I’ve never seen a first ascent of anything. But now, I can say I’ve seen a second ascent. More importantly, I can say I’ve nabbed the dubious honor of the first-ever failure of an ascent. “Look, see, it’s easy,” said Winter Braden, scuttling sideways on the sharp edges of the overhanging start using only his arms, demonstrating again for me how he’d just done it. But after repeated attempts, I was not in agreement with him.
Locals are dubbing it the Balls Wall, so called because it runs parallel to Ball Creek in Boundary County. So far, there are five routes up, and including me only about eight people know of them. Two 5.10a grade climbs have been named: Un-Ball-Evable, a mostly-gear, bolted-anchor crack, and Balls to the Wall, a mixed-gear slab following a seam up to another set of bolted anchors.
Further up the trail, there’s a 5.10d, a 5.11d and a 5.12d (or thereabouts as the discussion is still ongoing) – all of them climbed but unnamed. Kelsey Brasseur of Sandpoint snagged the first ascent of the 5.10d, and has been ruminating on the name since. She’s thinking it should be With Balls or Beauty, “because you can hoss it or style it,” and suggested that the rating might be closer to 5.11a.
The routes were bolted by Aaron Hanson and Kale Semar, who had already spent quite a bit of time cleaning the rocks off, according to Hanson. But it still wasn’t enough to be comfortable, as I discovered attempting With Balls or Beauty – even after cheating to get past the overhang, I slid right off and dangled from my rope, the skin of my knees scraped and bleeding. The slabs were powdered in peeling lichen, the cracks were full of dust, and the general consensus among the locals was the secret of these climbs could be shared in hopes they’d be cleaned through use. There’s potential for further development, with plenty of additional routes that could go up.
Semar has also been working on bolting several more new areas in North Idaho: six routes on the granite of Naples Rocks and seven routes at Brush Lake, as well as expanded multi-pitch lines at Turtle Arches, a rock dome near Myrtle Turtle pioneered by Joe Lind. These routes join several others in North Idaho that have been bolted recently.
Finding Balls Wall:
It’s a bit of a trek in the car: from Bonners Ferry, take Riverside Street to West Side Road through the Kootenai National Wildlife Refuge. Keep going until you hit Ball Creek. Take a left on Ball Creek Road and stay left on FR 432. Drive for five miles or until you see the boulder painted with the number 5. The trail is just after that on the right side. It’s a five-minute walk to the crags, but the underbrush is steep and slippery: do not wear flip-flops. The upper climbs are in the shade most of the day, whereas the lower climbs are not, so plan accordingly. //