Saturday, 14 February 2015

The Shield Direct

Myself on the first pitch of the Shield Direct, the pitch I thought I would never be brave enough to climb. In fact it was thick enough for ice screws and was not actually too bold. 

The Shield Direct was a route that I have always looked at, but never thought that I would do. The route requires on ice on the initial corner. The front cover of the old Scottish winter climbs guide shows a picture of Andy Forsyth on the initial corner. The ice was thick enough to climbing, but not for ice screws. It looked terrifying! Almost 20 years ago I remember speaking to someone who had been there when a team had tried the route.  His description of their attempt, and the other stories I had heard, made it sound even worse. The route was given VII, 7 in the guide, but it sounded much harder than that.

I know of two ascents of the route in the past ten years. One in February 2005 when I was living in Switzerland, and the other in March 2014 when I was on a ski touring holiday to Switzerland. Over the past ten years I have walked into the CIC hut well over a hundred times in winter.  Every time my eyes have been draw up to the initial corner, there never seemed to be any ice there. This was almost a relief, I had a good excuse not to get on the pitch.

I was walking into the Ben a few weeks ago. I had tagged along with another pair to do a pleasant grade V and we had had a late start. On the way in I was pointing out some routes, and mentioned The Shield Direct. The response to this was "You mean where the person in red is". I looked more carefully and was shocked, there was someone at the top of the first pitch. However, lots of things made an attempt that day unsuitable, and so we headed round and braved the spindrift on Boomer Requiem.

The next day the weather turned mild, had I missed my chance? Fortunately it slowly cooled down over the next few days. The next week I had a few days off, I wanted to arrange a climbing partner for the route, but everybody seemed to have other plans. Was I going to miss a second chance at this route?  Then a client cancelled,  and suddenly my flatmate Guy had Tuesday off as well.  It was all falling into place.

However, at 6am on Tuesday morning things were not looking quite as hopeful. We were wallowing up to the CIC hut is a blizzard. We were wading up to our knees for long distances, and I was waist deep in fresh snow at times. Was this unexpected weather going to ruin my chance to do this route?  As we approached the route fortunately things began to clear up. But by then a team had overtaken us, and were milling around the base of Carn Dearg. Were they going to get on it before us? Some quick walking, even quicker gearing up, a quick spud to see who got to lead the first pitch (which I won) and I was ready to go start climbing before them (sorry Ali, but I was really keen get on the route).

Once I pulled on everything seemed to go well. The climbing was great, interesting and varied. The first pitch was not nearly as scary as I expected, and Guy made made quick work of the tricky chimney above. I led another gradually easing pitch and then Guy a tricky insecure mixed pitch which led to easier ground and eventually Ledge Route. That was The Shield Direct done, the route I had really wanted to do, but never thought that I would do, had been worth waiting for.

It received at least 6 ascents during that period, which may well be more than it had during it's previous 35 year existence as a winter route. I wonder when it will next be climbed?


  1. Hi Blair, nice write up. It's Andy Forsyth on the front of the guide - probably as unfrench as you could get! Cheers, Chris

    1. Thanks Chris. Sounds like I remembered things a bit wrongly as regards that picture, and have changed the text appropriately. Blair.