Gaston, Guppy, and Garnet: Busting the Jargon of Climbing

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Picture This:

It’s your second time in a climbing gym, your first time without an instructor. The young, lean person in a vest, and for some reason a woolly hat, starts talking to you. It sounds positive and may have something to do with the climb you just fell off. Over the weird reggae bass music and the collection of English words being assembled into sentences in random order, you have no idea what is being said. You smile and nod; this seems to be an acceptable response. The human gecko stops looking at you and begins to do a dance that resembles climbing while staring at the climb they were trying.

A climbing centre is a weird place, somewhere between a play area for everyone and a hard-core calisthenics gym. This article isn’t going to be exhaustive or definitive. Why? Because none of it means anything. Someone, somewhere, used a word to describe something one time, and it stuck. Let’s break it down:

Climbing Jargon Explained


A move that’s like prying open elevator doors. It’s named after a French chap called Gaston Rébuffat, who was photographed doing this move and made it to the cover of a magazine. Forever joining his name to this move.


A way of holding a sloping hold that maximizes friction. Imagine an animated fish climbing with fins, then it starts to make sense.


Nothing. I just made this up to reinforce the point that it doesn’t matter what you call something. It’s not a reflection of your skills. It’s a fun way to describe movements, but don’t stress over it. See how many you can make up and baffle the self-professed “climbers” next time you’re at the gym.

Now that we’ve established this is all useless, please enjoy:


The long vertical edge of the wall, a large box has four arêtes at each corner. These can be exploited as an additional hold with toes and hands hooked over the edge. “Pull on that arête to stay on.”


This is any body part jammed into a gap, used to rest or gain a higher hold. For example:

  • Arm-Bar: Using your forearm bone between two holds, allowing you to relax your muscles at the expense of pain and skin.
  • Knee-Bar: Using your shin bone between two holds, covering a range of gaps by flexing the foot but ultimately limited by height.
  • (Any body part)-Bar: Don’t let the norms dictate what body part is used in which gap. Sling your entire body in a slot and take a rest! Note: this is a slippery slope towards the subculture of ‘off-width’ climbing. “At the roof section, I used a knee bar to rest, but you are vertically challenged, so it may not stick.”

Barn Door

To peel off the wall like opening a door. This happens when unopposed forces occur, such as when the left hand and left foot are being used, and the right side is not in contact. “I keep barn dooring off this bit; I need a flag or to swap feet.”


The method or technique of climbing a route, in a broad sense or in minute detail. Giving this out if not asked for is controversial but can be pivotal in climbing a route. Be careful giving people beta as this may take away from the problem-solving nature of climbing. “Mate, what am I doing here? What beta did you use?”

Beta Blaster

A person giving unsolicited beta, a semi-joking derogatory term. “Don’t be a beta blaster, Marcus. I want to work this out.”


Used to describe a route that wants you to think it’s cool, or it’s from Europe. “I sent this sweet bloc last arvo, fueled by a locally sourced protein jelly.”


Solid/strong/good thing, describing a high level of confidence in anything. Often used sarcastically. “Trust that right foot, Sophie, it’s bomb-proof.”


A sequential movement with the same limb. Moving your right hand to a hold then moving that hand again to a hold in another place. “From there, bump up to the next hold then move your feet.”


A move that involves pressing between two faces, allowing less positive holds or walls to be used. This means trusting your sticky shoes and the friction of the walls. “This climb is much less difficult than you are making it. Try and bridge when you are in the corner to rest.”


To climb a route or problem using only your hands, a training method developed to improve upper body strength or highlight the importance of feet. “This child just campused my project…”

Comp Style

A type of climb found only on an artificial wall, often involving dynamic or parkour-type moves. “It’s more of a comp style route, so very hard to grade. Either you can do it, or you need to try more.”

Cut Feet

Your feet leave the wall while at least one hand remains in contact. “Try not to cut feet there as the holds are slopers.”


A type of hold or method of pulling on a hold that involves only finger pads, using more finger ligament strength than a jug-type hold, considered higher risk. “That route is super crimpy, I hurt my finger pulling too hard.”


The hardest part of the climb. “Move through the crux fast as it’s really pumpy.”


A dynamic movement, jumping or stepping quickly to gain a hold, rarely used outdoors but often found indoors. “These comp style problems are a weak area for me. I am terrified of anything involving a dyno.”


Extending a leg at an angle to keep the hips square to the wall, not necessarily in contact with a hold, acting more like a kickstand. “Flag here to make the starting move easier.”


Completing a route on the first attempt; beta can be used to make this happen. “These are graded soft; I just flashed a V6.”

Hard/Stiff/Sandbag (Grade)

The grade of the climb is lower than the perceived difficulty, in someone’s opinion. “This is sandbagged! I normally flash a V4.”

Heel Hook

Using the rubber heel of your climbing shoe to cling to a hold, very strong when below the hold. Not intuitive but a brilliant skill to master. “Heel hook around the arête to stop that barn door.”


Using friction and your skeletal structure to gain purchase between two faces. Various methods include hand jam, finger jam, stacking, foot jam, etc. Worthwhile checking out Wideboyz for excessive but comical information. “If you can jam, that route is pretty soft. If not, then not so much.”

J.C.V.D (Jean Claude Van Damme)

Press both feet against opposing walls, as close to the box splits as possible. Not often used or helpful but a good test of your lower body apparel. “Who do you think you are, JCVD?”


A positively incut and deep hold, perception-based, not everyone agrees on what is classed as a jug. “The last hold is a jug, just go for it!”

Lieback (Layback)

Pulling horizontally in one direction with your feet pushing in the opposite direction, often found on an arête. “Layback that flake to work your way up.”


To move from steep terrain to a ledge, these are always hard but especially so with poor technique. “I was so scared on that mantel top out; my triceps were screaming.”


Complete a route on the first go with no beta or without having seen the route climbed. “Is it still an onsight if I belayed you first?”


A hold or a method of gripping a hold that places the thumb on the opposite side to the fingers, a good technique to train. “Rather than crimping that, I would pinch it to stop your feet cutting.”


A small hole or cup-shaped hold, often only large enough for one or two fingers.


The feeling in your muscles, particularly forearms, when climbing, where your arms are exhausted and about to explode. “I couldn’t hold on, I was just too pumped. I need to shake out more early on.”


A previously unclimbed route, either personally or as an entire human race. “I am projecting this bloc on the slab.”


Successfully climbing a route in two or more attempts with beta if needed.

Sit Start

A boulder problem that starts from the floor, where your bottom must be on the floor to start the route. “These start holds are so low, it’s basically a sit start.”

Soft (Grade)

An opinion that this route is easier than the grade it has been given, usually held by people who have flashed a route when not expecting to.

Rock Over

To move your centre of gravity from below to above a foot placement by driving the knee over the foot. Feels desperate at first but is a powerful tool once mastered. “Then just rock over that mantel and it’s a rest.”


See redpoint.

Send Train

A group of people trying to complete a route. “All aboard the send train!”


A round hold, the direct opposite of a jug, using friction, most beneficial when directly below. A good brushing greatly improves these holds. “Bump from the sloper to the crimp to move out the crux.”

Shake Out

Physically shaking your arms to try and reduce the pump; this works. “Jam that crack and try to shake out before you start the crux as it only gets worse.”


Using your foot on a flat surface rather than a hold, trusting in the rubber rather than anything in particular. Very useful outdoors where feet can be scarce but also useful indoors where wall friction is predictable. “Try to smear that right foot to buy some time while you swap to the pinch.”


See bridge.


A hold or method of gripping a hold that involves pulling upwards, increasing friction in your feet or keeping your upper body close to the wall. “There is a bomber undercling that makes the crux less desolate.”

Top Out

The moment you transition from steep climbing terrain to walking terrain, used to describe the method of completing a climb. “To complete this bloc, you need to top out.”

V Grade

A method of grading boulders, really the opinion of the setter or the first climber rather than a tangible thing. Lower the number, easier the climb (ish). “I climbed a V7 yesterday, it was very crimpy, which is my style.”

So, the next time you find yourself nodding along to some climbing jargon, remember: it’s all part of the fun. Feel free to throw in your own made-up terms like “Garnet” and watch the confusion unfold. Happy climbing, and may the jargon be ever in your favor!

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