In the last twenty years, only two things have really reduced the danger in R or X rated routes: wide cams and BallNutz. Truly. Every time I have placed a BallNut on a free pitch, it has reduced it’s danger rating by at least one, if not more.
We’ve all heard about Trango BallNutz, but few of us have used them let alone own them. But they aren’t just for gear heads. For the experienced trad climber that journeys away from the standard trade routes, or the aid climber looking to do more clean climbing and less nailing, BallNutz can be extremely useful in certain situations. In fact, if I had to only pick one specialty piece to supplement my rack of nuts and cams, I’d choose these before anything else, including tricams. I have used them in the Red River Gorge to protect an otherwise unprotectable trad climb and have placed them on aid routes I was trying to free there where I otherwise would have had to hammer in a pin, substantially scarring the soft sandstone there. I have used them in Eldorado Canyon in Colorado, most notably on Perilous Journey at Mickey Mouse Wall, which turned an infamous death route into an R or even PG-13 climb. I can even think of a handful of routes in Indian Creek I’ve used them for (and safely fallen on) when simply nothing else would do. They are the best substitute for a knifeblade or lost arrow piton in thin, parallel cracks where a cam just won’t fit and are the best and strongest protection available in those small, hard to fill sizes. They look strange at first and people fear strange, unknown things, but they have the potential to open up a lot of doors for people leading on gear.
With that said, there is a con to them. While I have used them on aid routes in Yosemite Valley to avoid placing a piton, I will say that you have to be careful doing so. The copper ball does its job almost too well, and can really set itself between the rock and the aluminum wedge. They can be difficult to remove when body-weighted and especially when bounce tested, but on sketchy free climbs, there’s nothing better. They aren’t impossible to remove if you take a lead fall on them, but even if they were, I’d rather weld a BallNut on a route than hit the ground, wouldn’t you? They come in five sizes but I personally really only use the three smallest ones, of which I have multiples of each. I don’t place them, or even take them to the crag very often, but when I do place them, it’s because nothing else would work. Check them out for yourself and I bet you’ll be impressed.
– Jason Haas