Mountaineering, like every other sport, has its terminology and lingo. This article serves as an essential guide on different mountaineering terms and their meanings. The more you learn, the better you communicate with your climbing colleagues.
The glossary is in alphabetical order for your convenience. Apart from mountaineering, some of the terms mentioned below are also used in wall climbing and rock climbing.
Let’s get started!
Also known as V-Thread, Abalakov thread is used for abseiling or controlled descent, especially in winter and in ice climbing. This term is named after Soviet climber Vitaly Abalakov who innovated this method.
In simpler terms, the Abalakov thread is used to scale down from a higher point in mountaineering.
The lower altitude of a glacier where the ice mass is less is known as Ablation Zone. The term ablation area is also used interchangeably with Ablation Zone.
Abseiling is a process of descending from the higher point with the help of a fixed rope, usually an Abalakov thread.
Acclimatization is the process of adapting to the high altitude atmosphere.
ACR (Alpine Cock Ring)
Alpine Cock Ring abbreviated as ACR is a method that uses a cord and rappel ring that helps create a secure anchor without tying knots.
An adze is similar to an ax that has a thin blade arched to the handle. It is used for chopping footholds.
While ascending difficult parts of a mountain, specific devices or support is placed for the climber to stand before scaling up. This support technique is aid climbing.
Alpine climbing is a popular type of climbing sport where a climber scales the summit by ascending the rock faces, walls and other natural geologic features in mountain terrain. Such climbing requires an extreme level of fitness, sharp focus, and awareness of the surroundings.
The alpine knee is using one’s knee to support the climb.
You have an alpine start if you are ready for a long climb well before sunrise by packing all your gears.
Also known as Acute Mountain Sickness, you are known to have altitude sickness if you show symptoms of headache and nausea. Altitude sickness is often observed at high altitudes.
American death triangle
It is a type of anchor that requires three carabiners each fixed at separate points where one point is meant to handle the weight.
An abbreviation for Acute Mountain Sickness, AMS is a symptom of low blood oxygen caused by low air pressure at high altitudes.
An anchor is set up to support the weight of the top rope.
You make an ‘approach’ to the starting point of a technical climb. Even though this means a walk, it too can be as precarious as the climb.
Apron shaped region formed by gradual rock and snow erosion.
Arête is a sharp mountain ridge.
The armbar is locking an arm into a crack for further positioning.
To ascend is to climb a rope with the support of an aiding device.
It is a device used in a rope for ascending.
The slope-facing direction is the aspect.
Belay device creates friction by pulling bends in the rope to protect a roped climber from falling.
When the belay is removed from the climbing rope, it is called belay off.
On the contrary, belay on is called when the belay has been applied to the climbing rope.
A deep open crack that forms in a glacier and the moving section pulls away from the headwall. Bergschrund is also called a Shrund.
Beta is information about a climb. A beta can be a small hint or even a thorough instruction about the climb.
The triumphant ascent of a summit on the first attempt after receiving Beta is beta flash.
Bivy (also Bivvy)
A temporary camp caused by ‘bivouac’. It may involve nothing more than lying down or ducking on a rock ledge without any sleeping gear.
Bivy bag protects the full body from wind and rain.
Bollard is used as a belay anchor.
A secure anchor with such peerless quality and reliability that it can withstand severe conditions. It can also refer to a safe and stable handhold or foothold.
Booty is any gear left behind.
In simple terms, Bouldering means to practice climbing on large boulders.
Any beginner climber is referred to as bumbly.
The term bumbly is also used as a slang to address an incompetent climber.
A climbing technique where you move from a difficult to more comfortable hold over a short distance is called bump.
A buttress is a rocky protuberance between two gullies. Its called a ridge if the gap is narrow.
Above the altitude of treelines where navigation of roads is difficult, a pile of stones is placed to mark a trail. Such heaps of stones are cairn.
A spring-loaded camming device is used to hold or move equipment.
It is a piece of training equipment for strengthening fingers and arm lock.
Clawing uses front points of crampons, ice ax pick and ice hammer pick to climb a slope.
Clipping in is a process to attach to belay lines or anchors for protection.
Col is a space between two peaks, which is considered an excellent place for navigation.
The cord lock is used to fasten cords with gloves on.
A cornice is a bulk of snow hanging at the edge of a ridge.
The couloir is a gorge filled with snow or ice.
Crampons are fixed to boots that increase safety while climbing snow and icy paths. Spikes are attached to the metal framework of the boots.
Cramponing is the technique of using crampons to walk on ice.
A breach in the facet of a glacier is crevasse.
The toughest parts during a climb are termed as the crux.
A horizontally buried object in a snowy surface that serves as an anchor for an attached rope is a deadman anchor.
Depth hoar is a weak snow layer commonly formed in early winter that carries the risk of avalanche. Also called Temperature Gradient snow (TG snow).
Dexamethasone is a pharmaceutical drug that helps climbers deal with altitude sickness.
A total understanding of a climbing route is dialed.
A double-wall tent protects climbers from hypothermia and sleeping bags from condensation.
Downclimb is known as the act of climbing down after the completion of an ascent.
Any mountain that is taller than 8,000 meters above sea level is referred to as an eight-thousander.
Tired legs that are wobbling are termed as Elvis legs.
Any ordinary climb that becomes difficult due to injuries, weather, darkness, or other factors is called epic.
Etrier is a webbing ladder for aid climbing.
Hypothermia resulting from exposure to cold, wind, and rain is exposure.
A permanently fixed steel ropes or chains on a mountain route.
A belay device or descender with an ‘8’ shape.
Figure-eight knot is used to secure a climber’s harness to the climbing rope.
A person who was the first to ascent is referred to as the first ascensionist.
Flash is to complete a climbing route on the first attempt successfully.
The flute is an insecure flake of ice.
Mountains with 14,000 feet or higher in the United States.
A gap between mountains or ridge.
A glacier is a mass of moving ice or snow.
Glacier melts and flows as stream due to high temperature.
Glacier travel means walking or climbing on a glacier, generally with the help of a rope to avoid falling in crevasses.
The voluntary act of sliding down a snowy slope.
‘Good old raisins and peanuts’ or Gorp is unplanned nibbling of food during long climbs to keep the energy level high.
The most dangerous form of altitude sickness where the brain swells due to cell death is HACE (High Altitude Cerebral Edema)
HADE (High Altitude Dumb Edema) is a condition where a climber loses intelligence temporarily.
The high point is reaching the highest part of a mountain during a summit.
Himalayan mountaineering climbing as to the nature of climbing in the Himalayas where the height of the peaks is above 7000 meters.
To be honed is to be mentally and physically fit for climbing.
Climbing equipment or climbing techniques involving hooking a heel for additional support.
Loss in body temperature because of cold temperature. One of the prevailing causes of death in mountaineering.
A safety and balancing tool with pick-head and a spike in the opposite end.
Ice hammer is lightweight with a hammerhead on a short handle. It does not have any spikes.
An ice screw is used in steep ice for setting a crevasse rescue system.
Ice tool is used mostly for complicated configurations in ice climbing.
By joining two ropes for climbing up, climbers rely on different knots for anchoring.
Leashless is a technique used for faster mobility by climbing with axes without attaching them to the wrist.
A distinct contiguous portion of a mountain from the surrounding mountain range.
A moat is formed when the glacier pulls away from a rock formation.
The debris of rocks and stones carried and deposited by a glacier.
The search and rescue activities in the mountains are called mountain rescue.
A mountain or rock that peeks above and through an ice field.
The objective danger occurs in unpredictable situations like falling rock, ice, or avalanches.
Peak-bagging is systematically scaling summits.
Pickets are long and tubular rods that provide a quick anchor.
Pied marche is to walk on low-angle ice with forward-pointing toes.
Pressure breathing is forcefully exhaling to facilitate O2/CO2 exchange at higher altitudes.
A rib is a small ridge on a mountain.
Water that is frozen over a rock or any other object.
The route is an existing path for a climb.
It also means as a predefined term for a ‘set of moves’ in mountaineering.
Usually larger than a col, a saddle is a flat space between two peaks.
The leader of the Sherpa mountain guide is referred to as Sardar.
Self-arrest is a method of planting the ax pick into the snow to control fall in case a climber slips.
This term is also used for the technique employed for stopping oneself during controlled glissade.
Serac is an ice tower unsuitable for climbing.
Sewing machine leg
See Elvis Presley syndrome.
A Sherpa is a member of an ethnic group living near the Himalayas known for their mountaineering skills.
Mountaineering porters in Nepal are also called Sherpa, regardless of their ethnicity.
It is a screw, tubular in shape, that is hammered in ice.
Glacier base from where water flows.
The fluke is an aluminum plate connected to a metal cable used as a deadman anchor.
An imaginary line above which snow is found in all seasons.
Ascending mountain solo with one’s own climbing set is solo climbing.
Spindrift is loose snow that cannot hold protection.
Using ice ax to cut out snow or ice to make steps is step cutting.
The tipping point of a mountain or a peak.
Or reaching the top of a high point.
Talus is a mass of rock fragments on a mountainside. The sizes vary from small backpack to the size of a house.
Mountain lake formed by the atmospheric conditions.
Technical is a term used to express sequences of moves and creativity required for the protection of a route.
Unlike scrambling or glacier travel, technical climbing requires a rope and protection.
Timberline is the altitude where trees no longer grow.
Preparing oneself to climb mountains is training.
Instead of ascending or descending, to traverse is to move sideways or laterally.
The two-man stand is a position where one climber stands on the shoulders of another climber. This technique is now obsolete.
See abalakov thread
Verglas is a thin ice coat formed over rocks due to rainfall or frozen melting snow.
A wall is a steep face of a mountain.
A wand is used for tracing paths that go over glaciers and snowfields. It is a bamboo stick with a flag.
Whiteout is a condition during winter where poor visibility makes the horizon merge with the ground and the sky.
Firm snow is attached to a lower layer which can break easily causing an avalanche. This condition is a wind slab.
Also called as Z-system, it is used to rescue a climber fallen into a crevasse with the help of rope, anchors, and pulleys.