Don't sound like a kook. Read up.
images by Alec Walsh
With urban climbing gyms and public walls popping up left and right, it’s time we face how popular climbing has become. And while the growth is great for the industry, it means an influx of enthusiastic and often clueless climbers. More than just a sport, climbing is a lifestyle and there’s much more to being a part of the community than just climbing. And the very uniqueness of the culture that draws people to the sport can itself be a daunting barrier to overcome as a beginner—a whole new language has to be learned in order to seamlessly communicate within the climbing community. In short, for newbies, deciphering what the hell anyone is talking about at the crag or the gym can be a real challenge.
Learning the lingo is the first step that any prospective climber should take. So, to help you avoid sounding like a total kook, we’ve gone ahead and outlined 15 essential terms to know before you get in too deep.
This is one of the most useful terms for beginners to learn. Beta is any help or advice from another climber in regards to a climb. Stuck on a move? A request for beta from a more experienced climber will often help get you past it. Careful though, it isn’t usually wanted unless asked for!
Bouldering is the simplest, most accessible, and thus most popluar form of climbing. No ropes, only shoes and chalk (and hopefully some ground pads). It’s all about technical, difficult moves on shorter routes. Mostly, boulder problems will be no higher than about 15 ft. While rope climbing is more of a focus on endurance, this climbing style is all about power. Bouldering started as a way to train for roped climbing but has now evolved into a sport of its own.
This is a term that you’ll hear and probably use a lot. And contrary to what you might think, getting pumped doesn’t mean excited in the climbing world. Far from it, getting pumped describes the sensation of extreme fatigue you get in your forearms. When you’re hanging on with everything you’ve got for an extended period of time, lactic acid begins to accumulate in your muscles as the forearms fatigue, making them feel inflated and clumsy, hence the name.
This will quickly become one of your favorite words. A jug—coming from the term “jug-handle”—simply means a great big hand hold. Something you could do pullups on if you wanted. It’s always a relief to slap your hand onto one of these. Stretches of rock that have a stockpile of amazing holds are endearingly referred to as “jug-hauls.”
A sloper is a type of hold that can’t really be held onto by gripping or using fingers. Instead, you’ll be relying a lot upon friction, palming the hold and creating as much surface area contact as possible. A slopey climb will usually be a slightly less steep pitch where you’ll have to rely on friction instead of the more distinct hand and footholds found on other types of climbs.
Like jugs, crimps are a kind of hand hold. though unlike jugs, crimps usually aren’t much to get excited about. These are small holds, only large enough to engage the fingertips. If you’re going to tackle a “crimpy” climb, you’ll want to have some good footholds to take the weight off your fingers. Also be prepared for a healthy dose of forearm pump.
Sending a route is the most common use of the term. This means successfully reaching the top and finishing a climb. You might also hear someone yelling at you to “Send it!” If you’re climbing strong, they’re most likely encouraging you not to give up and keep at it. If you’ve been frozen in the same position for the last 5 minutes, scared to make the next move, being told to “send it” likely means, “Quit being a wimp and go for it already!” Either way, it’s a good term to know.
Belaying is an essential part of any type of climbing that uses a rope. The belayer is the one responsible for catching the climber if they fall. They do this by running the rope through a belay device which is connected to their harness by a locking carabiner. When the rope is locked into a climber’s belay device, they are “on belay.” The climber is then safe and free to get moving.
This type of climbing is done by running the rope up through an anchor at the top of the climb and then back down to the climber. This is the safest type of climbing as the belayer can constantly take up slack in the rope as the climber ascends the route, reducing the threat of falling.
Sport climbing is different from top roping in that the rope is not redirected through an anchor before it is attached to the climber. Instead the rope hangs below them with the belayer letting out slack as they climb. The climber will place quickdraws at bolts drilled along the route. That way, the climber can only fall as far as their last draw. This type of climbing where the rope trails behind the climber is called “lead climbing.”
Trad or traditional climbing is another form of climbing where leading is required. Instead of clipping quickdraws into preplaced bolts like in sport climbing however, the climber will place their own protection as they ascend. This protection is non-permanent and the climber relies on pockets, cracks and other rock formations to leave gear in that works much like quickdraws do in that they will only fall as far as their last piece of protection.
Another way of saying “bomb proof,” bomber is a word usually used to describe protection placement, but isn’t limited to it. Basically, bomber just means, really good. If you have a bomber anchor, it means that it wouldn’t budge even if you nuked it. You won’t have to worry about falling if you have some bomber protection in the rock.
A whipper is a big fall. It’s called this because when a climber falls on lead from above their last piece of protection, they’ll plummet in an arcing, whip-like motion. If you take an impressive fall, you might hear another climber exclaim in admiration, “That was a whipper!” Hopefully the verbal support will reduce the sting of the fall.
Don’t call free-soloing free climbing. They’re different. This is one of the most common mistakes made by new climbers. Kind of like the old, all squares are rectangles but not all rectangles are squares colloquialism, free-soloing is free climbing, but free climbing isn’t always free-soloing. Free climbing simply refers to any style of climbing where you strictly use your strength and skill to ascend a route. As long as you’re only using hand and footholds to get up a climb, you are free climbing. Free-soloing is just free climbing without a rope or partner, which is where the “soloing” comes in.
“The crux” refers to the most difficult move or series of moves on a climb. Climbs are rated based on the crux, not their average difficulty. You might cruise easily up half a climb but find yourself unable to make it past the crux move. While the moves in gyms are usually fairly consistent with their ratings, top to bottom, when climbing outdoors, you might be in for 100 feet of 5.9 or 90 feet of 5.7 with about 10 feet of 5.9. This is why reading guidebooks and researching routes is so important in climbing. Know before you go.
Alec Walsh is an avid climber, surfer, and full-time student born and raised in San Diego now living in Denver, Colorado. Follow his IG here