The Lingua Climber

Native English speakers such as myself are notoriously bad when it comes to speaking other languages. I met a Dutch woman once who told me that she could only learn three other languages at school because she was dyslexic. To think I was proud of myself when I could read 50% of the ingredients on a French packet of crisps.

I’ve always wanted to speak another language. I’m fed up of asking where the toilet is in French, getting a set of instructions and promptly walking into a broom-cupboard. I sound so foreign when speaking German that when asking for an ice cream in Vienna the seller replied to me in Italian. And the only thing I can remember in Italian is a horrible radio jingle, simply singing its frequency number 101.5 (centouno cinque!).

But then it hit me – I can speak another language. I can speak the language of climbing. I’m not talking about the horrific profanities I spout on almost any route, that if televised pre-watershed would sound like a convoy of lorries in reverse. This is a language that baffles non-climbers (also known as flat-landers) and sometimes makes me cringe when I hear myself effortlessly slipping into it, my adopted second tongue.

I’d argue that unlike a lot of corporate jargon that is designed to create exclusivity and just makes you want to vomit (“We need to be proactive and drink the Kool-aid here, this just isn’t making the needle move.” Understand any of that?), climbing speak really does make sense in communicating the sport better than plain English would.

Allow me to demonstrate this with a hypothetical scenario in this bizarre language, translations provided…

“Man, you could definitely ‘scend that route.”

I say old fellow, I think you could climb this piece of rock.”

“What’s it graded?”

“How hard is it?”

“The guidebook gives it E2 5c.”

“The consensus amongst those who have climbed it is extreme level 2, with a technical grade of ‘somewhat tricky’.”

“E2 5c, that’s what, 5.10c?! That other route we did was E2 5c and it was a proper sandbag that made me look like a right punter, I couldn’t stop the Elvis leg!”

“*American grading translation*. The other climb was graded easier than it actually was, it made me look like an amateurish fool. My leg kept shaking.”

“Yeah but that was a grease-ball choss-fest with jungle-bashing a-plenty, this is pretty straightforward, I red-pointed it last year.”

“Yes, but it was slippery with overuse, had lots of loose rock and plants growing out of the wall. This is elementary by comparison, I rehearsed it with a rope above, then led it without falling off or resting last year.”

“It doesn’t look like it’s got great gear.”

“There doesn’t seem to be many opportunities to place pieces of metal or webbing to arrest me in the event of a fall.”

“Nah man, it’s a bit run-out at the start, but you can get some psychological protection in the shallow cracks until you get to the break, remember to take some IMPs.”

“No, you have to climb quite high before you can place protection, maybe get some that probably won’t hold a fall but will make you feel better until you get to the deeper crack in the rock. Remember to take some tiny wires that will offer no protection whatsoever if used on their own.”

“If I lead it, do you want me to clean it or are you gonna pink-point it?”

“I’ll go up without a rope above me, would you like me to take out all of the pieces of metal I’ve placed or would you like to go up using them?”

“I’ll pink-point it. The crux is tough though, you can get a knee-bar there at the tufa and crank off the crimps to a gaston…”

“I’ll use the protection you have already made. The hardest part is difficult, you can put your knee against a jut of rock for a rest, and pull hard on small holds to an inverted sideways hold with your thumb pointed downwards…”

“Whoa, don’t spray beta around, I’m losing the on-sight!”

“Steady on old chap, don’t tell me everything about the climb, I now can’t climb it cleanly without any prior information which is much more impressive.”

“Trust me, the crux is hard and you’ll want beta by the time you’re up there. It’s long too, so you’ll have to ab off. Remember, use a European death knot.”

“Honestly, the difficult part is hard so you’ll want some information on how to do it. It’s long so you’ll need to abseil off, remember to use the knot that looks really terrible but is actually proven to be more secure than other knots that look much better.”

“What do you do at the flake? Look’s hard, maybe I do need the beta, I’ll be cool with a flash.”

“What do you do at the bit of protruding rock that lays on top of the main rock? Maybe I do need information, I’d be happy to climb without falling off after some prior details.”

“Okay, so from the gaston, rock over and get a left hand into the crack. There’s a couple of monos directly above. From there, you can heel-hook the arete and reach for the slopers. A bit of a dyno to the chicken head and it’s all over.”

“*Descends into jargon madness* From the inverted sideways hold where your thumb points downwards, move over to the left crack. There are some one-finger-pockets where you can hook your heel on the edge and reach for the insufficient holds. After a big movement to a spike/horn it is all over.”

“Okay, the start looks sketchy though, I wish this was sport so I could have a princess clip. You’ll spot me yeah?

“The start appears to be less than safe, I wish I could cheat and have a first piece of protection already in the wall. You’ll hold your hands out below me and try to direct my fall so I don’t hit my head?”

“Yeah, ‘course. Bugger, I forgot my belay plate, you okay with me using an Italian hitch?”

“Certainly. Oh fiddlesticks, I forgot my device that uses friction to hold the rope, are you okay with me intricately threading the rope through a carabiner as an alternative?”

“Get lost, I don’t like climbing with you, where’s John anyway?”

“Certainly not, I dislike your company, where’s the other chap?”

“Didn’t you hear? He decked on a high-ball problem last week and fractured his spine.”

“He fell off a high route with no rope and came off a tad damaged.”

“Sod this, I’ve forgotten why we’re here anyway, I’m going to the pub.”

“Enough of this piffle, I’m off to wet my whistle.”

Working translation:

“Climb that, it’s hard.”

“No.”


2 thoughts on “The Lingua Climber

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