Basic Climbing Lingo Explained

Izzy from our Perth store gives the run down on some common climbing lingo. Get your notebook ready.


Tied into the rope, chalking up my hands, I observe the climbing route before me to establish what is required both mentally and physically. "Do you want some beta?" asks a fellow neighbouring climber with a hopeful look on his face. Before finishing my reply, he's off! "Ok, what you're going to do is grab hold of those jugs get some real high feet and bust out to that crimp up left, best to have a good spot here. The crux is down low, so crank down on that crimp and go out to that high flake with the bomber side-pull, match here, smear your feet…"


If you're just getting into rock climbing, hitting the indoor gyms or venturing outdoors with a group, you may have noticed an intriguing language thrown around. It's English, but not the kind you know. Welcome to the world of climbing. To get you on your way to understanding the lingo, I'm going to explain a selection of rock climbing definitions and possible phrases you might hear on the wall. Let's warm up with a few simple terms used to describe climbing technique.


The Basics

Side-pull

This is a hand hold (big or small) that runs vertical on the rock face requiring you to lean away from it.

Jamming

When nature provides a crack of perfectly split rock, the only way up is by jamming. It is a very tricky technique using your hands in different ways to jam in between the crack and keep you from falling.

Mantle

This technique is used to get over a large protrusion of rock, just like getting out of a pool. Mantling can be followed by laying down on the rock protrusion and scampering your feet up over the ledge. Try and imagine how a seal moves over large boulders by the ocean on its belly.

Dyno

This is an extremely dynamic move often used in bouldering, requiring the climber to jump from one hold to the next because there is just no other way to it. You may hear "just dyno mate" from an impatient belayer in answer to a climber who wants to know how to get to the next hold.

Crimp

A small edge where only a small portion of each finger will fit onto it. This hold is often accompanied by distressing noises and possible foul language.


Now that's out of the way and we have you describing a few basic climbing moves, it's time for the good stuff. Anything and everything to do with climbing!


Onward and Upward

"Give us a Spot"

"Tell me how good I look while I'm on the wall. Oh yeah and try to protect my head and neck if I fall to the ground getting this first clip. But you know… I look good right?". A spotter will usually hold out their arms and hands ready to direct the climber safely onto a mat if they fall. This technique is mostly used in bouldering or before the first clip of a lead climb.

Crux

A definite hard section on a route requiring a precise sequence to get through.

Beta

Beta is when someone gives advice on how to complete a climbing route, sequence or bouldering problem. This is often given in large unwanted quantities by the 'beta sprayer'. To avoid being a beta sprayer, first ask the climber if they would like information about the route or how to climb the route.

Bomber

Short for 'bomb proof', this term is used to describe a booming amount of comfort and security provided by either a foot hold, hand hold or protection.

Catfish Noodle

An alarming spike in hydrolysis in your forearms making them expand (perfect for the sport catfishing!).

Choss

This was once described by Alex Honnold (that guy your nan saw on 60 minutes) as 'the all-inclusive term for all things bad in climbing.' If it's loose, dirty, or just plain suspect, it's choss.

Dirtbag

A dirtbag is someone who has transcended into a realm above normal social standards. One who sacrifices anything necessary (but Nutella) to climb ALL of the time. Often unemployed, sometimes homeless, living off others' leftovers and food less than legally acquired from dumpsters. But these things do not matter because you have climbing, ahh the good life.

Flapper

Yes, it's as nasty as it sounds. A flapper is a gob of skin partially removed from ones finger by a sharp hand hold. Stinging, leaking and flapping – just glue or tape it up and continue on.

Pumped

This is a flaming sensation that climbers get in their forearms when hanging onto a steep climb for too long. You may often hear "dude I'm so pumped" thrown around in the gyms.

Onsight

Cue pompous British accent. To onsight a route is to climb a route from the bottom to the top on the first attempt without falling and without prior knowledge of the route. This is the best adventure you can have with a rope on.

Flash

This is similar to an onsight, only with prior knowledge and without the bragging rights.

Redpoint

This is a term originating in Omar Eichlers' Guesthoff in the Frankenjura region of Germany. Here, climbers would paint a red dot at the base of a route to signify the route had been climbed from the bottom to the top without aid of resting directly on the rope or protection.

Sandbag

This was once an expression used to describe a passage of rock that is heavily underrated regarding its difficulty or danger. Now, it is often used incorrectly (unknowingly) to highlight where one's weaknesses lie. This is an important skill for providing climbers with entertainment by sending their friends off to have an unexpected battle.

Soft

To describe a (climbing) route as 'soft', means the given grade of the route is harder than it really is.


I hope this snapshot of common climbing terms helps you to understand some of the conversations happening at your gym or favourite outdoor climbing spot. Happy climbing folks!


About the Author

Isobel Burgoyne is an amateur rock climber based in Western Australia. When she's not testing gear on her adventures, you'll find her working in our Perth Mountain Designs store.

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