I’m a Johnny-climb-lately. After moving to the Adirondacks, I spent most of my outdoors time hiking, backcountry skiing, or paddling. I had no interest in rock climbing—until I finally tried it a few years back.
I quickly discovered there’s a lot to learn apart from the techniques of actual climbing: rope management, gear placement, belaying, anchor building, rappelling, and how to open a beer bottle with a carabiner.
And the language. Like most sports, rock climbing has its own lingo. A bumbling climber is a “gumby”; a perfect climbing route is “splitter”; a route over “choss” (loose, friable rock) is “mungy”; and “deadpoint” is the apex of a “dyno,” or jump move.
All this can be bewildering to a newbie (or “n00b”) who encounters such terms for the first time in articles, books, and conversation. Thankfully, Mountaineers Books has published a guide for the perplexed: The Climbing Dictionary (softcover, $14.95) by Matt Samet, a veteran climber and writer.
The book defines more than 650 terms from rock climbing, bouldering, and mountaineering. Many of the definitions are illustrated by drawings by Mike Tea, an artist who works for Black Diamond, a manufacturer of cams, nuts, and other climbing gear.
In most cases, Samet does more than just define a word; he illustrates usage with humorous quotes and provides word histories that are like small windows onto the history of climbing itself. Did you know that before climbers wore helmets they sometimes protected their heads by stuffing mittens and newspapers under wool hats?
Many of the words are merely useful, such as the names for gear (ice screw, etrier, deadman anchor), but others exemplify the wry, irreverent outlook on life that seems indispensible to people who risk their necks for fun. For example, someone who “craters,” or hits the ground after a long fall, is likely to become “talus food.”
Samet captures this spirit in his definitions and exemplary quotations. Here’s his entry for blog-worthy: “Any rock you’ve ever climbed, videoed, and shot photos of … and uploaded to the Internet. In alpinism, any diversion, no matter how insignificant, from an existing climb is usually blog-worthy.”
Sometimes, though, the author strains too hard at humor, especially in his quotations. He illustrates the use of headlamp with the following: “Dave-o and Sha-Nay-Nay had to open a bivy a half-mile from the car because they spaced their headlamps; then wolves ate their faces off in the night.”
Never mind that the non-imbecilic have no need for a definition of headlamp; the quotation fails to illuminate meaning and it fails to amuse.
That’s OK … we all have our gumby moments. If you love climbing, you should enjoy this book.