Mountain Terms

A list of some of the common terms that are used during trekking, mountaineering or hiking in the climbing community.

Mountain Terms

A

  • Acclimatisation:
    Adaptation of the human body to the rarefied atmosphere at high altitudes.
  • Alpine Climbing:
    A style of climbing in which all gear is carried in a backpack even for multi day climbs without/minimum dependancy on porters. The climb is attempted in a short duration than normal, hence minimum and important resources is carried.
  • Altitude Sickness:
    A medical condition that is often observed at high altitudes. Also known as Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS).
  • Anchor:
    A point where the climbing rope is secured to the snow, ice or rock with fixed bolts, rocks, trees or non-fixed gear to provide protection against a fall.
  • Approach:
    The path or route to the start of a technical climb. Although this is generally a walk, or at the most a scramble, it is occasionally as hazardous as the climb itself.
  • Arête:
    A small ridge-like feature or a sharp outward facing corner on a steep rock face formed by glacial erosion.
  • Ascender:
    A device for ascending on a rope.
  • Avalanche:
    A mass of unstable snow or ice descending down a mountain slope destroying everything in its path. Avalanche can be natural or man-made and this hazard is always present in snowbound areas. The main factors responsible for an avalanche are the amount of snowfall, fluctuation in temperature, angle of slope (frequent avalanche happens in between 30 to 60 slope angle), slope orientation (north facing slopes are more avalanche prone due to less sun exposure and more snow accumulation), wind direction, terrain and vegetation. Avalanches are triggered by overloading of snow on slope, shearing and bonding of snow molecules and vibration resulting from sound, skiing, earthquakes and blasts.

B

  • Bail:
    To retreat from a climb.
  • Bedrock:
    Surface of earth above which glacier flows. Also, the bottom of stream valleys, and the base of hills or mountains.
  • Belay:
    The device and technique employed by a climber to safeguard the climbing party from the effects of a fall of one of its members. The person carrying out the belay to the climber is called as Belayer.
  • Bergschrund (or Schrund):
    A gap or crevasse that appears near the head of a glacier where the névé field portion of the glacier joins the valley portion of the glacier.
  • Bivouac Bivy (or Bivvy):
    A bivouac or “biv(v)y” is a makeshift resting or sleeping arrangement in which the climber has less than the full complement of shelter, food and equipment that would normally be present at a conventional campsite. This may involve nothing more than lying down or sitting on a rock ledge without any sleeping gear. When there is no rock ledge available, such as on a sheer vertical wall, a porta-ledge that hangs from anchors on the wall can be used.
  • Benightment:
    An unscheduled overnight bivouac often due to critical situation or failure of plan.
  • Bouldering:
    The practice of climbing on large boulders. Typically this is close to the ground, so protection takes the form of crash pads and spotting instead of belay ropes.

C

  • Cairn:
    A pile of stones that marks the top of a mountain, also used to mark route where paths are not obvious.
  • Carabiner:
    Metal rings with spring-loaded gates, used as connectors. Usually oval or roughly D shaped. Also known as crab or biner (pronounced kar-uh-bee-ner).
  • Chimney:
    A rock cleft with vertical sides mostly parallel, large enough to fit the climber’s body into. To climb such a structure, the climber often uses his head, back and feet to apply opposite pressure on the vertical walls. The process of using such a technique is called “chimneying”.
  • Chock:
    A mechanical device, or a wedge, used as anchors in cracks.
  • Chockstone:
    A stone, boulder or pebble, jammed in a crack or chimney. 
  • Col:
    A pass between high places in mountains. Depression just below the peak where one can pass through using technical equipment.
  • Cornice:
    A consolidated snow bank projecting over the edge of a ridge or plateau, and formed by prevailing winds.  They may be temporary in which case they are likely to convert into an avalanche, or they may be permanent.
  • Crag:
    A very steep rough part of a cliff or mountain.
  • Crampons:
    Metal framework with spikes attached to boots to increase safety on snow and ice.
  • Cramponing:
    Using crampons to ascend or descend on ice, preferably with maximum number of points of the crampon into the ice for weight distribution. Also used to define the accidental piercing of something with a crampon spike.
  • Crimp:
    A hold which is only just big enough to be grasped with the tips of the fingers. The process of holding onto a crimp.
  • Crest:
    The top of a hill or mountain.
  • Crevasse:
    A crack in the glacier formed due stress produced by its movement. Crevasses can be open or hidden below the snow. They are mainly categorized as longitudinal, transverse and diagonal based on their position with respect to the long axis of the glacier.
  • Crown:
    The round top part of a hill.

D

  • Descender:
    A device for controlled descent on a rope. Also called a rappel device. Many belay devices may be used such as descenders, including ATCs (A proprietary belay device manufactured by Black Diamond), figure eights, or even carabiners.

E

  • Edge:
    A thin ledge on the rock.
  • Edging:
    Using the edge of the climbing shoe on a foothold. In the absence of footholds, smearing is used.
  • Escarpment:
    A steep slope that forms the edge of a long area of high land.
  • Expedition:
    A trekking or mountaineering journey typically undertaken in a group with leaders, guides, climbers, porters and other personnel. Systematic route with various camps is setup.

F

  • Face:
    A side of a mountain that is high and very steep.
  • Face Climbing:
    To ascend a vertical rock face using finger holds, edges and smears, i.e. not crack climbing.
  • Fixed Rope:
    Ropes fixed by climber during the course of an expedition, enabling them to pass up and down the difficult face of mountain more quickly.
  • Free Climbing:
    Climbing without using any mountaineering equipment like pitons, nuts, runners, etc. Natural holds are used during free climbing.

G

  • Gap:
    A low area between mountains that people use to cross over to either sides.
  • Gendarme:
    A free standing pinnacle on an alpine ridge.  Gendarmes may be quite small or immense. Gendarmes often form on the intersection of two ridges due to the lower erosion of glaciers here.
  • Glacier:
    A huge mass of ice that moves because of its own weight. Glaciers are formed at places where rate of accumulation of snow is more than the rate of melting of snow.
  • Glacial Stream:
    A channelized accumulation of liquid water on (supraglacial), in (englacial), or under (subglacial) a glacier, moving under the influence of gravity.
  • Glissade:
    A usually voluntary act of sliding down a steep slope of snow.
  • Gully:
    The rift between two buttresses caused by erosion that may be very wide or narrow, and may contain a stream. A gully filled with small stones is a scree gully.

H

  • Hanging Glacier:
    A subsidiary glacier set at a higher level than the valley, with great ice cliffs. Alternatively, it may join the main glacier by means of a steep ice wall.
  • Harness:
    A sewn nylon webbing device worn around the waist and thighs that is designed to allow a person to safely hang suspended in the air.
  • Hold:
    A small irregularity of rock which can be used by a climber for progress or rest. It may come in any shape or form, from cracks, ripples, crystals, flakes and so on. Small holds can be used by the finger tips only, while larger ones may be grasped by the whole hand. In winter, holds may be cut in snow or ice by an ice axe.

I

  • Ice axe:
    A handy tool for safety and balance, having a pick/adze head and a spike at the opposite end of a shaft.
  • Ice Hammer:
    A lightweight ice axe with a hammer/pick head on a short handle and no spike.
  • Ice Piton:
    Long, wide, serrated piton used for weak protection on ice.
  • Ice screw:
    A screw used to protect a climb over steep ice or for setting up a crevasse rescue system. The strongest and most reliable is the modern tubular ice screw which ranges in length from 18 to 23 cm.
  • Ice Tool:
    A specialized elaboration of the modern ice axe (and often described broadly as an ice axe or technical axe), used in ice climbing, mostly for the more difficult configurations.
  • Icefall:
    Cascade or blocks of ice often gigantic scale created when glacier passes over a huge change in angle or direction in the slopes of ground beneath.
  • Icicle:
    A hanging, tapering piece of ice formed by the freezing of dripping water.

J

  • Jamming:
    Wedging a body part into a crack.
  • Jumar:
    A type of mechanical ascender. Also, to ascend a rope using a mechanical ascender.

K

  • Knots:
    Climbers rely on many different knots for anchoring oneself to a mountain, joining two ropes together, slings for climbing up the rope, etc.

L

  • Landslide:
    A heavy fall of earth and rocks down the side of a mountain or steep slope.
  • Ledge:
    A narrow surface that continues out from the side of a cliff, wall, or other surface.
  • Lee:
    The side of a hill, wall, or other solid structure that provides shelter from the wind.

M

  • Massif:
    Group of mountain having same base.
  • Moat:
    A crevasse that forms where the glacier pulls away from a rock formation.
  • Moraine:
    The banks of stones and other debris found at the snout (terminal), sides (lateral), centre (medial) or bare (ground) of a glacier.  Moraines are formed of boulders, mud and even old ice, crushed together by the grinding action of the glaciers movement.
  • Mountain Rescue:
    The search and rescue activities that occur in a mountainous environment, although the term sometimes also applies to search and rescue in other wilderness environments.
  • Mudslide:
    A large amount of wet earth that falls down a hill and may cause damage and kill people.

N

  • Névé:
    Granular snow accumulated on high mountains and subsequently compacted into glacial ice.

O

  • Objective Danger:
    Danger in a climbing situation which comes from hazards inherent in the location of the climb, not depending on the climber’s skill level. Most often these involve falling rock or ice, or avalanches. These are also known as Natural Hazards.
  • Overhang:
    A rock-face or ice wall of gradient more than 90 degree.

P

  • Pass:
    A path or road that goes through an area of mountains.
  • Pickets:
    Long, tubular rods driven into snow to provide a quick anchor.
  • Pitch:
    The distance between two belays that a climber has to travel.
  • Piton:
    A flat or angled metal blade of steel which incorporates a clipping hole for a carabiner or a ring in its body. A piton is typically used in aid-climbing and an appropriate size and shape is hammered into a thin crack in the rock and preferably removed by the last team member.
  • Peak/ Summit:
    The top of a mountain.
  • Pinnacle:
    Literally, the top of a very high mountain.

R

  • Rappelling / Abseiling:
    Descending down a rock face or ice wall with the help of rope.
  • Rib:
    A small ridge on a mountain face or crag.  In rock climbing, it is used somewhat indiscriminately and can mean almost any small protuberance.
  • Ridge:
    The long narrow top of a mountain or group of mountains.
  • Route:
    The path of a particular climb, or a predefined set of moves.
  • Runner:
    Length of webbing or accessory cord used to connect components of the climbing safety system, also called a sling.

S

  • Saddle:
    A high pass between two peaks, larger than a col.
  • Scree:
    Small loose pieces of broken rock at the bottom of a cliff or along the slopes of a mountain.  Also a slope covered with small pieces of rock.
  • Seracs:
    A pinnacle or tower of ice. Seracs are found in ice falls and at the edge of ice cliffs.  They are unsuitable for climbing and are potentially dangerous, as they fall off periodically.
  • Self-Arrest:
    The act of planting the pick of the ice axe into the snow to arrest a fall in the event of a slip. Also a method of stopping in a controlled glissade.
  • Self-Belay:
    To perform belaying for oneself.
  • Shoulder:
    The part of a hill where it curves towards the top.
  • Slab:
    A flat area of rock inclined approximately between 30
    and 75. This may form a pitch of a climb or be large enough to hold several climbs.
  • Slack:
    Portion of rope that is not taut, preferably minimized during belay.
  • Slide:
    A sudden fall of rock, earth etc. from the side of a mountain.
  • Slope:
    The side of a hill or a mountain.
  • Snow Fluke:
    An angled aluminium plate attached to a metal cable. The fluke is buried into snow, typically used as a deadman anchor.
  • Snout:
    Base of glacier from where glacier stream starts flowing.
  • Snow Bridge:
    An arc across a crevasse, a crack in rock, a creek, or some other opening in terrain. It is typically formed by snow drift, which first creates a cornice which may gradually grow to reach the other side of the opening.
  • Snow Line:
    On a mountain, the level above which the land is covered with snow, usually permanently.
  • Step Cutting:
    Scooping steps out of snow or ice with the adze of an ice axe.
  • Sweeper:
    Refers to the last member or the tail of a climbing group. The sweeper’s task is to spot and retrieve things that may have accidentally fallen from the preceding climbers; to make sure that no mess or gear is left behind; and to make sure that the rear is keeping up with the whole team.

T

  • Tarn:
    Lake found in mountains, which may be permanent or temporary.
  • Technical Climbing:
    Climbing involving a rope, climbing equipment and some means of protection, as opposed to scrambling or glacier travel.
  • Technical:
    A term often used to describe very technical sequences of moves and / or the degree of ingenuity and creativity required to protect a route. Difficulty ratings of climbs often are a combination of technicality of a climb and the endurance or strength necessary to complete it.
  • Tension:
    A technique for maintaining balance using a taut rope through a point of protection.
  • Traverse:
    Moving laterally across the terrain instead of ascending or descending.
  • Treeline:
    The level of a mountain above which there are no trees.

U

  • Undercling:
    A hold which is gripped with the palm of the hand facing upwards.

V

  • Valley:
    Depression in high mountain region formed due to erosion by water. The shape of valley can be “V” or “U”.
  • Verglas:
    Thin ice lying on rocks, making climbing difficult. This is similar to black ice on roads in appearance and effect.
  • Wall:
    The steep face of a mountain or buttress.
  • White Out:
    A dangerous condition when falling and drifting snow or poor visibility cause the horizon to merge with the ground and the sky.  It is difficult to then orientate oneself and very easy to walk over an edge.
  • Wind Chill:
    The effect of low temperature that is compounded by the heat-extracting effect of the wind. The two in combination should be taken into account when considering the weather at high altitudes.
  • Wind Slab:
    A dangerous snow condition when an upper layer of firmer snow is loosely attached to a lower layer.  The upper layer can break away in chunks of slabs at a climbers touch, causing an avalanche.

Z

  • Z-Pulley:
    Also known as Z-System, this is a particular configuration of rope, anchors, and pulleys typically used to extricate a climber after falling into a crevasse.
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