Hiking Glossary

Altimeter: A device that uses barometric pressures to note the changes in altitude.
Arete: A ridge, generally one of the main ridges of a mountain.
Avalanche: Caused by stresses exceeding the strength of the snowpack; A skier or climber may add sufficient stress to set off a slide. Most avalanches occur when slope angles lie between 30 and 45, although the range may be anywhere between 25 and 60 degrees.
Belay: The procedure by which a stationary person manages the climbing rope for a moving team member to stop a fall if one should occur.
Bergschrund: A giant crevasse found at the upper limit of glacier movement formed where the moving glacier breaks away from the ice cap.
Bivouac: An impromptu camp, often in the open without shelter.
Bushwack: To go off-trail, usually through bushes and undergrowth.
Buttress: A broad, steep mountain wall near the lower end of a ridge usually with rock exposed.
Cairn: A small, rocky markers that line a trail. Cairns are man-made, and are used to guide hikers through sections where the trail may be faint or non-existent.
Cirque: A steep-walled mountain basin which usually forms the blunt end of a valley; bowl-shaped.
Col: A dip in a ridge that forms a small, high pass or saddle.
Cornice: Overhanging shelf of snow, formed on the downwind side of a ridge.
Couloir: A gully or ravine in a mountainside; may be of rock, ice or snow.
Crampon: Special spiked footgear that is strapped or clamped to the bottom of climbing boots.
Crevasse: A crack or fissure in a glacier, often hundreds of feet deep.
Gaiter: Nylon covering for the lower leg that prevents snow or ice from accumulating inside the boot.
Glacier: A large mass of ice that forms in areas where the rate of snowfall constantly exceeds the rate of melting; it moves slowly down a mountain slope until the ice melts or breaks away.
Glissade: To slide down a snow slope; either sitting or standing, using the ice axe to control speed and direction.
Headwall: A steep cliff, usually at the top of couloirs or mountain faces.
Ice Axe: A tool used for climbing snow and ice. The bottom of the shaft has a metal spike; the head has a curved blade on one end and a pick on the other.
Ice Fall: A portion of glacier that has become highly fractured as it flows down a steep gradient.
Lenticular: Clouds capping the top of a mountain, indicating extremely high winds at the summit.
Moat: A gap that separates a snowfield from its rock borders formed when snow melts and settles away from the warmer rock.
Moleskin: Artificial skin layer used on the feet to prevent blisters.
Moraine: Mounds of debris deposited by a glacier.
Pitch: A section of a climb.
Ridge: A mountain crest, usually a main route to the summit.
Saddle: A high pass between two peaks (see Col).
Scree: An accumulation of small stones or rocky debris; typically lying on a slope or at the base of a mountain.
Self-Arrest: The technique in which a climber regains control from a slip or uncontrolled slide.
Self-Belay: The technique by which an ice axe is used to guard against and prevent falls while snow climbing.
Serac: A tower of ice found mainly in icefalls.
Summit: The highest elevation of a mountain; some mountains may have more than one summit.
Talus: Large, rocky boulders that vary in size, and are typically unstable when walked upon.
Traverse: To cross a mountain slope horizontally.
Tree Line: Elevation above which trees do not grow; also called timberline. In Colorado, tree line is about 11,500 feet.