Mountaineering Terminology 101

As with most adventure sports, mountaineering comes with its own language. From essential gear names to types of terrain, it is imperative to have your fundamental terms memorized before embarking on a trip—especially if that trip is in the Tetons. Below are a few important terms to prepare for your first few days on the wall.


Anchor—This is the point at which the rope is secured to snow, ice, or rock, providing protection against a fall. Any individual anchor point must be able to hold a fall.


Approach—The nontechnical section of a climb that leads to the technical part.


Belay—A safety technique wherein a stationary climber provides protection by means of ropes, anchors, and breaking devices or techniques. This is meant to help and stabilize the ascending or descending partner.


Boulder—A climb on a difficult but short rock pitch. A potential fall is of minimal consequence.


Cairn—A pile of rock or wood used to mark a particular route.


Carabiner—An aluminum device (of various shapes) with a spring-loaded gate. Climbers must thread the climbing rope through the carabiner to connect to protection or to provide connections with an anchor.


Edging—A climbing technique wherein the edges of the climbing shoes are used to stand on small footholds.


Free climb—A climb using only one’s hands and feet; without artificial aids.


Free solo—A free climb without a belay rope.


Headwall—The upper section of a mountain where the terrain is steeper.


Pitch—A section of climbing between two belay points.


Scramble—Easy, unprotected climbing.


Scree—Small, loose rocks. This is difficult to ascend.


Mountaineering vs. Rock Climbing Terminology

Given that mountaineering includes navigating and surviving mountainous conditions–as well as rock climbing–it’s no surprise that this is an incomplete list. Our glossary of mountaineering terminology is still a work in progress. Looking for more information specifically about the terminology of rock climbing? Here’s a good video you can watch: