes running through points of protection to a belayer who can arrest the climber in case of a fall. A good article on free climbing can be found here.

Jug (noun) a large, positive climbing hold that can be gripped with curved fingers.

Lead (verb) to climb while trailing the rope; the opposite of toproping.  The lead climber passes her rope through carabiners attached to  protection as she ascends the route so that her belayer can arrest a fall by preventing the rope from running any further through the belay device; the leader's fall then stops when the rope goes taut.  Climbers refer to the leader's end of the rope as "the sharp end" because leading is substantially more serious than toproping.  The lead climber can fall for much greater distances than the toprope climber -- if the leader is above her last piece of protection she will fall a minimum of twice the distance to the last piece plus the slack in the system plus the stretch of the rope -- and belaying the leader requires substantially more skill than toprope belaying.

Madonna Flash (noun) a send of a route the climber has been on before, but it was so long ago that the climber really doesn't remember anything about it (really!), so it's just like a flash because it "feels like the very first time."

On-sight (verb) (also called "on-sight flash") a flash in which the climber had no beta regarding the moves or holds on the route aside from (perhaps) the grade and whatever can be gleaned from the ground; (noun) an instance of on-sighting.

Pitch a Wobbler (verb) to throw a wobbler.


Protection (noun) a secure point of attachment to the cliff or climbing wall through which the climbing rope can pass. In the case of a fall or the climber's request for a take, the belayer can prevent the rope from moving any further, and the climber will end up suspended from the highest of these points.

Red-point (verb) to send after the climber has practiced the moves beforehand; (noun) an instance of red-pointing. The red-point is distinguished from the flash. The red-point process, in which the climber gets on a route that is initially over her head, but which she is able to complete (that is, send) after practicing the moves and working out a precise choreography (which climbers call "the sequence") that solves the problem presented by the route, is the essence of sport climbing and was extremely controversial when it was introduced into the United States from Europe in the 1980s.  Bolting and red-pointing ran contrary to the very stringent ethics that had prevailed before.  Though pockets of resistance can still be found, sport climbing and the red-point have gained wide acceptance and popularity today.

Route (noun) a path, or way, up a rock wall.  At the Stronghold, the routes are comprised of climbing holds all of the same color, and with tape of the same color, provided to make the path very clear.

Send (verb) to succeed on a route or boulder problem. In free climbing, a climber "sends" a route when she ascends without transfefring any of her weight to the climbing protection before reaching the belay or lowering anchor at the top of the pitch; (noun) an instance of sending.

Sloper (noun) a climbing hold that is downward sloping and lacking a positive feature to grab. The climber holds it by contacting it with as much of her hand as she can, much the way she might palm a basketball.

Sport (adjective) [UNDER CONSTRUCTION]

Spray (verb) usually used with "beta". To spray beta is to loudly and obnoxiously offer unsolicited beta on a route. See the note to beta.  Spray is also often used as a synonym for "brag," and indeed, spraying, though sometimes merely an over-exuberant attempt to help, is often a form of bragging.

Take (verb) (an action by the belayer) to take all of the slack out of the lead climber's climbing rope so that she can weight the rope without falling any distance.  The lead climber instructs her belayer to "take" when she needs a rest or needs to figure out the next move.

Toprope (verb) to climb while the rope passes from the climber's harness through anchors at the top of the pitch to the belayer. The toproping climber should descend only a negligible distance in the case of a fall. In roped climbing, toproping is the alternative to leading.

Trad (adjective) [UNDER CONSTRUCTION]

Wobbler (noun) a screaming, shivering fit of frustration usually incidental to a failure to send.