A Beginner’s Guide to Rock Climbing Lingo

Let’s be honest – rock climbing is hard. The actual act of rock climbing is hard enough but when you add all of the barriers to entry, it’s a wonder anyone ever starts climbing at all.

First, you need to find a local gym or climbing area near your hometown. Then, if you have a fear of heights or just falling in general, you need to tackle that hurdle. What kind of gear do you need to climb? Oh, just shoes that are usually 2 full sizes too small for you, making you feel like a Geisha woman. And, you should buy this weird white chalk material to put all over your hands, like an Olympic gymnast. Then, you have to try to not feel intimidated by the shirtless, beta sprayers (see below) and badass lady crushers who are doing incredible moves and going for it. And last, but certainly not least, you have to understand the language of climbers.

Remember when we were all in high school and we had to take a foreign language? Well this is a similar challenge. Some of the terms are pretty straight forward, and some I had to look up definitions for. I’ve pulled together a list of terms to help you get started and help you use them in a very cool way.

The Glossary of Beginner’s Climbing Terms:

The Different Types of Climbing

Sport Climbing – a form of rock climbing that relies on permanent anchors fixed to the rock for protection. Example use: “Sport climbing is the most fun type of climbing! There’s (basically) no risk because you know you’re (relatively) protected!”

Trad Climbing – Trad is short for ‘Traditional.’ This is a form of rock climbing where climbers must place removable protection as they climb. Example use: “Only crazy people trad climb – wedging their gear and bodies into tiny, brutal cracks, relying on said gear to not rip out of said cracks and drop them to the ground.”

Bouldering – a form of rock climbing that consists of climbing up large boulders without a rope. Example use: “I don’t want to go bouldering because I’m scared to break my ankles.” **Side note: if you go bouldering outdoors, you (should) bring a boulder pad so that you’re not just falling on the ground/more rocks.

Top Roping – a style of climbing in which the climber is securely attached to the rope which then passes up, through an anchor system at the top of the climb, and down to a belayer at the foot of the climb. Example use: “I am great at top roping because there is literally no inherent risk.”

Leading – When the climber attaches themselves to a length of climbing rope and ascends a route while periodically attaching protection to the face of the route and clipping into it. Example use: “I’ll top rope this route but I’m definitely not going to be leading it.”

Route – a roped climb. Example use: “That route was a bit harder than I expected but I STILL crushed it.”

Problem – a boulder climb. Example use: “That problem was a bit harder than I expected but I STILL crushed it.”

Features of The Rock/Wall

Crag – a specific outcrop of rock in an outside climbing area meant to be a relaxed, chill environment. Example use: “Work really sucked this week. I can’t wait to hit the crag, crush some climbs and consequentially, crush some beers.”

Arete – the edge corner of a rock that you can hold onto. Example use: “This arete is sharp but its very helpful.”

Dihedral – the area where two planes of rock/wall come together to create a corner. Example use: “I feel like I’m doing a split when I’m in using this dihedral.”

Crack – a split in the wall that allows you to place gear in while you’re trad climbing. Example use: “You gotta get deep in the crack – really stick it in there.”

Choss – shitty, shitty rock that is crumbling off the wall and very hard to hold on to. Should also add that chossy rock is pretty dangerous to climb on because its incredibly unstable (but its just a fun word to say). Example use: “Dude, this rock is mad chossy, lets bail.”

Crux – the hardest section of a particular climb. Example use: “that crux chewed me up and spit me out like chewing tobacco in a professional baseball player’s mouth.”

Terms For Describing A Style of Ascent

Flash – completing a climb without falling on the first attempt after receiving beta on it. Example use: “Great flash on that overhung, beefy route. That hold above the roof is great, right?”

Onsight – completing a climb without falling, without any beta or information about the climb on the first attempt. Example use: “I onsighted this sick climb, aren’t I the best?”

Send – completing a climb without falling. Example use: “SEND IT, BRO!” or “Go for the send!”

Free Solo – climbing with only your feet and hands with no rope or additional protection. Example use: “Alex Honnold.”

Types of Beginner Rock Climbing Holds

Jug – easily the best type of hand hold in rock climbing. This hold feels like grabbing the edge of a bucket and usually offers a great resting spot. Example use: “This jug feels so good. ;)”

Crimp – a hand hold that relies on your fingertips to hold on. Example use: “this crimp made my fingos really ache.”

Sloper – a hand hold that requires your entire palm to hold on. Example use: “I had to move through the slopers quickly or I was going to fall off.”

There are many more types of rock climbing holds but these are the most common so stick here for a bit. 

Extras

Protected – when a route has bolts or solid gear placements very close together. Example use: “I will only do this climb because its super protected.”

The Sharp End – slang for leading the climb. Example use: “Alright, Emily, time for you to get on the sharp end” (see: my friends forcing me to learn to lead climb).

Beta – instructions for the best way to complete a climb. Example use: “Do you know the beta for this climb?” **Side note: many times if someone is giving you unwanted advice about a climb, this is referred to as beta-spraying. Don’t be that guy or girl.

Pumped/Pumped Out – when your forearms are filled with lactic acid and feel like dead wood. When you feel this way, it generally reduces your chances of SENDING. Example use: “dude I’m so pumped out, I couldn’t hold on to another crimp if my life depended on it. LOWER ME NOW.”

Elvis Leg – when your leg starts to shake, in an Elvis-dancing like fashion. Generally happens in tandem with being pumped or just when you’re feeling a little nervous and can’t control the need to shake it like Elvis. Example use: “Oh man – check out my Elvis leg going! I’m all shook up!”

Study these terms and the next time you get out climbing, you will seem really awesome, like you know what you’re talking about. But lets be honest, what does it really matter?

Climbing is scary and messy and mind-blowing. Who cares? Just go out and try it! It truly doesn’t matter what you sound like or how you climb. Ask questions, make mistakes, and FALL. We all need to remember that we were all beginners once, or maybe still are, and the only way to go out and “send” it is to actually, physically go out and send it.

You can follow more from me on my Instagram – @e_hollz 

Emily Holland
Emily Holland

Staff Writer

Lover of all things outside. My life is mountains, rocks, running, dogs, fitness, & music. Base camp = Boston

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