Balls to the Walls
The key to trad climbing is the same thing that’s necessary for success in any bold endeavor: balls.
I got my balls, or more precisely, Ball Nuts, in 1992, and have used them on almost every gear route since. Although today’s Ball Nuts are stamped with CAMP or Trango instead of Byrne (for Steve Byrne, who invented them), the spring-loaded units haven’t noticeably changed since birth. A Ball Nut is a steel wedge shaped like a wide but thin nut, with half a steel ball that tracks up and down a milled groove. When you weight the nut, the wedge slides down, the ball slides up and, voila, the unit expands. A spring keeps the wedgie pressed in place when it isn’t weighted.
The syringe-like Ball Nuts can be placed easily with one hand. They also come out with a deft squeeze, just like a cam, unless you’ve bounced-tested or fallen onto them. Then, mere jiggling and cajoling (or cursing) won’t set them free, and you’ll need to tap the wedge portion with a long, thin knifeblade or thin nut-tool to loosen it.
A set of five Ball Nuts protects cracks from .12 to .71 inches. The three smaller sizes are the most useful, filling the micro void where not even the smallest cams, the Wild Country Zeros, will fit, and the only options are usually thin Lost Arrows or Bugaboos. Armed with a brace of Ball Nuts, you can quickly and harmlessly protect or aid tiny, parallel-sided cracks that you’d otherwise have to bash or bolt. In the 14-odd years I’ve used Ball Nuts, I’ve almost always placed them on aid climbs. The units work just as well for free climbing, but aren’t as commonly used there, since Ball Nut-gobbling cracks, for quirks that defy explanation, seem to reside mostly on aid pitches.