Julien “Pica” Herry

Julien Herry Stays On His Toes

Julien “Pica” Herry is not sweating, even though he’s wearing four layers including an insulated vest and a shell, and bootpacking straight up Chamonix’s Gigord Couloir. It’s a sunny and warm March day and the Frenchman’s fleece-lined goggles are still resting on his face. The 33-year-old lifelong Chamoniard was cool as a fan 30 minutes below when he gingerly stepped a cramponed boot over a yawning bergschrund at the bottom of the 45-to-55-degree line. And he’s definitely not sweating the sheer, thousand-foot drop behind him as he stands overlooking the Argentière Glacier, balancing each foot on opposing rocks, hip-belaying his client up to a foot-wide ledge. “Good training,” he says, a phrase he’ll repeat throughout the day. He even finds time to roll a little smoke, gazing out at the dramatic peaks and needles that have backdropped his entire life.

As Pica drapes the coiled rope across his chest, a police helicopter buzzes overhead, circling for its latest rescue victim. There is no real heli-skiing in France—it’s illegal without special authorization. So, when you see a tiny figure on the peak of a distant mountaintop in the French Alps, you know they’ve climbed up there. And on any given day, if you look even farther, up an even more harrowing spire, you may see the outline of Pica picking his way down thin slivers of snow. Nicknamed for his small stature, he’s claimed more than 40 first descents from the Himalayas to the Alps, where centuries of mountaineering culture have left only the most obscure lines to be discovered. And he’s done it mostly on his toe edge… 

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