Ever find yourself listening to climbers talk with each other and feel a bit like the odd antelope out at the watering hole? Sure, they might be speaking English but it definitely doesn’t seem like it when every other word sounds made-up. Beta? Biners?? Bears!?! Oh my.
Okay, maybe “bears” isn’t actually climbing lingo, but you get my point. Rock climbing utilizes a, shall we say, special vocabulary. Sometimes climbers are yelling strange words of encouragement, other times they’re offering rapid-fire advice with super specific terminology. To help you understand what the devil’s going on, we’ve compiled a vocab list for you as a sort of climbing cheat sheet, defining types of climbing, moves and holds, and miscellaneous slang.
Top roping: Climbing a route on top rope means the climber is secured to a rope that runs through the anchors at the top to a belayer on the ground. All you have to focus on is the rock in front of you. So zen.
Sport climbing: A style of rock climbing in which the climber clips to pre-installed bolts spaced out along the route as they climb. The climber is attached via rope to a belayer, and secures the rope to the bolts via quick-draw as they ascend.
Trad climbing: A type of rock climbing in which the climber brings and installs pieces of specialized protective gear designed to fit into holes and cracks in the rock. When the climb is complete, the protection can be removed from the rock. Trad, an abbreviation of traditional, is the “leave no trace” version of climbing. Example: “Nah bro, I respect the rock so I only do trad.”
Bouldering: Ropeless, partnerless, climbing for the maverick-minded. Normally limited to relatively short climbs (see “highball” below for exceptions), this type of climbing needs only a crash pad or stolen mattress for protection. Grab one of those, scramble up some stone, and boom, you’re bouldering.
Dyno: Defying gravity. A dynamic, powerful move where you jump from one hold to another, accompanied by both feet leaving the wall and a burly yell.
Heel hook: A move that involves you placing your heel on a foot hold, perfect for balance or leverage during a hard move. Now you can say “throw a heel, dude” and know what you’re talking about.
Match: The do-si-do of climbing moves. Matching happens when you bring both hands or feet to the same hold, allowing you to switch which hand or foot you move next.
Jug: Not what you’re thinking.. These are large, comfortable hand holds that you can hang on to for days. (Get your mind out of the gutter)
Crimper: The sour patch kids of climbing holds. These tiny holds are both sour and sweet, terrible to hold on to yet they allow you to climb the most seemingly impossible of faces. Depending on your strength and skill, they can be as narrow as a pencil or a butterfly’s eyelash.
Pocket: A deep yet narrow hold, good for one or two fingers. If you’re really lucky you’ll come across a mono, or single finger pocket, which is basically the dream for pocket fanatics and sloths.
Sloper: Ugh, you know you’ve encountered this kind of hold when you reach to grab it and slip right off. You think you’re holding on to something but there’s nothing there. Securely hanging onto a sloper requires a lot of hand strength and maybe some spiderman gloves.
Highball: Beginner Alex Honnold-ing. Highball refers to a boulder problem that is a little higher than one would like. Sometimes climbers will practice a highball route on top rope before going for the send.
Chossy: Used to describe a route that doesn’t have a clean rock face. Some grass tufts here, a brittle patch of lichen there, and usually raining rubble onto the belayer. This fun word usually comes with a connotation of the precarious. Synonyms include: questionable, crumbly, less-than-ideal.
Send/sendy: Get sendy. I sent it. Send train. A versatile climbing term that basically means DO IT when spoken as encouragement, and DID IT when used in the past tense. Sending a route means doing the entire climb without falling or taking a break, and it feels damn good.
Spotting: Using fellow climbers as protection. When bouldering, the spotter stands below the climber with their arms extended, guiding the climber onto the pads if they fall. Commonly heard from a spotter: “I gotchu.”
Pumped/pumpy: The feeling you get in your forearms on a particularly long or overhung route, when your muscles feel like lead and the battle to stick to rock is on. Simultaneously the best and worst feeling in the world, some say.
Beta: Any information about a route that helps you get to the top, including rock type, difficult sections, style of climbing, prime weather conditions, best nearby cafe, etc. etc.
The project: Ah, the current love child of a climber. The route that you’ve been laboring over for a month, a summer, five years, however long it takes. The route that essentially owns your soul, keeping you up at night as you hypnotically go through the movements of climbing it. If a climber tells you about his or her “proj,” look out for that manic glint in their eye, the sign of obsession, the ultimate love-hate-love relationship.
Tssssah (or a variety of other noise, including grunts, yells, and intense breathing): Forget words, often times the crag or gym is just a cacophony of animalistic sounds, from the shrill roar of a climber sending for a dyno, to the controlled in-and-out puffs of someone gently treading up a precarious slab section. Feel free to unleash your inner creature as your climbing career unfolds, as these noises help with breathing techniques, getting psyched, and being a climbing beast in general.
Crag dog: Faithful, floppy-eared climbing companion, any shape, any size.