Ballnut Splitters and Hand Placed Beaks
The micro gear of NAZ basalt
The columnar basalt of Northern Arizona will shift one’s perspective on what “small” means in terms of trad protection. The rock type is often splitter. But, with an intermingling of crimps and pockets, the 5.12 and up routes don’t fit hands and fingers quite like sandstone splitters of corresponding grades. There may be occasional pods, but the perfectly parallel seams in between often allow millimeter widths to wedge in protection.
My main project for this fall is a acute example of Basalt micro gear - the rack included two blue ballnuts, three red ballnuts, a tiny RP, two #2 beaks, and a kneebar pad! It is hard to not give a route an R rating if the 40' crux (above a slab) includes the aforementioned hand placed beaks, the shakey RP, and an optional blind 000 placed mid V8 crimp cranking. Yet, the basalt is so dense and hard I would have comfortably fallen on any of these pieces..
Another characteristic of this rock type is the equidistant weaknesses every eight feet or so along the cliff. Both a blessing and a curse, it ensures dense trad cragging, but the hardest lines become paths of most resistance just barely an arms reach away from an easier line. Not many lines stand out as “the one” to catch your eye on an approach. The Waterfall is a perfect example of this with seemingly unlimited onsight challenges in the 5.12 to 5.13- range, but the 5.13+ lines are short boulder problem cruxes sandwiched between relatively moderate climbing.
I’ve mostly chosen onsighting and quick-fire projects since moving to Flagstaff in early 2021. Towards the end of my time in Little Cottonwood I was resigned to open projects and new routes which could take days to solve a single move, so this mileage was refreshing. I pulled off a few proud onsights in this time, including The Trident at the Waterfall (the finale of which involves placing two ballnuts and a 000, before bouldering out a pumpy arete for 15 feet). I also fell on plenty of first go attempts building full trust in a well placed ballnut.
My fall kneebarring-with-beaks project, Surviving the Times, is a relative king line of the NAZ basalt. The 180’ gear-only route charges straight up the cleanest and longest panel of Volunteer Canyon. It is also the hardest of the zone at 5.13d. It of course weaves in and out of another weakness nearby, but the slightly overhanging middle third gives only two parallel seams to work with, and no way to bail off line. My friend Nelson Klein came out to take amazing photos as the face is also perpendicular to the convex cliff line, providing a better backdrop than most.
Wiggling in my protection
Small holds on the shield
Joel Unema (who has put up ~90% of the hard trad routes around here) did the first ascent of the route in 2018 giving it a 5.14a. He certainly cranked that hard with his beta, though I found a slightly easier crux sequence. I climbed the overhanging flare leaning right instead of left, which tamed the V9 first crux to V7 or V8. With my method I could no longer reach his key RP placement and wasn’t sure if this would be workable on lead. On day two of working out the line I noticed a few 3mm slots in the seam. The next session, I brought a few beaks and found they slotted perfectly into these restrictions! Both the difficulty and danger level were tamed slightly. Routes will inevitably yield easier solutions in time as additional climbers puzzle out options - more information never makes a route harder, if the baseline sequence is not lost.
I redpointed my fourth day on Surviving the Times, comically slotting the beaks while kneebarring against my rubber Send pad. Coming up on two years of Basalt climbing, our local stone has honed my trad climbing well beyond it’s previous level, and it still has plenty more challenges to give!
Optional 000 size cam, if you can stop!
Joel leaning left, a wide span to leave these kneebars
Leaning right, tech jams and a bit of squeezing to get up into this position
My NAZ Basalt Trad Tick List:
Surviving the Times 5.13d R (2nd Ascent)
Shoshin 5.13c (linked into Disco’s Dead)
Souther Fried Homicide 5.13c R (4th try, in a day)
The Equalizer 5.13 R
Gemini Dragonfire 5.13 R
Disco’s Dead 5.13b
Mutiny Left 5.13-
The Trident 5.13a (Onsight)
Kindness 5.13a (Onsight)
Iron Sharpens Iron 5.13a (Onsight)
Parting Gift 5.13a (2nd try)
Death Dealer 5.13a (2nd try)
Checkin the Oil 5.13a (2nd try)
Wolverine 5.13a (2nd try)
Switchblade 5.13a (2nd try)
Jr Bacon Burgermiester 5.13a
Sweet Dreams 5.12+ R (Onsight)
There will be Blood 5.12d (Onsight)
Pressure Drop 5.12d (Onsight)
The Terminator 5.12c (Onsight)
Pyrokenesis 5.12c (Onsight)