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Beginner's Guide to Rock Climbing Terms

Every culture has its own language; so does rock climbing. Rock climbing has a rich language that has terms to describe one’s experience of climbing the rock, the different types and styles of climbing, climbing gear, body movement, and ways of holding on or stepping on to the rock.

We have pulled together an inexhaustive list of rock climbing terms to help you get started so that you do not get lost in the jargon! It may be hard to keep track of all the technical terms at first but we promise it will get easier as you go along!

Belayer spotting lead climber

Before we get into the thick of the common climbing phrases here are 3 phrases you are sure to encounter when you are out climbing with local Kenyan climbers:

“Nipatie kamba” Phrase by climber asking the belayer to feed them with more rope.

“Chukua!” Phrase used by a climber to alert a belayer that the rope is about to be weighted. See take.

“Twende!” Motivational phrase to encourage a climber. See come on!

Common Climbing Terms

Abseil To make a controlled descent on a fixed rope. See rappel.

Anchor A point of or method for securing a climber to a rock face to prevent a fall, hoist a load, or redirect a rope.

Approach The walk or hike required to reach the base of a climb.

Belay The technique used to hold a rope in order to stop a climber’s fall. Involves taking up the slack through a belay device (top-rope belay) or feeding slack through a belay device (lead belay) for a climber.

Top-rope belay

Belayer The person who handles the rope through a belay device on the ground so as to catch the climber on the other end in case of a fall or a slip.

Beta Information on how to best complete a climb sequence - what the moves should be and how you should do them. Usually told to you by someone who has done the route or problem.

Big wall An especially long route that requires multi-pitch climbing and typically takes multiple days to complete.

Bolts Metal expansion bolts drilled into the rock for use as permanent protection on sport, aid climbs and for belay and rappel anchors.

Bomber A hold, piece of gear or anchor that is thought to offer very good protection and unquestionable security that it is “bomb proof.”

Chimney A vertical crack that is large enough for a climber’s entire body to fit inside and climb.

Choss Unstable rock that is crumbling off the wall. Choss is very hard to hold on to and dangerous to climb on.

Clean To climb a route or problem from bottom to top with no falls or takes. Also refers to taking all pieces of gear that were used for the ascent out, after you are done with the climb. Refers also to preparing the rock to be suitable for climbing on a new route or boulder problem.

Come On! A phrase frequently yelled by belayers, spotters, and bystanders when someone is trying hard on a route or problem.

Crack A split in the rock that allows placement of gear while trad climbing and that is typically used for hand and footholds while climbing.

Crag A climbing area, often a small cliff.

Crush To send a route in phenomenal style, or to try really hard when sending.

Crux The hardest section of a climb or the most difficult move in a climb. The crux is the place that a climber can easily end up falling.

Elvis Leg The uncontrollably shaking of one leg when a climber is nervous, afraid, or fatigued on the rock.

First Ascent The action of being the first person to climb an entire route in a certain style.

Flapper A large piece of skin that hangs off your finger after having been ripped off on sharp rock or rough holds. 

Flash Completing an entire route or boulder problem with no falls on the first attempt, with some previous beta (knowledge/information) of the climb.

Follow On multi-pitch climbs, to be the second climber up a climb, following the leader up the route, removing and collecting the protection that the lead climber has placed. See second.

Lead A style of climbing where a climber who heads up a route first periodically attaches protection to the face of the route and clips their side the rope into it while the belayer feeds them slack.

Lead climbing

Lower Bringing a climber down from a climb by the belayer slowly letting rope out through the belay device. More often done during gym or sport climbing than in traditional outdoor climbing.

Multi-pitch A route that ascends a tall rock face beyond the reach of a single rope length.

Off-width A crack is too wide for fist jams and too narrow to be a chimney.

Onsight To lead an entire route a first attempt without falling or resting on gear, and with no prior beta or knowledge of the moves or the holds. This is the hardest possible way of climbing a route.

Pitch A length of a climb that can be protected with a single rope length at once. See multi-pitch.

Placement The act of inserting a piece of protection in an opening in the rock.

Project A route or boulder problem that a climber is working the moves on to try to send.

Projecting The process of working the moves on a route or boulder problem, usually over days, months, or even years.

Protection/ Pro Any device or equipment placed in the rock, snow or ice to secure a climbing rope and prevent a climber from falling any significant distance.

Problem A short climb on a boulder with a series of hard moves. The term “problem” alludes to the need to solve the moves or sequence.

Pumped Refers a build-up of lactic acid in the forearms that leads to tightness and an inability to engage the hand effectively. This is form of localized fatigue is often experienced during a long sequence of moves or from a strenuous move or climb.

Rack A generic term for a climber’s personal collection of protection.

Rappel To descend a cliff or other height by lowering oneself on a fixed rope, with feet against the wall. Friction is placed on the rope, usually with a belay device, to keep the descent slow and controlled. See abseil.

Redpoint To lead a climbing route without falling or resting on gear after having tried it at least once before.

Roof A very steep overhanging section of rock, often approaching horizontal.

Rope drag Friction created in a system when a climbing rope is running over features or passing through multiple pieces of protection, especially if not in a straight line up the route.

Route A specific path or sequence of moves up a rock face typically climbed with a rope, equipment and belayer.

Runout The rope length between the climber and their last piece of protection, either bolts on a sport climb or gear on a trad climb. The distance of a fall will be longer when there is a long runout. A route can be described as run out if there are large gaps between the gear placements.

Sandbag A route or boulder problem that is notoriously tougher than the grade/information given.

Second The climber who is belayed from the top to follow a leader up on a multi-pitch pitch.

Send To climb a route or boulder problem from bottom to top with no falls or or resting on gear.

Slack Extra loose rope in a climbing system, between the belayer and the climber.

Spot Help redirect a climber in the event of a fall.

Spray To provide extensive beta, often unsolicited and unwanted, about a climb to someone.

Take A phrase used by a climber to alert a belayer that the rope is about to be weighted.

Technical Refers to climbing routes or problems that demand good technique. Often with small holds and precision footwork. Technical routes are usually near vertical or overhanging.

Topo An overview “map” that shows location, general line, and information about climbing routes.

Top-out The final moves on a boulder problem that involve mounting the boulder to stand on top.

Traverse Moving laterally over a section of rock during a climb.

Whipper Taking a very large and long fall, usually while leading.

Types of Climbing

Aid climbing A type of climbing in which standing on or pulling yourself up by devic