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17-08-2023 | Frank Jansen & Marcel van Herten

The XL climbing dictionary

Col or pas? Mountain or slope? CycloWorld listed the most common terminology in climbing. 

  • Alm. Used in Bavaria for a meadow in the Alpes. Used primarily in Austria to name climbs, such as the Unterstaller Alm. Sometimes even in Italy: Rodenecker Alm.
  • Alpe. Obviously refers the mountain range of the Alpes. Used in France ( Alpe d'Huez) and Italy (for example the Alpe di Rodengo).
  • Alto. Height. Many climbs in Spain start with alto, like the Alto de Angliru. Sometimes abbreviated to 'Alt'.
  • Ballon. Used to name mountains in the Vosges area. Obviously based on the inflatable variant. The Grand Ballon, Ballon de Servance and the Petit Ballon are a few examples.
  • Barranco. Spanish for a narrow, quite deep canyon. Also see: gorges. 
  • Berg. Dutch for mountain. The Netherlands don't have many hills, and therefore not many words to describe them. By far the most climbs are called mountains. The Keuteberg and the Amerongse Berg are two examples. Also used a lot in Flanders, for example the Paterberg and the Bosberg. But mountain is also used in German-speaking countries, although it is usually after the name, for example the Bamberg in Switzerland.
  • Bocca. Italian for mouth, derived from Latin bucca. Used mainly in Volcanic climbs.
  • Capo. Means boss, chef, but is used in the area of Lugiria (Italy) to refer to hills. The Capo di Valle is an example. Nice to know: the Poggio di Sanremo is also a Capo. See also: Poggio. 
  • Campo. Italian for field.
  • Cerro (fully 'el cerro', Spanish: The hill. Used widely in Central America, mostly volcanic. Often not climbable with a road bike.
  • Champ. French for field.
  • Cima. Literally summit in Italian (singular) Summits in Italian (plural). Like the Cima Campo from the Sportful Dolomiti Race. See also: Cime.
  • Cime. Literally summit in French (singular) and summits in Italian (plural). Famous examples: Cime de la Bonette and the Tre Cime di Lavaredo (Italy). The Cime de la Bonette lies higher than the col, so cannot be named as such.
  • Col. The French term for pass. There are several definitions of this. According to the official French definition, it is "the highest point of the road, situated between two higher mountain peaks. According to that definition, you should be able to drive down on both sides of the col, and walk up from the road on two sides."
  • Colle. A col in Italian. Comes originally from Latin (collis). The partly unpaved Colle del Sommeiller, one of the highest in Europe, is a very famous one.
  • Collada / collado. Spanish for hill. 
  • Collina. Small hill (Italian). 
  • Côte. A slope in French. A well-know example is of course the Côte de la Redoute. 
  • Corniche. A road along a gorge, coast or shore (French). The most famous are the Corniche Supérieure (near Nice) and Corniche Sublime on the south side of the Gorges du Verdon.
  • Crête. Literally means ridge in French. A well-known example is the Crête de Chatillon, also called Semnoz. 
  • Crêtes. Plural of crête. Often used in a Routes des Crêtes, connecting several mountain peaks in an area (for example, in the Vosges, Cévennes or north side of Gorges du Verdon).
  • Dries. Flemish for meadow, sometimes used to refer to a climb, like de Berendries.
  • Forca, forcella. Italian for fork. We encounter the Forcas a lot in the Apennines where they indicated a pass (the fork in the mountain, i.e. the lowest part, similar to Sattel or Col). Well-known examples are the Forca di Gualdo, Forca Canapine and Forca di Presta which are the entrance to the Piano Grande plateau in the Parco Nazionale dei Monti Sibillini.
  • Gorge. French for canyon. Well-know examples are the Gorges de la Nesques and the Gorges du Verdon.
  • Hill. English for ... hill :)
  • Hoch. German for high. Mainly used on the beginning of a name: Hochsölden of Hochtor.
  • Höhe. German for height or plateau. See Alto. Well-known example is the Pillerhöhe in Austria.
  • Horn. Literally horn in German, refers to the shape of the upper part of the mountain. The Matterhorn is a well-known non-ridable example. You can cycle up the terrible Kitzbühler Horn, though, provided you are well trained.
  • Joch. Literally "yoke". Term used mainly in German-speaking areas, mainly Tyrol (Austria), South Tyrol (Italy) but also in Switzerland. 'Joch' usually refers only to the highest point of the transition. In the Italian South Tyrol you often see both the Italian and the German-language version, for example: Passo Gardena / Grodner Joch. See also Pass and Passo.
  • Lac. French for lake. Not infrequently, climbs are named after lakes.
  • Lago. Spanish for lake, see Lac. The most famous is Lagos de Covadonga.
  • Lake. English for lake, see Lac.
  • Mirador. Spanish for vantage point. 
  • Mauer. Literally wall in German, see Mur. A well-known example close to home is the terribly steep Widdauer Mauer, in the northern Eifel.
  • Mont. French for mountain. Mont Blanc or Mont Bouquet.
  • Monte. Italian for mountain. The steep Monte Zoncolan, or the legendary Monte Grappa are well-known examples.
  • Montée. Literally ascent in French.
  • Mur. A wall in French. Usually a short steep slope. The Mur de Bretagne is one that is regularly in the Tour, and therefore has some notoriety. Also in Wallonia: Mur de Huy.
  • Pass. According to Wikipedia, a pass over is "'in a mathematical sense, a saddle point in the earth's surface. On a mountain ridge it is the lowest point, therefore a mountain pass is the ideal place to get to the other side of the mountain. Nevertheless, it is a high point for the traveler; he must climb to reach the pass". However, other definitions are also used such as: "the passage from one valley to another".
  • Paso. Spanish spelling of pass. For example, the Paso de Tauro in Gran Canaria.
  • Pass. German and English spelling of pass, i.e. with two s's. In German and English, after the name (Fernpass, Hardknot Pass), sometimes before it (Pass Umbrail).
  • Passo. The Italian equivalent of pass, e.g. e Passo Giau.
  • Peña. Spanish for rock or cliff, also often used to refer to climbs.
  • Pic. Literally summit or peak. The Pic du Midi, which lies above the Tourmalet, is one of the most famous in France. You can MTB up here if you like a challange.
  • Pico. The Spanish equivalent of the French 'pic'. Sometimes called 'picón', like the Picón Blanco that was in the Vuelta in 2021 and also often in the Tour of Burgos.
  • Point. English for spot. Usually refers to a vantage point, see also mirador.
  • Poggio. Literally "little hill" (Italian). We know this term from the Poggio San Remo, from the cycling race of the same name. 
  • Port. Literally port (or harbor), but is also used to denote a mountain pass, both in France and Spain. Examples: Port de Pailheres and the Port de Balès.
  • Puig. The literal Catalan translation for hill. The best known is the Puig Major on the (Catalan) cycling paradise of Mallorca.
  • Puy. Only used in Auvergne, France. It refers to an old volcanic crater, of which the Puy de Dôme is the most famous.
  • Puerto. Spanish, see port. Example: Puerto de Izaña.
  • Salida / Salita. Sometimes climbs have no designation such as Pas or Col de X. In Italy (Salita) and Spain (Salida) these terms are then often used. It means "climb" or "way up.
  • Sattel. Literally saddle. It refers to the shape of the terrain: it is a wide, relatively shallow valley between two mountain ranges or hills that can be conquered on a pass road or whose highest point can be a yoke. A well-known example is the Kühtai Sattel, the 1st climb in the Ötztaler Radmarathon.
  • See. German for lake. See Lac.
  • Spitze. German for summit. Famous example is the 2,571m high Edelweißspitze, a branch of the Großglockner Hochalpenstraße with views of more than thirty 3000m+ mountain peaks in the area.
  • Sommet. French for summit.
  • Summit. English for ... summit :)
  • Thier. Corruption of the French word 'therthe', meaning little hill or mound. You will only find this in the Ardennes (such as the Thier de Coo and the Thier de Huy). 

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