The ultimate guide to decoding backcountry lingo

Backpacking north of Twinning Peak, Colorado. Photo by Caleigh Smith.

Are you a backcountry enthusiast wannabe? Have you started escaping with friends into the wilderness of Colorado but haven’t felt truly at home yet? Is the language holding you back? I’m sure you’ve wondered about the seemingly endless dictionary of terms used by backcountry enthusiasts. Have you ever just laughed along so you don’t become the latest backcountry noob? Are you in need of some backcountry guidance? Look no further! Here is a comprehensive guide to all that jargon you’ve been so curious about.

Ascent: (v) The process of ascending anything, usually epic.

Church: (n) A place of magical significance in the backcountry where the ascender finds peace, happiness, and tranquility. Usually, but not always on top of a mountain.

Rad: (adj) Used to describe something totally awesome. Short for radical.

Baggin’ Peaks: (phrase) Hiking and keeping track of as many summits as possible. An ascender’s ultimate resume.

Line: (n) Used to describe the route you take while skiing or snowboarding down some rad terrain. Also used in climbing and kayaking to describe the route taken.

Shred: (v) To nail a line so beautifully, it might elicit tears.

Gnar: (adj) Short for gnarly. Used to describe something epic, difficult, rad, etc. Also used to describe battle wounds earned in the line of duty (AKA adventuring) and snow.

Shred the Gnar: (phrase) Typically used for skiing and snowboarding to describe when the skier/snowboarder destroys their line, usually through epic amounts of pow.

Pow: (n) Powder, snow, fluffies.

Rappelling down Robbers Roost Canyon, Utah. Photo by Caleigh Smith
Rappelling down Robbers Roost Canyon, Utah. Photo by Caleigh Smith

Area Codes: (n) Used in the backcountry to rate the quality of your defecation. The first number is the view from your poop spot, how prime the spot was. This number is made exponentially higher with any wildlife sightings. Number two is the quality of the actual poop and number three is the quality of the wiping object and ensuing process. (999 would be the best area code possible, the most epic of epics. 000 would be disastrous on all levels.)

Crampons: (n) Not a misspelling of tampons. Spiky objects strapped to your boots that will probably save your life on snow and ice.

Belay on: (phrase) You are safe to climb ahead.

Dirtbag: (adj) Non-derogatory. Usually used to describe climbers, backpackers, and kayakers who value the sport more than having a permanent place to live.

Epic: (adj) Rad.

Drop the Knee: (phrase) Also known as Telemark Skiing. Used in conjunction with “Drop knees not bombs,” “Free the heel, free the mind,” etc.

Pinned: (adj) Slow down speed racer!

Saddle: (n) A pass between two peaks resembling the place you would set a saddle on a horse. Resembles the skin running between the knuckles in your hand.

Beta: (n) The need-to-know for completing a route successfully.

Punter: (n) A wannabe climber who is wildly unprepared and overly ambitious. Don’t be this guy.

HACE: (n) Get down from wherever you are ASAP: your brain is filling with water. If it’s HAPE, it’s your lungs in peril.

Flapper: (n) A cut where your skin is flapping, usually mended with duct tape or super glue.

Dyno: (n) Dynamic climbing move where you become unattached momentarily from the rock face. Don’t call it jumping or leaping or you may be shunned.

Flat-lander: (n) The person struggling the most with the altitude or activity, regardless of their home elevation. Don’t be this guy. If you are this guy, be a good sport.

Bivy: (n) Short for bivouac. Camping overnight while off the ground during a climbing route.

Fourteener: (n.) Pikes and 52 others in Colorado.

Stem: (v.) To make yourself a human bridge between two rock faces with your hands on one side and your feet on the other as you shuffle over an object, usually a crevice or larger pothole in a canyon.

To Send: (v) To complete a route well. Can be used in climbing, backpacking, skiing, kayaking, etc.

Cairn: (n) Stack of rocks in the backcountry that may save your life. Follow them for dear life if the trail disappears.

Biner: (n) Carabiner

Dump: (n. or v.) A large, particularly heavy snowfall when it “pukes” snow. Epic, rad, and reason to miss ‘missable’ obligations. (School, work, sleep, etc.)

Avy: (n) Avalanche.

Freshies- (n) Getting first tracks down a run with a fresh dump and epic pow.

Bible: (n) The guidebook.

AT: (n) Alpine Touring. When skiers can disconnect their heels from their skis in order to put on skins and ascend to the top of their line.

Flash: (n) To climb a route the first time without falling.

Choss: (n) Loose or rotten rock. Scree is small loose rock while Talus is larger, but not always entirely loose.

Vert: (n) Amount of elevation change on a route, short for vertical.

Mashed Potatoes: (n) Not the yummy kind. Wet, heavy snow not pleasant to ski in.

Chowder: (n) Chopped-up powder.

Couloir: (n) Steep gully filled with snow and ice. Gnar points if you shred it.

Cornice: (n) An overhanging edge of snow and ice on a ridge. Keep them in mind when you’re looking over the edge of said ridge: they have a reputation of falling.

Snorkeling: (v) Snow so deep, you joke that you might need a snorkel to breathe.

Brain Bucket: (n) Helmet.

Congratulations, you’re up to speed! Now get out there noob-no-more, and show your bros how rad you are and shred that gnar!

Caleigh Smith

Caleigh Smith

Caleigh is a sophomore and began writing for the Catalyst during her first block at CC. She then became the Active Life editor a year later in the fall of 2015. She designed her major (Ecological Translation in Adventure Journalism) with a minor in both Spanish and Human Biology and Kinesiology. She is passionate about all things outdoors and is excited to see the Active Life section expand.

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