Bandit Peak, Black Hole Couloir - March 2, 2008
That's what Ryan and I kept saying as we dropped down 3000ft of steep, deep powder on Bandit Peak. I've never skied a big line so fast.
We started from Tall Timbers bible camp in the dark, and followed the Twin Lakes trail for a mile and half. Then we crossed the river and skied 5 miles up the trailless lower Napeequa valley. This approach was a bit of a crap shoot. It undoubtedly would be tough bushwhacking in summer, but the deep snowpack turned it into a relatively pleasant affair.
After a splendid three and a half hour journey up the wonderful valley, I was pretty exhausted. We grabbed some water from the river, and then it was time to climb up the northwest side of Bandit. A mere 4500ft above the river (!).
Comparing the map to our surroundings, we climbed up to what was a break in the lower cliffs guarding access to the route. We crossed a bergshrund thing on avy debris, and proceded up the first 800ft or so of the couloir in chunky avy debris covered by a few inches of powder. Then it turned to the right, and we could finally see the rest of it:
Oh my god, it just went on forever. Up to this point, my stoke was a little low due to no sleep the night before, and the crappy snow and big scary peak (frequent avalanches coming off the peaks across the valley as the sun hit them). But now... now we could see this thing. Even better, we were suddenly trudging up through a foot of powder.
After a few hours, we were on the part halfway up the face where the couloir widens into a broad slope for several hundred feet. The snow started getting deep in spots, an occasional wallowfest. Several times we switched back to skinning because it was faster despite the incessant switchbacks it required.
We actually took the time to dig a little pit to look at the layers. Nothing really bad. So on we continued... time to get "up in there". This was like the Slot Couloir on Snoqualmie, except ~3 times longer.
My endurance was really suffering at this point... 2000ft before the top, Ryan had told me "just go another 1000ft - then I'll have a present for you".
We were now 1000ft from the top, and Ryan pulled out two cans of Starbucks Espresso Shot. The secret weapon! Energy restored!
Near the top, my conservative nature won a battle in my mind, and I let Ryan climb the final 50ft or so by himself. I was a little wigged out by the whole "big line in a remote location" thing, and not really feeling like I wanted to ski the final steep pitch of firm snow. To add extra drama, the clouds were now beginning to encircle the peak. This actually worked to our advantage though, as the sun had been letting stuff loose on the walls of the mountain to our left.
It had taken us about 6 hours to climb the couloir from the valley bottom.
After a few minutes, Ryan made his way down to me with a little side slipping a several well-placed jump turns. Then it was time to get it on.
Words cannot describe - let's just say it was pretty unique combining a big steep descent with bottomless powder. Something that might have been pretty intimidating was turned into happy fun time.
We "survival-skied" our way down the final section of the route, and took a break for food and water on the open slopes below. Then began the 6 mile trek back to civilization, which ended in the dark (about 14 hours after we began).