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Behind The Line With Julien Herry: First Descent Of The Grande Rocheuse

Trip Reports / Julien ’Pica’ Herry
20
Mar

On March 11th Julien ’Pica’ Herry, Davide Capozzi, Lambert Galli and Denis Trento descended a new line on the Grande Rocheuse in the Mont Blanc massif. Read on for a report from Pica on this pioneering adventure including video footage from the descent.

Story by Julien Herry. Photos by Davide Capozzi and Lambert Galli

I noticed this line on the Grand Rocheuse for the first time in 2013. That winter we had the most snow in a century. So much snow that we didn’t dare give the line a try. Though easily visible from the top of Aiguille du Midi, we initially thought that the route had never been climbed, let alone skied. The only known ski descent from the summit was done by Pierre Tardivel in 1985, joining the South couloir of Col Armand Charlet. For the next two winters I forgot about the line as the route was definitely not in condition.

Then last summer I was reading an article about the 150th anniversary of the first ascent of the Aiguille Verte. In the article I saw a picture that showed the lines of the three new routes of 1865 - another big winter. One of the lines followed the line I imagined riding. At first I was a bit disappointed to see that the route had been climbed but it inspired my interest in the project. I was excited to try and ride a line of weakness discovered 150 years ago and now totally forgotten.

Conditions on the Grand Rocheuse started to look promising end of January so we start taking pictures from closer. Unfortunately we had no stable weather in February and the first week of March was quite warm. Just when we started to forget about the line, the weather forecast predicted a surprising stable and cold second week of March. Time to take our chance!

My friends Lambert, Manu and I started the mission sleeping in the Couvercle winter refuge. Davide and Denis joined us at 330am coming from the Torino refuge. A two hour hike took us to the bergshrund at the base of the line.

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The route started steep and only got steeper as we climbed higher and higher on the amazing snow spur. Unfortunately a few sections that seemed rideable from below were actually rock slabs covered by a thin layer of sugar snow. Climbing was tough as Denis tried to follow the most skiable route up the spur but was forced to turn back. We ended up making a short rappel and moving left to keep climbing. The route was definitely not skiable, but it was climbable, so we kept moving up into a nice couloir. Above the couloir we found more sugar snow on rock slabs but it was rideable. We pulled out the rope one more time for about 30 meters before the final ridge. Though shorter than expected, the final ridge was a beautiful as my dreams the past three years!

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We spent just a few minutes on the narrow summit. The ascent took us longer than expected so we needed to get down before it got too warm. Dropping off the summit ridge felt like I was riding on the sky…

After a few exposed turns we arrived at the first 30 meter rappel. The turns below the rappel were some of the steepest I have ever done. Then we got to the sugary crux which became very technical after the first two passed through. Thankfully the snow got better a little lower as we got into powdery spring snow. One more rappel and then we could open it up as the exposure eased. Gliding back to the refuge we were thrilled but also a little bewildered by our bold accomplishment.

Looking at the photos from the day at the refuge confirmed our feelings. We’d already risked enough on the trip and it was time to go home. We cancelled our plans for the next day but extended our descent by riding all the way down to my house in the valley.

When we skied the North face of Pain de Sucre in 2013, I tried to convince my Italian friends to ride all the way down to the valley but they preferred to save their skis by using the Montenvers train. I held some frustration about that decision so this time we made the push to keep riding. I had always wanted to finish a great steep descent in my garden, even tired with a heavy backpack, because there is not many places on earth where you can do that. Here’s hoping for many more opportunities to ride home to come!

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Grande Rocheuse (4102m) - Voie Originale - 600m - 45/55 degrees

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Author
Julien ’Pica’ Herry
Category
Trip Reports
Published on
20 March 2016

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