Pumped, Beta and Flappers

“Can I bounce some beta off you?”

“Check out this gnarly flapper!”

“My forearms are pretty pumped, man.”

If any of these sentences mean anything to you, you are probably a rock climber.

While at the rock climbing gym with my informant, these phrases were being tossed about, back and forth between climbers.  Like other sports, there is plenty of jargon that is unique to rock climbing.  Although there are many terms that refer to particular types of rock climbing – top-roping, lead-climbing, bouldering – the terms “pumped,” “beta” and “flappers” are examples of more generalized climbing slang.

My informant, a climber who specializes in bouldering – that is, a style of climbing that is done without rope and is limited to relatively short climbs over a “crash pad,” or cushion – explained the meaning of these common rock climbing terms: “Beta’s just tips or information that we tell each other before or during a climb to help solve a route.”  Apparently “beta” can be a good and bad thing with expressions like: “I need some beta” or even, “Quit your fuckin’ beta, man!”  The latter expression is used when a fellow climber offers too much advice, which can get pretty annoying.

My informant then explained the meaning of a “flapper,” which he coincidentally got after a couple hours of climbing.  A flapper is a detached flap on a climber’s fingers, which is caused from a sharp rock, too much friction or prolonged climbing.  When my informant first started climbing, he told me that he had a flapper on each finger within two weeks.  In rock climbing, building and maintaining calluses is important in avoiding these minor, but still painful injuries.

Surprisingly, the word “pumped” in rock climbing has a much different meaning than excited, ready or adrenaline-filled.  Instead, when climbers use the term, it means that they are exhausted or weak from a strenuous climb or a long climbing day.  It is especially common for forearms to be “pumped,” since rock climbing depends on core and arm (particularly forearm over bicep) strength.

The use of these unique terms illustrates the exclusivity of the rock climbing community, basically creating a different language to convey ideas and condense conversation.  My informant explains that “these are super basic expressions, they’re really easy to pick up… If you climb and don’t use these phrases, then you’re not a real climber…”