Glossary, Terminology and Definitions
As with most language, climbing specific terminology is an ever changing thing and moves with the times to reflect current norms and practices. To avoid confusion we've defined a some of the terminology used around the site below.
- Aid (type of ascent)
- A type of ascent utilising aid climbing techniques (pulling on gear etc.)
- Alternate Leads (type of ascent)
- A type of ascent, applicable to multi-pitch climbs, where a party of two or more climbers will share the leads. For example, you may have a party of two on a 4 pitch route: climber A may lead pitches 1 and 3 with climber B leading pitches 2 and 4. This would be described as a the climbers alternating leads. Generally it is not a strict requirement for the climbers to lead every other pitch, to use our example above climber A could lead pitches 1 and 2 with B leading 3 and 4 and this would wtill be described as alternating leads.
- B Grade
- Confusingly, the 'B grade' can refer to one of two grading systems. The first was a system introduced by John Gill to record the difficulty of boulder problems. It consists of 3 levels: B1, B2 and B3. B1 covered any moves up to the hardest done whilst rope climbing, B2 was for moves harder than this and B3 was for problems that had only had a single ascent. Once a B3 received a repeat ascent it was regraded to B2.
The second usage of the B grade was a short-lived system that was used in the UK's Peak District that was roughly analagous to the V scale but shifted a little to give more grades at the lower end.
Neither system is in common usage.
- Beta refers to information about how you may climb something. For example, which holds on a boulder problem are the best, or where you can rest on a route. Having beta about a climb is typically seen as making a climb substantially easier so the difficulty of a style of ascent is broadly associated with how much beta you are allowed with that style of ascent.
- Boulder (type of ascent)
- A type of ascent that refers to climbing of typically smaller climbs (usually <5m or so) without the use of ropes or harnesses. Typically a bouldering bat will be used to protect the climber. Currently this is one of the most popular forms of climbing, though it is only relatively recently that it has been widely practiced.
- Chipping is the process of artificially modifying a piece of rock, usually with the aim of making a route or problem easier or harder. It is frowned upon in most modern climbing. Some examples of chipping include:
- Drilling new holds in to the rock
- Using excessive force to remove poor existing holds in the hope of leaving larger, better holds
- Using glue to create new holds
- Bolting plastic holds to the rock
While chipping is now widely discouraged this was not always the case, and indeed some very famous routes are chipped. For example La Rose et le Vampire at Buoux.
- Loose or low quality rock. Often used in a derogatory sense to refer to a rock climb or boulder problem e.g. "La Marie Rose is polished choss" .
 It is polished but it's not choss.
- The crux of a route or boulder problem is the hardest move or sequence. Some routes or boulder problems may also have a "redpoint crux" which is distinct from the crux and refers to the hardest move or sequence to complete when attempting a full ascent. For example, imagine a route with the hardest moves low down followed by a long pumpy finish. While the start may have the hardest moves the climber could still fail on the upper section due to fatigue. Here you would say the redpoint crux is the top of the route.
- Deep Water Solo (type of ascent)
- A type of ascent where a climber climbs over deep water to protect themselves in the event of a fall. No ropes or other protective equipment are used. It is hard to find the right combination of rock climbs above deep water so it's not as widely practiced as other forms of climbing. Well known areas for deep water soloing include Mallorca and Tonsai Beach in Thailand.
- Did Not Finish (style of ascent)
- A broad Style of Ascent used to describe any ascent where the climber did not reach the top of a climb for one reason or another.
- An eliminate refers to a rock climb or boulder problem that has some extra rules associated with it. For example, certain holds may be 'out' or you may be required to start in a certain position. Eliminates more common in bouldering, particularly on crags where people have been climbing for a long time. This is because as climbers become familiar with the natural lines they will often start adding rules to make the climbs more challenging.
In the most extreme cases venues that might have one or two natural lines can have hundreds of eliminates on them.
- Flash (style of ascent)
- If a climber flashed an ascent it means they did it first go on the climb (i.e. without any pre-practice) but with some prior knowledge of the climb. For example, you might watch your friends try a boulder problem (without trying it yourself) before then using the sequence they worked out to climb the problem first try.
A flashed ascent is typically considered more impressive than a ground up but less impressive than an onsight.
- Climbing grades are systems for comparing the difficulty of climbs, typically so a climber can judge the difficulty of a climb before attempting the climb.
A grading system is typically only applied to a single type of climb to avoid difficulties with trying to compare the difficulty of different pursuits. For example, it is hard to compare the difficulty of a hard boulder problem to a big alpine ascent. Both may be hard, but likely in very different ways.
Many grade systems exist with different strengths and weaknesses. Some examples:
- French sport grades
- Fontainebleau bouldering grades
- The yosemite decimal system
- British trad grades
On this site the following grade systems are used:
- Sport climbs use French sport grades
- Boulder problems use the Fontainebleau scale
- Trad climbs use British trad grades
- Deep water solos use French sport grades
- Traverses use French sport grades
To convert between grade systems you can use a grade conversion table such as this example from Rockfax https://rockfax.com/climbing-guides/grades/.
- Greenpoint (style of ascent)
- A greenpoint is a style of ascent that refers to climbing a sport route in trad gear.
- Ground Up (style of ascent)
- This Style of Ascent applies to a climb that has been lead, but where it took multiple attempts to reach the top of the route. To classify as a ground-up ascent no abseil inspection or top rope practice is allowed, and when the climber has a failed attempt they must lower to the ground before trying again (that is every attempt is "from the ground up").
A ground up ascent is typically considered more impressive than a worked ascent, because the climber has more unknowns to deal with, but less impressive than a flashed ascent.
- Headpoint (style of ascent)
- A headpoint ascent is another name for a worked ascent, though it is typically only used when trad climbing. Headpointing is most common on particularly hard or dangerous trad routes, where it is impractical to work the route on lead.
- Lead (type of ascent)
- A type of Ascent that applies to roped climbs where the climber starts at the bottom of the climb and clips the rope in to protection (bolts, nuts, cams etc.) as they climb to protect the ascent.
In practice a lead climb of a sport route (i.e. bolt protected) is typically a pretty safe type of ascent requiring minimal boldness from the climber. Lead climbs that are protected by natural protection (nuts, cams etc.) can be very safe where protection is available (for example on crack climbs), but can be much more dangerous where protection is not available (for example granite slabs).
- Onsight (style of ascent)
- An onsight ascent is where the climber completed the climb on the first attempt with little to no knowledge of the climb. There is some ambiguity around how much knowledge is 'allowed' before an ascent becomes a flash. Typically things like reading a guidebook description of a climb and looking at the climb from the ground would be allowed but getting beta from a friend or watching someone else on the climb would mean it was then a flash.
An onsight is typically considered the most impressive style of ascent, being harder to accomplish and requiring more skill than the other commonly recognised styles of ascent.
- Pinkpoint (style of ascent)
- A pinkpoint is a style of ascent in sport or trad climbing where the quickdraws or protection are pre-placed. Since the late 1990s the term has fallen out of use as in sport climbing it is now routine for climbers trying hard routes to be trying them with the quickdraws already in place and climbing trad routes with the gear pre-placed is not commonly done.
- In rock climbing a project refers to a boulder problem or route that a climer (or climbers) has tried over a (typically fairly long) period of time.
- Simul (type of ascent)
- Simul climbing referes to a specialist type of climbing where two climbers are roped together, but instead of one person leading while the other belays both climbers climb at the same time, aiming to keep the rop between them taught. If the lead climber falls then they be caught by the weight of the second climber. If the second climber falls they will pull the lead climber off, but once both climbers are weighting the rope the fall will be stopped.
It's not a commonly used type of ascent as it is relatively risky (especially for the lead climber), however it does allow a party to climb very quickly while being safer than soloing so is popular in mountaineering and speed climbing.
- Solo (type of ascent)
- An ascent without the use of ropes. This covers a spectrum of types of ascents from highball bouldering, where the majority of a climb may be quite safe (with the first part protected by mats and an easy upper section that is too high to be protected by mats), to solos of long multi-pitch routes in remote locations where the danger is much higher.
- Style of Ascent
- The style of ascent describes the tactics used to climb something. For example, whether a climb was flashed or worked. Generally ascents with less pre-knowledge and pre-practice are considered more noteworthy than styles with more pre-knowledge and/or pre-practice.
The style of ascents can be thought of as a spectrum, from most to least impressive:
- Did Not Finish
It is important to remember that the style of an ascent as described here is a broad categorisation encompassing a range of practices. This means that there are occasions where a flashed ascent could be considered less impressive than a worked ascent. For example, in the most extreme cases a flash would involve watching a friend work a route over several days so as to learn as much beta as possible, but a worked ascent could just be a quick abseil down the route to brush a couple of holds. Some would consider the former more impressive than the latter.
See also Type of Ascent.
- Top Rope (type of ascent)
- A top rope ascent is where a rope is pre-placed at the top of the climb to protect the climber. For a top rope ascent to count it must be completed without any assistance from the tope above.
For largely historical and occasionally practical reasons top rope ascents are considered inferior to lead ascents in many contexts. For example, all major ascents in sport climbing are lead.
- A traverse is a type of climb where instead of climbing from top to bottom, the climber attempts to climb horizontally (i.e. left to right or right to left). This can either be a variation on bouldering, where the traverse would typically be close to the ground and protected by bouldering mats, or as a lead climb on a larger piece of rock.
Many normal climbs also include short traversing sections, for example to reach a better line of holds off to one side. There isn't a clear distinction about how sideways you have to climb for it to become a traverse.
Steep roof climbs are not typically refered to as traverses (despite being mostly horizontal movement).
- Type of Ascent
- The type of an ascent describes the techniques used to climb something. For example, whether an ascent was lead using sport climbing techniques or was soloed.
See also Style of Ascent.
- Worked (style of ascent)
- A worked ascent is a catch-all style of ascent that encompasses any ascent where pre-practice or pre-inspection of the climb was involved prior to a successful ascent. This could be as minor as abseiling down a route to brush a few holds, or it could mean 100s of sessions spent rehearsing the moves and finding the most efficient sequences prior to a successful ascent.
A worked ascent is typically considered the easiest way to climb a given piece of rock as essentially any tactics within the scope of free-climbing are allowed.