All Things Climbing

Beginners Guide to Climbing Lingo – No. 1

My eloquent guide to understanding what the hell everyone is talking about at your local wall.

Let’s start with the basics!

  • Jug – a big, handle-like hold for you to lightly touch as you warm up; or grip in terror (this was my experience when I first started!) as you stretch from the bottom footholds to the next jug.
  • Crimp – a small, sharply defined edge for your fingertips to hold on to. Sizes range depending on the difficulty; from “juggy crimps” to “I feel a dimple, maybe I can get my nail behind.. oh I’ve pinged off!”. You can also get “slopey crimps”, but they are something almost completely different and not for the faint of heart. Small crimps, usually mistaken for white smudges on the wall, are often referred to as “shit crimps”. For example, “Those are some shit crimps!”.
  • To crimp – I think it’s important to talk about the way you should hold a hold. Many times have I watched in horror as someone unnecessarily bears down on a decent edge, thumb over bent fingers – when they could have saved their fingers a lot of strain by half-crimping or doing an open-hand crimp. More information about this at the end, in their own bullet points, of course.
  • Sloper – A rounded hold that requires you to sacrifice the skin of your fingertips, wrists and/or forearms if you want any chance of gripping it, as they are heavily friction dependent. Sometimes these can be quite fun, but most of the time these holds are found at the top of climbs. You know, after you’ve had to crimp on horrible shit crimps, only to find yourself needing to slap to the top sloper and mantel (but usually results in a technique called whaling – but we’ll get to that another time – climbing language is awfully complicated, isn’t it?) over the lip. It’s as fun as it sounds.

  •  Slopey crimp Not quite an edge, not quite rounded or big enough to be called a proper sloper. This hold makes it feel like you can pop off at any moment. Think of it like it’s a bully, it takes all your money (that is your skin) but more oft than not it will also kick you while you’re down and spit on your send, leaving you with holes in your skin and a bruised pride. Worst case scenario is you have these holds on a gritty, slightly off-vertical face. Only machines with the crimp of the gods have any hope of holding these things.

A brief interlude on the different types of crimps.

  • Full crimp – I have seen this one used most often with beginners, even though it should be used in only very specific circumstances. A lot of the time, if you are just starting out – or have been climbing for a year even – you shouldn’t need to fully crimp all that much. This technique may feel secure, but it is one of the most damaging things your tendons and pulleys are put through. So you should treat this technique with respect and a good dollop of fear. I have seen first-hand what a torn pulley does to a person – it’s not pretty. You may feel secure at the time, but afterwards, your fingers ache and feel a little stiff. But what exactly am I talking about? What does it look like? A full crimp is the hyper-extension of your little knuckles. The thumb can go on top of the first finger, but that’s optional. Think of it like you’re trying to make a fist through a hold. By this point your little, unused tendons are screaming bloody murder.
  • Half crimp – A little more acceptable for your fingers. There should be no hyper-extension of the little knuckles (loving my technical terms, amiright!?) but your big knuckles are still at a 90° angle. You can feel fairly secure with this type of hold but it is less damaging to your tendons.
  • Open hand – This is probably the healthiest type of hold for your tendons. Your palm should be nice and welcoming to the world; your fingers will be a little bent at the big knuckles, but that’s okay. It doesn’t feel that secure at first but over time, as your fingers get stronger, it will start to feel better. Most holds you can definitely open hand, so it’s recommended to do this to avoid future injuries. Your tendons are your babies, they take time to grow and strengthen!

Interlude over.

That’s just the tip of the iceberg for your “basic” climbing terms. I haven’t talked about pinches, side pulls or gastons. Baby steps, okay? Maybe next time, I’ll tell you what “use your feet” means.

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