Guide to Climbing


Clean climbing
Climbing only with protection that can be placed by hand and removed by the second. If a climber uses a hammer to place pitons or bolts, it is not clean climbing. In general, clean climbing is considered the best style. Though not as popular, hammering protection on faces where no cracks are suitable for clean protection is considered acceptable. Often, this protection is left in place.

Free Climbing
(verb): When a climber “frees” a route, he climbs it using only the holds or cracks in the rock for progress. The rope and other gear are used only for safety. Contrast this with “aid climbing”, in which climbers pull up on their gear for progress.

Any piece of protection used to secure climbers to a cliff face for belaying or rappelling. “Fixed anchors” are left in place for all climbers to use.

Mechanical device that may be attached to a rope and used to ascend the rope. Ascenders often are used by the second climber on very long and difficult climbs to follow the leader quickly; they also are used in rescues. Jumar is the brand name for one type of ascender; the word has come into common usage as a noun or a verb.

To safeguard another climber with the rope. Also used as a noun, as in “the belay was solid.” In old-fashioned belays, the belayer wrapped the rope around his body to create friction incase of a fall. Most climbers today use friction-creating “belay devices” that attach to their harnesses and allowsmall climbers, even children, to stop the falls of much larger climbers.

Bivouac or bivy
A night spent at the base of a climb or enroute. Big-wall climbers sometimes carry a collapsible, hanging cot, called a portaledge, that can be suspended from the cliff, providing an airy bed.

Expansion bolts like those used in construction,tapped into holes drilled in the rock (usually 3/8" diameter by about 3" deep) to protect climbs where there are no cracks for other types of protection. A special “hanger” is attached to the bolt, so the rope can be clipped to it with a carabiner. Bolts are permanent, or “fixed,” pieces of protection. They are placed only by the first person to do a climb and are used by all subsequent parties.

Camming devices
Protection devices with spring loaded cams which, inserted in a crack, resist outward pull from a falling climber. Two popular brands of cams are Friends and Camalots.These are trademarked names.

Aluminum ovals with spring-loaded gates, used to clip two pieces of gear together or gear to a rope. Frequently called “snaplinks” in media reports, but climbers never use this term.

Magnesium carbonate, carried in a pouch at the waist, used to improve climbers' grip on the rock.

Climbing shoes
Snug-fitting shoes with high-friction rubber soles and carefully designed edges that allow climbers to stand on tiny footholds.

A set of metal spikes that clips onto mountaineering boots and is used for ice climbing or glacier walking. “Crampon” is also used as a verb.

Fixed protection, fixed pieces, fixed anchors
Bolts or pitons placed permanently in the rock, usually by the first person to do a climb, and used by all subsequent climbers.

A nylon harness, buckled around the waist andthighs, providing a safe, comfortable way to tie into the rope for climbing, rappelling and belaying.

Ice axe, ice hammer, ice tools
Hand tools with a sharp pick and either an adze or hammer head. Swung into the ice,they are used to ascend frozen waterfalls or steep snow and ice slopes.

Nuts or chocks
Metal wedges or other shapes that are slotted in a crack so they’ll resist a force in one direction(say from a fall). Two popular brands are Rocks and Stoppers

Going first on the rope. Because the leader climbs above the protection, and therefore risks a fall of at least twice the distance to the last piece of protection beneath him, leading is more risky and demanding than seconding. Climbers sometimes speak of tying into the “sharp end” of the rope when they’re going to lead.

Steel wedges or blades hammered into cracks to protect or anchor climbers. Once the only form of protection, pitons have been supplanted by easily removable protection such as nuts, because repeated placement and removal of pitons damaged the rock. Today, pitons are used only when no other form of protection is available.

Two carabiners connected by a short piece of webbing, used to link a rope to protection.

A person who is not a trained climber and is not using climbing equipment for protection on a cliff. Many of the “climbing” accidents reported in the media involve scramblers.

Self arrest
A technique used to stop a fall down a snow slope; climbers dig the pick of their ice axe into the snow under their body, using the pick as a brake

A loop of nylon webbing.

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