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Climbing Dictionary

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In conjunction with The Mountaineers Books, Climbing will be offering one climbing-word definition a day over the next three weeks, using terms pulled from the Climbing Dictionary. Written by Matt Samet and illustrated by Mike Tea, the book is a new, 250-page guide to mountaineering slang, terms, neologisms, and lingo out this August. The Climbing Dictionary showcases more than 650 different terms, with 130 black-and-white illustrations, and is on sale at and through—or ask for it at your local shop.

Also visit for more information, to check out new, reader-submitted terms, and to add words of your own!

9/12/11Tube chockn : A hollow, cylindrical steel chockfor protecting off-widths. Origin: Before Yvon Chouinardproduced the first commerciallysold models, for four- tosix-inch cracks, in 1973 and1975, climbers stuffed all mannerof things into wide cracks:Wooden wedges, two by fours, the“Stoveleg” pitons used on the Nose,sections of pipe, “plumber’s helpers”(adjustable lengths of pipe),bongs, etc. In fact, in 1966, the first ascent ofthe sixty-meter Squamish off-width Pipeline (by Glenn Woodsworth, Leif-Norman Patterson, and BarryHagen) was made thanks to sawed-off lengths of aluminumpiping. In 1969/70, Doug Robinson developed what wouldbecome the Chouinard tube chocks, testing his prototypes atthe Palisades and in Yosemite. On a SuperTopo thread Robinsonsaid he owes the idea in part to his father, an aeronautical engineerwho’d done early work on making airplane fuselages outof giant aluminum tubes.The expandable tube chock arrived in 1984, thanks to thelate Craig Luebben’s engineering honor’s thesis at ColoradoState University. His Big Bros (after “Big Brother is watching you,”from George Orwell’s 1984) hit the market in 1987, covering offwidthcracks 3.2 inches to a foot wide.

9/9/11 “Shiba-dang!phr : Exclamation of enthusiasm/excitement uttered after figuring out a crux or achieving victory on a climb. Variant: “Shipa-dang!” Origin: The Utah climber Isaac Caldiero, 2000s.

9/8/11“Rock!”phr : Yell this any time you either inadvertently release aloose rock, see a rock coming (e.g., on a mountain route), or drop any object (pro, nut tool, energy bar, poodle, etc.).

9/7/11Penalty slackn : Extra slack introduced by a belayer to “punish” a climber who gives up too soon and says “Take!” Best done when the fall is non-injurious… and with a partner who won’t beat you up.

9/6/11Old dadn : Any trad-headed, old-school mentor who perhaps stilluses antiquated gear from his heyday. Variant:crusty(adj), which, says the Red River Gorge climberHugh Loeffler, is a “term of resigned, perhaps exasperatedendearment for an older, lifelong climber who has strong, possiblyreactionary opinions regarding climbing, and has veryscary-looking gear, mostly made up of leavers [bail gear or fixeddraws] harvested over the years.” Usage: “Winkler’s a classic old dad: He won’t use cams, and tiesin with a bowline-on-a-coil.”

9/5/11Megaadj : 1980s-speak for “awesome” or “excellent.” Origin: Popularized by Heinz Mariacher’s Mega rock shoes,made by La Sportiva starting in 1986. Megas were the firstprecision rock shoes, perfect for then-nascent sport climbing.Their flashy blue-and-pink motif and pioneering low-top(below-the-ankle) cut helped the Megas sell, says Mariacher,“really well” during their two-year tenure. The name came fromthe Mega Bar, which lay en route to the limestone cragging atLumignano from Venice, where Mariacher lived with his girlfriend,Luisa Jovane. “We’d stop at a classic Italian bar namedthe Mega Bar to have an espresso before climbing, and I wastesting prototypes that needed a name… ” he says. Mariacheradds that because the market was not yet ready for softer (thinmidsole)shoes, the production Megas ended up much stifferthan his prototypes.Synonyms: das-uber, s00kr33m, ultra-mega

9/2/11LZn : A landing zone; boulderer-speak for the impact site for yourcrash pads; from military jargon for any area where aircraft mayland. Usage: “Double-pad the LZ and throw a puffy jacket over thatpointy block: Daddy’s coming in hot!”

9/1/11Kodakn : A sprayer who fabricates impossible tales of prowess.Origin: From the saying—originally from an early 1900s Doan’s Backache Kidney Pills ad—”Every picture tells a story,” which became the eponymous Rod Stewart song and a way to conceive of photographs. Kodak was applied by the South Platte, Colorado, crew to an individual who claimed, spuriously, to have free-soloed Wunsch’s Dihedral (III 5.11) on Cynical Pinnacle. Usage: “Er, nice work on-sight-soloingSuper Sickathon… Kodak!”

8/31/11 Jizzlern : A small crimp that manages to be both slippery and sharp;a friable jizzler is a crozzler.Variant: jizzly (adj)

8/30/11Holiday gradesn : Deliberately soft ratings at sport areas, oftenwarm, sunny Mediterranean Islands, that make visiting climbersfeel good about their performance and hence plan a return visit.

8/29/11Gastonn, v : A reverse lieback in which the fingers face inward, as ifprying open an elevator door. Origin: From French guide, alpinist, and author GastonRebuffat, who appeared in a photo in his book On Snow andRock double-gastoning a smooth off-width on the granite ofChamonix. In that same technique section, Rebuffat also hastwo photos—one on a wood crack, the other on granite—that show hands double-gastoning a crack with the caption,“Resistance with both hands, as if trying to pull the two wallsapart.”

8/26/11First-ascent fevern : The obsessive, manic energy that compelsclimbers to mad feats of (competitive) derring-do while vyingfor a first ascent. Alternatively, a similar spirit that compels adeveloper to establish every route on a cliff, even the no-starclimbs.Usage: “The Eiger nordwand pioneers had tremendous first ascentfever: Eight climbers had already perished on the wallbefore Harrer, Heckmair, Kasparek, and Vorg topped out on July24, 1938.”

8/25/11Endurancen : A climber’s ability to continue in the face of physicaland/or mental exhaustion. When rock climbers use the term, theyare, as per the trainer Eric J. Horst, talking about “anaerobic endurancelocal to the forearm and pull muscles,” i.e., these muscles’resistance to the dreaded pump. (A route requiring big forearmendurance is enduro [adj].) Alpinists and mountaineers, continuouslyon the move, rely more on traditional aerobic endurance.Variants: US climbing coach Tyson Schoene came up with stanima (a step beyond regular stamina); while US climbing coachJohn Myrick coined manima (Dani Andrada/Adam Ondra–typesuper-stamina).

8/24/11Down-climbingn : Climbing down; a key skill for extricating yourselffrom sticky situations. Origin: As long as climbers have gone up, they’ve also neededto come back down. Before rappeling became common,beginning in Chamonix in the 1870s, down-climbing was theonly way down, especially if one had to reverse the ascentroute. A good mentor will rigorously teach down-climbing.The Dartmouth Mountaineering Club, in its early days (after itsfounding in 1936), held that, “If any climber, even on a six-footboulder, tried a route, he had either to complete it, or to climbdown; if he fell, the forfeit was to bend over and be paddled bythe other climbers” (Yankee Rock & Ice).

8/23/11Dabn, v : While bouldering, to graze the ground or an adjacent rockwith one’s buttocks, foot, or heel, thus taking off weight and invalidatingthe ascent. More generally, to invalidate any ascent via someethical transgression or just to be generally off route in life.Origin: Popularized by the New Hampshirite Tim Kemple inthe 2005 Mike Call film Best of the West. Kemple disavowsinventing the word, which likely migrated from motocrossand mountain biking, where riders “dab” the ground on epicturns. “It’s just something we used on the East Coast to givesomebody shit,” Kemple says. “You know us East Coasters,always looking to cause a ruckus. [It is] an affectionate way fora buddy to say, ‘Hey, INVALID!’” Kemple remembers the termas originating during sessions at Lincoln Woods and/or “Yo, Phat Phreddy, major dab choking the cobra on DerSickity. Better erase that from your scorecard!”Synonym: taint (Jim Erickson’s term for “the use or perhapsabuse of artificial aid of some kind before or during an actualfree ascent.”)

As a verb, it can mean either to use the hold specified above, or tobe so pumped that your elbows, instead of pointing toward earth,stick up and out like chicken wings: Bawk-bawk! Usage: “Dave O’s so not in there; if he was chicken-winging anyharder he’d be dining with Colonel Sanders.”

8/19/11Campus boardn, v : A wooden hang board with dowel rungs (one for each hand) at equal or staggered heights. The climber, his feet in the air, hones dynamic power and precision by moving up and down in specific sets and patterns. As a verb, it means to crank/lunge/swing from hold to hold with your feet in the air. Origin: The late Wolfgang Gullich invented the campus board in 1988, installing one at the Campus Center, a gym in Nuremberg, Germany, so he could build monodoigt power for what became Action Directe, his 1991 first ascent credited as the world’s first 5.14d.

8/18/11Benchmarkadj, n : A route that epitomizes a certain rating, e.g., a “benchmark 5.13a” would be an area test piece off which all other similar or higher ratings are based. Benchmark climbs are downrating-proof—solid for their grades.

8/17/11Bat hookn, v : Not a grappling hook thrown Batman-style over a building, but instead a narrow-tipped hook customized to fit a shallow bolt hole. Their inventor, Yosemite climber Warren Harding, would grind down/customize Chouinard skyhooks, fitting them into a downward-sloping, half-inch deep hole drilled with a quarter-inch drill bit. Once, on Liberty Cap, Harding drilled nine bat hooks in a row before sinking a proper bolt.Origin: Harding invented these to speed up big-wall bolt-ladder pitches, allowing climbers to drill a much shallower hole and hook to the next placement. Harding and Galen Rowell introduced bat hooks on their October 1968 epic bid (stormbound plus rescue) on the South Face of Half Dome. (Rowell: “ . . . Warren developed a system of alternating bolts with rows of ground-down cliff-hangers placed in shallow drilled holes.”) The pair used them to finish the ascent in 1970, altogether drilling 140 bat-hook holes to supplement the climb’s thirty-nine bolts. Harding’s nickname was “Batso,” and BAT also stood for Basically Absurd Technology, his climbing-gear imprint.

8/16/11BASElinen : A combo of BASE jumping and highlining (slacklining at some great height or in which the line is higher off the ground than it is long). Origin: The New Hampshire climber Dean Potter pioneered this game, and is likely still the only aficionado. The idea is, with no tether, you highline an open gap high enough that should you fall, you must activate a BASE chute before cratering. Potter on March 11, 2008, attempted to BASEline a 180-foot span 900 feet over Utah’s Hell Roaring Canyon. He lost his balance and jumped from the line twice that day, successfully employing his chute. A month later he returned and completed the crossing.

8/15/11Ass-draggern : A lowball problem so ground-hugging (like a traverse) that your butt drags across the crash pads; the crux is avoiding the dab. Usage: “Morrison, Colorado, sports mainly dab-fest ass-draggers and OCD eliminates, yet it’s also America’s most beloved outdoor gym.”