The Language of Bouldering

I originally posted this key terms reference list to our old blog here. That blog has since been eaten by the internet which is why we started this new site. Fingers crossed that wordpress is a better host than wix.

Approach: the trail (stay on the trail!) that leads to a bouldering area. The time/distance/difficulty of the hike to the boulders varies as some are located roadside (such as in Smuggler’s Notch, VT or in Joe’s Valley, UT) while others require a walk-in along hiking trails (Halfway Log Dump, ON or Calabogie, ON) or in some cases a treacherous scramble that can be as difficult as the climbs themselves (Lost Rocks, CA which included a considerable amount of bushwacking down a slippery cliff to reach the ocean).

ALLEZ!: Commonly heard being yelled at the crag, “allez” is a word of encouragement. French for “GO!” Common synonyms include “venga” (Spanish) and “gambatte” (Japanese).

Arête: can refer to a type of climbing which uses the prominent edge of a boulder as the main source of holds. This can also refer to a hold itself on the edge of the boulder, sometimes indoors these holds are X’d and are not used for a problem to make them harder.

Arqué: the French term to describe closed-hand crimping. Closed-hand crimping refers to a hand position used when climbing that puts pressure on the finger tips-with the first set of knuckles hyper-extended and the second set of knuckles at a 90 degree angle. The overuse of closed-hand crimping can lead to various tendon injuries.

Ascend/Ascent/‘Scend/Send: The action of moving up/completing a problem on a boulder. Often shortened to “Send” especially when encouraging fellow climbers to “SEND IT!!!!”

Barn Door: the description of when only two parts of a climber on either the left or right side is still maintaining contact with the wall (usually one hand and foot), the climber swings off the wall due to an imbalance (like a door on a hinge).

Beta: the specific movements that a climber uses to finish a problem. The beta for a problem may change from one climber to the next, especially if their body size/strength varies. Sometimes climbers share beta, and sometimes they don’t.

Boulder: a large rock that is climbed without rope/gear. Boulders can have featured faces with multiple holds and problems (routes) or no visible problems and are usually 10-30ft high.

Bump: to quickly move a hand through two or more holds in succession (as opposed to moving left hand then right then left- a bump would be moving a right hand up a hold then quickly moving the right hand to the next highest hold).

Campus: to climb without using feet. The big, burly men do this at the gym but not on purpose because they don’t understand how to use their feet.

Campus Board/Hang Board: a board that is generally fixed over a door frame that is comprised of a variety of hand holds (crimps, slopers, and jugs) to practice and build finger strength on. No feet are used, which is where the term “campus” is rooted.

Chalk/chalk bag/brush: magnesium carbonate is used to keep hands from sweating and slipping off holds. It is stored in a small pouch which can be strapped to the climber so they can “chalk up” mid-problem. The chalk bag may also contain a brush which is used to clean holds-made of different materials (but not wire brushes, that’s how holds are broken).

Chipping: equally frowned upon by climbers as wire brushes, chipping involves breaking away pieces of holds to make them easier to climb. If I see you do this, I will drop-kick you in the face. At various times this has been considered a legitimate way to ‘manufacture’ a problem or route from a blank rock face. Not so much any more.

Choss/chossy: loose, bad-quality rock. This type of rock or problems with chossy areas run the risk of breaking, causing injury to the boulderer (or spotters) and permanently damaging the problem.

Crag: climbing area

Crash pad: the big, goofy mattress-like things that fold and we carry on our backs. Often mistaken by non-climbers as beds (sometimes as massage tables). These pads act as protection for boulderers as we do not use other safety gear. The placement of crash pads on uneven landings is somewhat of an art in itself. Crash pads vary in size, are often rectangular, and become rather shitty/thin if you sleep on them for three months.

Crimp: a noun and verb which describes a hand hold that can only be held on to using the tips of the fingers. The action of crimping is grabbing these small holds with the tips of fingers.

Crux: the hardest section of a problem- can be one move or a few. Though often clear, cruxes might vary between climbers depending on body size or endurance vs power fitness.

Cut-loose/Cutting-feet: when the feet of a climber leave the wall, and they are holding on using only their hands. Usually to be avoided, unless you are feeling particularly confident.

Downclimb: after completing a problem, climbers find their way down the problem on a generally easier, less difficult portion of the boulder. This is the route that non-climbers usually refer to when they ask “why don’t you just walk up that way?” It is important to scout out the easiest path of descent BEFORE attempting a problem, especially a high one.

Dyno: a “dynamic” move that is used to grab a hold that is out of reach. This involves jumping to the hold with both feet leaving the footholds/face of the boulder.

Edging: using the edge of the climbing shoe on a foothold.

Eliminate: making a bouldering problem harder by using only certain climbing holds and purposefully not using others normally available.

Elvis leg: when a leg shakes uncontrollably while climbing due to tiredness and possible nerves. Or when Kent has had too much coffee.

Feature: a protrusion from the climbing wall (indoor) which can be built to add dimension to the wall. Also can describe any element of the rock which makes it climbable.

Figure four: climbing move where a leg is hooked over an arm on a good hand hold, and then weight is applied to this to achieve a greater reach. Resembles an upside-down “four” and is not used very often as it is rarely practical. If you pull this off, you are a smooth mover.

Flagging: the action of holding a leg in a certain direction (not on a foothold) to maintain balance. Usually applied when good footholds are lacking and opposing pressure is needed to make a movement with the hands.

Flapper: a climbing injury on the fingers where the skin rips but does not fully detach. Gymnasts are no strangers to flappers.

Flash: to successfully finish a bouldering problem on the first try. Woooo!!

Gaston: a climbing move in which one hand grabs a hand hold with their thumb facing downwards and elbow sticking outward. This move takes a lot of shoulder strength and is used when holds resemble a small vertical edge.

Grade: the difficulty of a problem. There are many different grading systems. Bouldering generally uses the V_ grading system (or Hueco system) in North America. The easiest grade being a v0- or VB, think of a ladder with uneven or varied rungs, and the hardest (currently) a v17, of which there is only one problem proposed at this grade in the world. The V grading scale and most others are open ended.

Heel hook: a climbing technique that uses the heel to apply pressure on a hold. The pressure allows the climber to gain height by using the hamstring muscle. Some climbing shoes are better for this move as they are fully rubbered around the heel.

Highball: a tall boulder problem that has a decent landing but is >20ft tall, or a problem that is not necessarily high but has an uneven landing or is difficult to pad. Spicy!

Hueco: a pocketed hold in a rock ranging from a mono-pocket (one finger) to a large hueco in which the entire body can be jammed into. Hueco Tanks in Texas is famous for this type of rock.

Jug: a type of climbing hold that is easy to grab onto, using a lot less finger strength than a crimp.

Knee-bar: jamming the knee into a small space to gain balance, rest arm muscles, or gain a further reach. At times, the entire weight of the body can be supported by a well-placed knee-bar.

Lock-off:  climbing move – when the elbow is fully contracted in order for the climber to gain full height of reach. Requires strength.

Mantel: usually when topping out/finishing a boulder problem- the action of pushing down on a ledge (without use of hand holds) to get the body over top of the boulder. Think of pushing down on the edge of a pool to get out of the water. Usually three points of contact (two hands and a foot) are used to pivot the body over the edge of a boulder. Steep learning curve!

Match: when hands are brought together onto the same hold. Can also be used in terms of foot holds.

Pinch: a type of climbing hold that forces the climber to hold onto it with the hand open (four fingers together, thumb aside). Can range from tiny to so big that my small hands cannot possibly grasp them. Think holding a glass of water.

Problem: path a climber takes up a boulder/route. Named so because they must be solved!

Project/projecting: working on a problem-either to develop it or send it. Some projects are short-lived, but can also last over a number of seasons.

Pumped: when the forearm muscles become swollen/sore from climbing. This often occurs on problems with lots of moves, requiring endurance. ‘Flash pump’ is when a climber gets pumped early on in a session, usually because they neglected to warm up properly.

Roof: horizontal overhanging section of a boulder or cliff.

Sandbagged: a problem that receives a much lower grade than it deserves. See: Joshua Tree.

Side pull: a climbing hold that is gripped and pulled on from the side.

Slab: a low-angled boulder requiring different technique than most boulders as they are often less featured. Requires technical foot work, crimp strength, friction, and balance.

Sloper: a climbing hold that forces the climber to use open-hand technique. This can be hard on the wrists. Think palming a basketball.

Smearing: climbing move using friction of the climbing shoe against the wall in the absence of foot holds.

Soft: The opposite of sandbagged. A problem that is generally considered ‘easy’ for the grade, or has been given an inflated grade. Climbers flock to these problems before they are downgraded.

Spinner: in indoor climbing, when a hold is not fixed to the wall tightly-causing it to rotate when grabbed.

Spotting: when a person stands below/behind the climber, ready to help direct their fall onto pads and away from hazards. Sometimes as much a sport as climbing itself.

Static move: opposite to a dyno, the static move is slow and controlled- feet do not leave the wall.

Testpiece: a problem that is representative of the technical skills required for a certain grade.

Toe hook: using the toe of a climbing shoe to pull the climber towards the boulder, often used in conjunction with heel hooks while traversing across a problem.

Top-out: to reach the top of the boulder.

Topo: a map/guide of the bouldering area, the problems, and their grades. They vary in detail, price, and usefulness.

Traverse/traversing: while most boulder problems move upwards, some move sideways. Even harder to explain to non-climbers than ‘up’ bouldering, you often don’t even reach the top of anything.

Undercling: a climbing hold where the horizontal edge forces the climber to grip the hold with the wrists facing upwards. Think trying to lift a car off of a baby.

Volume: large, indoor bouldering hold. Bolted on and constructed from wood or plastic.

Woodie: a wooden, homemade climbing wall. Some have a couple sheets of plywood, others have home-gyms.

Yabo: another name for a sit-start (SDS) to a bouldering problem. Commonly used in Joshua Tree in honour of John Yablonski, a prolific first-ascentionist in the area.

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