Talk about a ’Season Finale’! French ripper Julien ’Pica’ Herry finished his 2014 shred season laying tracks down two heavy lines in the Alps. One line was on the infamous North face of the Aiguille du Midi and the other on the Testa di Valnontey in the Gran Paradiso. Both were first repeats and first snowboard descents of lines pioneered respectively by steep skiing legends Jean Marc Boivin and Remy Lecluse. Here’s thoughts from Herry about both the historic lines:
North East face of Testa di Valnontey
The North East face of Testa di Valnontey looks pretty impressive when seen from Valnontey village. It has been skied only once by Remy Lecluse in April 2010. Once again it’s Davide Capozzi and I who are following in Remy’s tracks. Davide had gone up to Cogne a few times during the past weeks to check the conditions of the face.
On May 18th, Davide and I left before dawn and started our long walk under the stars. After two hours of hiking we finally found enough snow to put skins on. Three and half hours into the tour we arrived at the bottom of the face just as the sun slowly illuminated the top of the mountain.
The snow conditions were good for climbing which made the ascent pretty quick. The long traverse midway up and complex route finding were the main challenges. Photo - Davide Capozzi
At 8:30 am we strapped into our boards for 650 meters of technical exposed riding. The snow was good but with a hard layer underneath and hidden rocks in the narrowest parts. Photo - Davide Capozzi
Davide midway down the face. Photo - Julien Herry
We finally found spring snow on the lower slope which made the ride a bit more fun. The long walk back to the car with heavy backpacks killed any energy left in our legs or shoulders. After a long last look at the line from the carpark, we headed home. Second known descent and first snowboard descent. Thanks again Remy for finding such nice lines and Davide for the idea and great company.
North face of the Aiguille du Midi - Jumeaux Spur
After riding the Testa di Valnontey came school holidays and the occasion to spend more time with my family, but I was still dreaming about a last run to finish the season on a good mark. After all the descents in Italy and Switzerland this season I was very happy that this last run would end up being a line that I can see everyday from my house.
The Jumeaux spur is located on the North face of the Aiguille du Midi, on the left side, in between the Tournier spur and the Chere couloir. It’s named after the twin seracs at the top of the line that are the key to safely access the spur. These seracs have changed a lot in recent years and are a lot more friendly than they used to be. The route was first climbed in March 1971 by a French party (P.Dussauge and J.J.Prieur) and skied only once by Jean Marc Boivin in 1986. Not much information is known about Boivin’s descent. He was skiing alone and supposedly only had to rappel once.
Conditions on the North Face of the Midi were finally good and stable the last week of May into the first few days of June. My friend Raph Bonnet was motivated to try this line so on June 3rd, the last day before a heat wave, we loaded the first bin to go have a look.
After 5 minutes of riding off the top we got to the start of the line. The clouds were coming in which made the first turns a bit stressful, but luckily the snow was amazing and the slope wasn’t too steep.
Next came a complex and steep section with exposed traverses to access the top of the spur.
Two 30 meters rappels in between a few controlled turns led to the main couloir. The couloir was still steep but a bit wider so we enjoyed making a few faster turns.
The next section started with a 20 meter rappel, then some easier turns and a few moves of ’dry riding’ (maneuvering over exposed rocks). The last traverse was steep, mental and technical on exposed terrain, with more delicate steps of dry riding. We found hard snow on the last slope but it was less exposed and the bergshund was easy to cross. A few minutes later we were back at the mid-station, happy to have ridden one of the most exciting runs of our lives.
This descent of the Jumeaux Spur was complex, technical and easily one the best snowboarding experience of my life. Along with the East face of Aiguille Blanche de Peuterey that I rode last year (second descent 29 years after S. De Benedetti), I’m honored to have the chance to repeat a second line on this mythical face almost 30 years after such an incredible alpinist and skier as Jean Marc Boivin.
Thank you Mr. Boivin for the inspiration and thanks Raph for the good company!
Now it’s time to put the snowboard away until next winter...
- Julien Herry