Glossary of Terms

Hiking Terminology

    A

  • ALPINE ZONE

    The area above the treeline.

  • AIGUILLE

    A tall, narrow spire of rock.

  • ARETE

    1. A sharp ridge.

    2. (rock-climbing): a vertical corner in a rock face (sometimes useful as a handhold).

  • ASCENDER

    A device for climbing a rope.

  • B

  • BARE-FOOT

    To hike (especially in winter) without use of crampons, showshoes, skis, or other traction aids.

  • BELAY

    1. to hold one end of a rope, so as to prevent a climber tied to the other end from falling.

    2. (obsolescent) To coil or fasten a rope.

  • BACKCOUNTRY CAMPING

    Camping without making use of tentsites previously designated by the landowner. Permitted, with many restrictions, in some parks.

  • BERGSCHRUND

    A gap or crevasse at the edge of a glacier.

  • ‘BINER

    Short for carabiner.

  • BIVOUAC

    1. any temporary encampment.

    2. an encampment without tents.

    3. a temporary or ad-hoc shelter. Can be used as a verb in all three senses.

  • BIVY

    short for bivouac.

  • BLAZE

    1. noun: A mark used to identify a trail, eg a spot of paint on a tree or rock. Originally, a mark made by removing bark from a tree.

    2. verb: To scout and mark a new trail.

  • BOOK TIME

    An estimate of the time required to hike a trail.

  • BUSHWHACK

    To hike off-trail, especially through underbrush. Carries a negative connotation.

  • BREAK TRAIL

    to hike in the lead position, forcing one's way through untrammelled snow. It is far easier to walk in the tracks of someone else who has already "broken" the trail.

  • C

  • CAIRN

    A pile of stones, used to mark a trail. Easier to spot in fog and snow than a blaze would be.

  • CAMP

    To spend the night in a temporary shelter.

  • CAR CAMP

    To camp in a tentsite located beside an automobile. Permits one to use tents (not to mention coolers, barbecue grills, televisions, etc) one couldn't carry on one's back.

  • CARABINER

    A metal ring having a latch ("gate"), used for attaching a rope to a harness.

  • CHIMNEY

    A gap between two vertical faces of rock or ice.

  • COL

    A ridge between two higher peaks.

  • CORDELETTE

    A small rope.

  • CRAMPON

    A set of metal spikes to be strapped to one's boot, to prevent slipping on ice.

  • D

  • DUCK

    A small cairn constructed to have a "beak" pointing in the direction of the route.

  • DRUMLIN

    A hill formed from glacial debris.

  • G

  • GPS

    Global Positioning System. A satellite-based radio navigation system sponsored by the US military.

  • H

  • HIGHPOINT

    The point of highest elevation in a given area, eg country, state, county.

    "Highpointing" is the sport of hiking (or driving) to as many highpoints as possible.

  • K

  • KRUMMHOLZ

    The dwarfish, bonsai-esque trees that grow at the treeline.

  • L

  • LEAN-TO

    A shelter consisting of a roof and at most three walls.

  • M

  • MORAINE

    A mound or ridge of rock, dirt, or sand deposited by the edge of a glacier.

  • N

  • NEEDLE

    A pointed spire of rock.

  • NOTCH

    A New England word for pass.

  • O

  • ORIENTEERING

    The art of navigation using map and compass. Sometimes engaged in as a competitive sport.

  • P

  • PASS

    Relatively low point on a ridge or in a mountain chain, allowing travel from one valley to another.

  • PEAK

    A point higher than all adjacent points.

  • PEAK BAGGING

    The sport of hiking as many noteworthy peaks as possible.

  • PITON

    A metal spike designed to be hammered into rock (or screwed into ice), with a loop for passing a rope through.

    Prohibited in most places in the East, because they permanently alter the rock. (Different rules apply for ice climbing.)

  • POST-HOLE

    The hole left behind when your foot sinks into deep snow. Post-holes are an annoyance if they disturb a crust that would otherwise support skis or snow-shoes, and a hazard if they freeze solid, which sometimes breeds resentment between those who are quick to put on their skis or snow-shoes and those who prefer to bare-boot.

  • PRO

    [short for "protection"] Any device, such as a piton, loop, wedge, or cam, for anchoring a rope.

  • PROMINENCE

    1. The quality of rising above or projecting beyond one's neighbors.

    2. A peak or outcrop.

    3. A measure of how far a peak rises above its neighbors: the minimum vertical distance one must descend in order to travel (on the ground) from a peak to any higher peak.

  • R

  • RAPPEL

    To slide down a rope. Those who value their skin (literally) make use of a harness and some sort of friction device.

  • S

  • SCREE

    Small loose stones covering a slope.

  • SELF-ARREST

    The act of halting one's own descent, as when sliding downslope.

  • SUMMIT

    The highest point of a mountain. A single mountain can have multiple peaks, but only one summit.

  • T

  • TALUS

    A sloping jumble of boulders at the base of a cliff. 

  • TENT

    A temporary shelter consisting of cloth and supported by least one pole or hoop.

  • TENTSITE

    A location for pitching a tent.

  • TREELINE / TIMBERLINE

    The elevation above which trees won't grow. For purposes of restrictions on camping, fires, etc .

  • W

  • WALK-IN CAMPING

    Camping at site that can only be reached on foot.