13d tips jams = tape, blood, and numb fingers
The lumpy granite domes feel endless as one wanders around the prickly desert of Joshua Tree National Park, but a few clean fissures splitting down these egg-shaped granite features may catch your gaze. Many are big enough for fists or hands, but some are just the right size for a satisfying finger lock. One of these finger cracks specifically goes by the name of “The Stingray”. This special line is one of the harder finger cracks in the US at 5.13d, involving campusing on finger tip jams up to an awkwardly leaning finale.
I once again teamed up with Amity Warme, this time for a trip to go check out Joshua Tree in January. Our ambitious ticklist was to first try a few of the well traveled hard cracks to learn the stone (Equinox, Asteroid Crack, and Acid Crack), and then to get a few days on The Stingray.
Route video on the La Sportiva Channel
We bumbled with logistics the first days, certainly spending more hours hiking than climbing. The Mojave sun made certain lines feel too hot to touch, while shady stone was quick to numb fingers. We started strong with a double Equinox onsight, but I did not manage quick success on either of the other two. We bounced around between intermittent rain showers to reach the spread out rocks. I hesitated to give full commitment on those first lines at the risk of losing skin for the real price.
After a rest day, we hiked up to The Stingray. I had aspirations of a decent ground up attempt - you’ll never onsight or flash something if you first siege with a top rope! Amity went up initially to try out all the holds and gear. I then gave a good effort and linked a solid portion of the crux, but quickly fell off. One drawback of my usual first-go optimism is that I immediately chunked out lots of skin from my fingers.. Perhaps the on-demand-takes of top rope rehearsal has its place for saving skin as the cracks get painful.
Amity looking like a burnt marshmallow in the full down belay getup
We traded a few lead attempts that day and learned what it would take to link it together. I’ve put significant effort into the roof bouldering around Flagstaff this past year, which made the tips lock laddering feel reasonably secure once I found the right pods. Unfortunately, I had to rely on tape to pad my new finger wounds which added a complication - the tape needed to be especially tight to not ooze with my body weight hanging off the first joint of just a few fingers, but then my fingertips would go numb after just a handful of moves! The ambient temperature reached the 40s midday, but the stone was icy with all day shade.
A winter storm brought two days of rest. We read books and I faithfully packed Neosporin under the eight bandaids spread across my fingertips. We made it back to the route with fresh muscles but barely-healed wounds and I fought the same tape dilemma. I did manage to link the entire crux segment once, but couldn’t hang out a numb finger long enough afterwards to place a cam. Amity used her gobbies to inspire new ways to orient her hands, allowing more weight on her feet through the steepness. We called it a trip after this session, slightly demoralized from the sharp sensations, and hopefully that the climbing would actually be fun once we healed up.
Locking it down
When traveling internationally, a customs officer usually asks “are you here for business or pleasure?” while checking one’s passport. Two weeks later I drove out for a brief trip to meet Amity for more Stingray attempts. This was a business trip, with one route on my mind.
After 30 minutes of light bouldering, we headed out to the icy backside of Iguana Dome and settled in on the slopey belay ledge. Our friend Jeremy Schoenborn came out this day to dangle on ropes and shoot video. Amity had stuck around the park and got a few more rehearsal days, but this was my third day on the route. I racked up my handful of small cams and set off. With a memorized sequence and fresh skin, the overhanging segment felt very smooth! I cruised up to the midway rest, but then proceeded to stall out too long here in the 40°F wind (mistakenly wearing a t-shirt), completely numb out, and then botch a lock up high. (behind the scenes tidbit - this is the route video clip, spliced together with a little movie magic as it provided a better camera angle for an almost identical attempt).
Flowing with the steepness! Hot Hands pouches hidden up my sleeves
For my second try of the day, I donned better protection including my Sportiva thermal hoodie and Neoprene straps to hold Hot Hands packets against the insides of my wrists. I’ve used this tactic a few times throughout our especially chilly winter, and it seems to add a 5-10° of comfort. This attempt was satisfying, feeling locked in and in control up until the end. I did second guess the very last finger lock as I lost sensation, but took a moment to compose, and then trusted a gritty smear for a no-pulling slab style stand up to reach the anchor jug. I concluded my business trip and drove back to Flagstaff that evening. I am eager for pleasure climbing again once our never ending winter is over!
A slabby stand up right as fingers loose all feeling
Amity persevered through a few more cold sessions and also topped out the line a weeks later on her seventh day. In a blog post about his 2010 second ascent of Stingray (in the era of thriving climbing blogs!) Sonnie Trotter said “If you can climb the Stingray, you can climb Cobra Crack”. I am eager to team with Amity again this summer and test that statement! It has been a gift to have a motivated go-to partner for these hard trad lines.