Basic Rock Climbing Terminology

This post is inspired after speaking with a friend, who I actually began my rock climbing career with, about helping other beginners trying to get in the sport.  Quick and easy like a band-aid!  Here is some terminology you will need to know to enter the thrilling world of rock climbing! (including my awesome drawn pictures...)

Throughout the post there are links attached to words that may be confusing, click and see what they are.

First things first.  You got your climber, belayer, chains, and rope.

Climber - person climbing up the rock

Belayer - person at the bottom (sometimes top) that stops the climber from falling and smacking the ground viciously ending ones life by braking (not breaking) the rope

Chains/Anchors - what you use when to set up a top rope

Rope - you need it to climb, unless your crazy like Alex Honnold
Note: Can also use trees to set up top ropes differences in types of climbs

Left: Here is a top rope system. Basically, there is a fixed anchor at the top where the rope is run through, giving it the name "top rope". Right: And the lead climb. As you climb, you carry the rope up with you and "clip" into quickdraws that are held on by bolts.
(Click the definitions for an example)
Then there are different styles of climbing:
Traditional Climbing (aka trad) - with the use of active and passive protection, climbing by dragging the rope up with the climber attaching it to removable protection set by the said climber
Sport Climbing - with the use of quickdraws, climbing by dragging rope up with the climber attaching it to fixed anchors as they climb
Bouldering - climbing up to about 15-30 ft without any protection with a bouldering crash pad below; requires a spotter; more technical moves performed than rope climbing
Free soloing - climbing without any safety harness, rope, etc.

There is universal gear that you use for every style, except for bouldering or free soloing:
Harness - is used to secure a person to a piece of rope or an anchor point
Non-locking Carabiner - an oval shaped tool that is an essential tool for every climber where the gate cannot be locked; can come as a wirebent, or straight gate
Locking Carabiner - an oval shaped tool that is an essential tool for every climber where the gate can be locked
Dynamic Rope - a dual colored rope that stretches to distribute the downward forces that are applied; a climbing rope that can be used in any form
Rock climbing shoes - most important tool for climbers (in my opinion); designed with synthetic or leather material with a rubber bottom to grip to rock easier; can come as lace-upsslippersvelcro...check here of my review of each kind

Two types of belay systems:
Air Traffic Controller (aka ATC) - standard belay device
Grigri - belay device that has a self-locking system when climber takes a fall

There is trad specific gear that you use:
Cams - 4 prong active protection used in traditional climbing
TCUs - 3 prong active protection used in traditional climbing
Stoppers - passive protection that can be shaped in many forms including hexesnutstricams used in traditional climbing

There is sport specific gear that you use:
Quickdraw - 2 carabiners attached by sling, used in lead climbing
Bolts - used in sport climbing; are attached to the rock and are what quickdraws are clipped to to move up the rock when sport lead climbing.

While climbing you will encounter different types of holds
Jug - big enough to put your entire hand over with a lip - very secure
Crimp - enough for 1 segment on your finger to fit over
Sloper - big enough for the entire hand but not secure because there is nothing to pinch
Undercling - the use of the underneath portion of the hold and pulling up
Heel hook - using the heel of your foot to secure to a hold
Toe Hook - using your toe of your foot to secure to a hold

Other general terms
Static Rope - a single colored rope that does not stretch; not a climbing rope but a rappel/rescue tool 
Chains/Anchor - are usually at the top of the route; where you set up a rappel system to come down.
Beta - tips on how to do a certain route
Crag - the rock you are climbing on or about to
Approach - the trail taken to get to the crag; can be as short as 30 seconds :) or as long as 30+ minutes :(

Climber Calls
These are terms that you should know when climbing to call to your belayer.  Climbing requires clear and concise communication between the belayer and climber.  This is one of the underrated factors that keeps us safe.
Slack - climber call meaning climber wants more rope fed TO SELF
Take - climber call meaning climber wants more rope TAKEN FROM SELF
Belay Off - belayer call means climber is not being belayed
Off Belay - climber call means belayer should take climber off of belay
Climbing - climber call means climber is climbing
Climb On - belayer response to "Climb on" meaning belayer is ready to belay climber
On-sight - climber is attached to an anchor by way of sling/carabiner combo
That's me - climber call that is said when the belayer pulls all of the rope through that is attached to the climber
Safe - belayer call that there is no harm for the climber to incur
Lower - climber call to belayer meaning to lower climber to ground in a controlled manner

Note: Climbing is inherently dangerous and should be done with only expert advice/performance.  If you do not know what you are doing please contact a guide or  join an indoor gym.  Best place to learn!  Look for an indoor gym here.

Meet the Author:
Steve W Weiss: Snowboarder, Climber, Beer drinker...oh and Blogger.  Cleveland-native who moved West to Utah to fulfill a life of mountain fun.  Keep up with me on my Twitter or Facebook!

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  1. How do you feel about the "Forever on the Mountain" Book account of the MCA Team and the tragic expedition of 1967?