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Canyoneering Terminology

Section 8

A glossary of the words or terminology that are commonly used, said, and made-fun of in Canyoneering. 

I've also added my opinion on some of the words so you don't sound like a complete noob when you are among your fellow canyoneering comrades.

Abseil - A German word that literally means "down rope" ("ab" = down, "seil" = rope).  Non-U.S. folks will use this term to do what people living in the United States call "rappelling".  In other words, it means exactly the same thing as going down the rope.


Anchor - this is what we refer to where your rappel rope will be connecting to, e.g. a tree trunk, a large rock or boulder, a bolted anchor on the wall, or even a "meat anchor" which means using a person(s).  Your rappelling weight (which also means force in this context) will all be held up by this "anchor".  Sometimes you will hear the term "bomber anchor".  It means that the anchor is installed properly and is going to hold a lot of weight/force.  A "marginal" anchor is less than ideal one due to the lack of bolts or natural objects (tress, roots, rocks, sand, and water) in a canyon, or a flat out poorly installed anchor (and location). 


Approach - this is the (hiking) path that you take from the trailhead to reach the literal slot-canyon portion. Some involve a 5 minute hike and others might take you 5 hours (or more) just to reach the canyon itself.

Ascend - to climb UP a rope.  One must use a special system in order to climb a rope, in case you cannot retrieve your rappelling rope.

ATC - a famous descender/rappel device made by Black Diamond.  The better version to use for canyoneering is the ATC-XP as it contains "teeth" which adds another "mode" to add friction while you rappel.  They range between $20-30 and have their pros and cons.  The canyoneering community doesn't suggest using an ATC-XP unless for the shortest of rappels (less than 50 feet) as one cannot add more friction while rappelling, and one cannot lock off the device.  

ATS - a descender/rappel device made by Sterling.  

Belay - a "middle English" word meaning "to beset".  In nautical terms, to "belay that order" means to "stop" or "cancel".  In canyoneering terminology, it means to prevent a rappeller from falling if they lose control of a rappel by not having enough friction (which is a common mishap), getting hit in the head by a rock from up above, or having a medical emergency and they lose grip of the rope. 


There are two types of belays for rappelling: 1) top-rope belay and 2) bottom-rope belay.  The bottom-belay is the most common and is performed by doing a "fireman's belay".  This is performed when the person is falling while on rappel, the "belayer" pulls down very firmly (and quickly!) the rappel rope to the ground.  The mechanic of this is that it makes the rope taught (or tight) and prevents the rappel rope from feeding through the device stopping the out-of-control rappeller from continuing on. Controlling how taught that rappel rope with the rappeller on it is how you would control their descent.   A top-rope belay in canyoneering means to attach a second-rope to them and using another rappel/descender device you would essentially "lower" the rappeller down the precipice.  This can happen if the rappeller is unable (or uncomfortable) with rappelling.  As a caution, please practice belays in a simulated or testing environment before real-world experience.

For additional information on performing a belay: see this article.

Belay Loop - This loop is found on rappelling harnesses and is distinguishable by the off-color one from the other loops.  This is the life-supporting loop where you attach yourself via a carabiner or load-bearing knot to the rappel device or P.A.S (Personal Anchor System) or safety tether.

Belayer - the title of the person performing the bottom-rope belay or top-rope belay.

Bend (rope) - in rope terminology, a "bend" is what is the correct name for when you want to join two ropes together via a knot.  IE - Double Fisherman Bend, Water Bend (if using two different strands of webbing).

Beta - the information that contains that always changing canyon conditions or route information.  "Beta" in software terminology means that the software is changing and not complete.  Or in other words, expect change.  Likewise with canyoneering.  If you read about a report of a group going down having an epic time, you may or may not experience the same thing.  So go in prepared for changing conditions.  Primarily when it comes to water in the canyon.  There could be more or less.  And that could make it easier or harder!  That's why the term "beta" is used.  The information is only accurate as the day it was published.  To be fair though, beta providers do change their information if they hear anything from the community.  But water levels and anchor conditions are the primary changing factors in canyoneering.

Bight (rope) - an "Old English" word with germanic origin meaning "a bend or angle".  In rope terminology, the curved section of the rope that is being tied into a knot. Commonly mistaken as a "loop".

Biner (same as Carabiner) - prnounced "bean-er" and is slang for the full-name of Carabiner.  Canyoneers will use the two words: "biner" and "carabiner" interchangeably.  There is no difference between except, the word "carabiner" has 4 syllables while "biner" has 2 so it's faster to say the latter.

Biner Block - an option of a static-block used for rigging a rappel.  A carabiner is used in conjugation with a hitch knot, such as a clove hitch.  A carabiner that is bigger than the quicklink/rapide is a must.  

Bivvy (same as Bivouac/Bivy) - the English shortened word for Bivouac (pronounced "biv-oo-ack"). A French, low German word - "biwacht" meaning "by guard".  In canyoneering, rock-climbing, or even hiking, to take a bivvy means to take an unplanned or temporary camp.  Sometimes in canyoneering, especially on canyons that involve 8+ hours, it is suggested to "plan for a bivvy", meaning to bring an extremely light sleeping bag and tarp to sleep on in case plans take longer than expected.  Some refer to a "emegency blanket" as a bivvy, and indeed that it is what it is used for.  You can buy more expensive (and more comfortable) as they offer complete protection from the elements and bugs) such as ones made by REI, Outdoor Research, and SOL.  They range from $100 - $250 and that is essentially the "tent", but you would still need to buy the sleeping bag bivy in addition.  You do not need a bivvy for small canyon trips, but anything longer than 8+ hours it may be a good idea to bring one.  Please do more research on bivvy options before buying the first one that you see online.  You do want to carry excessive gear in your canyoneering bag.

Bolt - a man-made anchor that is drilled into rock.  The two most common types of bolt types are "glue-ins" and "expansion".  Just remember this safety note, just because you see a bolt in the rock doesn't mean that it is readily safe and usable. Remember to check every anchor, every trip, every time.  If there is movement into the bolt when pulled on, DO NOT use it.  Reevaluate anchor situation at that location and proceed.  This is why we stress in that every canyoneer should bring 30+ft of webbing with them to every canyon.

Bridging - this is a "canyon sequencing" technique used to traverse a slot canyon.  See Section 28 - "Moving (Sequencing) in a Slot Canyon.  One would place both hands on one wall of the canyon and their feet on the opposite and you would move by moving perpendicular to the canyon one appendage at a time. - a word that combines "condition" and "canyon" together in a memorable name.  A free website that is crowd-sourced that allows canyoneers to post "conditions" on their recent canyon trip.  They are brief reports on water and anchor conditions, and anything out of the ordinary to report so that anyone can get relevant information for trip planning.  However, canyons can dry out quickly, anchors can be changed (or removed) with each passing party, or storms can pass and quickly refill the canyon water found in the canyon.  Caution is highly recommended that you do not take each Candition as your expectation.  That is unwise and potentially dangerous.  It is to be used to help assist or aid in canyon planning/research so that one can be aware of new hazards or issues that are found within the canyon.

Carabiner - the german word: Karabiner, which is short for Karabinerhaken which literally means "carabineer's hook".  A carabineer is a French word for a type of soldier that used a small-like rifle called a carbine to be used on horseback or not.  The men who carried these were called "carabineers".  These carbine rifles needed a way that was easy to carry into the battle-field and so a metal loop was designed to be attached to it.  That was the first iteration of what we modernly call the "carabiner". The slang word derivative of the word is "biner" (see above).  

In canyoneering, this is our common-tool that allows us to connect ropes and gear to our harnesses, and can allow us to tie rope hitches, and allows us to rig a rappel using a static-block (for use with a clove hitch).

See for the History of the Carabiner.

Chimneying - this is a "canyon sequencing" technique used to traverse a slot canyon.  See Section 28 - "Moving (Sequencing) in a Slot Canyon.  In this technique, one places their hands against one wall and their back (or rear end) against the opposite wall.  Rather than rappelling, one could "chimney" down a particular section using this method.

Colorado Plateau - in simplistic terms, a very large desert plateau that extends from parts of Utah, Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico.  In Utah alone, there are over 650 documented slot canyons. In fact, some canyon obsessed folks, even relocate to Utah strictly for the canyoneering aspect alone!  See for more information on the Colorado Plateau.

Contingency - 



Descender Device (same as "rappel device") - 

Double Strand -

DRT (Double-Rope Technique)

Down-climb - a technique used in order to descend (or overcome) an obstacle in the canyon, that does NOT involve rappelling.  Some people can down-climb sections in the canyon that others rappel.  That comes from experience and skill-level. Just because you see bolts in a canyon, doesn't necessarily mean that you have to use them - especially for short rappelling canyons.  See Section 28 - Moving (Sequencing) Through a Slot Canyon,  for more information and pictures.


Egress (see "Ingress" for opposite) - 

EDK (European Death Knot)

Fireman Belay - see "belay" for additional information.  This bottom-belay is the most common and can be performed by most able-body people.  This is performed when the person is falling while on rappel, the "belayer" pulls down very firmly (and quickly!) the rappel rope to the ground.  The mechanic of this is that it makes the rope taught (or tight) and prevents the rappel rope from feeding through the device stopping the out-of-control rappeller from continuing on. Controlling how taught that rappel rope with the rappeller on it is how you would control their speed.

First-descent - this is a sought-after title within the Canyoneering Community.  In my experience, it's more of an self-serving ego boost than anything else.  Still, it just goes to show you that canyons are still discovered/uncovered in this day and age.

Free Rappel (also called "Free Hang") - 




Hand-line - this is a "canyon sequencing" technique used to traverse a slot canyon.  See Section 28 - "Moving (Sequencing) in a Slot Canyon.   Used at short rappels (less than 10-feet in height), an option of using a handline may be suggested. Rather than putting on a harness and rappelling the short distance, one could hold onto the rope as tight as they can, and slowly slide down the rope or do a hand-over-hand descent on it.  The caution is that they are not roped in, so the consequences are that they would fall if a slip was to happen.  Sometimes a hand-line is used in areas where a person is down-climbing or up-climbing an obstacle and just need something to hold onto while they navigate the obstacle.  Also, not everyone has the arm/muscle strength for a hand-line and have witnessed a few friends struggling and even slipping while using a handline.  



Hitch (rope)

Ingress (see "Egress" for opposite) - 

Keeper Pothole

kN (kiloNewton)

LDC (Left Down Canyon)

LUC (Left Up Canyon) -

Loop (rope)


Partner Assist - this is a "canyon sequencing" technique used to traverse a slot canyon.  See Section 28 - "Moving (Sequencing) in a Slot Canyon.   There are numerous techniques to bypass or overcome obstacles in a canyon, but anything that requires a second (or third or fourth) person, such as you stepping into their hands or on their shoulders would be classified as a "partner assist".

PAS (Personal Anchor System) - same meaning as Safety Tether.







Rappel Device (same as "descender device") - 


RDC - An abbreviation for "Right, Down Canyon".  This is important when explaining to others route information or obstacles to over-come.  IE "There is an anchor LDC about 10-feet away from edge on the 1st rap".

RUC - An abbreviation for "Right, Up Canyon".  This is important when explaining to others route information or obstacles to over-come.  IE "If you can't proceed through the tight-slot section below,you will need to backtrack 100 yards and there is an egress (exit) point RUC right there, up the sandstone fin."

"Rich"/Rich Carlson

"Rig Releaseable"



Safety Tether


"Send it" - a said expression that I loathe hearing when canyoneering.  It originates from skiers and mountain-bikers when they were about to drop over the edge or about to do something "epic BRO!".  In canyoneering, it's quite anticlimactic when you hear this phrase when someone is about to rappel and then takes 30 seconds for them to transition over the edge.  In canyoneering, it's said in jest.

"Send it, Bro!" - a derivative of the above, but with the added word-enhancer "Bro!".  Even said to women.

Sequencing - how one traverses through a slot canyon.  Methods include: walking, stemming, hand-lining, rappelling, chimneying, down-climbing, up-climbing, bridging, and using partner-assist techniques. See Section 28 for pictures of these methods.

Shane - founder of the beta website, which is known for the paid subscription for specific beta called the "Circle of Friends". One of the first online U.S. beta websites.


SRT (Single-Rope Technique)

Stemming - this is a "canyon sequencing" technique used to traverse a slot canyon.  See Section 28 - "Moving (Sequencing) in a Slot Canyon.  In this technique, one places one hand and one foot on one side of the canyon wall, and the other hand and foot on the opposite wall.  The one would move up or down-canyon in a forward direction by alternating move and feet movements in order to make forward progress.

Tom Jones - known as the "emperor" of Canyoneering. Founder of 'Imlay Canyon Gear'. Founder of  Frequents and commenting on all things Canyoneering.  

Toss N' Go

Up-Climb - a technique used in order to ascend (or overcome) an obstacle in the canyon.  This is not too common in canyoneering as down-climbing is much more frequent, but sometimes in canyons, there are rock falls or oddly-placed logjams that require you to climb up.  Some canyons, such as "Sandthrax" has a certain 5.9 off-width climb up!  That obstacle takes serious effort! See Section 28 - "Moving (Sequencing) in a Slot Canyon.




Working end (rope)

Zion - the CORRECT name for Zion National Park.  NOT Zions National Park.  (Notice the difference?)

Zions - Typically this is said by ignorant Utahns who refer to Zion National Park as "Zions".  They may say "hey, are you guys going down to "Zions" this weekend?  While it makes my eyes twitch when I hear a Utahn (who SHOULD know better) say it that way...this is what they are referring to.  (It would be similar to someone saying "Hey are you going to San Diegos? or New York Cities? or Moabs? or Canadas? etc.)  The confusion comes from a national bank headquartered in Utah called "Zions Bank". 


In the inner circles and while its extremely fun to make fun of sport culture, among my friends we will say to each other "Hey man, I'm going to down to Zionz National Bank Park this weekend - any one else wanna come?" Or "I'm going to Moabs for some rappelling".  We get a kick out of it.  I mean kicks.



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