I love to bite off more than I can chew when I’m ice climbing. On rock, I question if a pitch is possible and how much gear would be lost from bailing. But on ice there is no debate and no worries about losing gear. Why? Because as long as there is enough ice, a climber can simply drill a V-thread and rap back to the ground. Whether retreating from a single pitch or escaping a mountain epic, a V-thread tool is an essential part of every ice climber’s kit.
When it comes to V-thread tools Black Diamond’s First Shot is the most advanced. It is the first V-threader that cannot be replaced with a pocket knife and a piece of wire. And the only tool with a guidance system for quick and easy V-thread creation. Shaped like a large Swiss-Army knife the First Shot unfolds to hold two ice screws at a precise angle. This angle guarantees that if both screws are fully extended, into the ice, their paths will intersect. Press it against flat ice, screw one screw in as far as it will go, back it out a bit, put in the second screw and voila a perfect V-thread. Unfold the hooked arm from the body, pull the rope or cordelette through the screw holes, and you’re ready to rap. The First Shot accommodate screws of 16-, 19- and 22-centimeter lengths, and the bottom of the hook arm features a serrated knife-edge useful for cutting webbing. However, when I first picked up a First Shot, my inner Luddite recoiled. For years I’ve used a relatively simple fishhook-shaped metal tool and, in comparison, the First Shot seemed big and heavy. What type of moron can’t line up two screws on their own?
It turned out I was exactly that moron as my frozen hands drilled yet another hole into a very finite chunk of ice. A quick end-of-the-day solo on an easy climb had turned spicy when the snow separating the ice bulges began to fracture and slide. Once on the ground the First Shot went onto the back of my harness, where it stayed for the rest of the season. But my feelings about the tool were mixed. In that situation being able to guide my screws on the first attempt and not waste ice would have been very helpful. But as the season progressed I found that even as I used the First Shot I still created a lot of V-threads without using the guidance assistance, like when trying to take advantage of a large icicle or unusually thick flow. One annoying thing I realized my first day using the First Shot is that I usually only carry one 22cm screw. The First Shot works best with two screws of the same length. (It is possible to drill one 22cm screw in, back it out, put in a shorter screw to hold the First Shot in place and then drive the 22cm back in from the other side.) So on occasion I settled for shallower threads when I couldn’t borrow my partners’ long screws, and was too cold to take the time to place and remove the 22cm.
Now, a year later, my thinking about the First Shot has changed. At first I thought it was too heavy, but after adjusting it in subzero temperatures, I don’t think it’s heavy enough. In the cold the plastic body feels brittle. It never broke or failed nor did it inspire much confidence.
The First Shot is the only tool that can guide screws into V-thread position without the climber “eyeballing” them. But if the ice does not present enough of a flat surface to work with then the guiding tongs of the First Shot are extraneous and the tool performs as well as any other non-guiding system.
But after using the First Shot I want more. (If any Black Diamond folks are reading this…) The First Shot should be bigger and more of an ice climber’s multi-tool. What would be ideal is to add a full sized knife blade and a fold out wrench for switching out picks in the field. Add a file tool into that and the First Shot would be exceptional.
The real question is whether the plug-and-play ease of V-threading with the First Shot is worth 30 dollars. If your alternative is searching a garage for wire or mechanic’s grabbers then your money will be better spent on a cheap screw or beer. If you need a V-thread tool but are turned off by the First Shot’s price or weight, then I should point out that Grivel’s Candela costs just 23 dollars but lacks the guidance, as does C.A.M.P.’s 18-dollar Scorpio. As someone who carries a couple pitons with them when ice climbing for extreme emergencies, the weight is negligible.
But climbers have long used coat-hangers, mechanic’s grabbers and other homemade devices for creating V-threads. As a climber who knows that often times the MSRP is the most important part of a review I have a hard time saying that you should throw out your current tool in favor of the First Shot.That said the First Shot is the Cadillac of V-thread tools. For anyone in the market for one of these devices this is the tool to get.
Pros: guides your screws to a perfect V-thread on flat ice; hooking arm folds into the body; useful saw blade for cutting webbing.
Cons: costs about as much as a cheap ice screw.