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The Slackpacker's Lexicon

Unsure what a certain term means? Able to walk the walk but have no idea how to talk the talk? This will clue you in. If the term is more "geology" oriented than hiking oriented, please click on the button at left.

Advance Base Camp. A lesser-equipped, less-comfortable camp serving as a launch pad higher on a mountain.

Abney Level
Hand-held instrument used by trail builders for measuring angles of elevation or inclination of trail.

also known as "roping down." A method of retreat, or for inspecting a climbing route.

Access Trail
usually connects a primary trail to a road, campground, etc. or another trail.

trail that complies with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Accessibility Guidelines and can be better used by people with disabilities.

process of becoming gradually accustomed to high altitude.

individuals, groups or businesses “adopt” trails, volunteering for periodic maintenance, litter removal, etc. Usually accompanied by pleasant signs.

ax-like tool used by trail maintenance to hack at stuff. Good for shaping wood in a trailish manner.

Air Rappel
accidental fall off a rock, cliff, or in a cave.

a trail that runs more or less straight regardless of how steep the terrain is. As if you drew a line through the air, rather than use switchbacks or contouring to get from point a to point b.

Appalachian Mountain Club. Group headquartered in Boston that pretty much controls the hiking trails on the White Mountains. The Forest Service controls access, the AMC owns the huts and controls the traffic. The huts are a series of really neat buildings at or above timberline where hikers can buy a meal, relax, refresh, and stay overnight if they so desire. They have cool libraries. A real White Mountain experience. More importantly, the AMC is the champion of the White Mountains and has somehow managed to keep the mountain bikes off the hiking trails, so we definitely like the AMC. Now if only they could get rid of the stupid metal sticks everybody claws around with.

Acute Mountain Sickness. Occurs at high altitude due to diminished oxygen. Begins with shortness of breath, followed by swelling, flu-like symptoms, and eventually, death. Most people won’t experience symptoms until they reach heights well above 10,000 feet. Varies with the individual.

transition area on a switchback. Going up a switchback, it's where you stop, look at the new direction...up...and groan. Going downhill, it's where you crash if you're out of control.

A steep ridge; pointy.

covering on a trail surface...rock, brick, stone, concrete, or other material.

Appalachian Trail.

from AT speak, stands for "all you can eat" restaurant.

area where there are no maintained roads or permanent buildings—just primitive roads and trails.

Trail construction term. Describes the cut bank along the uphill side of the trail, extending upslope from the tread (the part of the trail you walk on).

Describes a treeless, rocky summit in certain areas of the Appalachians. A "bald" is usually a treeless summit in the southern region that is not necessarily above timberline, but the peak is still open at the summit. Has more of a pastoral feel than the treeless summits of the Whites or Adirondacks.

primary excavated bed of a trail upon which the tread, or walking surface lies.

Base Course
layer material placed on a trailbed to support surfacing. Trail construction term.

Bear Box
metal containers found at trail heads where bears are active. The idea is to take all food and other smelly stuff out of your car and leave it in the bear box. These boxes use latches, pins, or other devices that require human dexterity in order to open them.

excavated or cleared surface on which a trail lies.

A long step, or tier, on the side of a hill. You climb until you reach the bench, then you walk across it, then climb until you reach the next bench.

A crevasse that separates the upper portion of a glacier from the mountain it backs into.

large rock you have to expel quite a bit of effort to climb over. Alternatively, cavers and climbers use this expression to describe a rock they don't want falling on their heads.

abbreviation for carabiner (see also) clip with closure for attaching to ropes.

a temporary or emergency "camp" or shelter, usually made in an undesirable locale on the side of a mountain, cliff, or in other such conditions where the hiker or climber requires rest overnight or during harsh conditions.

Bivvy Sack or Bivvy Bag
a sort of tent/sleeping bag cover for emergency shelter.

Someone -- usually a disgruntled townie -- who paints over or otherwise removes trail markers to prevent hikers from finding the trail.

Mark on a tree, rock, sign, etc. indicating the trail route.

metal or plastic tags nailed to trees to mark a trail.

trees or whatnot "blown down" by wind and now blocking the trail.

Term used by "thru-hikers" to describe those who will use shortcuts, connector trails, alternative trails, etc. periodically for a change of pace or break from monotony.

something you fall down. A promontory, riverbank, cliff, etc. that is too steep to walk down without handholds or a switchback trail. Or, when your poker hand just isn't very good.

planking built on pilings in areas of wet soil or water to provide dry hiking.

Bog Bridge
Logs that lie in the swamp, like puncheons (see) to provide semi-dry hiking.

round post barrier, often metal, usually 4' high, to prevent vehicles from entering a trail.

Fill used in trail construction, obtained from a nearby location, usually leaves small pits behind.

Braided Trail
numerous routes have been created, usually at access points or where shortcuts are easy, resulting in excess wear and innumerable little trails crisscrossing randomly every few feet. An infamous example of braiding is found at Landscape Arch, Arches National Park. (Access has since been limited due to partial collapse)

Brain Bucket
climber's or caver's slang for helmet.

using logs, branches, rocks, etc. to obstruct a closed section of trail to prevent future use.

Going off the trail, in the interest of taking a shortcut, creating a trail, looking for a rumored location, etc. Hikers usually begin their worst war stories with "We were bushwhacking and then..."

A hidden stash of food or supplies, left along a trail for return or future use.

a pile of rocks used to indicate direction of a trail in a treeless area; usually above timberline or in canyon country.

Camp 4
a walk-in campground in Yosemite Valley, home to legendary rock climbers during the golden age of Yosemite climbing, mid 1950s through the early 1970s.

Upper layer of leaves in a forest, covering the ground below.

A metal clip with a spring gate or threaded closure for attaching to ropes, anchors, etc.

Two different meanings: In geological terms, a tall thin column of rock or other matter that resembles its namesake. In climbing terms, a chimney is a vertical crack big enough to fit your body inside.

In climbing jargon, a large rock with a loose, flaky or crumbly surface that is unreliable for safe holds or pitons.

a group of mountains that forms a circle.

Usually referred to in terms of technical climbing, for example, "The splatter route is definitely a 5.13" Here's what it all means: Class 1 is a simple mountain that can be climbed wearing a pair of sneakers -- little more than a nature loop. Class 2 includes minor handholds, more or less to steady yourself as you clamber up the mountain. Class 3 includes some vertical climbing, and perhaps use of a rope. Class 4 is any climb that requires use of a belay, in which another climber is required to remain stationary to take up slack and arrest the fall of the active climber. Class 5 is any climb that requires ropes to be attached to fixed objects, such as a tree or piton. The attachment is not to aid in ascent, but rather to protect in the event of a fall. Class 5 is the one with the most "variables." A Class 5.0 has two handholds and two footholds. Class 5.4 is missing a hold. Class 5.8 has a hold available for one hand and one foot only. Class 5.12 has no visible holds. Class 5.13 is a surface with no holds and is under an overhang. Class 5 is often further broken up, such as 5.13a, but this arcana is really in the climber's arena...not ours. Class 6 is any climb that requires artificial assistance to be carried out, whether it be ropes dropped from above or other mechanical aids.

a "pass" or low, sometimes protected area on a massif (mountain range).

following an imaginary contour line around a mountain or canyon to get from point a to point b, rather than going up and down on a direct path. When a trail is "contouring" it means that it's relatively flat, and going around a promontory rather than over it. The Tonto Trail in the Grand Canyon is a well known "contour" trail.

In climbing lingo, where two planes of a rock face meet.

an overhang of ice or snow on the crest of a ridge or mountain. Caused by wind. Suggestion: Don't stand on a cornice.

a gully on a mountainside. Could be a gully in the ground, or in snow.

still another abbreviation for carabiner (see also) clip with closure for attaching to ropes.

sharp, pointy things that can be strapped to your boots, used for moving about on ice or steep ice/snow surfaces.

Craps Out
the trail grows faint, then ends. Also used by climbers and cavers when a particular route can no longer be followed, or cave dead ends.

Crash Pad
used in the sport of bouldering, it looks like a small mattress that folds in half.

the sudden stop at the end of a fall. See also "tomatoed out."

the hardest part or "key" to a climb.

area enclosed by a cirque. Pronounced coom.

Death March
unusually long, not very interesting hike. Term often applied when forced to take a dull trail to reach the one you really want to be on.

a corner on a rock face with a wide angle.

Delaware North Corp., the folks who control the High Sierra Camps and virtually all the key lodging in Yosemite National Park.

Double blaze
two blazes, one atop the other, that denote a change in direction or junction in the trail coming up. When the top blaze is to the right, it means the trail turns right, etc.

False Lead
It looks like the trail, smells like the trail, and for a while it seems like you're on the trail...but you actually followed the false lead off the true trail.

Low, flat, marshy land or a bog.

usually applied to climbers, stuck at the crux of a given pitch, expending a lot of energy with little success. Hikers use the word to euphemistically describe the stopping/starting/exhaustion near the summit of a difficult mountain, or when a hiker gets turned off the true trail by a false lead .

A thin, semi detached segment of rock that could conceivably fully detach during a climb. Depending on the circumstances, a failing flake can cause a climber to "tomato-out" (see below).

Mostly used with the Appalachian Trail. Describes a thru-hiker who realizes he won't finish before it snows up North, gets a ride to Katahdin and hikes back to where he left off.

Peakbagger slogging up the 46 highest peaks in New York's Adirondacks. One of the better-known peakbagging milestones.

Peakbagger pursuing the Colorado mountains exceeding 14,000' elevation.

hiking off of established trails. Unlike "bushwacking" which is usually done as a short-cut, freehiking intentionally seeks a complete hike experience free of artificial boundaries. Some speedhikers are also freehikers.

Outerwear that zips or snaps around ankles and lower legs to keep water, snow or muck out of your climbing boots.

The art of following a section of trail that is no longer used. When a trail is "re-routed," usually the old blazes are blackened out.

a clueless idiot who doesn't realize that uphill hikers have the right of way on a trail, and just bulldozes down.

Originally an acronym for Granola, Oats, Raisins, Peanuts. More commonly known as "Good old raisins and peanuts."

adjective to describe a lead (faint trail during a bushwack, unexplored part of a cave, route up a rock face) that pans out, or "goes" where you hoped it would, rather than dead-ending.

Grandes Courses
in mountaineering circles, these are long, difficult climbs combining mountaineering, rock climbing, ice climbing, and usually a bivouac or two. Mt. McKinley, Everest, The north face of the Eiger and the Matterhorn are examples of grandes courses.

abbreviation for the Shawangunk ridgeline in New York State, located between the Catskills and the Hudson River. The Gunks are generally recognized as the center of rock climbing in the eastern U.S.

Half Bench
Type of trail where half of it is excavated out of the slope and the outside of the trail tread contains the excavated material. Trail looks as if it were chipped out of the side of the hill, which is what it is.

refers to Warren Harding, legendary Yosemite climber who made many first ascents from the mid 1950s to 1970. Known for regularly hauling gallon jugs of wine along on multi-day climbs.

refers to carabiners, pitons, ascenders, bolts, etc.

Herd Path
an unofficial but obvious route hikers use to get from one place to another. Sometimes refers to an official path that is extremely overused.

HSC or High Sierra Camps
a group of very popular camps in Yosemite National Park. While not overly remote, all provide a backcountry experience but with canvas cabins, reasonable bedding, and hot meals. They allow hikers to reach back country locations without having to overload a backpack. To do the entire loop is the ultimate slackpacker experience.

refers to carabiners, pitons, etc. that dangle from a climber and clank around during a climb.

Prominent rounded hill or mountain. Common term in the southeastern USA

(pronounced leed, not like the weight) appears to be a trail/cave/climbing route
one- to three-sided structure, usually with a single slanted roof, designed to provide minimal shelter for backpackers.

mindless up and downs. Where the trail goes up and back down for no reason other than the amusement of whomever laid out the trail. Very aggravating. Usually occurs when some control freak at a local trail council is realigning a major trail, and wishes to put his or her mark on the route, or is trying to increase the amount of mileage under their control.

loose, granular snow. After movement has worn off the "points" on individual snowflakes, they clump together to form this stuff, which is shaped roughly like ball bearings and lends itself nicely to avalanches.

North bounder (AT or PCT).

mountain climber slang for a "dihedral" or wide-open corner.

Also known as "carry-out." The practice of leaving nothing -- and that does mean nothing -- behind on a backpacking trip. Require ziploc bags, PVC tubes with caps, etc.

We all know what a path is, don't we? For 10 bonus points, name the difference between a path and a trail. See definition of trail, below.

Chasing your personal checklist of peaks. Organized peakbagging lists, such as "White Mountain 4000 footers" are popular; there are a number of clubs that promote and recognize peakbagging accomplishments.

a given section of a vertical. Usually applies to sections of a mountain/rock face that differ in angle from the section above and below. Suzanne took the lead on the last pitch...

metal loop climbers screw into rock to run rope through for safety.

Lead person in a line of hikers. Responsible for following the trail.

logs, planks, rocks, or other crude "bridges" built across soggy areas.

Prescribed burns
intentional fires conducted by forestry services to clear underbrush and eliminate some of the fuel for potentially larger unintentional fires. These used to be called "controlled burns" but since they seldom are, the name was changed.

pointless ups and downs. See "MUDS," above.

Term used by "thru-hikers" to describe people who hook together all sorts of routes to complete a trail -- including hitch-hiking.

Climbing up to a spot from which you are surprisingly too frightened to descend. This term is most frequently applied in slickrock country; many climbers find it easy to scramble up the ladder-like layers...but going down can be quite unnerving. When one becomes so unnerved that they are stuck, they are "rimrocked."

Royal Robbins
possibly the greatest U.S. rock climber in history, a Camp 4 regular during Yosemite's golden age. Made countless first ascents.

wave-like formation of crust on a snowfield, formed by wind. Common in arctic regions; difficult to cross.

Has a couple of meanings in hiking circles. Generally, to climb in a hurried, helter-skelter fashion, having to use your hands. If it's a climb you probably could do without your hands, but you feel compelled to use them, it likely classifies as a scramble. Scramble also refers to a group of climbers going up a slope using all sorts of routes, sort of a "get up however you can since there's no trail here and we'll meet at a certain point."

The sort of stuff found on a talus slope...loose rocks, scrabbly, hard to get good footing on. Picky people, sticklers for detail will claim that scree is smaller than talus. All we know is that it's tough to walk on.

a massive chunk of ice breaking away from a glacier or cliff of ice. Some séracs are the size of a desk, some are the size of a six story condominium.

Seven Summits
refers to the highest summits on the main seven continents; a goal of many wealthy adventurers is to reach all seven summits.

Shelter Rat
Usually refers to thru-hikers, shelter rat is anyone who camps exclusively in trail shelters.

verb meaning to act as a Sherpa. "We sherped 80 pounds of gear to camp."
South bounder (AT or PCT).

Social Trails
unofficial shortcuts that connect individual sites to each other, restrooms, etc. at campgrounds.

Whether hiking, backpacking or climbing, soloing is going alone. When climbing, soloing vaguely means doing any climb by yourself where injury would result in the event of a fall.

intentionally running the length of a hiking trail to establish and compete against your personal best time and sometimes to compete against times established by others.

Stash Hunting
original term for "geocaching."

Stash Notes
Geocachers create these "clues" about the caches they leave.

Also "Stumblebees." Climbers who pay big bucks for guides to lead them to the summit. Stumblees would otherwise be unable to make it.

Last hiker in a group -- by design. Person follows all others, ensuring that no one falls behind or is left needing assistance.

Ever been on a trail that zig-zags up a mountain? That's a switchback. Makes the hike easier if not longer, and minimizes erosion problems.
Talus Slope
Loose jumbled rocks with poor or dangerous footing on the side of a mountain. A slope covered with small individual rocks. Allegedly, talus is larger than scree. We've yet to find anyone who can positively define the difference.

This is the opposite of a slackpacker. Usually applied to someone attempting to complete the Appalachian Trail, Pacific Crest Trail, or some other lengthy trek requiring meticulous advance planning and commitment to the task at hand regardless of circumstances. (The slackpacker is not meticulous and will bow out gracefully when he or she tires.) Whereas a slackpacker will do day-long sessions, and a backpacker will do a few overnight sessions, a thruhiker is attempting to go start-to-finish. Thruhikers come in a variety of types; see "white-blazers," "rainbow-blazers."

phrase coined in the 1960s to describe a climber who has inadvertently free-fallen a great distance off a mountain. (Actually, it refers to the grisly impact at the bottom.)

More or less the same as the regular definition, but with the added meaning of someone who blasts into a scenic area, stays at a resort property and plays lots of golf. When they do hike, they head for the busiest trail wearing the latest gear and blabbing into a cel phone. Carries a topo map on a nature loop. If they have kids, they usually throw rocks off the summit while mom or dad is oblivious. Generally expects the local populace to bow and cater to their needs since they are spending lots of cash.

Someone who lives near, and perhaps lurks about, a popular trail. Some townies help thru-hikers; others go out of their way to hassle hikers. In either case, the expression "get a life" comes to mind.

A route made across a wild region, over rough country, or the like, by the passage of man or animal. A trail differs from a path in that a path tends to be a convenient means of foot travel to avoid roads. A path serves in place of a road, takes you between two civilized localities. A trail takes you away from civilized things.

Trail Angel
A townie or other person who provides unexpected and much-appreciated assistance to a hiker.

Trail Squatter
A townie or other person who regularly camps in the same spot -- usually the best spot -- on a trail. Arrives early in the day and stakes a claim while the rest of the world is busy hiking. Then when you are setting up camp, the Trail Squatter stops by to nose around in your activities.

The beginning of a trail; entry point. (Hey, I was hiking with a guy who never heard the term before).

Trail Name
No, this isn't the name of the trail. This is something thru-hikers and backpackers like to do: Christen themselves with a "clever" pseudonym to use on the trail. Some examples are "Banjo Bob" or "The Old Limper" or "Dangerlegs." The name is intended to refer to the individual's particular style, but more often refers to some odd habit or peculiarity.

Slackpacker or hiker dedicated enough to plod along stoically regardless of weather conditions. Not surprisingly, this term is popular in New England.

To climb a slope diagonally rather than a more direct approach. In climbing lingo, it sometimes means going almost horizontally across a face, to obtain a better route up.

The surface portion of a trail that people way on, not including backslope, ditch, and shoulder.

the practice of hanging food up off a tree branch so that a bear can't get to it. But usually they can, if they really want to.

These are people who enjoy the travel and journey to remote "base camps," and do so with no intention of climbing the mountain or otherwise reaching the ultimate goal. Mt. Everest base camp is a popular destination for trekkers.

In hiker's lingo, a trail used by a lot of folks that goes quite directly from one place to another. In trail construction lingo, it is a trail built up above wet, boggy areas by placing stone and/or dirt over fabric with logs or rocks holding the whole shebang in place.

forest vegetation growing under the canopy.

Undulating Trail
Trail that goes up and down like a series of waves.

Universal Trail or Universal Design
a gentle trail with very few barriers or no barriers, providing maximum accessibility to wheelchairs and very aged slackpackers who shuffle along in velcro sneakers, with their trousers belted chest high.

United States Geological Survey. These are the folks who've measured and mapped everything, and make those cool topo maps.

thin, often clear coating of ice on rock.

one of the more remote, high-altitude locations in Yosemite's High Sierra Camp network.

A high altitude summit that requires no climbing skills to reach the top; a "class 2.0" at most. Mt. Rainier is one of the best known "walk-ups." This term is often used derisively by accomplished climbers to describe the mountains the rest of us are hopefully able to climb.

a rock face angled 60º or more.

rocks, logs, or whatever angled across a trail to divert rain or meltwater, to protect the trail below from excessive erosion.

AT and PCT hikers who rigidly follow the trail, and if forced to detour, will retrace his steps so that every foot of the "true" trail has been covered, then berate those of us who can't be bothered. These are the people who were hall monitors and whining tattle-tales when they were kids.

The practice of hitch-hiking or driving somewhere to cut off part of a longer hike.

describes the concept whereby a thru-hiker gets to the end...and then turns around and hikes back to the beginning. (see also: "lunatic")

Zero-Mile Mark
The spot where a measured trail begins; may or may not be the trailhead.


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