Climbing Terms & Definitions

These are a few of the terms you'll see used in our trip reports. We've defined them here so that you'll know what we're talking about.

  • General Terminology

    "Approach"
    An "approach" is typically a foot access to a certain peak or group of peaks where the "route" up the peak is considered to begin. Most of our "approaches" involve a backpack of some distance and the establishment of a base camp from which several peaks may be climbed. In some cases, an "approach" may be a trail access to a specific location where you can branch off in different directions for two or more summits, usually done as day hikes.
    In a "sequence" of peaks where two or more are climbed together and usually each is accessed by a connecting ridge, the route to a previous peak in the sequence will become the "approach" for the next summit.
    G&JR
    G&JR refers either to Gerry and Jennifer Roach and/or their book, "Colorado's Thirteeners" which covers thirteen thousand foot summits from 13,999 to 13,800 ft. in elevation. Gerry Roach, a climber/mountaineer of international status and Jennifer Roach, one of the pioneering women to have climbed all of Colorado's 13ers, have combined their knowledge into this detailed and useful book for 13ers ranked from #54 to #106. Still in print, it is a "must-own" for serious peakbaggers. Includes extensive trailhead, approach and multiple route information.
    G&M
    G&M stands for the book co-authored by Mike Garratt and the now deceased Bob Martin. Book name is "Colorado's High Thirteeners," A Climbing and Hiking Guide. The book is out of print but was a "climber's Bible" for several decades, having been first published in 1984? The book covers 13ers ranked from #54 to #200.
    GCM
    GCM refers to a book first authored by Robert M. Ormes, considered one of the "grandfathers" of Colorado mountaineering. Subsequent editions were taken over by the CMC (Colorado Mountain Club).This is another "climber's bible" which covers mostly named summits located in every mountain range of Colorado. The route descriptions and approaches are stated succinctly. It is still in publication and with updates added to the 10th edition, is extremely useful for Colorado peak information.
    LoJ
    LoJ stands for listsofjohn.com, a website belonging to John Kirk that exists primarily for climbers to register their ascents. This site lists summits not only for Colorado, but numerous other states, allows registrants to build custom lists, post trip reports and view the ascents of other climbers. Highly recommended for recording your personal climbs.
    RT
    RT = round trip. Approach mileages are usually presented as round trip. In a sequence of peaks, the RT mileage for the first summit will be to that summit alone and back to the trailhead or end of approach. For all other summits in the sequence, the RT mileage will assume completion of the circuit. Starting and ending point will be the same.
    Sequence
    As we use this term in this site a "sequence" of peaks is when two or more summits are climbed together, usually by connecting ridges or common terrain that allows easy access to each summit in the sequence. When this happens the "round-trip" route mileage will be displayed as the same for each summit in the sequence and the "one-way" mileage and elevation gain will be measured from each previous summit. There are a large number of sequenced peaks on this site. They do not have to be climbed as we did. Our sequenced routes are only a suggestion, but you have the assurance the were climbed as we have outlined.
    SJM
    SJM stands for a book by Robert F. Rosebrough titiled, "The San Juan Mountains, A Climbing and Hiking Guide." No longer in print, the book has been and continues to be a useful guide to important summits located in the San Juan Range, providing both trailhead, approach and route details.
    TH
    TH stands for trailhead. A trailhead is usually where vehicle access ends and foot access begins. In some cases, it may indicate the end of access for all but 4WD vehicles, which may be able to continue for additional distance reducing foot travel.
  • Route Difficulty ("Class")

    Class 1
    Easy trail walking or cross-country travel with few route finding difficulties
    Class 2
    Still basic hiking but may involve the following: Off-trail, bushwhacking, game trails, route-finding, reasonably stable and small to moderate sized talus and talus slopes.
    Class 2+
    Will involve all of the items in Class 2 plus the following: More difficult, less stable talus at higher angles, rubble and boulder fields that may require stabilizing your walking with occasional hand holds and hiking supports like trekking poles or ice axes. Route finding may become even more difficult. Talus type slopes may become so steep that you'll take two steps forward and slide back one. Moderately pitched snowfields may be included that require ice axe for safety but not necessarily crampons. We will frequently use the term "scrambling" for such terrain, because of the use of hands with various instruments to maintain stability.
    Class 3
    We will usually refer to this level as "third (3rd) class scrambling." You'll be looking for and using handholds for upward progress and will literally be "climbing" at some points rather than just walking upward. We most frequently encounter this type terrain when passing through areas of large boulders that must be surmounted or descended with a brief climbing move. The west ridge of the Heisspitz, the west ridge of East Partner or the Grand Traverse are examples of where you may encouter 3rd class sections. There may be some low to moderate and brief exposure. Rope would not be needed or required except for the most timid. Most of the peaks that receive this rating do not have sustained 3rd class ascending, hence we often mention 3rd class scrambling indicating multiple short sections where a 3rd class move is required.
    Class 4
    At this point, you are no longer "walking or hiking." You are climbing, searching for and utilizing handholds and footholds for upward or downward progress. Exposure risk increases and as such, some may even want the comfort of a rope, especially for descending. Some of the upper section of Jagged Mountain by the "standard" route in G&M we would classify as 4th class.
    Class 5
    Technical Climbing: may be free-climbed without aid by most experienced climbers. Ropes are used for protection along with cams, nuts, hexes and stoppers to provide security in the event of a fall. Only a handful of 13ers fall into the 5th class category by their easiest route, usually for just short sections and only Lizard Head requires sustained 5th class climbing.
  • Trip Length

    Short Day // A Wee Little Climb

    Some peaks, because of easy vehicle access, may be climbed in less than a half day and you may not even need a lunch.

    Medium Day // Take a Lunch

    With a 6:00 - 7:00 AM start time, you should be done by mid-afternoon.

    Long Day // Back for Dinner

    With a 6:00 - 7:00 AM start time, you should be able to finish by later afternoon.

    X-Long Day // Dinner Will Be Late!

    To be safe, take a headlamp. You may not make it back before dark depending on start time. Take some extra food. Dinner could be rather late.

    XX-Long (Epic) Day // Take a Headlamp!

    An exceptionally long day beginning before sunrise and finishing at or after dusk. Because of the length, some may want to make an overnight type backpack to reduce single-day mileage.

    Backpack + Short Day

    A multiday backpack is likely required for mere mortals and short half-day climbs to surrounding peaks from a base camp.

    Backpack + Medium Day

    A multiday backpack trip is likely required for mere mortals and medium-length day climbs of surrounding peaks from a base camp.

    Backpack + Long Day

    A multiday backpack trip is likely required for mere mortals plus full day climbs of surrounding peaks from a base camp.

  • Steepness

    A Pleasant Uphill Stroll
    Usually on mostly tundra with minimal amounts of rock or scree to negotiate. Angle of ascent usually under 20°.
    A Satisfying Workout
    Mostly trail access though some may be off-trail and steepness will increase enough to require some labored breathing. Angle of ascent will usually be 20° or more.
    Stiff uphill climb
    Walking up steep terrain at average angles approaching 30° for extended periods and elevation gain in excess of 1,000 vertical feet.
    Leg-Burner/Lung-Buster
    Intensely steep terrain, for long duration, whether on rock, scree or tundra, Slopes will exceed 30°.
    Don't Look Down!
    Terrain that is so steep, perhaps 40° or more that a false step could send you tumbling some distance down the mountainside. Most any fall would be injurious, even though you may not actually be "climbing."
  • Exposure

    None
    No likelyhood of injurious falls.
    Minimal
    May be one or two short spots where an injurious, but not serious fall could occur.
    Moderate (Short Sections)
    A few short sections where an injurious and serious fall could occur. Careful negotiation required, but rope not necessary.
    Severe (Not for the Faint-Hearted)
    Seasoned peakbaggers/climbers will negotiate without rope, but less experienced may want a rope for security. 4th class terrain. Risk of injurious fall is high but fatal fall is not likely, though possible.
    Extreme (Rope-up Advised)

    Usually 5th class terrain. Risk of injurious and even fatal fall is high.

  • Terrain & Rock Condition

    No Problemo

    Easy Class I or Class II hiking over generally manageable terrain. Only low angled scree or talus and not extensive amounts. Still quite a bit of tundra.

    A Tundra Stroll

    Almost all tundra terrain with some embedded rock. Little scree or exposed rock to deal with.

    Chiprock

    We use this term to describe another form of scree. Consists of smaller diameter rocks mostly that tend to be more flattened and broken into pieces. The breccia of some of the San Juan calderas tend to deteriorate into what we call chiprock. In some places it may be somewhat larger and feels and sounds like you're walking on broken pieces of china.

    Scree

    We will try to use this term consistently to mean generally small pebbles, smaller rocks (under 3-4 inches) and sand/dirt on a moderately pitched slope. Descending scree can often be fairly easy, quick and even fun, but in the wrong place (like where there's some exposure), can become a frightening nuisance.

    Talus

    Dictionary definition: A slope formed by the accumulation of rock debris; rock debris at the base of a cliff. In our terminology, scree may also be accumulated rock debris, but smaller. Talus will apply to small to moderately sized rocks up to around 12" with little sand or scree in between. I read in a geology book years ago that the maximum angle of repose for a talus cone is 36°. However, many factors can alter that.

    Rubble
    We will use this term for an assortment of rock in various sizes from scree & chiprock to medium boulders, usually found on more level or only moderately inclined slopes.
    Embedded rocks

    Embedded rocks can range from scree size to medium boulder size and are found in areas where tundra has grown around the rocks thereby stabilizing them. Slope angle can vary from flat to very steep, in which case, the rocks and tundra tend to create stable ledges.

    Dinner plate talus
    Broken rock that tends to cleave/break into flatter surfaces that often sounds like you're walking on broken china. Usually found in flatter terrain at higher elevations.
    Boulder Talus

    This is even larger sized talus consisting mostly of boulders more than 12” up to perhaps 36”. This will usually be found in steep couloirs or gullies where they can tend to stack up on each other at times and are quite likely to roll and crush your foot, ankle or lower leg. Beware!

    Stacked Boulders

    One of the most difficult kinds of terrain to navigate, stacked boulders may range in size from a few feet in diameter to small or even large vehicles. Again, they may be perched precariously upon each other. 3rd class scrambling may be required to navigate through them, some times even a map and compass!

    Watch for Falling Mountains

    This term reflects the fact that the mountain may, in fact, decide to unleash every rock its comprised of down in your general direction while climbing. A helmet, life insurance policy, and updated will and testimony are recommended before approaching this type of rock.

    Choss

    Crumbly, low-quality rock or
    “Rock that is unsuitable for climbing, e.g. because it is too soft, unstable or overgrown.” (per Wiktionary)

    In our opinion, this terms seems to be used by some for most any undesirable rock condition, especially loose talus, chiprock, etc. We would prefer the more specific definition which would best be applied to brittle or friable, actual rock.

    Willow-bashing
    This is obviously not a term related to rock conditions but one we thought we should throw in. "Willow-bashing" means you will have to negotiate a thick area of willows somewhere along the route we describe. This can range from below-waist willows found above treeline to man-eating willows that stand well above your head and may require great physical effort to find a way through.
    Tree-bashing/Bushwhacking
    Tree-bashing or bushwhacking means having to work your way through a forested area, either aspens or conifers, without aid of man-made trail and where you may have to deal with not only dense stands of trees but also numerous fallen logs and other debris. This is often all compounded by having to do this on a steep slope.
  • Route Finding Difficulty

    Easy
    Almost all trail access to the summit.
    Moderate
    Trail access for only part of the ascent. May be utilizing game trails or unmaintained human-use trails, following cairns or other indicators of previous passage  that are fairly obvious. May have to negotiate willows, brush, downed-timber or pass through boulder terrain where no trail exists.
    Difficult
    Extensive periods of no evident human-use trail. Mostly game trails. Careful map reading skills required or GPS. Little if any indications of human passage. Frequent decision making regarding route. Numerous difficulties may be encountered that complicate the route.
  • Campsite Quality

    Designated Camping
    National Forest or State campgrounds with designated, fee sites. usually have water and at least vault toilets available.
    Primitive Campsites
    "At-large" camp locations with no facilities. Bring your own TP and something to dig a hole with or a portable john. Also, you may need to bring your own water.
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