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Ball-Nuts?


Original Post
Donavon Hursh · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Apr 2018 · Points: 0

Just saw a photo on weigh my rack (papa bless) and there was some active pro that looked pretty wack. Ball-Nuts? What are they, how are they, how are you? Hydrated I hope. Godspeed my dudes.

Parker Kempf · · Bellingham, WA · Joined Jul 2011 · Points: 210
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=68CLGUZ4E8s

I have the 3 smallest sizes for when clean aid gets extra tricky.

they are almost 100% worthless if there is any flare to the placement at all

if you fall on/bounce test them you better have a hammer and a nut tool to get them back out (punch the slide back in the opposite of the direction it was placed/weighted)

very specialized. i personally wont carry mine or bring them on anything except a wall that might require weird C3+ or other shenanigans

hot tip: the blue ballnut (smallest one) has a 7kn rating and is roughly the size of a standard cam hook....(or a #1 arrow if you are into that kind of thing)
Healyje · · PDX · Joined Jan 2006 · Points: 456
Ryan Hamilton · · Orem · Joined Aug 2011 · Points: 5

Agreed with Parker. I only use the 3 smallest and then only for aid climbing. I supposed if I were climbing a route that I knew was run-out except for a really thin seam then I would bring the ball nuts so I'd have at least some protection, but that doesn't happen very often. 

rgold · · Poughkeepsie, NY · Joined Feb 2008 · Points: 526

Joe is one of the masters, I've requoted his piece over and over again.

Ballnuts have their uses; I've done a bunch of climbs that would have far worse protection, and even no protection, without them.  Like all small gear, you try to get in a cluster (ballnuts plus brassies) in a relatively small region in the hopes that something will hold.  When I carry them, I usually bring two of the smallest size and two of the next size up.  I've only taken very short falls on them, but they did the trick when they had to.  Never had any serious trouble getting them out, and never had a hammer to do it with, but stories about stuck ballnuts are legion.  In addition to the basic strategy of trying to push the paddle in while triggering the ball,  I've found back-and-forth rotation often loosens what appears at first to be a thoroughly jammed placement.  (This has implications for slinging the pro---you really don't want rope action to rotate a ballnut.)

In my experience, ballnuts will accomodate a slight flare if the crack is very uniform and all parts of the ballnut have maximal contact.  The ball can rotate and align its flat surface with a crack wall that does not have to be parallel to the other crack wall. But most of the time you're looking for some crack features that will enhance security.

Healyje · · PDX · Joined Jan 2006 · Points: 456

Conversely, I only use them for free climbing and have fallen on them multiple times with the #3 holding six 25-30' falls in a row and still came right without the slightest problem, but there is a learning curve. Rich has some great advice here:

rgold wrote:

Ballnuts have their uses; I've done a bunch of climbs that would have far worse protection, and even no protection, without them.  Like all small gear, you try to get in a cluster (ballnuts plus brassies) in a relatively small region in the hopes that something will hold.  When I carry them, I usually bring two of the smallest size and two of the next size up.  I've only taken very short falls on them, but they did the trick when they had to.  Never had any serious trouble getting them out, and never had a hammer to do it with, but stories about stuck ballnuts are legion.  In addition to the basic strategy of trying to push the paddle in while triggering the ball,  I've found back-and-forth rotation often loosens what appears at first to be a thoroughly jammed placement.  (This has implications for slinging the pro---you really don't want rope action to rotate a ballnut.)
Paul Deger · · Colorado · Joined Sep 2015 · Points: 35

Love them! As already stated, most useful are the smaller sizes. Certain spots they are all that will do.

Healyje · · PDX · Joined Jan 2006 · Points: 456

I climb with the #3 and #4 regularly and take doubles of #2 and #3 as well on FAs.

DanielHart · · Carpinteria ca · Joined Dec 2016 · Points: 5

I’ve taken a 10’ fall on shit sandstone on the largest and it held like a champ. Even if you’re not 100% on trusting those physiological pieces can be very important 

Paul Deger · · Colorado · Joined Sep 2015 · Points: 35

Will we know go into the tangent of mental pro?

Healyje · · PDX · Joined Jan 2006 · Points: 456

Comments on marginal (mental) pro from another thread on small cams and applicable to ballnuts:

Healyje wrote: Small, marginal pro - it's a thing, but it's shouldn't be a beginner or intermediate leader thing. The deal with leading over marginal gear is that it's a matter of solid skills, experience, and judgment. Your ability to see and assess such placements needs to be above average, your placement skills need to be excellent, and you need to have a decent track record of calling the odds on a marginal piece[s] holding/blowing. Bottom line? If it's just a complete wild-ass guess you should bail.

I've taken 30-40ft falls that held on small brassies, tenuously stacked hex/nut combos, #3/4 ballnuts, slipknot-slung horns, pebbles I've picked up while climbing, and a #3 Crack-N-Up rigged for free climbing - none of them were blind luck or an accident and I had a pretty good feel for the hold/blow ratio of each of them such that I was willing to play on through. I've also placed a lot of marginal pro and then thought better of it, down-climbed and bailed. The only hard and fast rules are you better know what the hell you're looking at and be good at judging how performant the rock and placement will be.

And in placing small, marginal pro millimeters count, dirt and dust count, rock quality counts, placement-to-piece geometry matching counts, small subtle features count, and together they all make the difference between getting on with it and bailing. And it's all that squared when you're talking about being runout over a three, four, or a half-dozen such pieces in a row on new terrain on an onsight FA. Don't guess - know (within some reasonable margin of error) - is my best advice when it comes to small, marginal pro along with having a fucking crystal ball when it comes to a sober understanding of the potential consequences of that pro blowing.
rgold · · Poughkeepsie, NY · Joined Feb 2008 · Points: 526

Ball nut city!  Walk of Life, E9 6C, Dyers Lookout, Devon.  See https://www.ukclimbing.com/news/2010/11/charlie_woodburn_repeats_the_walk_of_life-59099 

"I made the bottom safer than I think James did  on the first ascent (with a tied down skyhook and a filed down  ball-nut)"

The gear for the second ascent.  I'm not positive, but I think I spotted ten ball nuts.


A shot of the climb:


First-ascent video:




Will Wright · · Mesa, AZ · Joined Jun 2014 · Points: 2,172

Ball nuts are probably the most underrated piece of climbing protection out there. They're really your only option to protect very thin seams, and therefore the ability to place them is an essential skill to master for any traddie (else run it out!). It's a shame that people's aversion to them oft results in climbs or sections getting the gun.

Healyje · · PDX · Joined Jan 2006 · Points: 456

Good find on the video Rich. Interesting they'd still bother with half ropes on a route like that - seems entirely unnecessary.

rgold · · Poughkeepsie, NY · Joined Feb 2008 · Points: 526

I dunno Joe, the route doesn't exactly follow a single crack; even if the climbing line is somewhat direct, the protection wanders from side to side and half ropes mean less fiddling with long runners, which also increase fall length on sketchy pro.   Here is a small frame from a much larger shot that, while low on quality, still gives an example of how the pro is distributed around the general climbing path.


Plus, when doubling up gear, one of the easiest ways to distribute the load is just to clip one strand to each piece, and with runout climbing under pressure, getting the best set-up with the least mucking around counts for a lot.  And when the gear is sketchy, the straighter rope paths obtainable with half ropes means less system friction and so more of each rope available for energy absorbtion, resulting in lower loads to those dicey placements (I think this is why people mention the "soft catch" provided by half ropes in spite of the fact that, when tested, their maximum impact loads are no different from single ropes).  Finally, you can place crappy gear overhead and fall on it (while still underneath) and not pay a big slack penalty if the overhead piece blows.
Healyje · · PDX · Joined Jan 2006 · Points: 456

Yeah, still not sure it's worth the hassle in this case other than not having to expend the energy to extend the pro, but then on marginal pro like that, I typically like having extended draws. They're clearly the pros from Dover, however...

rgold · · Poughkeepsie, NY · Joined Feb 2008 · Points: 526

There is also the fact that the Brits are very used to half-rope  technique, don't experience it as any kind of "hassle,"  and might select it out of comfort as much as necessity.

Pnelson · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jan 2015 · Points: 401

I’ve used ballnuts a few times, and have fallen on the second-smallest (never the smallest).  I’ve never had a problem cleaning them, but they can be tricky to place.  


adeadhead · · Baltimore, MD · Joined Mar 2015 · Points: 45

Ball nuts are one of the best investments I've made into my now double rack

Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

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