Rock Climbing


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

elvetica,GenRating Systems:

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:

Free Climbing:

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.

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