Before we really get into this post, it must be said that we (Karakoram) don’t necessarily want to encourage our friends or customers to partake in this style of snowboard alpinism. In case you’re really wondering, snowboarding on the terrain that Julien “Pica” Herry enjoys, is more akin to full-throttle, full-stakes big range mountaineering. For those with experience in large-scale, high-angle environments, you’ll understand what the magnitude and consequences of these photos really are. For those without a trained eye or experience on peaks and slopes like this, all we have to say is, “Don’t try this at home!” It should also be said that in big mountain snowboarding, even if a photo “looks” like perfect powder, more often than not, its not.
In Julien’s write-up he mentions running into ice and crusts, and that is further testament to his remarkable skill set. We engineer and design our Interfaces and Bindings to offer unmatched edge control and power when on variable and hard snow in steep environments, but at the end of the day, its the rider that makes all the difference. Next time you’re on a double diamond run at your local ski hill, try making a heelside turn on 50 degree bullet proof ice, and see if you can hold your edge. But even then, not all ice is created equal, and rarely do in-bounds conditions match the severity of true high-alpine gnar. Learning to control one’s edges can be the difference between falling, and living.
Julien Herry was referred to us by our friends Jeremy Jones and Seth Lightcap over at Jones Snowboards. I think their words went something along the lines of “This guy is an incredible lunatic who is more talented and confident on “zero fall” terrain than any snowboarder since Marco Siffredi. And guess what, he does it SWITCH!” Seeing as I (Russell) seem to have an irrational attraction to this type of climbing and snowboarding, I was extremely eager to get to know Julien and to learn of his exploits in the Alps surrounding Chamonix. Since we brought Julien into our Global and Guide Ambassador programs, he has consistently and relentlessly blown our freaking minds. Speaking of freakish, Jeremy and Seth were right: He just may be the most talented “steeps specialist” snowboarder in a generation of riders.
What is it about the French, anyway?!
Words by Julien “Pica” Herry. Photos by Hensli Sage and Alex Blaise
The aiguille du Peigne is my favourite playground for mountaineering in summer: short approach, many interesting climbing routes and a unique view from the summit! During winter 2014 we tried to ride a new line on the West face of the mountain with Davide Capozzi but were forced to retreat before the col du Peigne. From my house I can see all the North side of the mountain and I’ve been interested in skiing a line there for the past few years. After a quick closer check of the line with Sam Favret and Alex Blaise, we realise that the hanging ramp lookers left would be a great line to ski as well. .
The face is still missing some snow so we decide to keep the project for a bit later in the season. 10 days later the face is now too snowy and it is hard to make the différence between the skiing ramps and the snowy rocks. Finally on the 15th of May early morning we leave the de l’aiguille mountain hut with Sam and Alex, Hensli Sage, Fabian Bodet who will shoot our journey on the mountain. On the lower part the snow is pretty bad, crusty and we hope the sun will melt that crust later in the day… We are moving pretty fast until the first rock step where we have to use a rope. A few meters of mixed climbing leads to a horizontal traverse in the snow and then another short pitch of ice climbing.
Back on easier terrain, we quickly get to the top of the Ramp… The snow is really good for the first few turns, but then it slowly becomes harder, affected by spindrifts and sun of the past days… Riding on the ramp is really impressive and the closer we get to the exit (100m of rappel) and the more we can feel the void below us…
Finding a place to make a belay is not easy because the rocks are covered of snow, spindrifts are regulary coming down from the face above us, we slowly loose confidence and don’t want to take too much risk. We definitely skied the interesting part of the line so we decide to climb back up the ramp in order to save some time and energy for the main descent. Switching boards to crampons, we quickly get back to the top of the run where we spend some time in the sun. 30 more minutes of climbing are necessary to get to the summit of the main line, at around 3020 meters of altitude.
First slope looks a bit dangerous, big accumulation on sugary snow, so we decide to get on the rope for a few turns. Then we enjoy the best turns of the day before the first 20m rappel. The horizontal traverse brings us to the second 25m rappel which finishes on steep hard snow. Now at the top of the exposed diagonal above the slabs, we can’t wait too much for the sun to melt the snow and accept to ride in very changing conditions… Finally the last slope is more sun affected and we can enjoy easier turns on corn snow. A last short rappel leading to a tricky traverse and we are back on easier terrain. Five minutes later we can enjoy a beer at the mid-station. Both lines were first descents and between 700 and 1500 feet high, definitely the biggest adventure of this weird winter!