The Offwidth A to Z of Climbing: ‘A’

Climbing can be a pretty jargon heavy activity and even the most experienced climber will sometimes come across a term they haven’t heard before. Fortunately we decided to produce an accurate and informative dictionary of definitions for the confused climber; unfortunately The Offwidth beat us to it. Here’s their take, starting with ‘A’.


Abalakov Thread – A type of anchor used in ice climbing. More secure than most ice climbing anchors. (In the same way that sellotape is stronger than blue tac.)

Abalakov Threader – The tool used to construct an Abalakov Thread (along with an ice screw). Not to be confused with ‘Abolokov’, the latter being the injury one sustains from sitting on an Abalakov Threader.


Abseil– The climbing equivalent of the walk of shame. A technique used to extract oneself from an awkward situation, usually after making a big mistake. Also used in sea cliff climbing to get oneself into an awkward situation in the hope that getting back out of it will be enjoyable.


Adze– The business end of an ice axe. Used to climb ice and persuade climbing partners to lead certain pitches. Also used to scare off yetis.


Aid Climbing– The stair lift of rock climbing. Often shortened to Stannah climbing i.e.…

Climber 1: “Bloody hell that next pitch looks difficult! Do you fancy trying it?”

Climber 2: “Nah it looks way too hard. We’ll have to Stannah it.”


Alpine Climbing– A form of climbing involving fear, cold, hunger and waking up in the middle of the night. To simulate the experience wait until the next time you wake up from a nightmare then stumble into your kitchen and sit in an empty fridge. Strangely addictive.


Anchor– The collective term for the gear being used to hold a climber to the rock to form a belay. Depending on the route this can be anything from two solid bolts backed up with a bomber sling to a wobbly RP backed up with an appeal to any/all relevant deities.


Approach-Literally translates as “moan walk”, later developed into Michael Jackson’s “moon walk”. The period of whingeing before going climbing, often accompanied by a short walk. Symptoms are particularly common in sport climbers.


Arête– A ridge of rock sticking out of a crag. Famous for high levels of exposure. Depending on the climber this leads to them being conquered in a series of exhilarating and airy moves or survived via a combination of rock hugging and whimpering.




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The Hardest Walk, An Ode to Slab Climbing


I have an obsession with slab climbing. There, I’ve said it. This will provoke a knowing nod and smile from my fellow slab fanatics but a raised eyebrow from most other climbers. Slabs are uncool and out of fashion, they are the exact opposite of the steep, powerful and dynamic routes/problems sought after by most modern climbers. Go into most climbing walls and the slab routes will be outnumbered by roofs and overhangs. If you want to emulate the Ondras and Shiraishis of this world it’s go steep, or go home. I don’t think our less vertically inclined (gedit gedit?!) routes deserve this reputation, so in this ode to slab climbing I’m going to try and convert a few non- believers into the delights of walking up slopes.


Slabs are a great leveller. It doesn’t matter if you can’t do a pull up or are a campus beast who can crank ten one-armers, without a good sense of balance and position you won’t get far on a slab. Slab climbing is all about intuition and practice, how to gently place the tip of a toe on the most useful part of a crystal, or finding the flow and using momentum to move between a string mantles. These subtle and elusive goals of balance and poise require not only an awareness of the finger tips and toes but of the whole body. No part of your body is ever doing nothing: an arm without a handhold can help shift weight to the left or right, a small tilt of the torso turns a frustrating pinch into a secure sidepull. No amount of power can compensate for poor technique in the world of slab climbing.


When you’re on a slab you are not only aware of your body but also of the rock underneath it. Tiny holds require a great degree of precision and a familiarity with the medium, whether that’s granite or grit, limestone or sandstone. A tiny pebble needs care in selecting the best direction to pinch it, even choosing a slightly rougher patch for a foot can be the difference between a solid smear and a long slide. Being able to trust a foothold requires a confidence not only in your placement but also in the friction of the rock itself. Spend some time on a slab and you’ll soon have a more in depth understanding of the rock and the landscape it fits into.


Aside from a need for balance and precision, slabs are also famous for their boldness and lack of gear. Whilst there are well protected slabs about (Sacre Coeur on Blackchurch Rock being a classic example) it’s fair to say run outs aren’t uncommon. Personally I think climbing very rarely gets more exciting than being perched on a slab high above gear, depending only upon friction to keep you pasted to the rock. The conflict between the human instinct to find something secure to cling on to and the lack of any such rescue creates a tension that anyone who climbs run out slabs must learn to control. If the climber does loose the battle for control and tense up, progress becomes impossible. Slabs require a relaxed fluidity to climb, as soon as holds are over-gripped fingers slip and the pebbles and crystals disappear as if they have been withdrawn back into the surface of the rock. At this moment a fall is surely imminent.


I hope this article has been a brief glimpse into the thoughts of a slab-obsessed climber. I’m sure fellow slab fanatics will have recognised many of the moments and feelings I have described above. Who knows? I may have even coaxed one or two more climbers into finding a slab and getting a taste for the delights of climbing’s hardest walk.




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Tri-Cams :The Hidden Menace

For decades British trad crags have maintained some of the world’s strictest climbing ethics. We refrain from using fixed gear to keep the spirit of adventure and avoid altering the natural beauty of the landscapes that play host to our climbing exploits. The Offwidth feels that now is the time to talk about the one form of fixed gear that has so far slipped under the radar. Tri Cams.

The Offwidth secured an interview with one disgruntled second Tom Hayes to discuss the issues around tri cam use. “It’s not on is it?” says Tom. “It’s all fine for the leader who places the tri cam, but has she thought about her poor second who has to get the bloody thing out? No of course she hasn’t.”

“A bolt will rust in a couple of decades and the hole it leaves will have eroded in a few million years. You call that fixed gear? That’s nothing compared to how long I’ve spent trying to remove tri cams from limestone pockets.”

“I don’t see what all the fuss is.” says Tom’s leader and tri cam fan Sarah Green. “You just give them a prod, then a quick flick and out they come.”

We read this quote to Tom who promptly turned a funny shade or red and started frothing at the mouth. “A prod and a flick?! That’s just a myth leaders like to repeat to ease their guilty conscience, don’t listen to a word of it. Us seconds know the truth. The only way to remove a tri cam is to howl and swear at it whilst stabbing at it with a nice sharp nut key. Eventually your bloody knuckles and tears of frustration will work up enough lubrication to slide the bastard out sideways.”

It’s not just seconds who are at risk from tri cams. Research from The Offwidth Institute suggests that as many as 78% of leaders who use tri cams have formed an unhealthy attachment to one or more tri cam. This figure rises to a staggering 98% when ‘users’ are asked to choose a favourite between their ‘Pink 0.5’ and their spouse.

We showed Tom these figures and asked if it’s something he’s noticed. “Oh yes definitely” he replied. “Only last weekend I picked up Sarah’s 0.5 without asking and she hissed at me and screamed “My Precious” with a fiery look in her eyes.”

“There’s nothing unusual about how often I place tri cams” maintains Sarah. “I can stop whenever I want…”


The Offwidth recommends that tri cams are phased out of use with immediate effect. We also call on the BMC to provide support for traumatised seconds and heavy tri cam users.



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