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  • Writer's picturevanlafaxine

a glossary of terms

since i will likely be using a lot of climbing terminology in this blog, i figured making a glossary of those words would be good so family and friends who don't climb can know what the hell i am talking about, so here goes:


rock climbing: there are two main types: sport and trad, both are types of lead climbing


lead climbing: climbing up the wall and bringing the rope with you as you climb, clipping it in as you go. this means that you are usually above the last place you clipped with the rope below you, so if you fall, you fall far; essentially twice the distance from you to the last clip plus whatever slack and stretch is in the rope, this is called a "whip"


sport climbing: lead climbing where "bolts" are already drilled into the wall to clip your rope into. falls are not very dangerous since the bolts have a very low likelihood of ripping out of the wall. falls generate around 2-4kn of force, the bolts can hold about 40kn. this allows harder climbing because falls are of less consequence.


trad climbing: no bolts are drilled into the wall, you carry "gear" or "protection", which you place into the wall as you climb. this involves jamming gear into cracks in the wall as you climb. you do so in such a way that it is unlikely they will pull out during a fall, but sometimes they do and thus a fall is more dangerous than sport climbing. trad gear can hold anywhere from 0-14kn depending on the size and how well you placed it, so it is definitely scarier and you have to have a lot of trust in your gear and your skill. much of the climbing in the western us/canada is trad climbing.


top roping: somebody has already climbed to the top and set up a rope so that the rope is always above you instead of below you, if you fall off the wall you don't fall any distance, you can even sit back and take a break if you want. not scary at all, very good for working on projects.


scrambling: moving up/down rock faces or mountains without the use of a rope, not difficult enough to absolutely need a rope but difficult enough that you need to use your hands. usually to climb to the top of a mountain or access a rock climbing route. there are 4 classes of scrambling, see "the yosemite decimal system"



grade: the difficulty of a climb, in this blog i will be using the "yosemite decimal system" for grading


"the yosemite decimal system": rates the difficulty of a climb as follows:


class 1: regular hiking, no hands needed


class 2: easy scrambling, now you start to need to use your hands, not very dangerous, not very difficult, if you fall you might get hurt


class 3: more difficult scrambling, if you fall you will likely get very seriously injured


class 4: difficult scrambling where if you fall, you will likely die, but not hard enough to really need ropes.

this isn't super difficult, but very exposed so i will call it 4th class


class 5: proper technical rock climbing with ropes. this is subdivided into decimals i.e. 5.1, 5.2...5.9, 5.10, 5.11, etc. 5.1 being easy, 5.9 used to be the hardest grade when rock climbing started but since then people have gotten stronger and better, so they had to add 5.10 and up (i know it doesn't make mathematical sense). 5.10 and up are divided into a, b, c, and d. my highest outdoor sport lead to date is a 5.11a, amy's is a 5.9.


sandbagging: rating a climb as much easier than it actually is, i.e. the grade of the climb in the guidebook is 5.1 but it is actually as hard as a 5.8


exposure: the amount of air underneath you, the height of the vertical drop you are "exposed" to when climbing or scrambling, i.e. climbing vertical walls or walking on cliff edges. a silly euphemism if you ask me.


pitch: climbing ropes come in lengths of 60 or 70 metres, so you can only really climb 30-35m in a single go if you are lowering to the ground after, this is called "a pitch". if the wall is only 30m tall, it is a "single pitch". if the wall is taller than 35m, you stop at the top of the pitch and bring your partner up, then climb the next pitch and repeat until you reach the top, this is called a "multi-pitch"


run out: when the distance between bolts or places to place protection is very far, leading to a possible very big fall. common on old routes. scary. people get really hurt on runout climbs. trad routes are rated like movies G/PG/PG13/R/X based on how runout they are.


belay: the belayer is attached to the other end of the rope, providing a counterweight for the climber on the wall to catch them if they fall. the belayer manages the rope, making sure the right amount is let out at a time.


anchor: the place at the top of the climb or pitch to belay off of, this can either be made up of bolts or placed trad gear.

a very stupid anchor


bouldering: a form of climbing where you climb boulders instead of walls, so no ropes are needed. usually very hard moves, very strength and technique based.


slab: low angle climbing, which you would think would be easier, but usually means that erosion has wiped clean anything you could use as a hold, so often you are relying on the friction of your shoes and microscopic variances in the texture of the rock. turns out to be scarier than the vertical stuff, especially since if you fall you cheese-grater down the rock. everyone hates slab.


rappelling: how you get down. lowering yourself with the rope from an anchor, useful for getting down from the top of climbs or mountains. statistically the most dangerous part of climbing since people often forget to tie knots in the end of the rope and rappel right off the end.







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