Twin Cities PBS Logo

Outside Chance: A Rock Climbing Challenge Accepted

Minnesota is home to countless top spots for beginners to learn the skills - and the lingo - of rock climbing.

By Luke Heikkila and Ryan Klabunde

Article by Kelsey Derby

In this episode of Outside Chance, host Chance York and rock-climbing rock star Janel Rieger hit up Interstate State Park where they climb not one, but two top-roping routes. But what's top roping, you ask?  

Good question. As with most sports, rock climbing experts sling around a slew of terms that can sound like a foreign language to the rest of us. Chance mentions a few in the show, but we thought we'd compile a complete list of nine phrases that you'll need to know if you want to break into rock climbing. A quick reference, if you will! 

Top Roping 

This is what Janel and Chance get the chance (see what we did there?) to do in the episode. It's a style of climbing that requires you to walk to the top of a cliff to tie off your rope and throw it down. You then hook yourself into the rope when climbing back up the face of the cliff. As mentioned in the episode, there are 80 places to do this at Interstate State Park, alone, plus lots of other locations across the state. 

Nuts and Cams 

This is the term rock climbers use to describe the tools used to create natural anchors within the rocks, trees and other natural structures to attach a rope at the top of the cliff. Wikipedia defines climbing cams as, "A spring-loaded camming device (also SLCD, cam or friend) is a piece of rock climbing or mountaineering protection equipment. It consists of two, three or four cams mounted on a common axle or two adjacent axles, so that pulling on the axle forces the cams to spread farther apart." Climbing nuts are defined as, "a metal wedge threaded on a wire that climbers use for protection by wedging it into a crack in the rock." The more you know... 

Tie in 

This one describes the spot where you "tie in" your rope to attach yourself to your top rope. Most climbers use a figure-eight style tie in to safely make sure they are attached.  


The dictionary definition of belay in relation to rock climbing is, "the securing of a person or a safety rope to an anchor point (as during mountain climbing)." The term is used frequently in climbing to alert your partner that you are on-belay, meaning you are using the rope you're attached to to begin climbing. It's also used to refer to the person who is securing your rope for you as you climb, as in "thanks for belaying me." 

Topping Out 

Topping out simply means climbing all the way to the top. Always an achievement for any climber. 

Sending It 

Sending it is a celebratory term, meaning you climbed up the whole route without having to take a rest or falling into your belay. We get a little winded just thinking about it.  


A crusher simply means someone who is a great climber. They've crushed it (meaning the climb) many times. Janel is 100% a crusher in our book. No question. 

Scramble style 

Scramble style is in relation to the way the rocks are formed in the rock climber's route. More rocks to hold on to has more of a scramble than a flat, often more difficult climbing surface. It's a bit of an ambiguous term, but typically more scrambles mean less incline or less need to put your hands in holds to climb vertically. 

Natural anchors 

Natural anchors is a reference to using the earth to anchor your ropes as opposed to a manufactured anchor at a climbing gym. As described above, you can use nuts and cams to create natural anchors while rock climbing outdoors. 

We hope these definitions helped you learn a bit more about rock climbing. Watch the episode to see how Chance does on the ropes.

Need more outdoor adventure inspiration? Watch other episodes of Outside Chance.

Special Thanks: Minnesota State Parks

Production Team: Adam Geiger, Ezra Gold, Terry Gray, Luke Heikkila, Ryan Klabunde, Jon Van Amber, Chance York

TPT Logo
©2024 Twin Cities Public Television