Access Points Designated locations in developed areas, such as cities and towns, where trails leading into the wilderness areas can be accessed. Trailheads are in access points.
Alpenglow The orange-pink color seen on mountain sides at sunrise and sunset.
Alpine Areas high in the mountains above tree line. Usually above 10,000 feet.
Ascent To climb upward, usually toward a peak or summit.
Aspect The direction a hillside or mountain is facing. This is significant because a trail’s aspect will affect temperature, moisture quantities, and subsequently, vegetation growth. For example, because north and east facing slopes receive less direct sunlight, snow melts slower making the hiking season shorter. More moisture leads to healthier vegatation, such as good conifer growth – which you will appreciate in the heat of the summer. On the other hand, south and west facing slopes receive more direct sunlight, so snow melts faster (longer hiking season). These slopes tend to be drier with sparse vegetation, which you will definately notice in the heat of the summer.
Backcountry Area where there are no maintained roads or permanent buildings, only primitive roads and trails.
Backpacking A hike extending to more than one day. Additional equipment and supplies are necessary when overnight hiking is expected (food, shelter, clothing, etc.).
Bagging a Peak Reaching the summit of a mountain.
Bearing The direction you travel when using a compass for navigation.
Beta or Trail Beta Information gathered about a trail or geographical area through various methods, such as the internet or friends.
Bite Valve Small valve at the end of the hose of a hydration bag that allows water to flow when flexed in a certain direction.
Bivouac (Bivy) An overnight stay with little or no shelter.
Bushwhacking Off trail travel; at times fighting your way through undergrowth. It’s quite a bit more time consuming than following an established trail.
Cache A supply of food, tools, etc., usually buried or hidden.
Cairn Rock piles used to show which way to travel, especially useful on high granite mountains where trails cannot be established.
Cascade Fast moving water that descends rapidly, but does not leave the ground. If it did, it would be a waterfall.
Cirque A glacially eroded basin shaped like half a bowl.
Col A pass between two mountain peaks or a gap in a ridge, usually saddle shaped.
Compass A navigational device used in conjunction with a map to determine desired direction of travel.
Contour Lines Lines on a topographical map indicating elevation.
Crest A high point along a trail
Day Pack Smaller backpack used for day hikes to carry food, water, etc. 800 to 2500 cubic inches is normal, depending on the amount of required supplies.
Day hiker Someone who hikes without the intention of staying on the trail overnight (at which point, you would be called a backpacker).
Declination Used when following maps with a compass or GPS. It’s the difference between true north and magnetic north.
Descent To climb downward, usually toward the car after reaching a summit.
Ecosystem A system formed by the interaction of living organisms with their environment.
Exposure Trail sections with a big drop-off on either side, where a fall could cause serious injury or death. Avoid hikes with exposure if you have a fear of heights.
False Summit A peak that appears to be a summit, but is rather a crest on the way to a further summit.
Flat If ‘Flat’ is in the name of a geographical location, it’s a meadow.
Flume A narrow gorge, usually with a stream flowing through it. Acts as a chute to carry water quickly down-slope.
GORP “Good Ol’ Raisins and Peanuts”. A trail snack made with fruit, nuts, chocolate, etc.
GPS Global Positioning System. A navigational device that uses satellites to pinpoint one’s exact location. It has nearly replaced the map & compass as the main source of location information.
Gaiters A nylon, cloth or sometimes leather covering that extends from the soles of boots to anywhere from the ankle to the knee, designed to prevent debris from entering the boot.
Giardia lamblia Protozoan occurring in backcountry water sources that causes an intestinal illness. Usually found downstream of areas where wild and domesticated animals hang out (their feces is the source of Giardia)
Glissade A fun way to descend snow-covered slopes. Glissading is the act of sliding down a snowfield on your feet or butt.
Gore Tex® A product of the W. L. Gore™ company, Gore Tex® is a waterproofing material and method that is used on a variety of nylon products. It keeps your feet dry but makes the boot less breathable, and thus warmer.
Grade (or slope) The steepness of a hill or mountain, calculated as ‘rise over run’. Ex. if a hill climbs 25 feet vertical over a 100 foot horizontal distance, the grade/slope is 25%
Gulch Another name for a steep canyon.
Hamongog A mountain meadow. The name is derived from a reference in the bible meaning “Valley of the multitudes of Gog”.
Habitat An area that supports a plant or animal population because it supplies that organism’s basic requirements of food, water, shelter, living space, and security.
Hero call The phone call you make to friends and family after you’ve reached a peak, to let them know how great you are (er, I mean to let them know of your accomplishment).
Hike A walk you take in non-civilized areas.
Hydration bag (or bladder bag) A pliable container that usually has a tube and valve attached from which one can drink without the need to take water out of your pack.
Insole The “padding” in a boot on which your foot rests. Provides cushioning and moisture absorption.
Junction Site where one trail meets another.
Kiester Your rear end. Your butt. Your tush. If you haven’t got it by now, never mind.
Knob A rounded crest, usually with some sort of views.
Krumholz Trees growing in dense, twisted, spreading masses near the tree line.
Leave No Trace (LNT) Educational program designed to instill behaviors in the outdoors that leave minimum impact of human activities.
Moraine A ridge or pile of boulders, stones, and other debris carried along and deposited by a glacier.
Nature Calls When one needs to urgently find a makeshift restroom outdoors.
Notch Similar to a col, a notch is a “V” shaped pass between two high points.
Orienteering Using a map and compass to navigate between points along an unfamiliar course.
Outcrop A rock formation that protrudes through the level of the surrounding soil.
Outsole The “tread” of your boot; the hard rubber bottom that is cemented to the rest of the boot to give you traction.
Peak bagger A person who strives to continuously hike the summits of various mountains.
Post Holing While hiking, punching through soft terrain, such as snow or very loose earth, usually with each step or with hiking poles.
Potable Water Safe to drink from source without treating.
Quad Slang for the Quadrangle maps that the US Geological Survey produces in topographical form.
Ravine Deep, narrow gouge in the Earth’s surface, usually eroded by the flow of water.
Rock Band A horizontal strip of outcropped rock you usually have to navigate around. Not something you listen to.
Route finding An off-trail hike in which you search for good routes to get to a location. See Bushwhacking.
Runoff When rain falls on saturated or extremely dense earth and cannot be absorbed, it flows off the area in which it fell.
Saddle A curved depression between two higher points in a geography, usually shaped like a horse’s saddle, hence the name.
Scrambling A hike that requires you to use your hands on rock for balance or security. A hike with scrambling is by definition non-technical – a class 3 hike.
Scree (or Talus) An accumulation of loose stones or rocky debris lying on a slope or at the base
Slope (or grade) The steepness of a hill or mountain, calculated as ‘rise over run’. Ex. if a hill climbs 25 feet vertical over a 100 foot horizontal distance, the grade/slope is 25%
Summit The high point in a geographical area. A point from which you make ‘Hero Calls’
Switchback A trail that travels diagonally and turns back on itself in order to allow progression up a steep section of a mountain. In addition to making it easier to climb, switchbacks are also instrumental in preventing erosion.
Talus (or scree) A sloping mass of rock debris at the base of a cliff or precipice.
Tarn A small mountain pond or lake, often created by glacial movement.
Thinsulate® A thin, synthetic insulating material produced by 3M to provide superior warmth without added bulk to a variety of clothing including boots, jackets, hats, etc.
Topographical map A map showing the shape and elevation of the Earth’s surface through contour lines. Also has representations of streets, buildings, streams, woods, etc.
Trail Runner Someone who runs up and down trails, as opposed to hikers who just walk.
Trailhead (TH) An access point to a trails into wilderness areas.
Traverse To pass along or go across something. In hiking, you traverse mountain, hillsides or a river
Trekking poles Similar to ski poles; they are used to assist with balance, endurance and leg muscle relief.
Yosemite Decimal System and Sierra Club System
Class 1 – Mountain hiking, along a trail or easy off-trail travel. Generally hands are not needed.
Class 2 – Hiking over rough ground such as scree and talus.
Class 3 – Scrambling that requires the use of hands for balance and careful foot placement.
Class 4 – Scrambling that requires the use of hands to make upward progress. A rope may be necessary.
Class 5.0-5.10 – Technical climbing. Rope and climbing hardware are usually used to protect against a serious fall.