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Home > Glossary of Terms

Glossary of Terms

Following is a list of common terms found in this website and/or relating to the activities offered by Go Higher.

Abseil: A method of lowering oneself using a fixed rope and braking device (the latter often referred to as a belay device). The belay device creates friction against the rope so that the rate of descent can be controlled. A German term, Abseiling is known as 'rappelling' in north America.

Anchor: The point where a climber's rope is secured - most commonly to rocks, trees or bolts - to provide protection from a fall.

Approach: The route used to reach the actual climb or scramble.

Belay: Fundamental safety technique for climbing in which a second person (a 'belayer') protects their climbing partner from falling by controlling the rope using anchors and braking devices.

Belay Device: A device used by a belayer through which the climbing rope is threaded and which acts a brake on the rope in the event of their partner falling.

Belay Station: A position on a rock face or the ground from which a belayer provides roped protection for his or her ascending partner.

Bergschrund: A gap or crevasse which appears between a glacier and the upper snows of a mountain's face.

Bivouac (biv or bivvy): A temporary camp that provides less comfort and shelter from the elements than a conventional tented campsite. Sleeping is usually in light tents or purpose-designed bivvy-bags. In the case of a climb which requires overnighting on a rock or mountain face, a bivouac can be made on a natural ledge or by using an artificial one. The latter - called a portaledge - is commonly lightweight cotlike device that hangs from one or more anchors on the wall.

Bolt: Literally a stout metal bolt drilled into the rock to provide permanent anchorage and/or protection for climbers. It is often provided with a hanger, an eyelet to which a karabiner can attach.

Boulder: (n.) a rock short enough to climb relatively safely without a rope.

Bouldering: (vb.) A style of climbing which involves climbing only at a height the climber feels comfortable jumping to the ground. They are often short, hard routes on low-lying rocks without using protective gear.

Bucket: A colloquialism meaning a climbing handhold that is large enough to comfortably latch the entire hand onto, much like the rim of a bucket.

Buttress: A rock formation that projects out from the line of a face.

Cam: Short for 'camming device', the generic term for a mechanical spring-loaded device of varying sizes and manufacturer which can be inserted into cracks to secure a climbing rope. Common brands include Friends, Camalots, TCUs.

Carabiner: See Karabiner.

Chalk: A drying agent made from powdered magnesium carbonate, used by climbers to keep sweaty hands dry.

Chimney: A crack in a rock face that is large enough to climb inside of.

Clean: The act of removing any non-fixed protective gear from the rock as the last climber ascends or descends.

Cleaning tool: A narrow metal tool with a hooked end used for removing climbing gear stuck in cracks.

Cirque: A steep-walled mountain bowl or basin generally formed at the head of a glacier. (French for "circus.")

Clipping in: The act of a climber using a karabiner to connect to belays and anchors or to connect ropes to protection.

Col: A dip in a ridge that forms a small, high pass.

Cornice: An often dangerous overhanging mass of wind-sculpted snow projecting beyond the crest of a ridge.

Crag: A climbing area, usually comprising a cliff or rock faces.

Crampons: Spiked metal "soles" which attach to boots to provide purchase on ice and firm snow.

Crevasse: A crack in a glacier surface, often very deep and sometimes concealed by a thin coating of snow, created by the movement of the glacier over underlying irregularities in terrain.

Crux: The most crucial, difficult section of a climb.

Crux move: The hardest, key move, or series of moves, on a climb. The rating of a climb is generally that of the most difficult move.

Daisy Chain: A nylon sling sewn into loops; also used to provide supplemental security at belay stations.

Downclimb: To climb downward rather than upward on a climb. It is often done without protection and is therefore potentially the most dangerous part of a climb.

Edging: Climbing technique where a climber places the edge or corner of their shoe precisely on top of a hold or unconformity on the rock, maximizing the pressure applied to a small area of rubber. The opposite of smearing.

Face Climbing: The ascent of rock that is predominantly made up of finger pockets and thin edges.

Figure of Eight Knot: Also known as the "double figure 8" or "figure 8 follow through", this is the most basic climber's knot. It is used to attach the climber's harness to the rope.

Figure Eight: A common belay device shaped like the number "8" and used for belaying and abseiling.

Fixed rope: A rope anchored to a route by the lead climber and left in place for all who follow.

Follow: To be the second climber up a pitch, belayed by the leader from above.

Free Climb: To climb rock using only hands and feet to ascend (ie. without recourse to artificial aids). This is the most common form of rock climbing. Although ropes and anchoring devices are used for protection, they are do not bear the weight of the climber or assist in upward progress. This method of climbing also stresses the use of gear that is temporarily placed in the rock for protection by the leader, and then removed by the second or last climber.

Free Solo: As in Free Climbing, but using no protective devices whatsoever. Here the climber relies solely on strength, agility, technique and personal judgement. Needless to say, free solo can be very dangerous.

Friend: The trade name for one of the original spring-loaded camming devices.


Harness: A strong belt generally made of nylon webbing with leg loops used to secure a climber to the rope and to provide a repository for protective gear.

Ice Axe: A key mountaineering tool of varying lengths and head shape, pointed at the base and with a head consisting of a pick and an adze. Variously used for hacking out foot- and hand-holds and for pulling oneself up ice and snow faces.

Ice Fall: A place where a glacier drops in height so steeply (eg. over a valley wall) that it creates a series of deep crevasses and ice pinnacles. It is therefore often one of the most dangerous features encountered on a mountain climb.

Ice screw: A threaded piton made of aluminium or other metal alloy designed to bore into ice to act as a protective anchor.

Jamming: A technique for climbing cracks in which the fingers, hands, or feet are wedged inside a rock crack to gain purchase and facilitate upward progress.

Jug Hold: A colloquialism meaning a climbing handhold so secure and comfortable that it can be grasped like a jug handle (similar in security to a bucket hold).

Jumar: Trade name for a mechanical sliding/braking device used to ascend a rope.

Karabiner: Generally an oval or D-shaped device of lightweight aluminium or alloy that serves as the climber's all-purpose connector. It has a spring-loaded gate through which a climbing rope can be threaded. The most basic all-around tool on a climber's rack, they are used variously for such activities as belaying, abseiling, and clipping into safety anchors.

Lead: (vb.) To be the first climber up a pitch, placing protection in the rock along the way while being belayed by a partner from below.

Locking Karabiner: A karabiner whose gate can be screwed or locked tight so that it cannot accidentally be knocked open. Used for securing essential protection such as belay devices and anchors.

Multi-Pitch Climb: A climb that is longer than a single rope length, necessitating the setting of anchors at progressively higher belay stations as the climbers ascend.

Nut: A climbing protection device, comprising a flared metal wedge with a wire loop that is inserted into cracks for protection.

Overhang: Rock or ice that is angled beyond vertical.

Pitch: A section of a climb between two belay points, no longer than the length of one standard climbing rope (165 feet). In many cases, however, climbs are set up such that they are no longer than half a rope length so that climbers need only a single rope in order to be lowered or to abseil off the climb.

Piton: A long-nosed metal spike or peg of various shapes and configurations that can be driven into rock cracks for protection or to aid climbing.

Protection: Climbing term referring to any anchor (such as a nut, chock, cam, piton) used during a climb to prevent or alleviate a fall.

Quickdraw: A pair of karabiners connected by a length of rope or piece of webbing. A quickdraw is used to connect a climber to a piece of protection or a permanent anchor.

Rack: Climbing term referring to the collection of protective devices that a climber carries on a route, attached to harness loops or on a sling slung across the shoulders.

Ramp: An ascending ledge.

Rappel: North American term for abseiling.

Runner: A sewn or tied loop of webbing or rope used to connect protection elements.

Saddle: A high pass between two peaks.

Scree: Small, loose rocks that gather on a slope and often at the bases of cliffs.

Second: The climber who follows a lead (climber) up a pitch, belaying from below while the lead advances, then ascending to the end of the pitch.

Serac: A pinnacle or tower of ice, often unsafe and unreliable for climbing, and prone to toppling in warm weather.

Sherpas: Specifically, an ethnic group of people of Tibetan origin living below Mt. Everest in the Solo Khumbu area of Nepal. The name is now more generically applied to all high-altitude porters in the Himalayas.

Sirdar: The head Sherpa on an expedition.

Slab: Generally a rock face that is less than vertical.

Slab Climbing: Climbing a largely smooth rock face by holding the body out from the rock and using friction and balance to move around and up the slab.

Sling: A length of nylon webbing which is either sewn or tied into a loop and is used in conjunction with the rope and anchors to provide protection. Also called a 'runner'.

Smearing: A climbing technique of applying to a rock face as much of the sole of the climbing shoe as possible to achieve maximum friction. The opposite of edging.

Soloing or Solo Climbing: To climb without a partner, rope or protection. A 'Rope Solo' is when a solo climber uses a rope to self-belay.

Spindrift: Loose, powdery snow.

Spur: A rock or snow rib on the side of a mountain.

Talus: An accumulation of rocks and boulders that have fallen from a crag or face to form a steeply sloping fan of scree at the base.

Top Rope: A climbing rope that is anchored from above, providing pre-protection to the climber (and often negating the need for placing protection along the pitch). The belay for a top roped climb can either be from the top of the pitch or the bottom.

Traverse: In climbing, the act of moving sideways across a section of rock instead of directly up or down.

Via Ferrata: From the italian, literally meaning 'iron way', via ferrata are well-protected routes made of iron rods, steps and wire cables fastened to the rocks. These allow the adventurous walker into the domain of the climber, by clipping themselves safely onto the via ferrate using harnesses, ropes and so on.