Enrich Your Hiking Lexicon With These 30 Little Known Terms

Don’t know your karst from your krummholz? Do you think holloway is used solely as a surname? Able to walk the walk but have no idea how to talk the talk? An ability to read the land and a basic understanding of trail conditions can be the difference between embarking on a hard slog and pure bliss.  Brush up on your hiking and camping terms with this short glossary.

  1. ABC – Advance Base Camp. A lesser-equipped, less-comfortable camp serving as a launch pad higher on a mountain.
  2. Abseiling – also known as “roping down.” A method of retreat, or for inspecting a climbing route.
  3. Adz – ax-like tool used by trail maintenance to hack at stuff. Good for shaping wood in a trailish manner.
  4. AMS – Acute Mountain Sickness. Occurs at high altitude due to diminished oxygen. Begins with shortness of breath, followed by swelling, flu-like symptoms, and eventually, death. Most people won’t experience symptoms until they reach heights well above 10,000 feet. Varies with the individual.
  5. Bergshrund – A crevasse that separates the upper portion of a glacier from the mountain it backs into.
  6. Bivouac — a temporary or makeshift shelter meant to protect hikers from inclement weather.
  7. Black-Blazer – Someone — usually a disgruntled townie — who paints over or otherwise removes trail markers to prevent hikers from finding the trail.
  8. Blue-Blazer – Term used by “thru-hikers” to describe those who will use shortcuts, connector trails, alternative trails, etc. periodically for a change of pace or break from monotony.
  9. Bushwhacking – Going off the trail, in the interest of taking a shortcut, creating a trail, looking for a rumored location, etc. Hikers usually begin their worst war stories with “We were bushwhacking and then…”
  10. Cairn — a man-made pile of stones used as a navigational aide in locations with little to no vegetation.
  11. Cat Hole — a 6- to 8-inch-deep hole to poop into, dug off-trail and out of sight, at least 50 yards from the nearest water source.
  12. Cirque – a group of mountains that forms a circle.
  13. Death March – unusually long, not very interesting hike. Term often applied when forced to take a dull trail to reach the one you really want to be on.
  14. Flip-flopper – Mostly used with the Appalachian Trail. Describes a thru-hiker who realizes he won’t finish before it snows up North, gets a ride to Katahdin and hikes back to where he left off.
  15. Ghost-Blazing – The art of following a section of trail that is no longer used. When a trail is “re-routed,” usually the old blazes are blackened out.
  16. Glonk – a clueless idiot who doesn’t realize that uphill hikers have the right of way on a trail, and just bulldozes down.
  17. GORP — “Good Old Raisins and Peanuts” is snack food designed to boost stamina and maintain energy levels while hiking, composed of dried fruits and nuts.
  18. Karst — refers to limestone landscapes marked by bluffs, caverns and escarpments established by the dissolution of slightly acidic water coursing over soluble bedrock.
  19. Krummholz — bent, stunted trees found in mountainous and arctic regions, twisted by steady winds and short growing seasons.
  20. MUDS – mindless up and downs. Where the trail goes up and back down for no reason other than the amusement of whomever laid out the trail. Very aggravating. Usually occurs when some control freak at a local trail council is realigning a major trail, and wishes to put his or her mark on the route, or is trying to increase the amount of mileage under their control.
  21. Notch – A New England word for pass.
  22. Rimrocked – Climbing up to a spot from which you are surprisingly too frightened to descend. This term is most frequently applied in slickrock country; many climbers find it easy to scramble up the ladder-like layers…but going down can be quite unnerving. When one becomes so unnerved that they are stuck, they are “rimrocked.”
  23. Stumblees – Also “Stumblebees.” Climbers who pay big bucks for guides to lead them to the summit. Stumblees would otherwise be unable to make it.
  24. Switchback — an established hiking trail that zigzags across steep terrain.
  25. Talus Slope – Loose jumbled rocks with poor or dangerous footing on the side of a mountain. A slope covered with small individual rocks. Allegedly, talus is larger than scree. We’ve yet to find anyone who can positively define the difference.
  26. Tomatoed-Out – phrase coined in the 1960s to describe a climber who has inadvertently free-fallen a great distance off a mountain. (Actually, it refers to the grisly impact at the bottom.)
  27. Treeing – the practice of hanging food up off a tree branch so that a bear can’t get to it. But usually they can, if they really want to.
  28. Understory — refers to vegetation (ferns, shrubs, saplings) growing beneath the forest canopy.
  29. Yogi-ing — the friendly art of letting hikers and other park visitors offer food or other forms of assistance without asking them directly for it (otherwise it’s called begging).
  30. Yo-yo – describes the concept whereby a thru-hiker gets to the end…and then turns around and hikes back to the beginning.

For a much extended lexicon, visit the following links:

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