Glossary Of Climbing Terms


Active protection-  Removable climbing protection that relies on moving parts to create force against the inside of a crack.  Examples include camming devices and sliding ball nuts.

Aid climbing-  Using protective gear to aid in upward progress; pulling on a quickdraw or using aiders, for example.  This is done to overcome a section that is either too difficult or time consuming to free-climb.

Aiders- A type of portable ladder made of nylon webbing that is attached to a piece of climbing protection and pulled/stepped on in order to move upward.  Normally used in big-wall or aid climbing.

AMGA-  American Mountain Guides Association.  An internationally recognized organization that provides training and sets standards for professional climbing Guides in the US.

Anchor-   A protection point that is relied upon to hold the entire weight of a climbing party, including whatever dynamic forces (eg falling) may be involved.

Ascending-  Climbing a rope with the aid of mechanical or non-mechanical devices.  This is an aid climbing skill, and is also used in self-rescue.

Ascenders-  Devices used to climb a rope.  There are several mechanical and non-mechanical designs; all are made to slide in one direction along a rope and lock in the other.


Basalt-  Dark volcanic rock formed by cooling of a lava flow.  Popular rock for climbing in the western U.S, including the Crooked River Gorge here at Smith.  Due to it's unique fracturing characteristics, it is sometimes called "columnar basalt".

Belay-  (as verb): To provide protection to a climber by means of controlling the feed of the rope.  (as noun): The main anchor point for a particular pitch.  Must be strong enough to hold the entire weight of the party, including any dynamic (falling) forces that may be involved.  Also called a "belay station" or "belay anchor".

Belay Transition- In multi-pitch climbing, this is the period when the follower arrives at the belay anchor and the climbers prepare for the next pitch.  An efficient belay transition saves a great deal of time.

Big-Wall Climbing- Extremely tall cliffs, often requiring multiple days to ascend.  Aid climbing is normally required to overcome difficult sections.

Bolt-  Metal rods that are secured in pre-drilled holes in the rock, capturing a "bolt hanger" on the surface of the rock, in which a climber can attach to.  Bolts are considered permanent protection, and are extremely strong if placed correctly.

Bolt ladder-  Series of closely spaced bolts, normally 3-4 feet apart.  Used as points of aid in order to pull through a blank or difficult section of rock.


Chimney-  A rock fracture large enough for a climber to fit their entire body into, yet small enough that opposing pressure can be applied to both walls to prevent falling.  The technique used to climb chimneys is called "chimneying".

Cleaning (anchors)-  The process of de-constructing a belay/rappel anchor after the climbing party moves on, or removing protection points from a pitch after it is led.

Counterbalance Rappel-  A self-rescue skill in which a rescuer uses an injured partner's weight on the rope to counter his own in order to rappel and attend to the victim.  The rappel is commonly set up so that upon reaching the injured climber below, the rescuer and victim can immediately begin lowering together.

Crack Climbing- Using cracks in the rock for hand or footholds.  Specialized techniques such as hand and foot jamming are often necessary.  Also called "trad climbing".     


Equalizing anchors-  Connecting multiple anchor points in a way that distributes the load evenly between each anchor.

Escaping the belay-  A self-rescue skill in which the belayer transfers the weight of the partner he is holding from himself to an anchor.  This is necessary if the belayer needs to attend to an injured partner, for example.


Follow(er)- The climber that goes after the leader.  They are normally responsible for cleaning the protection ​placed by the leader.  Sometimes called the "second" or the "cleaner".

Free climbing-  Climbing style in which only the rock is used for hand and footholds during ascent.  Although pulling or stepping on gear does not fit with this style, protective equipment is used to secure a possible fall.  Distinct from free-solo climbing, which is climbing tall routes without a rope.

Free rappel-  A rappel over a steeply overhanging rock face or roof in which no part of the body is in contact with the rock.  Also called a "free-hanging rappel."

Friction knot-  A type of wrap/knot tied with webbing or cord that when attached to a climbing rope will provide enough friction to hold body weight when loaded.  When the load is released, the friction knot can slide along the rope.  There are several variations, including the prusik, autoblock, and Klemheist.  Sometimes called a "friction hitch".


Grade-  Specialized rating that describes multi-pitch rock and alpine climbs.  The grade takes in several factors, including time required, commitment level, and overall difficulty.  Multi-pitch routes receive a grade between I and VI.  Grade VI routes are multi-day climbs involving difficult free climbing and/or aid climbing, while routes grade IV and under are normally climbed within a day.  The grade is listed first in the rating, such as VI 5.9A2.  Note: the grade is not always listed for a route, especially for climbs of grade III and lower.


Hanging belay-  A belay on a steep or overhanging face in which the belayer's full weight is suspended from an anchor.

Hauling-  Means of pulling supplies up a rock face after leading a pitch.  During a multi-day climb, supplies are contained in "haul bags".  They are normally very heavy and require setting up a hauling system, the type of which varies depending on the amount of weight being hauled.


Jamming-  Crack climbing technique in which a climber wedges a body part into a crack so that it holds body weight.  The most common jams use the hands, feet, and fingers.


Leader Rescue-  A self-rescue skill in which the belayer attends to an injured or helpless lead climber who cannot be easily lowered to the ground.

Lead climbing-  Going up a particular pitch first, in order to set up the belay for the rest of the climbing party.

Lie back-  Climbing technique in which a climber grabs a vertically oriented handhold (such as a crack) and leans their body to side, away from the hand.


Multi pitch-  A longer route that is split into two or more sections, or pitches.


NOLS-  National Outdoor Leadership School.  An organization that provides training and certification tests for outdoor leaders and professionals.

Nubbin-  A small, rounded projection on the rock that can be used as a hand or foothold. 


Onsight-  To redpoint a route on the first attempt, with no prior knowledge of the route's specific moves.


Passing a knot-  The process of bypassing a knot in a rope around a belay/rappel device.  Without passing the knot, it easily becomes jammed in the device, halting progress.  This is often performed while descending long routes with multiple ropes tied together.  In addition, it is a crucial self-rescue skill.

Passive protection-  Removable crack protection that does not rely on moving parts in order to hold a fall; as opposed to active protection.  Examples of passive "pro" include nuts, hexes, and tri-cams.

Pendulum- Overcoming a blank section of rock by lowering and swinging back and forth until you can reach a hold or crack system.  Normally only done in "big wall" climbing.

Pitch-  The section of a climb between belay stations.

Protection-  A point of attachment of a climber onto a rock face.  Can either be removable (cam, nuts), or permanent (bolts, trees).


Quickdraw-  Two carabiners connected by a sewn sling.  Serves as a link between the rope and the protection, among other uses. 


Rappel- To descend along a fixed rope.  A rappel device and carabiner connects the rope to the harness, and ​applies friction to the rope for stopping power.  The rappeller controls their own descent.  This is distinct from a lower, in which the climber hangs from the end of the rope while the belayer controls the descent. 

Raising-  A self-rescue skill in which an injured or helpless climber is raised to the belay using equipment common to a climbing party.  Common raising systems use 3:1, 5:1, and 6:1 mechanical advantage attained through the use of climbing rope, webbing, and specialized friction hitches.

Redpoint-  To lead a route without falling or weighting protection in any way.  Also called a "clean ascent".

Rope Management- Organizing ropes in a way that reduces tangling and increases efficiency in climbing systems.


Self Rescue-  A set of skills that uses equipment common to a climbing party to affect the rescue of an injured climber in vertical terrain; specifically in areas where outside help may not be available.  Examples of self-rescue skills include escaping the belay, passing a knot, raising and lowering an injured climber, counterbalance rappelling, tandem rappelling, ascending, and several specialized knots and friction hitches.

Slab-  A rock face that is less than vertical.  Smearing is a technique often used to climb these lower angle features.

Smearing-  Climbing technique in which the foot is placed on featureless rock and the climber must rely on friction to keep from slipping off.

Sport climbing-  Type of climbing in which the route is equipped with permanent anchors; usually bolts.

Stemming-  Climbing technique in which the arms and/or legs are spread in order to apply pressure to opposing rock walls.  Often used to climb corners or wide chimneys.


Tandem rappel-  A self-rescue skill in which the rescuer and victim rappel together, sharing the same rope and rappel device.

Top-Access anchor- Walking to the top of a cliff and building a belay anchor at the cliff edge.  Does not require lead climbing, but safety precautions are necessary when approaching cliff edge. 

Top roping-  Belay setup in which the climber is held tight by a rope that runs from their harness to an anchor above their head.  This setup provides maximum safety for the climber.

Traditional climbing-  Type of climbing that relies on cracks in the rock to accept removable protection that is placed by the leader.  Uses specialized equipment such as camming devices and nuts.  Distinct from sport climbing, where the protection bolts are permanently fixed in the rock.  Often called "trad climbing".

Tuff-  The rock type that composes the famous towers of Smith Rock State Park.  It was formed as superheated airborne ash from a huge volcanic eruption settled on the ground in a thick layer and slowly cooled.  As cooling progressed, fracturing and erosion produced the sheer walls and perfect climbing features we see today.  Also called "welded tuff" or "volcanic tuff".


WMI-  Wilderness Medicine Institute.  Organization that provides medical training and certification for outdoor professionals.


Here is a review of the ​rock climbing rating systems:

5.8, 5.9, etc. (difficulty rating- US System)-  This is the primary rating system, and ​generally the only rating shown unless the route is especially long or complicated.  These numbers ​represent the technical difficulty of a climb; how hard the moves are.  The first number (5.8) shows that it is difficult enough for a rope to be required; otherwise known as "class 5" climbing.  The number after the decimal represents the route's difficulty on a scale from 0 to 15.  The scale gets more complicated after 5.10, picking up the letters a-d after the second number.  Here is an example of increasing difficulty: 5.7, 5.8, 5.9, 5.10a, 5.10b, 5.10c, 5.10d, 5.11a, 5.11b, etc.  The difference between 5.9 and 5.10 is the same as between 5.10b and 5.10c.  To give you an idea, most people climb between 5.4-5.7 on their first day out, while very few people can climb harder than 5.13a.  The world's hardest route is 5.15d.  

A1, A2, etc. (aid rating)-  This letter/number combo shows the aid climbing difficulty rating.  "A" represents "aid", and the number represents the combined difficulty and relative danger level on a scale of 0-5.  To put it simply, A1 is comfortable, while A5 is very extreme.  This rating applies only to routes that normally use aid, such as Monkey Face's West Face Variation (5.9 A1).

IV, V, etc. (grade)- A specialized rating that describes multi-pitch rock and alpine climbs.  The grade considers several factors, including time required, commitment level, and overall difficulty.  Multi-pitch routes receive a grade between II and VI.  Grade V and VI routes are multi-day climbs with complicated free climbing and/or aid climbing, while routes graded IV and under are normally climbed in a day.  The grade is listed first in a multi-pitch rating, such as VI 5.9 A2.  Grade II and III routes often do not display the grade rating.