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A Glossary of Hiking Terms

alpine zone The area above treeline.
aiguille [Fr: "needle"] A tall, narrow spire of rock.
arete [Fr.: "fish-bone"] 1. A sharp ridge. 2. (rock-climbing): a vertical corner in a rock face (sometimes useful as a handhold).
arrest see self-arrest
ascender A device for climbing a rope.
A.T. The Appalachian Trail. [external link]
bare-boot To hike (especially in winter) without use of crampons, showshoes, skis, or other traction aids.
belay [Old Eng. belagen] 1. to hold one end of a rope, so as to prevent a climber tied to the other end from falling. 2. (obsolescent) To coil or fasten a rope.
backcountry camping Camping without making use of tentsites previously designated by the landowner. Permitted, with many restrictions, in some parks.
bergschrund [German, "hill gap"] A gap or crevasse at the edge of a glacier.
'biner short for carabiner
bivouac [probably from Ger. beiwacht, "additional [night] watch", via Fr.] 1. any temporary encampment 2. an encampment without tents. 3. a temporary or ad-hoc shelter. Can be used as a verb in all three senses.
bivy short for bivouac
blaze [ 17th C English; possibly from Germanic or Scandinavian roots meaning "white" or "shining", probably via 17th C use of "blaze" to designate a white spot on an animal's face.] 1. noun: A mark used to identify a trail, eg a spot of paint on a tree or rock. Originally, a mark made by removing bark from a tree. 2. verb: To scout and mark a new trail.
book time An estimate of the time required to hike a trail, as reported in the Appalachian Mountain Club's White Mountain Guide.
bushwhack [from "bushwhacker", 19th C. Eng. for "woodsman" or "guerrillero"] To hike off-trail, especially through underbrush. Carries a negative connotation.
break trail verb: in winter, to hike in the lead position, forcing one's way through untrammelled snow. It is far easier to walk in the tracks of someone else who has already "broken" the trail.
cairn [Celtic] A pile of stones, used to mark a trail. Easier to spot in fog and snow than a blaze would be.
camp [Lat. campus, "field"] verb: To spend the night in a temporary shelter, eg a tent or lean-to.
car-camp verb: To camp in a tentsite located beside an automobile. Permits one to use tents (not to mention coolers, barbecue grills, televisions, etc) one couldn't carry on one's back. Cf. walk-in camping, backcountry camping
carabiner [Ger. karabiner-haken, "spring hook"] A metal ring having a latch ("gate"), used for attaching a rope to a harness or to a piton or other pro.
chimney A gap between two vertical faces of rock or ice.
col [Fr., from L. "neck"] 1. A high pass. 2. A ridge between two higher peaks.
cordelette [Fr.] A small rope.
crampon [Fr., from a German root meaning "hook"] A set of metal spikes to be strapped to one's boot, to prevent slipping on ice.
duck A small cairn constructed to have a "beak" pointing in the direction of the route. Rare in New England (we have trails) but popular out West. example
drumlin [Gaelic "ridge"] A hill formed from glacial debris.
gendarme [Fr. "man-at-arms"] A steep-sided rock formation along a ridge (metaphorically "guarding" the summit).
GPS Global Positioning System. A satellite-based radio navigation system sponsored by the US military. Handheld receivers are sometimes used by hikers.
highpoint The point of highest elevation in a given area, eg country, state, county. "Highpointing" is the sport of hiking (or driving) to as many highpoints as possible. (see T. Martin's highpointing page) Cf. peak-bagging.
krummholz [Ger: "twisted wood"] The dwarfish, bonsai-esque trees that grow at the treeline.
lean-to A shelter consisting of a roof and at most three walls.
moraine [Savoyard French] A mound or ridge of rock, dirt, or sand deposited by the edge of a glacier.
needle A pointed spire of rock.
notch A New England word for pass.
orienteering The art of navigation using map and compass. Sometimes engaged in as a competitive sport. See NEOC website
pass Relatively low point on a ridge or in a mountain chain, allowing travel from one valley to another.
peak A point higher than all adjacent points. Compare summit. Note: A stricter definition is used by peak baggers in New England.
peak bagging The sport of hiking as many noteworthy peaks as possible. See Mohamed Ellozy's peak bagging page.
piton [Fr.] A metal spike designed to be hammered into rock (or screwed into ice), with a loop for passing a rope through. Prohibited in most places in the East, because they permanently alter the rock. (Different rules apply for ice climbing.)
post-hole The hole left behind when your foot sinks into deep snow. Post-holes are an annoyance if they disturb a crust that would otherwise support skis or snow-shoes, and a hazard if they freeze solid, which sometimes breeds resentment between those who are quick to put on their skis or snow-shoes and those who prefer to bare-boot. Often used as a verb.
pro [short for "protection"] Any device, such as a piton, loop, wedge, or cam, for anchoring a rope.
prominence [Latin: "forward projection"] 1. The quality of rising above or projecting beyond one's neighbors. 2. A peak or outcrop. 3. A measure of how far a peak rises above its neighbors: the minimum vertical distance one must descend in order to travel (on the ground) from a peak to any higher peak.
rappel [Fr. “call back”] To slide down a rope. Those who value their skin (literally) make use of a harness and some sort of friction device.
scree [Norse "skridha", landslide] Small loose stones covering a slope. example
self-arrest The act of halting one's own descent, as when sliding downslope. Not as easy as it sounds.
summit [L. summus, "highest", via Fr.] The highest point of a mountain. A single mountain can have multiple peaks, but only one summit.
talus [Fr. "earthen wall"] A sloping jumble of boulders at the base of a cliff. example
tent [L. tendere, "to stretch"] A temporary shelter consisting of cloth and supported by least one pole or hoop. Cf. bivouac, lean-to
tentsite A location for pitching a tent.
treeline or timberline Loosely speaking, the elevation above which trees won't grow. For purposes of restrictions on camping, fires, etc in the White Mountain National Forest, the elevation above which trees are no more than eight feet tall.
walk-in camping Camping at site that can only be reached on foot. Compare car camping.

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