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What is the origin of the term "pitch"?


Original Post
Pavel Burov · · Russia · Joined May 2013 · Points: 50

Could you please point me at why do you use this word - pitch - for a segment of a long climb in between two belays?

Gunkiemike · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jul 2009 · Points: 2,745

It comes from the days before ROCK climbing, when "climbers" used to get their jollies by climbing large trees. Pine and spruce trees for the most part (they have lots of branches to pull on). The custom of the day was to climb as far as one could until an accumulation of tree sap on one's hands prevented further progress. Then the leader would stop and clean their hands of the accumulated pitch i.e. tree sap, before continuing. Trees like that have a lot of sap so a "pitch" was typically short. Ropes are longer now so pitches are longer.

rocknice2 · · Montreal, Quebec · Joined Nov 2006 · Points: 3,028
Gavin W · · Surrey, BC · Joined Feb 2015 · Points: 183

Gunkiemike is on the right track in that it originally comes from tree climbing. However, the tree climbing style back then involved throwing a rope (as high as possible) over a branch, and then essentially top-roping the tree climb until you were able to get to that branch. Climbers would measure the height of a tree by the number of times that they had to throw, or "pitch", the rope to get to the top of the tree, and would therefore refer to the height of the tree in "pitches".

The story of tree sap is an urban legend, originally started in the early days of SuperTopo.

Pavel Burov · · Russia · Joined May 2013 · Points: 50

Thanks a lot!

This is a great example on "how a stupid question could turn to a cognitive thread" topic. Thanks!

Pavel Burov · · Russia · Joined May 2013 · Points: 50

Just in case. A word on the origin of the topic. Being a kind of "CA climber" I am receiving a lot of questions on the second Dawn Wall Free ascend. The thing is climbing cultures in the U.S. and here in Russia are that different so even climbers cannot fully understand what was happening in Yosemite recently. Today I was asked why they call it "pitch". That awkward moment you have no idea how to answer a seemingly stupid question :)

Muscrat · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Oct 2011 · Points: 3,610

https://lmgtfy.com/?q=define+pitch

or, easier

the steepness of a slope, especially of a roof.
synonyms: gradient, slope, slant, angle, steepness, tilt, incline, inclination
"the pitch of the roof"

amarius · · Nowhere, OK · Joined Feb 2012 · Points: 20
Pavel Burov wrote: Today I was asked why they call it "pitch". That awkward moment you have no idea how to answer a seemingly stupid question :)
Say, what is the equivalent of "pitch" in Russian?
Pavel Burov · · Russia · Joined May 2013 · Points: 50
amarius wrote: Say, what is the equivalent of "pitch" in Russian?
There is no direct equivalent.

Russian climbing culture is very sporty. We enumerate belay stations, not pitches. We count belay stations (goal), not pitches (process).

More or less equivalent to pitch is segment in between two belay stations or belay anchors. There is a word "участок" which could be translated directly as "section", or "piece", or "segment", although it is (almost) always an "участок" in between two belay anchors.

There is another term for pitch in Russian. "Верёвка" - more or less direct equivalent to "rope line". P1 is "1-я верёвка" = "rope line #1", P2 is "2-я верёвка" = "rope line #2", etc. It is very common among climbers respecting process (pitches) more then goals (belay anchors), although this term is rarely used in trip reports or route descriptions.
BigFeet · · Texas · Joined May 2014 · Points: 380

Pavel,

I like the idea of "goal".

I think the "process" becomes more descriptive of what the climb and features you will be presented.

Maybe us goofballs here will turn it into a game... who gets more goals?

Thanks for the knowledge. Interesting topic to get into.

wivanoff · · Northeast, USA · Joined Mar 2012 · Points: 472
amarius wrote: Say, what is the equivalent of "pitch" in Russian?
In Russia, rock makes you it's "pitch"

Serious answer: One definition of "pitch" is a relative point, position, or degree. Which makes sense as you're climbing to multiple points or positions to get up to the top.
rging · · Salt Lake City, Ut · Joined Jul 2011 · Points: 210

Gunkiemike had it right. There are a lot of saps in climbing.

Daniel Affsprung · · New Paltz, NY · Joined Dec 2013 · Points: 65

In german it's just "seillange" : rope length

Pavel Burov · · Russia · Joined May 2013 · Points: 50

Daniel, thanks!

M Sprague · · New England · Joined Nov 2006 · Points: 4,931

I would guess the term came from the British cricket pitch (playing field), which is a narrow strip between two wickets.

David Gibbs · · Ottawa, ON · Joined Aug 2010 · Points: 6

In French it is "longeur" or length (noun usage of length). 1st length, 2nd length and so on.

kenr · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Oct 2010 · Points: 11,674

While European climbers tend to use the word in their language for "length" or "rope length", I think it's better to follow the English / American custom of using a word without implications of length, because
most pitches are less than the full length of a rope.
. . . (perhaps because climbing ropes nowadays are much longer than they used to be).
. . . (or because most climbing routes most popular nowadays are much shorter).

Ken

Hobo Greg · · My Van · Joined Mar 2016 · Points: 145

I've heard that "belay" comes from old sailing days, when a guy had to go out on deck in a storm and would be tied in and belayed by another sailor. True?

rocknice2 · · Montreal, Quebec · Joined Nov 2006 · Points: 3,028
Hobo Greg wrote:I've heard that "belay" comes from old sailing days, when a guy had to go out on deck in a storm and would be tied in and belayed by another sailor. True?
Word Origin and History for belay Expand
v.
from Old English bilecgan, which, among other senses, meant "to lay a thing about" (with other objects), from be- + lecgan "to lay" (see lay (v.)). The only surviving sense is the nautical one of "coil a running rope round a cleat or pin to secure it" (also transferred to mountain-climbing), first attested 1540s; but this is possibly a cognate word, from Dutch beleggen.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
Optimistic · · New Paltz · Joined Aug 2007 · Points: 300
M Sprague wrote:I would guess the term came from the British cricket pitch (playing field), which is a narrow strip between two wickets.
That was what I'd imagined too. Football (aka soccer) and I think rugby are also played on pitches.
Optimistic · · New Paltz · Joined Aug 2007 · Points: 300

Once I put an Italian route description into Google translate, whatever word they use for pitch came through as "shooting".

Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

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