Here is a list of terms and techniques used in modern climbing. Also included is a discussion of the current rating system used in North America.
Aid Climbing: the technique of using gear to support your weight as you climb. As simple as using a bolt as a single hold, or as complex as climbing an entire route with full weight on your gear.
Anchor: a means by which climbers are secured to the cliff
Arete: an outside corner of the rock
Armbar/armlock: a means of holding onto a wide crack by wedging an arm into the crack
Belay: a system of setting up the rope to hold a climber in the event of a fall. A procedure that manages the rope by taking in or letting out slack to minimize the seriousness of a fall.
Bight: loop of rope
Bouldering: a series of hard moves kept closed to the ground, usually done without rope protection; the climb consisting of a few moves or a long traverse
Buildering: similar to bouldering, this activity takes place on buildings instead, primarily used for training
Cam: rock protection that works by a wedging action in the rock; both active and passive camming devices are available.
Carabiners: aluminum alloy rings in a variety of shapes equipped with spring-loaded snap gate; "biners"
Ceiling: See Roof
Chimney: a large crack which one can fit one's body into
Chock: a wedge or mechanical device that provides an anchor in a rock crack or opening
Chockstone: a natural rock lodged in a crack, used as protection
Clean: (1) a description of routes that are free of vegetation, loose rock, or sometimes holds; (2) removing pieces of protection on a pitch
Crimper: a small but positive edge
Crux: the most difficult sequence or section of a pitch
Deck: the ground at the base of the climb
Dihedral: an inside corner of rock (opposite of arete)
Dynamic, dyno: a lunge move
Exposure: the amount of space between the climber and the base of the climb
Flake: a section of rock with a space behind it that is usually attached firmly to the face
Free Climbing: the technique used when ascending a pitch using only hands, feet and body English, while placing gear for protection only.
Headwall: a vertical wall. A steeper than usual section of rock. A blank wall that blocks the way
Jamming: wedging hands, feet, or other body parts to gain purchase in a crack
Lead: to be the first on a pitch, placing protection with which to protect oneself
Lieback: to pull with the hands while pushing with the feet horizontally
Mantel: using downpressure with the hands to permit your feet to get up onto the same hold as your hands when no useful handholds are available higher up
Nuts: (1) term used by non-climbers to describe climbers; (2) metal pieces tapered in various directions, available in wildly different sizes, that are used to wedge into cracks for protection during a lead or aid climb; passive protection
On-sight: to climb a route without prior knowledge or experience of the moves, and without falling or otherwise weighting the rope
Pinkpoint: to lead (without falling) a climb that has been pre-protected with quickdraws rather than placing protection on lead
Pitch: the section of rock between belays
Protection: anchors constructed of nuts and/or cams that allow the climber to be safeguarded against a fall
Quickdraws: Short slings with two carabiners used to clip into placed protection to create a path for the rope protecting the leader
Rappel: To descend a rope by a means of a braking device, either mechanical or manual
Redpoint: To lead a route placing and clipping protection as you go, without falling or otherwise weighting the rope
Roof: a horizontal or near horizontal overhang
Runout: an exceptionally long distance between pieces of protection on a route
Second: the climber following the leader, responsible for cleaning the pitch
Sling (runner): A length of webbing, tied or sewn, used for a variety of purposes
Smear: the technique of applying direct pressure to a smooth face thus creating an adhering friction for a hold
Stemming: a technique employing the use of opposing forces on two angles of rock; usually used in a chimney
Top-rope: a belay from above; protects the climber from falling even a short distance
Traverse: a horizontal series of movements on the rock without elevation gain
The current system used in the United States and North America is the Yosemite Decimal System (YDS). This rating systems determines the rate of a particular segment based on the technical difficulties and equipment required to ascend the pitch. Mountaineering defines each class as follows:
Class 1: A hiking scramble to a rocky gradient; generally hands are not needed.
Class 2: Involves some scrambling and likely use of hands; all but the most inexperienced/clumsy will not want a rope.
Class 3: Moderate exposure may be present; simple climbing or scrambling with frequent use of hands. A rope should be available.
Class 4: Intermediate climbing is involved and most climbers want a rope because of exposure. A fall could be serious or fatal.
Class 5: Climbing involves the use of a rope and natural or artificial protection by the leader to protect against a serious fall.
Due to the varying level of climbs within the fifth class, a subscale has been defined to rank climbs in this class. Originally designated as a closed scale from 5.0 5.9, rising levels of skill forced conversion to an open-ended scale. The current top end of the scale is 5.14d. Although this extension of fifth class climbing cannot be accurately defined, the following descriptions should provide some insight:
5.0-5.4: A physically fit climber can usually climb at
this level with little or no rock climbing skills, using only natural ability.
5.5-5.7: Requires use of rock climbing techniques such as hand jamming and/or strength.
5.8-5.9: Rock climbing shoes, good skills, and some strength are usually necessary at this level.
5.10-above: Beyond rock shoes, excellent skills, and strength, this level requires training for climbing techniques and commitment of time to maintain that level.
Keep in mind that the YDS only rates the hardest move on the entire climb. This system gives no indication of the exposure, overall difficulty, or protection opportunity.
Aid Climbing: Aid routes are graded on a closed-end scale and are not changed with improved technology. The scale is C0--A5 with C referring to clean aid (using chocks only) and A referring to the use of pitons. The use of C has not been universally accepted. The scale is as follows:
A0 or C0: Aid points are fixed
A1 or C1: Aid placements are solid and easily placed.
A2 or C2: Placements are awkward to place and hold less.
A3 or C3: Aid placements will hold a short fall.
A4 or C4: Aid placements only hold body weight.
A5 or C5: Entails enough A4 placements to risk a substantial fall.
Also, be aware that the rating systems vary from continent to continent, and no system has been recognized worldwide.