There are dream snowboard trips and then there are, ‘OMG you went where??!’ trips. In May 2012, Chamonix Mountain Guide Julien ‘Pica’ Herry embarked on the latter. The intrepid rider along with a couple other Chamois guides visited Pakistan for a three week sojourn into the wilds of the Karakoram Range. Traveling out of the town of Karimabad, Herry and the crew pulled off a unique and successful trip including several rowdy first descents.
We caught up with Pica to hear more about his journey and ask a few questions about the adventure. Check out his thoughts below, then click on the video above for a glimpse of this remote backcountry shred paradise and the people that call the region home.
Julien ‘Pica’ Herry in the Karakoram
Jones: Have you snowboarded in the Himalayas before?
Julien: Yes, I have been snowboarding in Pakistan twice already, but on easier slopes. The goal of these previous trips was to acclimatize with the board before climbing or trying to climb bigger mountains. This was my first Himalayan trip dedicated to snowboarding only.
Locals like Jones!
Was it sketchy traveling through Pakistan?
There is not really any problem traveling through Pakistan, the main problem is to get a visa. European countries don’t like to send their citizens to Pakistan, which is a shame for the tourism in the mountains. I’d say the main danger in Pakistan is driving on the Karakoram Highway which is a really special road. Once in the mountains, like anywhere around the world, people are really nice and peaceful.
Julien’s first turns of the trip.
Pakistan is not known for great snow conditions. Did you get lucky?
I have always found really nice snow in Pakistan. The key seems to be riding the Northern exposures on the small mountains. Between 4500m and 5500m in late April, you’re nearly sure to find nice powder on low summits that are protected from the wind. And then from 4500m down, you normally ride nice spring snow with no old tracks.
Steep turns on Ali Wagba
How does riding in the Karakoram compare to the Alps? Is it more intense?
In the Alps you can try to ride the biggest mountains, in Pakistan you just play on the small mountains. Just choose an easy place on the map and then try to ride the steep lines of the area. Not really more intense, but you can’t make any mistakes so it requires more concentration than usual. The main difference is coming from the landscape, huge mountains and crazy contrasts everywhere.
Julien putting in the bootpack
It looks like you had stable snow. What is the snowpack like?
The snow was quite stable, just a few wind slabs here and there. But we never looked for danger and always took it easy when conditions were suspect. It seems that all the couloirs on the small mountains are protected from wind so snowfall after snowfall, you get a nice soft layer of old dry snow. That makes for big and fast sluff, but fairly safe apart from that.
A line they named ‘Hypocrite’
Did you meet any other skiers or snowboarders along the way?
We were the only riders in the area, and unfortunately for the local business, nearly the only tourists. You will never meet a lot of skiers there until the political situation gets better.
The Couloir Du Loup
How long was the trip and how long was the approach before you got to go riding?
We spent three weeks in Pakistan, a bit more than 15 days in the mountains. We went to 3 different areas around Karimabad. On average it takes 2 to 4 hours driving in the jeeps and then 2 to 4 hours walking with porters to set a basecamp at snowline. Then you can spend 3 or 4 days riding the lines you like and get back to Karimabad in one day. Karimabad is a really nice village and a good place to set the main base camp.
Would you like to go back and did you scout any new lines for your next trip to Pakistan?
Of course I would like to go back. I have good friends there to visit and I discovered a place with amazing steep couloirs where I would like to go next time. The road was unfortunately blocked last spring. Inch Allah.