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By Q.-Tuan Luong © 1996
On the 2nd of March, Kevin Normoyle and I, both transplanted Californians, but known to each other only through the Internet, completed a new climb in British Columbia, "The Theft", V 6R. The climb is situated next to "The Gift", one of the more difficult recent additions to the range in the Bridge River area. As seen from from the Seton Portage road 45 minutes W of Lilooet, "The Theft" is an even more obvious and dramatic line.
The new line had formed in December, and became a personal goal when Eric Hirst suggested it to me through electronic mail. The route had apparently stirred the interest of a number of locals, but no one had had the nerve and persistence to make a serious attempt. In February, on a first attempt with Adrian Burke and Lee Purvis, more "cyber-acquaintances", I climbed 2/3 of the route after having fixed the first pitch overnight.
This time, it appeared even less "in", in contrast with the nearby "Gift", still fat with ice. We knew though, that this could be our last opportunity this season. Starting to climb at 8am, we managed to snatch the route from the gods who guard improbable ascents. Like thieves, we finished under cover of darkness. But as if those gods had summoned the police, a witness mistakenly thought we were in trouble, and Mounties arrived on the scene at the end of an almost 24 hour day of effort.
The new line is truly a showpiece of the varieties of hard ice climbing, and is also very esthetic. It includes a narrow icy chimney, which required an aid move on the first attempt, as well as an exposed traverse with a lot of air below. The final column, three pitches high, is a partially detached huge stalactite, on which the comfortable cave belays have an airy, big-wall ambiance. There are overhanging moves and sustained long sections on several pitches of extremely varying nature. Out of the six pitches (240m) of the climb, five offer significant difficulties. We carried a full load of courage on our rack in addition to the usual screws and slings, yet managed to use only the same #1 Camalot that Lee placed during the first attempt.
The first pitch (thin ice crux, WI5+ R) was one of the scariest I have ever climbed. During the first attempt, it at first didn't appear to be possible because the main pillar was unstable. I started on a thin lateral ribbon of ice, bypassing the pillar, and found myself unable to back-up. By the time I got acceptable pro, I had reached the crux. Returning to the climb, I knew I didn't want to lead the initial pitch again. Instead, I used the traditional method, and encouraged Kevin to "enjoy" the lead this time, with a few diminutive phrases describing the hard sections. Enjoy it he did, if the elegance with which he climbed is a measure.
The fifth pitch (pure ice crux, WI6) was vertical with chandeliered ice and other weird formations, and involved a traverse between free-standing columns to find a way around rotten mushrooms. It was significantly harder than the WI6 pitches I led two weeks before on Pilsner Pillar, Curtain Call, and Sea of Vapors. Kevin, returning to steep ice "off the couch", says New England tradition would be violated if he said anything more definite than "kinda hard".
All this combines to make the route a very interesting, beautiful, and serious undertaking. In my mind, it is the current definitive statement for Western BC ice, and pushes this area's standards beyond those of most better known areas of North America. We look forward to the opinion of a second ascent party.
Approach: Hike up on the left of the gully which emanates from the climb, trying to stay in areas clear of bush. Go past a small rock band in the gully, traverse some steep bush, and then join the gully and hike to the base of the climb (1h30).
Pitch 1: If it is well formed, climb a steep curtain of ice (5?), otherwise, like the FA party, climb a thin ramp on the right, and after an overhanging and traversing move to the left, follow a thin and steep ribbon to easier terrain (5+ R).
Pitch 2: The chimney: if there is ice all the way, the pitch is not very steep (4?), otherwise a chockstone has to be passed through a short but very difficult section (5 R).
Pitch 3: A short wall followed by a low-angle slope (4).
Pitch 4: The free-standing fat column on the left (sustained) and then a traverse on the right (exposed) to a good belay in a cave between two columns (5+). The right column would be more direct, but thinner and steeper (6).
Pitch 5: One of the columns, an overhang (several options) and then very sustained and technical ice (6). Belay in another ice cave.
Pitch 6: Straight on the final curtain to the top (5).
Descent: rap down the route.
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