A-to-Zs: Climbing Lingo Defined

A-to-Zs: Climbing Lingo Defined

  • Posted by kaleigh
  • On April 21, 2020
  • Comments

“There’s no way that route was only a 5.9! That cruxy dyno was mega … and it’s totally chossy and runout! What a sandbag!!!”

Whether you’re tying in at the crag or scanning for your next plastic boulder, there’s no doubt you’ve heard words like these before. Turns out, climbers are an odd bunch. Like skaters or surfers, we tend to have our own jargon when talking about rock quality, gear and movement. And there’s no doubt you’ve been just as confused and pissed as we are when we’re climbing a route and our beta-spraying belayer demands we “reach for the mono, just to the right of the chicken head!”

Before the next time you slip on your shoes, check out this list of climbing lingo so you can adequately talk shop with your climbing partner.

Alpine Knee – to use a knee to ascend while climbing; not restricted to alpine climbing and not to be confused with kneebar.

Alpine Start – starting a day early in the morning, usually well before sunrise; not to be confused with Matt Segal’s coffee company.

Anchor – one or (usually) more pieces of gear used to support a belay or top rope.

Barn door – when a climber’s lower body swings uncontrollably away from the wall, like a door on a hinge …. or a barn door.

Beta – advice (warranted or unwarranted) on how to successfully complete a climb.

Big Wall – a large wall or long climbing route that can be done in a day or less; not to be confused with big-wall climbing.

Big-Wall Climbing – a large wall or long climbing route that takes more than one day and requires sleeping on the route; not to be confused with big wall.

Booty – gear left behind at a climbing area (finder’s keepers!); not to be confused with the other kind of booty.

Bump – moving the same piece of natural gear further up a route rather than placing another piece; usually heard only when trad climbing.

Cheese Grating – falling off a slab climb; not recommended.

Chicken Head – protruding piece of rock that can be a good handhold or protection; not food.

Choss – loose, crumbling or “rotting” rock; avoid this.

Crux – the most difficult part of anything.
Ex: “Gosh, peeing on a multi-pitch is always the crux of the climb.”

Deck – to hit the ground when climbing; not ideal.

Dirtbag – individuals living for cheap to maximize climbing time; see also: “Overnight cars in Front parking lot.”

Dyno – climbing move that requires a jump or leap, resulting in both feet leaving the rock.

Elvis Leg – wobbly knees due to exhaustion or fear or both; when noticed, an attentive belayer should take in slack and/or laugh at their partner.

Epic – an ordinary climb turned long and/or dangerous due to weather, injuries, darkness or other factors, like not packing enough Snickers

Flapper – loose flapping skin; repair with glue or tape.

Flash – completing a climb on the first attempt after receiving beta; not to be confused with onsight.

Free Climbing (“Freeing”) – climbing without the use of gear or other aid, other than used for protection; not to be confused with free soloing.

Free Soloing – climbing without aid or protection, which usually means climbing without a rope; not to be confused with free climbing.

French Free – using protection to bypass a difficult section of rock, typically not for an entire climb.

Gumby – a new climber; derogatory term.

Hangdog – to hang on the rope or protection for rest while lead climbing.

High Ball – a tall boulder problem; usually with obvious disastrous falling consequences.

Jumar – a type of mechanical ascender; to ascend a rope using a mechanical ascender.

Knee Bar – camming a knee/lower thigh up under or against a rock feature for rest or as a hold while climbing; looks and feels cool.

Lock-Off – a static move in which a climber pulls on a hold until the arm is bent, then holding that position using body tension and strength in order to reach the next hold with the other hand.

Mega – big, extreme, large, crazy.

Mono – a one-finger climbing hold.

Onsight – a clean ascent with no prior practice or beta; not to be confused with flash.

Pinkpoint – to complete a lead climb without falling or hangdogging, but with pre-placed protection.

Polish(ed) – rock that is slippery due to high use
Ex: American Fork limestone.

Project (“Proj”) – a potential new route or problem that hasn’t yet seen a first ascent; an already-established route or problem that is repeatedly attempted and rehearsed in order to ascend for the first time by a climber new to the route.
Ex: “Bro, belay me on my 5.9 proj!”

Pumped – to have an accumulation of metabolic waste in the forearms that makes forming a basic grip impossible; to be overly excited.

Redpoint – free climbing a route by leading, after practicing the route beforehand. Not to be confused with Flash or Pinkpoint.

Runout – a long portion of a route with minimal protection; often perceived as a dangerous and risky section of climbing.
Ex: Nearly any route in Little Cottonwood Canyon

Sandbag – a climb which receives a much lower grade than deserved.

Send – to cleanly complete a route.

Smear – to use friction on the sole of the climbing shoe in the absence of footholds.

Splitter – a clean crack with perfectly parallel sides, usually on an otherwise blank face.

Spray – arrogantly describing personal climbing experience and history in a self-promoting manner; beta spray – giving unwarranted, specific advice on how to complete a climb; Don’t do this.

Whip – a large lead fall, usually from far above or to the side of the last piece of protection.

Zipper – a fall in which each piece of protection fails and usually pops out of the wall; not ideal.


Well, now you’re mostly caught up on climbing’s language and can adequately play the part next time you’re racking up or chilling under a boulder. Just remember: Spraying is never cool!